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Tuesday, 10 October 2000
Page: 18188

Senator ROBERT RAY (3:15 PM) —If we were guilty, as Senator Hill charges, of base political motives in this, we could have raised the specifics of it at the estimates last May. But we did not. We asked general questions about the use of the telecard. We did not ask the specific about Mr Reith. So, Senator Hill, to say we are acting in the short term is not true. Secondly, Senator Hill does not address the question of how bad it is to comment on operational matters. When he says Mr Reith acted properly, Mr Reith made this matter public when the Canberra Times questioned him yesterday. Go back through the history of Mr Reith's dealing with this issue. He was told about this issue back in August 1999. When did he tell the Prime Minister? In May 2000. And when was it referred to the Federal Police? Not back in August 1999. After the Prime Minister was informed, on the advice of the Attorney-General, the matter then goes to the Federal Police.

We have this contradiction. This morning, trying to save his own skin, Mr Reith said he referred the matter to the Federal Police. I believed him until I watched the television at lunchtime—a direct broadcast of the Prime Minister's press conference—where the Prime Minister said he, the Prime Minister, referred the matter to the police. Who is to be believed—Mr Reith or the Prime Minister?

On the question of belief, we are asked to accept by Mr Reith whether in fact he could remember what happened to his card. He sort of vagued it up. He said, `I thought I might have handed it back in.' If he is serious about the issue, why didn't he do a search of his office, of his briefcase, of his wallet, to see if the card still existed? Why didn't he ring the department and say, `Oh, look, chaps, I've been asked a question on this and I've forgotten whether I handed my card back in.' But no, to vague things up, to fuzz the whole issue, he says, `I may have handed it back in.' The fact that it is reissued every three years and everyone gets a new card with an expiry date has been overlooked by Mr Reith. Of course, what Mr Reith has not done directly, and he should at least do it now, is say that he, Mr Reith, admits to directly breaching the Remuneration Tribunal provisions as reinforced in the DOFA guidelines. Those guidelines are explicit: the telecommunications card is issued to the member and senator solely for their personal use on parliamentary and official business.

You have to ask how this issue arose when you have a PIN, a 12-digit number. Who got hold of it? Mr Reith at least answers that. He said he gave it out. He is totally in breach of the Remuneration Tribunal provisions. And what is he doing with his time? Doesn't he actually read the cost of his total phone bill? He has had 65 monthly reports, he has had five annual reports and he is so dopey he cannot analyse this massively high figure that he has been charged over this particular period.

It is a double standard here. Three years ago, Mr Reith, when I was accused of some misconduct to do with ministerial resources—and after an inquiry it was found there was no evidence at all—rushed into print that same day. He put out a press release and said I was not being vigilant enough in supervising my resources. The difference is that I was vigilant; there was no evidence. But Mr Reith was not being vigilant. Some $50,000 shot out the door. We have to ask why he does not pay back the full amount of money. He is too busy undermining workers' entitlements, negotiating 10 per cent discounts with Hudson Conway on his Melbourne penthouse or working some twisted ideological framework for sabotaging the referendum on the republic. That is what he has been busy about, while back home, back in his electorate, now a marginal electorate, now capable of getting marginal seat funding, he has let $50,000 shoot down the drain. In fact, he should pay the whole amount back, and he should pay it back today.