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Minister discusses misuse of his telecard.



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THE HON PETER REITH MP

MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT, WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND SMALL BUSINESS LEADER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

 

Transcript

Transcript of the Hon Peter Reith MP, Radio Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW Subject: Telecard

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MITCHELL:

I asked Peter Reith to call in.  He has.  Minister, good morning.

REITH:

Good morning Neil.

MITCHELL:

What have you got to say?

REITH:

Well, in terms of whether I was ever informed of the abuse of this prior to August 1999, the answer is, no I wasn’t. I simply knew absolutely nothing about it.

MITCHELL:

Are you surprised to see that this woman says she was told in 1994 they were onto the rorting, and to stop it?

REITH:

Well, all I can say about that is that the police have the full story. I still don’t know the full story. The police have the full story as their investigations have unfolded. They’d given all that information to the Solicitor-General and the Solicitor-General has accepted the version of events as told to the police by my son.

MITCHELL:

But now this version is public. Now her version is public.

REITH:

Well, I presume what she said publicly is what she’s told the police.

MITCHELL:

Well, did the Solicitor-General know that she claimed she was called in nineteen ninety-four and told to stop rorting the card, five years before anybody else knew?

REITH:

Neil, I have not been privy to the police investigations or what the police have given to the independent Solicitor-General, or what has been given to the independent Director of Public Prosecutions. All I can tell you is that both those independent legal people have cleared both me and my son of any liability whatsoever. However, I still proceeded to pay the fifty thousand dollars and I have accepted political responsibility for what happened. The other question you asked was, what happened a year ago with the Department. Well, that report this morning is based on comments Mr Howard made yesterday. He was referring to discussions I had with the Department, not a year ago, but in April-May when they revealed their investigations to me.

MITCHELL:

Well, did you ask the police to investigate it because you were being told you were liable for fifty grand?

REITH:

What I was told was that I may be personally liable and they proposed to issue a debit notice, but they never did. And my view of it was regardless of the civil liability questions, given the extent of the abuse as revealed to me at that time of their investigations, the matter could not just be dealt with by a payment of a cheque when there was clearly matters of criminal conduct that had to be investigated by the police. So my view was even though my son was in the gun, Neil, I said to them, ‘listen, this thing has got to go to the police, there has to be a full investigation’. There cannot be any suggestion by anybody that the investigation was somehow finalised. You can’t finish anything like that without the coppers coming in.

MITCHELL:

But you were told a year ago that you could be liable for fifty grand?

REITH:

Not a year ago. First of all, not a year ago.

MITCHELL:

When were you first told you could be liable?

REITH:

This was in a discussion with the Department in April this year.

MITCHELL:

When did you order the investigation?

REITH:

Well, I then wrote to the Prime Minister and said this is what’s happened, this is what’s been said, including that, I believe that the thing should go to the police and it went to the police.

MITCHELL:

When were you first told that the problem existed?

REITH:

Well, we knew there was a major problem, but not to the extent of fifty thousand dollars worth, in August last year.

MITCHELL:

Why was there no inquiry then?

REITH:

Well, there was an inquiry. There was a departmental inquiry.

MITCHELL:

Why not a police inquiry?

REITH:

Well, at that stage, Neil, all we knew was that there were a whole lot of bizarre phone calls as it were, from all round the country on my phone bill. We did not actually know what had happened. All we knew was that there was a massive bill over a nine month period. We didn’t know how far back it had gone, the extent of it, who was involved. We just didn’t know anything.

MITCHELL:

So what happened from then until you ordered the police inquiry to change things? Why did you decide on the police inquiry at that later stage?

REITH:

Neil, obviously as a result of the Departmental investigation, now just so you know, they had set up an internal audit process for any questions about entitlements. They’d set that up a couple of years before.  They’d set it up with the approval of the Attorney-General’s Office as the proper way to handle any questions. So, when this matter of mine came along, they had a proper process tipped off by the AG’s Department about how to deal with things. And then they proceeded basically to go over every account, every telephone (inaudible) and I don’t know exactly what they did. Obviously, I wasn’t running the investigation. They then proceeded and then finally at the end of that they came to me and said, well it’s about fifty thousand bucks, there’s eleven thousand phone calls, nine hundred different locations and that when obviously we knew that my son had used the thing and I paid the money for my

son there and then, and I said well it’s now got to go to the police.

MITCHELL:

So you didn’t ask him before that?

REITH:

Well, I didn’t know. I just didn’t know.

MITCHELL:

And you didn’t think, I’ve given Paul the card, I’d better check with him about what he’s done?

REITH:

Well, I just didn’t know. I just did not know. That was just one conversation six years or five years earlier.

MITCHELL:

What, had you forgotten that you’d given him the access to the card?

REITH:

Yeah, I just never thought about it again.

MITCHELL:

So you’d forgotten it?

REITH:

Yeah absolutely. Well, there’s more than that. The Department’s official advice to members and senators was that, if you are using your telecard we will tell you and tell you how much you’re using it. And I personally had stopped using it years ago, so no one ever told me it was being used. If anybody just said to me there’s been five dollars worth of telecard calls on your account in the last twelve months, if anybody had just told me that, I would have known immediately.

MITCHELL:

Do you believe Ingrid Odgers when she says your son gave her the opportunity to use the phone as she wished?

REITH:

The only comment that I make, Neil, is that this has been independently assessed by the Solicitor-General and he has said that a court would accept my son’s version of events. I can tell you though, just by the way of light aside, I don’t have a private jet.

