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Wednesday, 20 March 2002
Page: 1082

Senator CONROY (2:10 PM) —My question is addressed to Senator Abetz, the Special Minister of State. Can the minister confirm that, in 2000, the then secretary to the Department of Finance and Administration, Dr Peter Boxall, was provided with copies of Comcar documents—or documents which purported to be Comcar documents—by the Brisbane Courier-Mail journalist Mr Paul Whittaker when he was pursuing an FOI request very similar to Senator Heffernan's? Can he confirm that Dr Boxall investigated the authenticity of the documents, and can he clarify what those documents were? Can he further indicate how the investigation into the documents was conducted? What was the specific departmental finding and what was the date of the finding?

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) —It is somewhat funny, isn't it? We have a situation where Senator Heffernan has offered a full and unreserved apology, His Honour Justice Kirby has had the good grace to accept it, and the time has now come to move on. But the Australian Labor Party, who are absolutely devoid of any policy proposals or initiatives, have to keep trawling through the gutter with innuendo in relation to this matter. It will not get them anywhere in the polls.

Senator Carr —What about the answer?

Senator ABETZ —I do have a very specific answer. The former secretary to the department Dr Peter Boxall has indicated to me that he has had the opportunity to review a detailed chronology of the events in relation to Senator Heffernan's and Mr Paul Whittaker's contacts with the Department of Finance and Administration. This material, provided by the department, confirmed his recollection that he had had no contact with Mr Whittaker. It also confirms his recollection that at no time did Mr Whittaker provide supporting documents to either Dr Boxall or the department. Undoubtedly there will be a prewritten supplementary question, and I look forward to hearing it.

Senator CONROY —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. I appreciate the answer to that question; I just wish it had been an answer to the question I asked. Could you also inform us: who was told of the department's findings in this investigation? Was Dr Boxall told? Particularly as he had received information and documents from the journalist, was the minister or his office told?

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) —I thought I had made it perfectly clear.

Senator Conroy —You didn't answer the question, Eric.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy, you asked a question and an answer was given. You asked a supplementary question and immediately sat down and started shouting. It is disorderly.

Senator ABETZ —Did I not predict, in my answer to the first question, that we would get a prewritten supplementary question? The prewritten supplementary question asks about documents allegedly passed from Mr Whittaker to Dr Boxall. I will read my answer again. This material, provided by the department, confirms Dr Boxall's recollection that he had had no contact with Mr Whittaker. It also confirms his recollection that at no time did Mr Whittaker provide supporting documents. He can ask the question a third or a fourth time, but the answer is going to be the same. I do not know how often Senate question time has to be treated as a remedial school for elements of the opposition—they are very slow learners. I have given a very clear answer. Dr Boxall has indicated the situation and I have nothing further to add. He did not receive the documents—end of story.