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Discussion of shares held by the Industry Minister, John Moore, following the accusation by the Opposition that Mr Moore has breached the Prime Minister's code of conduct

JOHN HIGHFIELD: The Opposition has accused Industry Minister, John Moore, of breaching the Prime Minister's code of conduct by virtue of his holdings in a company called Bligh Ventures. Bligh Ventures holds equity in companies developing communications technology and oil and minerals exploration. The code of conduct says that Ministers should divest themselves of all shares and similar interests in any company or business involved in their portfolio responsibilities. John Moore admitted, today, that he owns about $100,000 worth of Bligh Ventures stock, but adds that those shares have been on sale since May of this year.

Joining us is David Pembroke. David, what do we know about the company, Bligh Ventures?

DAVID PEMBROKE: Well, John, Bligh Ventures holds shares in several technology companies as well as shares in an oil and mineral company known as Bligh Oil. Techniche is one of those companies of which Bligh Ventures owns around 10 per cent and it's in the business of developing communications technology, as is another of the companies, JTEC Pty Ltd. Bligh Ventures also holds around 25 per cent of an unlisted company, the RSM Group which is involved in the design, development and also selling of intelligent retail point of sale equipment, both here and overseas. Bligh Ventures has around seven million shares on issue and, at the moment, sellers of that stock are looking for around $2.20 for a share, whereas the buyers are looking to pay around $1.85.

JOHN HIGHFIELD: Now, in his explanation to Parliament, John Moore talked about liquidity and the fact that it wasn't the right time to sell out without making a loss. Did he give any further reason than that?

DAVID PEMBROKE: Well, the Minister holds 48,000 or he did hold 48,000 shares in Bligh Ventures, but they have been offered for sale since May when his parliamentary interests were tabled. At that time, MrMoore declared that, along with his holdings in Bligh Ventures, he also had shares in Pacific Dunlop, Walhalla Mining and Ralston Pty Ltd. He subsequently amended that listing and he announced that he'd sold all of those stocks except for Bligh Venture.

Well, this afternoon, P.M. has learnt that, of the 48,000 shares, so far sold are around 5,000 from the 48,000, so the balance being around 43,000. And as you suggested, MrMoore has explained that there are too many sellers in the market and that's why he's finding it difficult to sell the balance.

Well, this afternoon, his stockbroking firm, Wilson HTM in Brisbane, has backed him up on that claim, and they've informed Mr Moore in writing that there is minimal demand for Bligh Venture stock despite a recent drop in price, and that's also further backed by other stock brokers in Brisbane who have pointed out to P.M. that only 15,000 shares in Bligh Ventures have been traded this month. So obviously the market's appetite for Bligh Ventures isn't great and it would struggle to cope with the sale of 40,000-plus of the stock.

The only other point, I suppose, to be made at this time is it's not known what price MrMoore originally paid for his Bligh Venture stock, and it's also not known just exactly what price Mr Moore is hoping to get when he does sell his shareholding in Bligh Ventures.

JOHN HIGHFIELD: Well, what's the Prime Minister had to say if you balance up between the intention of his code of conduct and MrMoore's predicament here?

DAVID PEMBROKE: Well, the Prime Minister has backed Mr Moore very strongly, saying that the Minister has taken every reasonable step to sell his shares and points out the points, obviously, that MrMoore has made, that they have been on sale since May and some have been sold and the rest remain on the market. Mr Howard's office also, this afternoon, has said that Mr Moore has been very careful not to place himself in any position that could create a conflict of interest, so from that, I think we can assume that he has declared his interest very strongly to the Prime Minister and, in any discussions that there may have been in Cabinet, he has declared that interest and the interest has been known.

It's also the view of Mr Howard, at this time, that his Ministers can't hold out for the best possible price but, at the same time, he doesn't expect them to sell at a massive loss.

JOHN HIGHFIELD: David Pembroke in Canberra.