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Minister pressures Opposition over Senator who received donation from Filipino businessman Dante Tan; ALP targets Immigration Minister because he used ministerial powers to grant more than 1,000 visas.

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Tuesday 24 June 2003

Minister pressures Opposition over Senator who received donation from Filipino businessman Dante Tan; ALP targets Immigration Minister because he used ministerial powers to grant more than 1,000 visas


PETER CAVE: For a second day, the Federal Government is targeting Labor backbencher, Senator Nick Bolkus, alleging he received a political donation from the fugitive Philippines businessman at the centre o f the cash and visa scandal, but didn't declare it. 


Employment minister Tony Abbott has called on Labor leader Simon Crean to demand answers from Senator Bolkus and has suggested that the Australian Electoral Commission might like to refer the matter to the Federal Police. 


Mr Abbott has again claimed, under the protection of parliamentary privilege, that the former Labor minister appears to be involved in money laundering, as well as circumventing the financial transactions act. 


But that hasn't deterred Labor from its targeting of Immigration Minister, Phillip Ruddock, for the way he's used his ministerial power to intervene in the granting of visas in more than 1,000 cases. 


Alexandra Kirk reports from Canberra that in a late development, the Labor Party has lodged an amended return to the Australian Electoral Commission. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: For weeks now the Federal Opposition's been asking Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock question after question about his granting of visas and Liberal Party donations, including the case of fugitive Philippines businessman Dante Tan, who fled Australia earlier this month. 


Mr Tan was granted Australian citizenship after a large donation was made to the Liberal Party. Today Labor again asked Mr Ruddock to explain the number of cases in which his friend Karim Kisrwani had contact with the Minister and his office and in how many of these cases were Mr Kisrwani's representations successful. 


Mr Ruddock says he's already explained how the ministerial powers have evolved, and how they're exercised.  


PHILIP RUDDOCK: I have no say over who approaches me and the number of times people approach me vary greatly. I determine these issues on a case by case basis, and the way in which they are resolved depends upon the facts in the individual case and I stand by the decisions I've made and I don't intend to have them micro-managed by you. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Labor tried again, in what turned out to be today's last question, but by then the minister indicated he'd said all he was going to say.  


PHILIP RUDDOCK: The number of answers I have fully answered and the number of times that people have gone outside this house, ignored the answers I have given, have considerably represented me and at times defamed me. But those who don't come with clean hands deserve no better answer than they've had so far. 


JOHN HOWARD: I ask that further questions be placed on the notice paper Mr Speaker. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: It's this sort of questioning that's raised the ire of the Government, with the manager of Government business, Tony Abbott fighting back, with allegations that Dante Tan gave $9,880 to the Labor party in 2001, which was not disclosed. 


TONY ABBOTT: It seems that Senator Bolkus has been involved in money laundering pure and simple. It seems the ALP is up to its neck, Mr Speaker and I call on the leader of the Opposition to come clean about what's been going on and to discipline Senator Bolkus immediately. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Mr Abbott says the Australian Electoral Commission might like to refer the matter to the federal police. The AEC says it's received some information, which it's currently considering. 


Mr Abbott still hasn't provided any proof, but thought it was a good enough form of political attack to try it for the second day in a row, organising a question from his own side. 


ANDREW SOUTHCOTT: Has the Minister seen assertions that the disclosure provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act can be defeated by the channelling of a cash donation for $9,880 dollars through a so-called major raffle? Is the Minister aware of other Commonwealth measures where such a transaction might have been designed to defeat? 


TONY ABBOTT: I can inform the member for Boothby that comments in today's paper by Mr Dante Tan's business partner certainly seem to indicate that a member of the Australian Labor Party, former frontbencher Senator Nick Bolkus, gave bodgy advice on how to avoid the disclosure advice of the electoral act. 


Mr Speaker, I want to make it very clear to members opposite that the Australian Electoral Commission advises that any receipts which aggregate to more than $1,500 must be disclosed. 


Senator Bolkus must provide answers to what now seems to have been the world's most expensive chook raffle, Mr Speaker. I mean, how many tickets did Senator Bolkus sell? At what price did Senator Bolkus sell these tickets? How many tickets did Senator Bolkus sell to Mr Tan? 


Mr Speaker, the question that Senator Bolkus should really answer is when did he tell the leader of the Opposition? 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: A Labor spokesman has told PM the Federal ALP has lodged an amended return with the Electoral Commission, declaring the $9,880 donation. 


PETER CAVE: Alexandra Kirk, reporting from Canberra.