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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2338

Senator TAMBLING (11.59 p.m.) —The issue I wish to raise tonight is one that is very important to the appropriations and one which the Senate and everyone is entitled to take into account in dealing with this important legislation. During Senate Estimates Committee C, a number of issues were very properly raised. Mr Acting Deputy President, you will recall that there was quite a bit of discussion with regard to national infrastructure projects and, particularly, links to the better cities program. As a result of that information, and only in the last couple of days, I have received through Estimates Committee C 700 pages of tabled files on the particular issue that I addressed.

  This issue concerns very specifically the $8 million Subiaco oval upgrade in Western Australia. This was a particular project. Mr Acting Deputy President, I take you back to the One Nation statement by the Prime Minister, Mr Keating, in February 1992. In February 1992, a commitment was given to $8 million worth of national highways and road funding in Western Australia. It was a very important project.   But we subsequently found when we got to the August 1992 budget that there was a phone call from the Department of Finance to what is now called the Department of Human Services and Health requesting that department to introduce an $8 million, one-line item into its budget. It was very conveniently tacked away underneath the better cities program and everything else. There was no justification in the performance indicator statements of that project. It was appropriated, but it was not spent in 1992-93. It was not even looked at.

  In the August 1993 budget, the same line item was again transferred into the 1993 project. Again, nothing appears in the performance indicator statements. Naturally, in looking at this year's estimates, it was a matter of asking some questions about how this funding was going to be expended and when it was going to be spent. We have now discovered that the $8 million will not be spent this financial year. Rather, $1.5 million of it will be spent in 1993-94 and the remainder in the next financial year.

  This naturally set my mind thinking that I needed to look further at this project. I asked questions of the officers in Estimates Committee C. Suddenly what started to unravel is a very incestuous and suspicious scandal that goes back to the involvement of the Prime Minister, Mr Keating; the then Treasurer, Mr Dawkins; the then Premier of Western Australia, Dr Lawrence; Mr David Hatt, a consultant in Western Australia; and the portfolio minister involved with the Department of Human Services and Health, Mr Howe. All of these Labor mates are suspiciously caught up in a major scandal that has now unravelled in these 700 pages.

  I invite people to go through these pages in detail. They now formally mean that a lot more questions are involved. This file evolved from a telephone conversation. In the August 1992 budget, the Department of Finance told the Department of Human Services and Health to introduce an $8 million line program. What is the justification for that? It is a letter that has now been tabled from Mr Dawkins, the then Treasurer, to the Prime Minister dated 27 July 1992. That letter reads:

Dear Prime Minister,

You may recall that in discussions I had with the Premier of Western Australia, the Hon Carmen Lawrence, prior to the One Nation Statement, it was agreed that $8 million from that package be held over, pending further consideration of infrastructure projects of benefit to the Western Australian community. When making this decision, we had in mind that the Hatt Report on the development of Subiaco Oval was then in its final stages of preparation.

Listen to this:

For administrative convenience the $8 million in question were notionally included in the National Highway Systems program. However, the funds have not been allocated to any specific projects.

While it is my firm view that the most practical and beneficial application of these funds would be to the Subiaco Oval redevelopment project, as recommended in the Hatt report, it is my intention to hold further discussions with Premier Lawrence with a view to determining the final allocation of these funds.

Accordingly, I am now writing to seek your agreement to designate . . .

The third item in the file is a letter from the Prime Minister dated 2 August 1992. It states:

My Dear John,

Thank you for your letter of 27 July 1992 concerning funding for the redevelopment of Subiaco Oval. I agree that these funds be designated as a further separate appropriation under the category of Urban Infrastructure in the Health, Housing and Community Services Portfolio.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Keating.

There is the genesis; there is the start of this incredible saga that goes on for a whole series of departmental notes that show that the department was unhappy and had problems all the way through. It tried to pass off the responsibility to Mrs Kelly's department—sport—but that department threw it back saying, `No. We don't want anything to do with it. We won't have anything whatsoever to do with this particular project'. The intrigues, subterfuge, et cetera that have followed since then have to be read to be believed. I invite any journalist, senator or member of the public who wants to see how this Labor government has operated over a period of two years to come and get hold of those files.

  This leads us to a series of questions that must be asked. The question we must ask the Prime Minister, Mr Keating, is: why did he approve, in August 1992, this mysterious transfer of $8 million from One Nation road funding to Subiaco Oval, a project very closely associated with the electorate confines and areas of Dr Carmen Lawrence?  Did the former federal Treasurer, John Dawkins, reveal his personal links with Western Australian football when he took part in this deal? The Prime Minister needs to be asked whether he will order an inquiry into Mr Dawkins's motives and conduct, particularly if either he or Mr Hatt, one of Labor's mates, is appointed in the near future to either the Western Australian Football Commission, or the new Fremantle AFL club, as is widely predicted.

