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Thursday, 9 June 1994
Page: 1569

Senator MINCHIN (10.24 a.m.) —The report of this inquiry confirms what any fair-minded Australian has suspected all along. As the report says, the Prime Minister, Mr Keating, did attempt to influence Mr Black regarding the political coverage of the Fairfax newspapers for the 1993 general election. This all started because Mr Black spilled the beans on those opposite in his extraordinary autobiography A Life in Progress.

  In typical Paul Keating style, the Prime Minister confirmed his attempted blackmail of Mr Black—that is what it was—in his interview in Seattle. Not once has Mr Keating resiled from the remarks he made in Seattle. The Prime Minister has confessed to holding a gun to Mr Black's head. That is what this is all about: he had a gun to Mr Black's head throughout the 1993 federal election. Mr Keating effectively told Mr Black that unless he, Mr Keating, was satisfied with the coverage by the Fairfax newspapers in the 1993 election, Mr Black could not get the 25 per cent of Fairfax that he wanted.

  That was an outrageous and unforgivable attempt by Mr Keating to threaten the proprietor of an Australian newspaper. He put Black on notice that he could forget about increasing his level of ownership in Fairfax unless he, Mr Keating, was satisfied with the coverage of the election by Fairfax newspapers. As the Adelaide Review said in its edition of May 1994:

There was indeed a deal, and a thoroughly objectionable one. Or at least Keating offered one, and there is no evidence that it was declined—rather the contrary. The offer came at the moment in their meeting when Keating tied the future of Black's investment to the performance of his newspapers.

A deal, yes, but also a threat. If coverage disagreeable, then no hope for Black.

Under Mr Keating the question of national interest has become a question of the Labor Party's interest. That is how those opposite interpret national interest; it is the interest of the Labor Party. The Adelaide Review went on to say of Mr Keating:

He isn't entitled to bargain away foreign investment limits for what he thinks is fair coverage for his side of politics.

Mr Keating's attempted blackmail fits a pattern of behaviour on his part, and that is why we were able to substantiate our findings. Recently there was his very extraordinary and clumsy attempt to intimidate the media over its coverage of the change in the coalition leadership. We saw that in the article written by Laurie Oakes last week, where he pulled back the covers on the way this Prime Minister went berserk when he thought the media were too fair to the coalition over its change of leadership. He tried to intimidate journalists, in particular female journalists, over the coverage of the change of leadership in the coalition. What he said about Niki Savva was absolutely and utterly disgraceful, and female members of the Labor Party should hang their heads in shame to have a leader who intimidates female journalists.

  Keating's style is to bully, intimidate and threaten everybody, but particularly the media. He has a dictatorial, autocratic style of government, as we saw in the way he dealt with Mr Black. That style goes back a long way. It was revealed in his speech to the Canberra press gallery—that infamous speech in December of 1990 where he bragged:

I have Treasury in my pocket, the Reserve Bank in my pocket, wages policy in my pocket, the financial community both here and overseas in my pocket.

This print media inquiry reveals that Mr Keating was trying to get Mr Black into his pocket. We know that the New South Wales Labor Right is hysterical in its hatred of Fairfax. Its hatred is infamous. Keating has wanted to get Fairfax in his pocket and under his influence for a very long time.

  Ken Davidson, who is someone we would regard as a Labor sympathiser, is quoted on page 116 of the report as saying of the Labor government:

The reason why this government has always disliked the Fairfax Group and why, incidentally, its also disliked the ABC, is because you can't do deals with the management. You can't ring up one person in either organisation and say, `get that journalist off my back'. Both organisations don't work that way.

That was Ken Davidson saying how much the Labor Party and Mr Keating hated Fairfax and wanted to get them under the thumb. Evidence of Mr Keating's long history of wanting to intimidate the media is also revealed at page 106 of the report by a board minute taken by Fairfax executive Max Suich of a meeting between the Fairfax board and Mr Keating. The minute says:

. . . Keating says his motives for getting involved in the Herald and Weekly Times takeover were a desire to see the [Melbourne] Herald broken up and a desire to hurt Fairfax . . . The Treasurer is a product of the New South Wales right wing of the ALP and his conversation is littered with threats, references to getting even, doing deals and assisting `our crowd' in business, the press and within the ALP.

He is very blunt about the fact that the New South Wales right are `deal makers' and that they provide favours to `our crowd' in return for favours given.

That is a report by Max Suich of a conversation between Mr Keating and the Fairfax board. That is not us saying it; that is the media saying it. It is utterly ridiculous for the Labor Party to suggest that what Mr Keating meant in Seattle was that he wanted the newspaper to be fair to the coalition. Those opposite are trying to say that that is what he meant. That is a joke.

  At the time this infamous conversation between Mr Keating and Mr Black occurred the ALP was going into an election that it properly thought it was going to lose. The ALP knew that New South Wales was a major problem area and it needed to get the Fairfax newspapers under its control. The ALP had this fantastic gun at its head. Here comes Mr Black walking in saying, `I have got to get 25 per cent of these newspapers.' All of a sudden, Mr Keating is handed his gun, and he sure used it, did he not? He said to Mr Black, `Well, you are not going to get 25 per cent unless I am happy with the coverage that you give my party in the next election campaign.' The Sydney Morning Herald was vital to the campaign because of the importance of New South Wales in that election.

  To rabbit on about what the editorials said shows not now naive those opposite are, but how they tried to cover it up. Those opposite know as well as we do that the editorials mean absolutely nothing; what matters is what is on the front pages of those newspapers. There is no doubt that the front pages of the Sydney Morning Herald, particularly in the final week of the campaign, were very anti-Liberal. Those opposite know that as well as we do.

  The very fact that Mr Keating was in a position to attempt to influence Mr Black in this way is an indictment of Labor's foreign investment policy and practices. In Labor's hands foreign investment has become a device for achieving Labor's partisan political ends. That is how Labor is using and abusing the processes of government. This whole episode is one of the most dark and shameful episodes in foreign investment policy in this country.

  The recommendations made by the Senate committee to clean up our foreign investment policy should be acted upon immediately. It is ironic that for all the bluster and bravado from Labor, the Labor Party representatives make recommendations in their minority report to clean up foreign investment policy—the foreign investment policy which led to this outrageous situation.

  Those opposite tried to bully this committee into submission. They have been very embarrassed by what went on between Mr Keating and Mr Black. The more strident the government's attacks, the more obvious and apparent is its embarrassment over the whole scandal. I hope that when those opposite are finished with their bluster, their bravado and their bullying they will read this report, take notice of it, and act upon it so that we never again have a repeat of this Fairfax scandal.