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Thursday, 25 March 1999
Page: 3341

Senator ABETZ (7:10 PM) —On Sunday, 21 March 1999, the 60 Minutes program provided to the Australian people a devastating expose of former Labor leader Keating's financial transactions associated with his now infamous piggery. In typical Keatingesque style, he denied the allegations with a flourish. He called them a `hatchet job'. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on 23 March 1999 at page 7:

Mr Keating said after the program screened on Sunday night that the "option did exist".

"It was not owned by me," he said. "But even if it had been, I was not required to disclose it."

Given that the option existed, the former Labor leader's other quotable quote—reported in the editorial of the Sydney Morning Herald of 23 March 1999 at page 16—needs full analysis. In that editorial the former Labor leader is quoted as saying:

"Everything I told Parliament was completely correct" . . .

So what did the former Labor leader tell the parliament? In answer to an opposition question on this very matter, dealing with the piggery and his personal financial transactions, the former Labor leader told the House of Representatives on 24 March 1994—that is exactly five years and one day ago—that:

The honourable gentleman—

referring to Mr McLachlan, the then member for Barker—

seems to know much, but he does not know that I disposed of my interest in this business nearly two weeks ago. He does not know that, but I am telling him.

So Labor's former leader, Mr Keating, announced to the world that he had disposed of his interest. Because he was not forthcoming with proof, we had to accept that assertion. However, it is now quite clear that the former Labor leader sold his shares but, in a slick deal, retained an interest—contrary to what he told the parliament—by retaining an option to buy back. Either he or a company with which he was associated held that option. The option was later sold for over $1 million. It would not be an exaggeration to claim that one million dollars plus is an interest, indeed a substantial interest.

An option is clearly an interest. As the value of the company increases, so does the value of the option, and therefore pulling strings or doing things to advantage the company are actions which increase the value of the option—a very clear interest in anyone's language. As such, there existed a responsibility to disclose the option. Indeed the former Labor leader appeared in 1975—some 20 years earlier, before he pulled this particular stunt—before a parliamentary committee setting rules for disclosing members' outside interests. A report of the Hansard shows Keating gave the hypothetical example of an MP being able to hide a profit if he had:

"an option to purchase for an infinitesimal amount, a property or shares, at sometime in the future, and only one copy ever existed and that was with the member himself—no-one", said Keating, "could ever say that had received it."

All hypothetical of course, but not so hypothetical in this case because, as has now been revealed, this is exactly what the former Labor leader did. The state of the evidence is now very clear. Mr Keating, the former Labor leader, did mislead the House—no splitting of hairs. No silver-tongued apologist can deny that. This should be a matter of grave concern to all honourable senators and members and to all Australians.