MITCHELL:

No, I assumed you didn’t. If it’s correct that someone has rung Ingrid Odgers in 1994 and said, stop using the card, then this is a fairly major error is it not, because the rorting had

been identified in 1994 but not acted on for five years, which would have saved a lot of money?

REITH:

I must say I take a leaf from the Solicitor-General on the issue as you would appreciate. I don’t accept her version of the events. The idea that someone suspects fraudulent use and then would ring up the person who’s fraudulently using the numbers, doesn’t quite add up to me. If someone genuinely thought in 1994, look I just do not know, Neil, I just don’t know the answer. But if someone had thought in ‘94 there was fraudulent use, well why wouldn’t they ring me?

MITCHELL:

And you’re sure you took no phone calls or your office took no phone calls?

REITH:

Well, more than that. We were told that if there were phone calls on the Telecard, someone would tell me.

MITCHELL:

When you put all this together, it’s a pretty sloppy way to go about business isn’t it? Even to take your role out of it. The way we, as a Government or as a bureaucracy, administer public expenditure is damn sloppy.

REITH:

Well I’m told it’s been fixed now. Obviously, the Department reacted when this thing came to light back in, well, certainly August ‘99 as far as I know. All I can tell people is that the system was set up before, back in 1991. Now, I’m not trying to blame anybody, but if people want to know what happened, it was set up in 1991. And it was set up in such a way that the politicians just did not know.

MITCHELL:

You’ve said a couple of times this should go away, this should be the end of it. Do you accept that it’s not going away? I mean here we are with the front of the largest selling newspaper in the country, ‘Angry Ms X lashes out’ and there’s still Mr Y, who the hell is Mr Y and what’s he gonna say?

REITH:

Well, I don’t know.

MITCHELL:

It’s not going away though is it?

REITH:

It was always the case that when the Attorney-General, acting on presumably good legal advice did not disclose her name, obviously the press were going to hunt down ‘X’ and ‘Y’. So there was always going to be that further element of the story. But I’d have to say that

what is reported as she says, is pretty much consistent with what the Solicitor-General said that she’d said.

MITCHELL:

It was a pretty key point, this exception that she claims she was contacted in 1994 and told that there was rorting going on on Peter Reith’s card - stolen.

REITH:

Yes, well she does say that. I can’t obviously, I don’t have the knowledge to answer that. I’m ringing you because you asked whether or not anybody told me in ‘94 and I can tell you for a fact they didn’t.

MITCHELL:

Okay. Now, obviously it’s been a pretty tough time. Have you at any stage given consideration to resignation?

REITH:

No, because I think when you put things in perspective, look I made a mistake, and when I knew about that mistake not only did I fix up for that mistake, I also said there should be a full investigation and that was at the time when I said the police should be brought in and that was the right thing to do, even though it may have raised questions about the conduct of my son. Obviously, I was confident about what he told me, but it was still a case that the police had to come in.

MITCHELL:

Have you spoken to him recently about it?

REITH:

Yeah I have. Yes.

MITCHELL:

And has he told you anything more about Mrs “X”?

REITH:

Well, he didn’t really know her. The whole thing happened, Neil, because a friend of Paul’s rang and said look, a friend of mine is from Adelaide and she hasn’t got any accommodation. I don’t know what happened with her previous accommodation arrangements, but can you put her up? So, he didn’t really know her. He wasn’t there very long either.

MITCHELL:

Do you accept that whatever they are, this affair, this incident, affects your political ambitions and your political future?

REITH:

All I can tell people is what happened.

MITCHELL:

Do you think people will forgive you? (inaudible) Peter Costello’s on a high because Peter Reith’s had it?

REITH:

The commentators always have their view of the world, Neil. You know that, I know that.

MITCHELL:

Will people forgive you?

REITH:

All I can tell you is this, I think when people first heard about it they were pretty angry about it. And quite frankly I can understand why they are and why they were.

MITCHELL:

Will Peter Reith recover from it politically?

REITH:

I can tell you what I’ll do, Neil, and that is I’ve got a lot of things to do. I spent time in my electorate this week. I’ve got a lot of jobs to do and I intend just to go on doing my job. As to how people rate me, Neil, that’s a matter for them. The only thing I ask is that people actually understand what happened.

MITCHELL:

You’ve been a pretty a good head-kicker over the years and you’re copping a few back aren’t you?

REITH:

I’ve certainly stood up very strongly on some issues, there’s no doubt about that. But I don’t make any apologies for saying the waterfront should be cleaned up. That’s something that had to happen and I’m very pleased to say the latest figures show the best productivity for Australia that we’ve ever had. Now, if people say that’s head-kicking well, they’ll say what they like, Neil. But that was a job that had to be done and having an argument with the wharfies was always going to be a tough fight.

MITCHELL:

I’m not talking about the wharfies, there’s the odd politician who’s got the imprint of the Reith boot in their head.

REITH:

Well, give me an example.

MITCHELL:

Simon Crean, I’ll just have to throw the name at you and you go feral.

REITH:

Well, I don’t consider giving Simon a tough time being a head-kicker. You know, Simon and I, we give each other as good as we get. You know, good luck to us.

MITCHELL:

Thank you for speaking to us. Will you recover politically do you think?

REITH:

Well, I’m just going to go and do my job and people will have to judge me how they find me, Neil. You can’t ask for more or less than that.

MITCHELL:

Thank you for calling.

[ends]

 

For further information contact:

Ian Hanke 0419 484 095

18/10/00