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Thursday, 14 August 2003
Page: 18588


Mr LATHAM (2:40 PM) —My question is addressed to the Treasurer. When he appointed Mr David Knott as deputy chair of ASIC in 1999 and then as chairman in November 2000, what checks did the Treasurer undertake concerning Mr Knott's business activities? Did the Treasurer check the corporate governance and integrity record of all the firms that Mr Knott had been involved with, including Collie Knott & Co.? What did these checks reveal?


Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —Mr Speaker, no doubt the member for Werriwa thinks he can obtain political advantage from an article which appeared in the Australian Financial Reviewtoday under the headline `ASIC chief's former partner in sales tax scandal'. The article says that Mr Collie was obviously engaged in tax avoidance activity, back in around 1979, 1980 and 1981. The article says quite clearly:

BRW does not suggest that Knott was directly or indirectly involved in the sales tax scheme, nor that he advised on it, took any benefit under it or was aware of Collie's activities in relation to it.

It is saying that he worked in a two-man partnership with a partner who was involved in the scheme. There is no allegation of impropriety against Mr Knott and the BRW goes to great—


Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I am reluctant to interrupt the Treasurer but, on a point of relevance, my question is about the checks—


The SPEAKER —I do not need to hear this point of order extensively. I have noted the question and there is no way the Treasurer's answer is anything other than relevant.


Mr COSTELLO —There is no allegation of impropriety made against Mr Knott in this article. The BRW, as printed in the Australian Financial Review, goes to great lengths to say that. The allegation against Mr Knott is, at its highest, that he was guilty by association, not that he did anything wrong. BRW says quite explicitly that he did not, but that he came into a partnership with a man after that man had been engaged in the activity. Notwithstanding the grubby attempt by the member for Werriwa to push guilt by association on Mr Knott, I would like to refer the House to some other statements which have been made by Labor Party members in the last couple of days.

Opposition members interjecting


Mr COSTELLO —Oh, we do not want to hear them?


Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order that goes to relevance. I have asked a question about the checks that the Treasurer took at the time of the two appointments. I have not asked for an outline of what other people have had to say—


The SPEAKER —The Treasurer has not to date made any comment that is not relevant to the question asked. If he now chooses to do so I will of course take action, but to date he has not done anything other than say he wanted to refer to a list, and the relevance of that is for me to assess.


Mr COSTELLO —Senator Stephen Conroy, the shadow minister for financial services, took the opportunity to put out a press release when Mr Knott announced he would be standing down at the end of the year. This is what Senator Stephen Conroy, the spokesman for the Labor Party said:

Mr Knott has been an outstanding leader and a dedicated Chairman of ASIC since his appointment, first as Deputy Chairman ... and then as chairman in November 2000.


Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Treasurer is making a farce of your ruling because he has made no attempt to answer my question.


The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa will resume his seat. By any measure, the Treasurer is linking the remarks he is making to the question about the character of Mr Knott. That is as much relevance as is ever brought to bear by any occupier of the chair on any occasion.


Mr COSTELLO —Senator Stephen Conroy went on to say:

Under his stewardship, ASIC has become a world leader in financial services regulation and corporate enforcement.

He has steered ASIC through a difficult period in corporate regulation and has had many successes.

This is a press release of 12 August 2003. It goes on:

Above all, he has fulfilled ASIC's mandate of protecting consumers, investors and creditors, with efficiency and fairness.

That was the official statement from the shadow minister responsible in the Labor Party in relation to Mr Knott. Another statement from Senator Stephen Conroy was:

He has turned ASIC from a toothless tiger into an effective regulator.

I have only ever heard one person attack Mr Knott in this parliament and he attacked Mr Knott because ASIC had the temerity to bring an action against one Nicholas Whitlam. That person was the member for Werriwa. If there was ever any criticism in this place of Mr Knott, it was that under his administration ASIC had been vigilant in bringing legal proceedings. While Senator Stephen Conroy has always supported such vigilance, there is one person in this parliament for whom there is nothing too low to stoop to, and it is the member for Werriwa—as has been proved by this muckraking.


Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I wish to ask a supplementary question to the Treasurer.


The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa will resume his seat. The member for Werriwa is well aware of the fact that on becoming the Speaker I indicated in response to a question from the opposition that it was not my intention—and indeed had not been the intention of my predecessor—to accommodate supplementary questions.