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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2331

Senator O'CHEE (11.21 p.m.) —Today the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) announced to the House of Representatives that he had, two weeks ago, disposed of his joint venture interest in Danpork Australia. Since that time, Mr Keating—supported by his minions—has been running around Parliament House and the press gallery saying, `No matter what may or may not have happened in Danpork—

Senator Watson —His hands are clean!

Senator O'CHEE —As Senator Watson interjects, he has been saying, `My hands are clean because it is all over. I have sold the shares, so there is no point in asking any more questions'.

  This is the same defence that he used when he was questioned about his comments about Mahathir. He said, `Forget about it. Don't worry about it. It's sands in the pavement of history', or something similar. He said, `It's all over and done with'.

  I have some news for the Prime Minister: it is not over and done with. Just because he has sold his shares in his shonky piggery business does not mean that he deserves to escape scrutiny. Moreover, I can assure him that he will not escape scrutiny.

  The Prime Minister may think that this is the end of the matter, but, if I may borrow a phrase from Sir Winston Churchill, this is not the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning. It is the end of the beginning of the unravelling of Mr Keating's dirty dealings in this piggery.

  Senator Michael Baume quite accurately laid out the financial improprieties that concern the accounts of Danpork Australia and its associated companies. I intend to take the opportunity to outline the deceit and the disinformation coming from the Prime Minister and his ministerial colleagues—it is interesting that one of those ministerial colleagues, Mr Griffiths, is no longer a ministerial colleague; a fine reward he got for covering up for the Prime Minister—on what the Prime Minister's company intended to do with genetic imports into this country.

  In September 1992, when these matters were raised in the Age newspaper, the Prime Minister insisted that all the allegations were false. In fact, the Prime Minister, in his usual enlightened, reasoned, rational way, contacted the Age and suggested that it might like to change the story. I do not know how he suggested it might like to change the story; I have some ideas as to how he might have suggested it might like to change the story.

  Senator Richardson was on television tonight telling us that the Prime Minister's suggestions were usually fairly colourful in their language. I do know that the Age published a retraction. This retraction is very interesting. It was what the Prime Minister required the Age to print in the newspaper; if it did not, he was going to sue it. Is that not a strange thing? Have honourable senators ever heard of Mr Keating suing somebody? It is very strange indeed. This is the retraction that Mr Keating required the Age to print:

Early editions of yesterday's `Age' reported that a family company of the Prime Minister was an investor in Danpork Australia, which planned to import live pigs from Denmark as part of a joint-venture operation with a Danish company. This was incorrect.

  The joint venture in which Mr Keating has an interest will use local stock. It has no intention of importing any pigs or breeding material from anywhere, and has not applied to do so. The mistake was made by a reporter.

  Mr Keating says the joint venture has not been the subject of any ministerial talks, nor has it been involved in contact with the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service.

That is a travesty of lies. It is a proven travesty of lies because there is a paper trail on this matter almost a mile long. The paper trail disproves almost every assertion that was in the retraction that the Prime Minister insisted that the Age print. I raise the question: why did the Prime Minister feel it was necessary to threaten to sue the Age? He wanted to shut it up. Of course, as it transpired, it was absolutely correct. The mistake that was made by the Age was not the mistake made by the reporter. The reporter, Karen Middleton, was absolutely spot-on in what she reported in the paper. The mistake that was made by the Age was being bluffed into the silence by the threats of the Prime Minister.

  Let me go through the travesty of lies that the Prime Minister forced the Age to print, because I think it is quite interesting. First of all, the retraction says that Mr Keating's joint venture partners would use local stock and that they had no intention of importing genetic material from anywhere. That is the first and perhaps one of the greatest lies that the Age was forced to print. Upon examination of the material obtained by Senator Boswell under an FOI application from the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service, we find all of a sudden, in 1990 or thereabouts, frantic activity within AQIS to start to look at changing the import protocols for genetic porcine material coming in from Denmark. Why was this material banned at that point in time?

Senator Burns —You look like you just caught a big fish.

Senator O'CHEE —I have not caught a big fish, but I have caught a big fool. I suggest that Senator Burns might like to not interject and, if he is going to interject, he should do so from his own seat.

Senator Burns —I raise a point of order.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McGauran)—Really, I am reluctant to take your point of order.

Senator Burns —I am entitled to make a point of order. I am now in my place. I find the remark `fool' made by Senator O'Chee to be objectionable. It is not within the standing orders.

