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Monday, 1 December 2003
Page: 23299

Dr EMERSON (2:36 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Trade. Can the minister confirm that Austrade recently provided a taxpayer grant of $90,000 to a company called World Wide Entertainment? Is the minister aware that this company is run by Mr Bill Farrow, who also ran the failed Pyramid Building Society, the collapse of which affected over 200,000 investors, creditors and debtors and resulted in losses of around $900 million? Can the minister explain to the House why the Howard government considers that the provision of such a grant is a responsible use of taxpayers' money?

The SPEAKER —Before I recognise the Minister for Trade, I point out to the member for Rankin that the question could have been framed without including a name. The standing orders indicate that the use of a name should not be necessary unless to authenticate the question. I did not write or design the standing orders; that is precisely what they say.

Mr VAILE (Minister for Trade) —I thank the member for Rankin for his question. Our government was not responsible for what went on in Victoria that number of years ago when Pyramid collapsed. From memory, I think it was a Labor government in Victoria at the time.

Mr VAILE —That is right: it usually is when there is a collapse, just the same as in South Australia.

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER —The minister will resume his seat! Let me point out to the member for Grayndler and to other members that, should the Speaker draw their attention to their obligations, subsequent interventions are distinctly a reflection on the chair. I have drawn the member's attention to his obligations. The minister has the call.

Mr VAILE —I am aware of the circumstance that the member for Rankin raises. Of course, it goes without saying that the EMDG Scheme is a nondiscretionary scheme that is operated by Austrade. The rules are set out very clearly in terms of access and assessment within the Export Market Development Grants Act 1997. Presumably, similar regulations and criteria were applied by the previous government to export market development grant schemes. These decisions are taken by Austrade according to that act. Section 10(3) of the Australian Trade Commission Act prevents the Minister for Trade from intervening in Austrade's handling of specific grant applications. I am advised that World Wide Entertainment production and sales promotes and sells television programs overseas. That is something we would all support. They have applied for an EMDG under the regulations that apply to anybody else in this country, and that has been approved by Austrade. I am aware that the individual the member alluded to is a director of that company, but presumably there are other directors and shareholders. The entire application would have been assessed on its merits; otherwise, it would not have been paid.