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Monday, 2 June 2003
Page: 15590

Ms GILLARD (2:45 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. On what date or dates did the minister visit the Maha Buddhist monastery in Galston in the last three years? What representations did the minister receive on the question of visas for religious workers during those visits or separately from them? On what date did the minister first become aware that the monastery had made a $100,000 donation directly to his own local election campaign? On what date did the department of immigration resolve the monastery's difficulties with religious workers' visas and how many such visas have been issued in respect of religious workers at the monastery since that date?

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —In relation to the question asked by the honourable member, and to dates in particular, I will endeavour to find out from my diary what dates may be relevant to the question asked. In terms of my knowledge of this issue, I became aware of it on reading an article in the Sydney Morning Herald of Saturday, 2 February 2002. I do not involve myself in fundraising.

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER —If members on my left wish me to, I will gladly exercise the right of a general warning. The minister is entitled to be heard in silence.

Mr RUDDOCK —I observe the Liberal Party's fundraising code, which is quite prescriptive in terms of—

Mr Martin Ferguson —Take what you can when you can.

The SPEAKER —The member for Batman is warned.

Mr RUDDOCK —It is quite prescriptive in relation to the way in which we should engage ourselves in fundraising events—not to collect money, but to leave it to office bearers of the party to be involved in those matters. That is the case with me. The Berowra—

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Oxley.

Mr RUDDOCK —The Berowra federal electorate conference of the Liberal Party from time to time receives donations and, as required by the Electoral Act—let me make it very clear—those matters are properly reported and included in the party's return. The time at which I became aware—

The SPEAKER —The member for Kingsford-Smith is warned.

Mr RUDDOCK —The time at which I became aware that a substantial donation had been made—

Mrs Irwin —You'd already spent the money.

The SPEAKER —The member for Fowler will excuse herself from the House.

The member for Fowler then left the chamber.

Mr RUDDOCK —As I said, I do not ask for my party organisation to tell me who has donated. These matters frequently, as in this case—in terms of the quantum of the donation involved—come to my attention when they are reported, and publicly reported—

Mr Crean —Not before?

Mr RUDDOCK —And not before.

Mr Crean —You didn't know?

Mr RUDDOCK —No, I did not know. I did not know.

The SPEAKER —I have already called on those on my left to exercise restraint. That includes the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr RUDDOCK —I did become aware of it when it was reported in the press, when somebody had been trawling through the party's returns. It came in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday, 2 February 2002 under the heading `Froggy went a'courting ALP'. It said:

The discredited former head of, Karl Suleman, was one of the biggest donors to the Labor Party last year, new records released ... by the Electoral Commission reveal.

Mr Suleman, whose private companies are under investigation ... gave about $170,000 to the NSW branch of the ALP ...

Told yesterday of the donations, the liquidator of Mr Suleman's companies, Neil Cussen—

when asked whether he would investigate whether he could retrieve any of the money on behalf of the investors—

said ... `They are of interest to us. We will be looking at any transactions like this.'

But Labor's NSW secretary, Eric Roozendaal, told the Herald yesterday that Mr Suleman's donations had already gone.

Mr Swan —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. My point of order concerns relevance. This was a very specific question about a donation to the minister's electorate council.

The SPEAKER —As all members are aware, questions about the funding of political parties fall generally outside the standing orders. The minister was asked a question that sought a great deal more detail than I thought it would have been possible for him to give. I was tempted to ask the member for Lalor to place it on notice but, given that the question had already had some publicity, I thought it possible that the minister would want to respond. I deem the minister's response in order.

Mr RUDDOCK —This is an old report—it has been around since 2002 for people to ask questions about if they were serious. It is not a matter about which questions should have been asked but, the fact is, they have sought to ask them. In this story it was made clear that the ALP, when asked if it would refund the donation when the company had been liquidated, said, `Unfortunately, all those contributions went towards the federal election and they have been spent.' Too bad. Given what happened last week, I anticipated that you might bring forward a question like this. In relation to that, my department advises me that, since the beginning of 2002, New South Wales officers of my department have approved 23 religious worker nominations and 10 religious worker visas. The nominations are broader—they cover the person who might be nominated. Again, that does not mean a religious visa is granted; that is a nomination. There were 13 employer scheme nominations of which 10 have resulted in nomination scheme visas. I have also been advised by my department that there have been no ministerial intervention cases related to the monastery.