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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 84

Mr WINDSOR (5:30 PM) —Mr Deputy Speaker Beazley, I congratulate you on your first appearance as Deputy Speaker.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. K.C. Beazley)—I got it for free, mate; don't worry about me!

Mr WINDSOR —I grieve today, and I call for a parliamentary inquiry—preferably a Senate inquiry—into the various allegations that I made in this House last Wednesday night and into the broader implications of government funding and political preconditions that are being placed on various packages of government funding, particularly Regional Partnerships program arrangements. There was some cross-examination during question time today relating to that particular issue.

I think it is very important that a number of things be placed on record in terms of the Australian Federal Police inquiry into the allegations and the people that have been named recently and in terms of the much broader issue of funding arrangements, ministerial ethics, the rights of a member of parliament to represent, and the various political conditions that are being placed on financial arrangements through the Regional Partnerships program.

The date 20 September is very clear in my memory, because it is the day that the funeral was conducted for the Independent member for Dubbo. He was a good friend of mine. I am pleased to see the member for Parkes in the chamber, because he, like me, will be celebrating the victory of the new member for Dubbo, Dawn Fardell. I am delighted that she had a very good win in the Dubbo by-election last Saturday. On my way back from Tony McGrane's funeral on 20 September, I was phoned by various media people from Canberra. It had become public knowledge that I had been approached by an intermediary for two political players with a view to requesting me to vacate the premises as the member for New England. That was the first day that particular issue became public. The next day—or it may have been the day after—the Australian Labor Party referred it to the Australian Electoral Commission and on to the AFP for investigation as a breach of the Electoral Act under the bribery provisions.

At no stage did I mention any names. In fact, at that stage I refused to mention names, because I saw it as a piece of political stupidity. That night, there were a number of abusive phone calls made to a number of people. Some of them were from one Greg Maguire, who was subsequently—after my speech last Wednesday—recognised as the man who was the intermediary. It was obvious at that stage that Mr Maguire had recognised himself as the messenger, even though no-one had been named. A few days later, the Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, made a phone call to Mr Maguire. The message conveyed in that phone call was, `Get your mate to pull back'—remember that this was in the middle of an election campaign—`this is bigger than all of us.' Some would ask, quite rightly, how I know that. I know it because Greg Maguire told me that the Deputy Prime Minister had rung him.

These are the sorts of facts that need to come out in an inquiry. They could not come out in the AFP inquiry because that inquiry was very narrow, in that it looked at a breach of the Electoral Act, and the questioning was very narrow. It was based on one conversation and the various witnesses to that conversation. I was not at all surprised when the AFP found that there was not a prima facie case to answer in terms of proceeding to a criminal charge. As I mentioned in my speech last Wednesday night, up until that time John Anderson had spent a lot of time in my electorate. After that, he was very rarely there; I think he came back on one occasion. He went off to places further north—mainly the electorate of Kennedy.

The broader issues that I spoke about earlier are the preconditions for funding—the political benefit as opposed to the public good. I will not go through them this afternoon, but they have been outlined on the 7.30 Report and Lenore Taylor had a good article in the Financial Review last week. That was essentially about a whole range of Regional Partnerships programs that have been abused in some sense—not in terms of the benefits or multiplier effect of some of those programs. I think the equine centre is a classic example. It is a great program and I am glad it is funded, but there were political preconditions put on in a number of these cases. Another example is the University of New England cash for comment scandal that occurred some months ago in my electorate. There are other examples in other electorates across Australia.

I call on the parliament, particularly the Senate, to conduct an inquiry into these matters. There are some very broad matters relating to not only the bribery issue but also the broader issue of political compromise in relation to the funding of particular Regional Partnerships packages. At that inquiry, the people who were witnesses to the various events that I discussed last week are quite willing to present their evidence and to be cross-examined. For the life of me, I cannot work out why Mr Anderson and Senator Sandy Macdonald are afraid of an inquiry. If I am the one who has wronged in this particular issue, as they keep claiming, why not barbecue me on the floor of some inquiry and pull me to pieces? Why are they afraid of having an inquiry into this incident? Why are they afraid of the truth? Why do they hide behind that very narrow interpretation of the AFP? They may well have known about that result before the AFP came out. I do not know that. But I do know, as one who was interviewed, that it was a very narrow inquiry into a section of the Electoral Act. Are they prepared to make their phone records available? Is the Deputy Prime Minister prepared to make his phone records from that period of time available? I am quite prepared to make available my records which will trace the phone calls I made. Is the Deputy Prime Minister willing to make those phone call records available?

Another issue that has come to light in the last week is that of the Bundarra Grace Munro aged care facility. It goes to the heart of this issue and the right of the MP to carry out his job. I wrote to the aged care minister some time ago, inviting her to open the Grace Munro aged care facility. She wrote back suggesting that she could not be there but that Senator Macdonald would be her representative. A draft program was put out with a number of official parties, some of whom were to speak, of which I was one. I have had quite a bit to do with this project. I received a letter on Friday from Robert Fulcher—who in my view is a very good general manager—of Uralla Shire Council, the hosts of this particular function. They deserve great credit for the work they have put in. Robert Fulcher wrote:

Dear Tony,

The Commonwealth government has advised that its representative—

the name is not written here but Senator Macdonald is the representative—

has advised that its representative at the official opening of the Grace Munro Centre does not wish for you to be part of the official party or the official speeches. The mayor, Councillor Ron Filmer, has asked me to tell you that he regrets to advise you that the council will need to comply with the government's wishes.

I think that goes to the heart of this very issue. I seek leave to table the document.

Leave granted.

Mr WINDSOR —I also seek leave to table the cash for comment documents in relation to the University of New England and the preconditions that were placed on the announcement of that funding and subsequent political ramifications associated with the University of New England.

Leave granted.

Mr WINDSOR —I will not have time to go through that particular part of the issue. In conclusion, I would ask the parliament not to be afraid of inquiring into this issue. There are much broader ramifications of this than the issues that I raised last week. The issue of truth was raised last week, and the truth has not yet been told. I think that one of the major jobs of this parliament, and particularly the Senate, is to spend time on ascertaining the truth, and to allow the witnesses to those conversations—and others who have been privy to various funding arrangements and preconditions across Australia—the opportunity to put their cases, to be cross-examined and to be torn apart if that is what is required. As I said earlier, why are Senator Macdonald and Deputy Prime Minister Anderson afraid of the truth of this issue? (Time expired)