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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2212

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I ask the minister about the potential for conflict of interest arising from the Prime Minister's $30 million piggery empire. Now that the Prime Minister's piggery partner, Mr Achilles Constantinidis, has resigned from the Australian Pork Corporation following concerns expressed by fellow board members, is the subject of a supreme court action for a breach of trust in which the North Auburn branch of the Commonwealth Bank is involved, has admitted that many company returns he filed at the Australian Securities Commission were inaccurate and in breach of corporations law, with several of his companies receiving penalty and deregistration notices, and is under examination by the Institute of Chartered Accountants as a result of a complaint alleging professional misconduct, does the Prime Minister have sufficient confidence in Mr Constantinidis to leave him running the Keating piggery empire while the Prime Minister remains at what the minister and he claim to be arms length from its management?

Senator GARETH EVANS —This is another in a long line of these sorts of questions from Senator Baume which do him and his party no credit whatsoever. What it is about and what it has always been about with Senator Baume is sneer and smear. It has been about a series of tendentious allegations, most of which prove on closer examination to have no substance whatsoever but which are deliberately designed to be prejudicial—not only politically prejudicial to the Prime Minister but personally prejudicial—to people with long and distinguished careers in commerce, in business or in other walks of private or public life. Senator Baume is a complete disgrace in terms of his public record on these matters. Every time he has set about trying by innuendo, by association—

Senator Parer —Mr President, I take a point of order. I think it has been held in this place before that referring to a senator as a disgrace is unparliamentary. I ask you, Mr President, to ask Senator Gareth Evans to withdraw that remark.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I acknowledge earlier rulings to that effect. I make the point, as I have made the point so often, that every time Senator Baume has somehow sought to embrace the Prime Minister or anyone else in guilt by association, he has fundamentally and comprehensively fallen flat on his face. He fell flat on his face in the context of the AQIS exercise. He fell flat on his face in relation to the Foreign Investment Review Board. He fell flat on his face in the context of the taxation inquiry. He will fall flat on his face again.

  The facts of the matter so far as Mr Constantinidis's association with the Pork Corporation are concerned are that he resigned from the board on 5 February because he indicated that his work requirements left him little time to devote to his other responsibilities, such as his position on that board. He had been able to attend only a handful of meetings in the time that he had been associated with it. As a prominent and well-known representative of that particular industry it was an entirely appropriate appointment and it is entirely understandable that he should have wanted to walk away from that when he felt unable to devote a sufficient amount of time to it.

  The questions as to returns, annual returns, company returns and the accuracy thereof are matters wholly for the ASC to resolve as between it and the people who file those returns with it. If the ASC thought any more substantive action was appropriate in response to the inaccuracies or variations that were necessary in those forms, it would unquestionably have pursued that. Questions of private litigation that might be involving Mr Constantinidis—just like Senator Baume's own questions of private litigation; and he has a bit of litigation to deal with, as he well knows, for things that he has said and which subsequently he has had grounds to regret—are entirely a matter for the people concerned and not a matter in any way, shape or form for the Prime Minister.

  Senator Baume has never been able to get to first base in beginning to establish any conceivable ground for conflict of interest between the Prime Minister and his business interests. Senator Baume ought to withdraw the innuendo, the sneers, the smears and the general vulgarity of his performance on this matter. It does him no credit.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his commendation of me and my character. I remind him that the tendentious allegations are all based on research at the Australian Securities Commission or the Land Titles Office. I ask: does the Prime Minister intend to involve himself in his piggery's management problems? If so, will the minister give an unequivocal assurance that this would not give rise to any potential conflict of interest between Mr Keating's private interests and his public duty?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I have said on a dozen previous occasions that the Prime Minister has no involvement, and intends no involvement, with the day-to-day management of this company. He is a shareholder. He is not, and never has been, a director of the company. He has not, and never has, had any responsibility for filing returns. He is not, and never has been, in a position of any responsibilities so far as the management of that company is concerned. Senator Baume knows that. He is utterly undeterred by the facts of this particular matter, just as he has been undeterred by any other fact he has stumbled across during his rather squalid and deeply unimpressive public life.