Senator Kemp —Mr Acting Deputy President, on the point of order, I recall an interesting occasion recently when Senator Burns was in the chair at an estimates committee. When I took offence at some of the remarks made by Senator Faulkner, Senator Burns was very vigorous in his rulings. I am quoting this important precedent. He said that I had no right to object to the remarks of Senator Faulkner to which I took offence and asked me to please move on to the next topic. I think the Burns ruling was a harsh ruling but, in view of the fact that it was made, I urge you to remember that precedent.

Senator Burns —Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. It is a deliberate lie. I made the point that it was not a place to debate the issue—

Senator Ian Macdonald —He has already spoken to the point of order.

Senator Panizza —Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I am using some discretion. I will allow you to finish your second point of order, Senator Burns; or is it a comment on the original point of order?

Senator Burns —The matter raised by Senator Kemp at the estimates committee was that as chairman I indicated that it was not a place for debate but a place where we were entitled to seek information, and therefore I ruled that we should get on with the business.

Senator Panizza —Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Following what Senator Burns said, I thought estimates committees had the same standing orders as the Senate and we should abide by those standing orders. If he made that sort of ruling at a Senate committee hearing I believe that the precedent should stand in this chamber.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Macdonald, did you have a point of order?

Senator Ian Macdonald —Mr Acting Deputy President, you have ruled on my point of order and that was that Senator Burns was speaking twice. I do not know how many chances you are going to give him, but it is very tolerant of you on the last day of sittings.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —My ruling would be to caution Senator O'Chee to not be so freewheeling with the word `fool'. I ask him to be cautious.

Senator O'CHEE —I have been very cautious in this debate because any time people say something outside this chamber they get sued. We have to be extremely cautious. But what I can reveal before the chamber about the litany of lies which the Age was forced to print is that in fact there are documents concerning this matter. In this case, a document was prepared by one of Australia's trade commissioners in 1990, I understand, which mentions the proposal by the Federation of Danish Industries, which later became Danpork. It says:

A further important prerequisite for quality is the breeding semen and embryos. The FDI argues that they need to import the semen from Denmark to acquire the quality standards necessary. The import of semen is a political issue.

Of course it was a political issue because no other pig breeder and pork producer in this country had access to genetic material from Denmark, because of the quarantine risk that it posed and because of the danger of TGE. You know, Mr Acting Deputy President, how dangerous TGE is. You know how dreadful its consequences are. It is like some of the appalling interjections we hear from the other side. It is just as welcome. That is why it was prohibited from this country, just as the threat of mystery swine disease prohibited the import of genetic material from Denmark.

  Yet one man had the opportunity to bring it in, because the influence a person has as the Prime Minister or the Treasurer is quite substantial. It was sufficiently substantial to get AQIS, which had previously not considered the import of genetic material from Denmark to be a high priority issue, to start sending faxes all around the country asking people to comment. It was also such an extraordinary event that an Australian research facility sent a fax back to AQIS saying:

Why is this now a priority one issue?

The answer to that question was that the Prime Minister wanted the genetic material in so that his piggery joint venture could get off the ground and have an unfair advantage over every other Australian farmer.

Senator Michael Baume —It was a political issue; that's why they needed a politician on the board.

Senator O'CHEE —It was a political issue; that is exactly why the people involved needed a politician on the board. They needed an influential politician on the board or an influential political shareholder, because some of these people did not have the courage to put their name on the board—and it is interesting why they did not. Mr Keating did not want to put his name on the board in case everything went belly up, if you will forgive the pun—went pork belly up—and he found that he was in breach of the Australian Corporations Law.

  First of all, we see that is a lie to require the Age to say that in this venture there was no intention of importing genetic material. Mr Keating also asserted that this joint venture had not been the subject of ministerial discussions yet, as a result of the FOI application made by Senator Boswell—which I have already tabled before an estimates committee—we found a number of minutes showed that when Mr Tornaes, who was the Danish Minister for Agriculture, came out to this country, he had discussions with the then Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, Mr Crean.

  Mr Keating would have us believe, by virtue of the retraction he made the Age print, that his joint venture piggery was not mentioned in those talks. He would have us believe that the importation of genetic material was not mentioned in those talks. But the documents show something else. The documents are very interesting, not just in what they show but in what they did not show when they were first given to us. One of those minutes mentioned discussions between Mr Tornaes and Mr Crean on the subject of importation of pig meat from Denmark. Some words at the end of the sentence were deleted—deleted under the provisions, so we were led to believe, of the Freedom of Information Act. Honourable senators would know that there are very strict requirements on what can and cannot be deleted under the FOI Act. The only problem was that we happened to have a copy of the document from which the words were not deleted.

