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Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Page: 17497

Mr LLOYD (3:12 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, representing the Special Minister of State. Is the minister aware of allegations about improper donations by Mr Karim Kisrwani? Is there new information about these donations? What is the government's response?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —I am aware of repeated allegations—repeated scurrilous allegations—coming from the member for Reid and the member for Lalor concerning Mr Kisrwani. Let it be very clear that Mr Karim Kisrwani is a long-time friend of the member for Reid. That friendship has been torched by the member for Reid in a desperate attempt to launch a cheap smear campaign against the minister for immigration. Not only that—the member for Reid and the member for Lalor have engaged in what amounts to a campaign of racial vilification against Mr Kisrwani's community.

The SPEAKER —Minister—

Mr ABBOTT —If it assists, I withdraw, Mr Speaker.

Mr Adams —Mr Speaker—

The SPEAKER —Because of the level of noise in the chamber, the member for Lyons may not have been aware of the fact that the minister withdrew the statement he just made.

Mr ABBOTT —I have here a joint reference for Mr Karim Kisrwani and Mr Safwat Arfan-Sayed. This reference says:

I am supportive, due to the active leadership of Karim Kisrwani and Mr Sayed in this grouping. Both of these gentlemen—

that is to say, Mr Kisrwani and Mr Sayed—

have displayed ceaseless activity for the Lebanese and broader Arabic population of my region. Additionally, they are widely respected in their professional careers. The proponents—

that is to say, Mr Kisrwani and Mr Sayed—

have the history, contacts, experience and analysis to make a very real impact, and I endorse their initiative.

This reference was not written 10 years ago; it was written on 30 September last year, and it was not written by Philip Ruddock. It was written by Laurie Ferguson, the member for Reid. There is more. The member for Reid now says that Karim Kisrwani is `no friend of mine'. Let me quote from this letter, addressed `Dear Karim':

I write to thank you very much for your donation of $300 to my campaign.

This letter on parliamentary letterhead says:

Your support is very valuable to me—

very valuable indeed, so it seems—

and I will endeavour to continue to uphold the Labor principles for the people I represent in this electorate.

The great Labor principle that the member for Reid is currently upholding is ratting on his mates when it suits him in a good cause.

Yesterday I told the House that the member for Reid had asked for Mr Kisrwani's help to stack branches in order to support Mr David Borger's preselection and that someone else—someone other than these stackers—had paid their membership fees. The member for Reid came into the parliament and made a personal explanation denying what I said. Since that personal explanation, I have sought corroboration and I have got it. I have here the words of Mr Ahmed El Dirani, who says:

In late October 2001 I received a phone call from my friend Karim Kisrwani ... if I can arrange another two people with me to assist the ex Lord Mayor of Parramatta David Borger by request from Laurie Ferguson, MP for Reid.

It goes on to say:

I or my brother never paid any membership fees. It was paid on our behalf: $37 per person.

Mr Speaker, it is not just Senator Bolkus who is living on another planet; the member for Reid is living on another planet. I suppose you can hardly blame the member for Reid. Let us face it: no less an authority than the member for Werriwa has said that the Fergusons have been disconnected from reality for quite some time. The member for Werriwa has also accused the member for Reid of being a chronic branch stacker.

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa will momentarily resume his seat. The member for Werriwa may or may not have been aware of this: I had already cautioned the minister. I will not tolerate people coming to the dispatch box other than to address the chair.

Mr Latham —In the minister's answer he repeated a false allegation against the member for Reid that was the subject of a personal explanation by the member for Reid yesterday. The allegation is that Mr Kisrwani has requested the member for Reid to—

The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa cannot proceed with this; in fact, technically, he does not have a point of order. I have heard him out out of courtesy. If in fact the member for Reid has been further misrepresented, there are of course facilities of the House to allow him to respond.

Mr Latham —I draw your attention to a ruling by former Speaker Halverson. He made a ruling that, if a member has taken a personal explanation to clarify and correct a false allegation, that false allegation should not be repeated in the House. The minister is repeating the false allegation that the member for Reid asked Mr Kisrwani—

The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa will resume his seat. If it is any reassurance to the Manager of Opposition Business, I suspect that the ruling to which he refers may well have been Speaker Halverson's—I do not want in any sense to detract from his speakership—but it is one that I have in fact made myself during the time the member for Fraser was Manager of Opposition Business. As I have indicated on a number of occasions, it is not the role of the chair to determine what is right or wrong in what is being said; this is a place of free speech. In the response being given by the minister—rightly or wrongly, I do not know—he has been attempting to advance additional evidence as to why his statement stood. That was why I have allowed him to continue.

Mr ABBOTT —Thank you, Mr Speaker. Let me say that there is a moral in this tale. The moral is that members opposite should give up this futile pursuit of the minister for immigration, for which they have no evidence whatsoever. There is an abundance of evidence of wrongdoing by the member for Reid and others, and no evidence whatsoever of any wrongdoing by the minister for immigration.