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Thursday, 14 August 2003
Page: 18595

Mr CREAN (3:13 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Trade. Can the minister confirm that from at least 21 August 2002 he, his office and government officials were in regular contact with Mr Honan concerning the shipment of ethanol from Brazil, as evidenced by letters and emails: two personal emails from Mr Honan to the minister's chief of staff, and Mr Honan's personal letter to the minister, addressed `Dear Mark'? Why didn't the minister or his office warn Neumann Petroleum or Trafigura of the $1 million damage that they would face from the government's proposals on ethanol? Why did the government bend over backwards to help Mr Honan but do nothing to assist its smaller Australian competitors?

Mr VAILE (Minister for Trade) —On the first point that the Leader of the Opposition raised: I would not describe my contact or the contact of my office as `regular'. Obviously the Leader of the Opposition has a copy of the letter that was released under FOI—which I think is dated 23 August—that was directed to me. Yes, that did alert me to the proposed or alleged or possible importation of ethanol. The government and government officers at that stage were already aware of this proposed shipment. As the Leader of the Opposition is also aware, that was a Friday evening. On Monday the 26th, DFAT, at the request of PM&C, made some inquiries in regard to this allegation about a possible shipment of ethanol from Brazil through the Australian Embassy in Brasilia.

Mr Crean —That was detailed in the letter to you.

Mr VAILE —It was not detailed in the letter to me. That detail was there.

Mr Crean —So it was there!

Mr VAILE —It is a matter of the public record.

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER —The minister is entitled to be heard without interruption.

Mr VAILE —There is no extensive detail, other than the allegation of a possible shipment, in that letter. Obviously, the government was going to make it its business to try to substantiate those allegations that had been made by way of emails and in that correspondence. Of course it is now a matter of the public record. That matter of public record started in a Senate estimates inquiry where information was handed over at the end of last year, my recollection is, in regard to inquiries that were made.

In regard to the second point that the Leader of the Opposition has indicated with regard to Neumann's—and I am aware of some comments that have been made about Neumann's—in the discussions or information that was forthcoming, the government ultimately became aware that the shipment belonged to Trafigura. I think the Prime Minister indicated yesterday that one of my staff was actually talking to an executive from Trafigura the following week.

In regard to Neumann's, I would like to clarify the time frame of this. I think the Leader of the Opposition indicated I was travelling overseas with a representative from Neumann Petroleum. That is indeed correct. On 7 September, I left Australia leading a business delegation to the Middle East. There were a number of companies involved in that delegation: AWB Ltd, BHP, Santos, Woodside and Neumann's, to name just a few. I was actually in a meeting with the minister for, I think, oil and gas in Teheran on 10 September when cabinet was meeting here in Australia. I was not at the cabinet meeting that took the decision. We departed Iran on 12 September. I think that was the day the announcement was made by the Prime Minister here in Australia. Mr Morton, during the course of that delegation, made no attempt to talk to me about this issue. Obviously, I did not make any attempt to talk to him about a cabinet decision that I was not privy to.

Mr Crean —I seek leave to table correspondence from the Manildra Group to Minister Vaile which identifies the name of the vessel, the volume of the ethanol to be shipped and the value of that. So much for not knowing!

Leave granted.