Senator Abetz —What were they?

Senator O'CHEE —Senator Abetz asks what those words were. The words deleted after the words `pig meat' were `and genetic material'. That is what was deleted. We have to ask ourselves why those words were deleted from a document for which there had been a FOI application. There was certainly no grounds for those words to be deleted. They were not commercial-in-confidence; they did not compromise a person who had given information to the government; and they had not compromised the government's investigations in any matter—the normal excuses we are given for why these words were deleted. These words were deleted out of an obsessive desire on the part of somebody to protect the Prime Minister. Those words revealed for all to see that the retraction the Age was made to print was nothing but the flimsiest of lies. The second thing that Mr Keating said about there having been no ministerial talks was disproved by the documents. I will be fair to those on the other side of the chamber who may wish, for some obscure reason, to try to defend the Prime Minister in this matter.

Senator Abetz —No, they are hanging their heads in shame.

Senator O'CHEE —I will be fair to the people who want to try to defend the Prime Minister. The government brought some poor public servants before an estimates committee to say that they had written the document, that they could not remember why they deleted the words at all but, even if they had deleted them, they were not quite sure that what was there was correct. They were sure that every paragraph in the minute was correct but they just could not work out whether those words were correct. I am sure that if I were a public servant who had been caught deleting words from an FOI document—it is an offence under the act to improperly delete information or to withhold information—I would be very embarrassed as well. I would get a very good case of selective amnesia and I would get it very quickly. Unfortunately, Mr Keating already had the selective amnesia when he required the Age to print the retraction. The retraction the Age was made to print was nothing but a lie.

  Finally, through the retraction, the Prime Minister suggested that the joint venture vehicle had not been in contact with the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service. That is also very interesting, because a fax from Austrade in Copenhagen in November 1990 reports that the fourth Australian visit by the Federation of Danish Industries—which became Danpork—was a great success and that `technical, principally quarantine, issues are resolved'. They were resolved. They were obviously resolved to the satisfaction of the Danes and their punitive partners because that is why they continued with the process. The fax said that Danpork was ready to invest in the Australian project and that the manager had returned from Australia, where he had negotiated with potential investors. I assume that one of those potential investors was Mr Keating, or interests associated with him, because not much later Mr Keating finally disclosed to the world that he had a joint venture interest in this company.

  At that time we saw frantic work by AQIS to start to review the import protocols for genetic material from Denmark. If the Prime Minister likes to believe that by selling his shares—or rather by disposing of his shares, because we do not know how the shares in the company were disposed of—he absolves himself from the sins of forcing the Age to print a retraction which was a total and utter travesty of the truth from start to finish, he is wrong. If Mr Keating thinks that he can buy into a joint venture company, hold on to it, maybe make a profit, or maybe get out breaking even, or maybe get out thankful to whoever it was who was his benefactor who bought the shares—

Senator Michael Baume —Who rescued him from a disaster.

Senator O'CHEE —Yes; if he thinks that it is all over and done with, he is wrong. The intention of the Prime Minister in going into this transaction was to make a profit. He knew that through his influence he could ensure that the situation was fixed so that his joint venture partners and his own company would have a clear run. They would get this genetic material, they would breed these super pigs and the rules would be fixed. All the documents show it. All the conduct of the government ministers and the public servants shows that there was a concerted effort, once the truth started to come out, to try to close it all down.

  If Mr Keating thinks that by disposing of his shares he can hide his sins as a minister, if he thinks that by disposing of these shares he can hide the truth, if he thinks that by disposing of these shares that everybody is going to forget all the double dealing, lying and deception to which we were subjected, he is wrong. If he thinks that ministerial incompetence or ministerial misconduct can be so easily hidden from this parliament, he is very wrong. I can assure Mr Keating that we have the documents. I can assure Mr Keating that we know exactly what has gone on, that we are continuing to work on Mr Keating's misconduct and that all will be revealed. As I said earlier on, this is not the end of the matter. It is not the beginning of the end of the matter, but it is the end of the beginning of this saga. But there is much more to come.

Senator Sherry —Just finish.

Senator O'CHEE —I know that empty vessels make the most noise, and I know that Senator Sherry is the Marie Celeste of the government. There he is. He floats around the front bench. The lights are on, but nobody is at home. He is the Marie Celeste. What a shame that Senator Sherry is not as quiet as the Marie Celeste. The problem for the Prime Minister is that he has been caught out and we will continue to expose his double dealing.