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Western Australia: report on the evidence heard at the trial of former Deputy Premier, David Parker

MONICA ATTARD: The trial of former West Australian Deputy Premier, David Parker, was told today how the Labor Party used donations to pay off the gambling debts of a candidate during the 1980s. The trial also heard how it was perfectly acceptable to use donations to make sure politicians' private finances were in shape and to make sure they were presentable to the public.

The evidence came from former ALP State Secretary and now Federal ALP Senator, Michael Beahan. Mr Parker is accused of stealing more than $50,000 in donations and using it to pay personal expenses. Mr Parker told the court today how millionaire businessman, Lang Hancock, and David Parker gave him thousands of dollars as gifts with no instructions on how the money should be used. Ross Solley was in the court room for P.M.

ROSS SOLLEY: David Parker is accused of stealing $54,000 in donations during the 1980s and using the money to pay off personal debts, such as the renovation of his kitchen and bathroom, his wife's tax bill and his mortgage. Today the District Court in Perth heard just what the West Australian Labor Party believes is acceptable use of political donations. Former State ALP Secretary, Michael Beahan, claimed it was difficult to make any distinction between a politician's private and political life. But he said the ALP was concerned about the well-being of its politicians and their presentation, and donations could be used to help out in both areas.

He gave the example of one country candidate who dressed badly, wore shabby glasses and had a bad hairstyle. The ALP used donations to buy the candidate a new suit, get his glasses fixed up and to get him a decent hairstyle. Mr Beahan also told how one candidate had accrued considerable gambling debts. The party was concerned that if his situation became public it would be embarrassing not only for the candidate but also the Labor Party. So his debts were paid off using money which had been donated to the party.

Donations were also used to help out politicians and their families if they got into financial difficulties. Mr Beahan said donations was a grey area, especially when it comes to who actually owns the money. He said although it seems a loose arrangement now, the use of donations depended largely on the discretion of the candidate.

David Parker also took the stand today and told the court of his friendship with two of Western Australia's wealthiest businessmen, Robert Holmes a Court and Lang Hancock, both who are now deceased. Mr Parker said both men had given him money as a personal gift. Mr Hancock gave him cheques totalling $50,000 and Mr Holmes a Court a cheque for $5,000. According to Mr Parker, neither man had stipulated what the money should be used for.

Mr Parker claimed that in 1986 the ALP asked him to approach Mr Holmes a Court to ask him for a donation. Although the businessman was at first reluctant to donate to the Labor Party because of his dislike for then Premier Brian Burke, he eventually agreed and wrote out a cheque for about $100,000. Before leaving Mr Holmes a Court's office, Mr Parker claims the businessman produced with a flurry a cheque from his inside coat pocket. He told Mr Parker: Here's something for you; I hope you can make use of it. He didn't stipulate how the money should be spent, instead suggesting it was up to Mr Parker to decide what to do with it.

Two years later Mr Parker received a phone call from mining magnate, Lang Hancock. At about that time, Mr Parker claimed he was considering leaving politics because he felt he could make more money in business. He said Mr Hancock was aware he was considering quitting and pleaded with him to stay on. He told him he didn't want him to have to worry about his finances and produced a cheque for $20,000. The court was told within three days of receiving this cheque Mr Parker had used $8,000 of it to pay off his wife's tax bill. Later that year Mr Hancock became very ill and again summoned Mr Parker. On this occasion he gave him a cheque for $30,000, saying he wanted to make sure he would be okay by giving him money. Mr Parker told the court he was of the opinion money in his campaign account was his and could be used for whatever purposes he saw fit.

Earlier today counsel for Mr Parker called Federal Industry Minister, Peter Cook, as a character witness. Senator Cook told the court he believed Mr Parker to be a man of high integrity and great honesty. The trial continues tomorrow.

MONICA ATTARD: Ross Solley in Perth.