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Tuesday, 17 March 1987
Page: 763

Senator JONES —My question is directed to the Minister for Finance. I refer to a report in the Courier-Mail of 11 March 1987 concerning the imminent sale of the Balbah Downs property of a former National Party organiser, Mr Michael Behan. Has a natural disaster relief arrangements loan of $145,000 been made to Mr Behan in respect of that property? Does the sale throw any light on whether the loan guidelines were correctly applied in making the loan? What are the implications for the Commonwealth funds involved in the loan as a result of the property's sale?

Senator WALSH —In response to the first part of the question, as to whether the natural disaster relief arrangements guidelines were correctly applied when the loan was made, the prima facie answer would appear to be no, because one of those guidelines, and a very important guideline, is that the loans should be made only to farmers who would be viable if such a loan were made. The fact that the property is now for sale-and evidently a forced sale or something very close to a forced sale-dem- onstrates that it is not now considered to be viable, some eight months after the loan was made, despite the fact that beef cattle prices, particularly I understand in north Queensland, are very satisfactory. Indeed, for those who remember the background of this case, the administering authority recommended against the loan being granted and that recommendation was overruled by the Queensland Minister of the day, Mr Turner, presumably acting under instructions from higher up in the National Party hierarchy, just as some Queensland members of this House apparently act on such instructions.

I have written to all State Treasurers regarding that aspect of NDRA guidelines and the adherence to those guidelines. I have not received replies from all State Treasurers yet. In answer to the second part of the question in relation to the implications for Commonwealth funding of the sale of the property and the repayment of the loan, it would appear that in round figures about $109,000 of the $145,000 initial loan came from Commonwealth sources. The NDRA guidelines are very clear on what must happen if and when the loan is repaid; that is, that three-quarters of the Commonwealth initial funding must be immediately returned to the Commonwealth. That is something over $81,000. I will do everything I can to ensure that that money is returned to the Commonwealth, before it is either stuffed into a hollow log or misdirected into the Bjelke-Petersen Foundation-or before it follows Alan Bond's $400,000 into Petersen's back pocket.