  The Prime Minister needs to be asked whether he will investigate Dr Lawrence's involvement in and compliance with this project. Honourable senators should see the statements in these files about Dr Lawrence's compliance with this. A Perth city councillor was so incensed at this issue that in one of the pieces of correspondence she says, `There is a certain odour to this not unreminiscent of the halcyon days of WA Inc'. The Prime Minister should also be asked now, today, to stand Dr Lawrence aside from any conflicting cabinet or ministerial appointments until this grubby and corrupt series of favours for mates has been fully investigated and explained.

  The portfolio minister, Mr Howe, needs to be asked: given that the Hatt report on the Subiaco Oval to the then Lawrence Labor government was completed only after the $8 million had been earmarked by the federal government under this special deal between Mr Dawkins and the Prime Minister, was this project determined on a whiteboard, or was it determined in secret discussions between the Labor mates, Mr Dawkins, Dr Lawrence and David Hatt? I remind West Australian senators who came here in March 1993 that the $8 million appropriation to the Subiaco Oval was promoted three days before that March federal election. Given that, why has Mr Howe failed now to reach an agreement with the Western Australian governments—both the labor government and the subsequent coalition government—in the two years since the One Nation statement of 1992?

  Mr Howe also needs to be asked about his 700 departmental files that he approved for release this week to the Senate Estimates Committee C, and the cover-up of some very revealing inter-office memoranda from his own department. For example, one officer describes the Subiaco saga as Blue Hills. Yet another asks for direction about the political clout associated with this project. Yet another asks, `Am I missing some of the more subtle reasons for the payments to be made this year . . . in advance of the need?'. Why is there a memo stating, `Carmen Lawrence is anxious about making too much of a public announcement about it'? Another memo cynically refers to her friend, David Hatt, author of the Hatt Report into Subiaco Oval, as a `man of many hats'. Will the minister explain this unholy, complicated mess in which the officers of his department, through 700 pages, are obviously uneasy with this total political cover-up?

  What about the Minister for Finance, Mr Beazley? This is another area. I certainly intend in this next parliamentary recess to make freedom of information requests to the other departments that are involved, the Department of Transport and the Department of Finance. I want to see the 700 pages that will come out of those departments; they will be just as revealing. But we need to ask Mr Beazley why his department asked Mr Howe's department in August 1992 `how the $8 million for the Subiaco Oval project was to be appropriated' when the then Treasurer, Mr Dawkins, had already told Carmen Lawrence `that he was prepared to advance Commonwealth money up front'—I stress up front—`for the Subiaco Oval'. I ask why Mr Beazley's department subsequently advised Mr Howe's department only two days before the March 1993 election:

. . . if the payment is to be made direct to either a private organisation or a local government authority, rather than through the WA Government—

I remind honourable senators that by then it had changed colour—

then it cannot be made from Division 886.

What a fundamental question! Obviously, Mr Dawkins—and I can assure honourable senators from these files that there is a letter there—sought to have the Western Australian government, rather than the federal government, fund this project. Two days before a federal election he wanted money passed directly to the Western Australian Football Commission so that another mate's deal could be done. That needs to be pursued and all of the files from the Department of Finance need to be on the record, just as those from Mr Howe's department are on the record.

  Another question is: why did Mr Dawkins indicate to government officials in a departmental memo in October 1993—just before he resigned from parliament—that he `would have liked the $8 million to go to the WA Football Commission so they could earn the interest on it'. Days before Mr Dawkins resigned from this parliament, he wanted another special fiddle, another special deal done. He wanted the money to by-pass the state authority, to give it straight to his mates in the Western Australian Football Commission where he is currently angling for a job. He wanted to by-pass the fundamental systems of government.

  This is a sad and sorry saga of the type of government that we have come to expect from the Keating regime, from the ministers of this government who have all obviously contrived to break the rules in order to do deals for mates. What a sad story we have come to! As I said, it is there chapter and verse in these 700 pages that I have been able to read only in the last couple of days.

Senator Murphy —Did you read any?

Senator TAMBLING —If Senator Murphy wants me to quote some more of them, I will. Some of the ones from the Western Australian shire councils and local government councils are priceless. The departmental memos between one office to another, from a person sitting in the Perth office to somebody sitting in Canberra, are incredible. The comments I made before about Blue Hills and the other areas are indicative of this. Just about every note in this file shows that the Canberra public servants are horrified at what is going on in this portfolio.

  As other senators have said tonight, we have seen the Prime Minister's dealings in the piggery affair. We have seen what other ministers have been doing. This is a government in crisis. It is an issue that needs to be addressed and when we return in May this issue will have to be pursued. At that time we will also have the additional information from Treasury, Finance and Transport, and Dr Lawrence is going to have a lot to do. If the Prime Minister gives the environment, sport and territories portfolio to Dr Lawrence tomorrow, then he will have made a serious mistake.

  Dr Lawrence will be lucky to last five weeks in that position. The positions that Dr Lawrence has taken right through this issue since early 1992 really lock her in. If she gets the portfolio of health, she will have to account for the very issues that I want Mr Howe to account for tonight. The links between Mr Dawkins, David Hatt and Dr Lawrence must come out. They will come out and prove that, if Prime Minister Keating were to appoint Dr Lawrence tomorrow to the ministry in any of these positions, he would be making an incredible miscalculation.