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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 100


Senator FERRIS (3:35 PM) —I want to take just a couple of moments to address the issue of the government's response to the report: Australian Wool Innovation Limited—expenditure of funds under statutory funding agreement, which Senator O'Brien has commented on. As Senator O'Brien correctly said, the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee investigated this issue, and I think it is fair to say that all members of the committee took the view that questions in relation to AWI arose from issues raised in the budget estimates process and required answers. I would like to recognise the fact that, of the recommendations that our committee made—all eight of them—the minister has agreed with all but one. The one he has not agreed with goes simply to a small detail in relation to the statutory funding agreement and not a significant issue. The most important issue arising out of this inquiry is reflected in recommendation 1. Recommendation 1 reads:

The question whether AWI used company money to campaign for sitting directors during the 2002 Board election, in breach of Corporations Law, should be referred to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

This was very important. I would say it was the nub of much of what we inquired into. I am very pleased to say that Minister Truss has agreed to write to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, providing a copy of the report and drawing ASIC's attention to the views of the Senate committee. This was a crucial issue during our inquiries. It referred to a large amount of money that was made available from levies compulsorily collected from wool growers in very difficult times for the benefit of their industry. This money was used for a self-serving purpose by a number of directors, which, when we did the inquiry, appeared to us to be in clear breach of ASIC regulations. I am very glad to see that Minister Truss has sought the advice of ASIC in relation to that recommendation. I think it is a very important issue and one that very clearly applies to a number of the independent agencies that have many millions of dollars in compulsorily acquired levies from rural industries. It is very important that it be clarified.

A number of other areas covered in our other recommendations—there were eight of them—have been agreed to by the minister. I think it is quite unfair of Senator O'Brien to criticise the minister as not having been up to speed on this issue. When it was drawn to the attention of the department during the estimates process and Senator O'Brien and I agreed to form a subcommittee to take up these issues and pursue them, we did so with a great deal of reluctance, in a sense, because it is very difficult in these sorts of circumstances to tell wool growers that their hard-earned levies are being mismanaged. But we did uncover some very important shortfalls in the AWI and I am very glad to see that the minister is taking them up.

Question agreed to.