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Monday, 22 August 2011
Page: 8854

Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (21:15): I rise to speak on this motion regarding bank note bribery allegations. I would like to congratulate my colleague, Steven Ciobo, who asked a series of questions about this very issue during a recent House of Representatives committee hearing with the Reserve Bank.

We know that the role of the Reserve Bank is a critical one. The Reserve Bank of Australia is Australia's central bank. It conducts monetary policy, it works to maintain a strong financial system and it issues the nation's currency. It is a policy making body, and that policy making body has serious responsibilities. It provides selected banking and registry services to a range of Australian government agencies and to a number of overseas central banks and official institutions. It also manages Australia's gold and foreign exchange reserves. Any question as to the propriety of the Reserve Bank is a very serious one.

The question at the fore today relates to two subsidiaries of the Reserve Bank: Securency, 50 per cent owned by the Reserve Bank; and Note Printing Australia, 100 per cent owned by the Reserve Bank. There have been a number of allegations that have been ventilated in the media over a period of time. At the core of the issues that have been raised is the use of agents and those agents making payments, or bribes, to secure contracts overseas. This is currently under police investigation. However, there are still questions around who knew what, when they knew it and what they then did about it. It would be a serious issue indeed if the RBA did not have appropriate governance standards to identify any potential breaches of the law. It would be a critical issue indeed for the RBA if in fact it was made aware of issues and did not immediately refer those issues to the police for investigation. It would be a serious issue if the RBA tried to deal with this matter internally. It would be a serious issue if the RBA did not notify the government when it became aware of the concerns regarding allegations of bribery of foreign officials.

Thinking back on some of the recent matters that have involved allegations of foreign bribes, I recall Kevin Rudd making quite a lot of noise about these issues in 2005. In fact, he had quite a lot to say about it. He said it was most critical that in circumstances where these sorts of allegations are made they should be properly and thoroughly investigated. In fact, he indicated that, foreign bribes were associated with the 'worst corruption scandal in Australia's history'. The government needs to look very seriously at the position it is taking on this issue today compared with the position that it has taken it the past.

As I said before, before the Greens' member for Melbourne there was Steven Ciobo. He has done quite a lot of forensic work on this issue in the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics in his pursuit of questioning of the Reserve Bank Governor. He asked a series of questions during the last meeting. Specifically, he asked when the Reserve Bank was made aware of these issues. The Reserve Bank Governor said in his response that he was first made aware of the issues in relation to Securency in May 2009, which is when the reports were first publicly ventilated. However, according to recent media reports, it seems that the board was aware of issues relating to the sister company, Note Printing Australia, in May 2007. So there are some serious issues to be properly investigated and looked at. I note that there is going to be a committee hearing of the Reserve Bank on Friday and I am sure that these questions will be addressed during that hearing. It is imperative that the police are able to get on with their investigation. This is critical. The government should not stand in the way of any police investigation. The police should be able to go about their business and to secure the information that they need in order to do their job properly and thoroughly.