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Transcript of doorstop interview, 20 October 2000: Peter Reith.



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Doorstop Interview

John Faulkner - Leader of the Opposition in the Senate

Subject: Peter Reith

Transcript - 20 October 2000

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E & OE - Proof Only

FAULKNER: This morning we have learnt that the Telecard fraud investigator at Telstra warned DOFA about the suspected misuse of Mr Reith's Telecard on 17 July 1998. We learn as well that both Mr Reith and Senator Ellison were made aware of the misuse of Mr Reith's Telecard in late August or early September 1999. We learn also that at the time -August/September 1999 - the Department of Finance and Administration was proposing to provide information to the AFP, and that the AFP would wish to investigate. So today we have, another day, more allegations, more material in the public arena, more questions for the Government and Mr Reith to answer. This just reinforces the position that the Opposition has taken, that there is need for a full judicial inquiry.

REPORTER: The investigation has been reopened as of yesterday. What do you hope comes out of it, and what's your call now?

FAULKNER: Well it is true that the AFP, of course, has reopened its investigation into these matters . What we now know in relation to the AFP is that, according to a leaked departmental minute, the AFP would wish to investigate this matter - not when they were called in to investigate in May 2000, but some nine months earlier. And they're very serious questions now that the Government has to answer. So the AFP should have been clearly brought into this matter nine months before they were, and that is a very serious matter. We also know, of course, that Telstra did contact the department a lot earlier than had been first thought. We know that Mr Fahey has apparently misled the Parliament when he's indicated that they didn't receive early warnings from Telstra. Why did Mr Fahey make such a categorical statement in the Parliament when we now know from a leaked departmental minute that this statement he made was categorically wrong. Mr Fahey has no alternative but to come back immediately and correct the record. And I think Mr Fahey's offence in terms of an apparent mislead is even more serious, given the nature of the question asked by Mr Crean in the Parliament. And Mr Crean offered Mr Fahey an opportunity to check the record. But Mr Fahey made a categorical statement about early warnings from Telstra. Mr Fahey's statement in the Parliament was wrong. Mr Fahey has misled the Parliament; he must correct the record now. He has no alternative in accordance with Mr Howard's discredited Code of Ministerial Conduct.

REPORTER: Senator, what do you make of all these contradictory allegations now? Do you think there is a cover-up, or just a misleading the public of Australia?

FAULKNER: Well what we have is another day, new allegations, more leaks, more questions for the Government to answer. We know that the AFP would wish to investigate this matter some nine months before they were called in. We know that Mr Fahey has misled the Parliament. This affair is getting murkier and murkier, and there is no alternative but for Mr Howard to accept the Opposition's call for a full judicial inquiry. Mr Howard has no choice; this affair is far too serious for him to adopt any other course of action.

REPORTER: Senator, are you renewing your calls for Mr Reith's resignation, and now perhaps Mr Fahey as well?

FAULKNER: What we said about resignation is this. The proper course of action for Government, for Mr Howard, is to have a full judicial inquiry. Today we have more evidence that lends very significant weight to that call. That is, the AFP would have wished to have been called into this particular matter nine months before they were. We now know that Mr Fahey has misled Parliament in relation to the early warnings from Telstra. So that adds significant grist to the mill here. It really does add weight to the Opposition's call for a full public inquiry. Now there are just more than Mr Reith who's got to answer questions on this matter; we have other ministers embroiled in this affair. It's not only Mr Reith, it's Senator Ellison and it's Mr Fahey who's misled the Parliament. What should a responsible Prime Minister do in this circumstance? He should call the public judicial inquiry that the Opposition has demanded. There's no alternative here. We are not saying at the moment that Ministerial scalps are required. We are saying that now three Ministers in the Howard Government have serious questions to answer. And in relation to Mr Reith, we need him to stand down while all those matters are properly dealt with by an independent judicial authority. That's the proper course of action. Mr Reith should stand down. Sure, this might well be - it's certainly shaping up - as a resigning offence. But let's have proper process, and proper process is a full judicial inquiry. And it is Mr Howard who should step up and take the responsibility and call that inquiry forthwith.

Ends

Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.