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Minister for Ageing resigns over undisclosed share transactions.



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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Parliamentary Library.

 

It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in an y other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

For the purposes of quoting verbatim from a transcript, it is advisable to verify the transcript against the broadcast.

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PM

 

Friday 16 March 2007

Minister for Ageing resigns over undisclosed share transactions

 

MARK COLVIN: John Howard lost another Minister today. 

 

He'd previously tried to hang onto the Minister for Ageing, Santo Santoro, whose offence was apparently a lesser one than the minister sacked earlier, Ian Campbell. 

 

Mr Campbell was axed for his meeting with the West Australian influence peddler Brian Burke; Senator Santoro survived despite forgetting a $12,000 share parcel. 

 

But Senator Santoro is now on his way back to Queensland because his attack of forgetfulness turns out not to have been just about one transaction. 

 

Senator Santoro has now revealed another 50 or 60 undisclosed share transactions. 

 

The furore has even interrupted the Prime Minister's visit to the Middle East, where he emerged today to say Senator Santoro had had no option but to resign. 

 

From Canberra, Gillian Bradford reports. 

 

GILLIAN BRADFORD: Just a few days ago Santo Santoro was insisting he'd done nothing wrong, that failing to declare some shares in the biotechnology company CBio was just an "oversight" that he'd quickly corrected. 

 

But today he came forward with his resignation, suggesting the story was not quite as clear-cut as it had first appeared. 

 

SANTO SANTORO: I've done this because of recent publicity relating to some share investments, and I wish to stress at this point, as I have been stressing all week, that I have done nothing that is illegal, nothing that is dishonest. 

 

GILLIAN BRADFORD: Senator Santoro may not have done anything illegal, but he did breach John Howard's code of ministerial conduct by buying shares in a company related to his aged care portfolio. 

 

But today it became clear that was far from his only breach. 

 

Senator Santoro has been a prolific share trader, and within the course of the last couple of years has made more than 60 share transactions. 

 

But until last month he hadn't declared any of these trades on the Senate Register. 

 

And says he only realised all these oversights when he was asked by the Prime Minister's this week to check all his personal financial dealings. 

 

SANTO SANTORO: Look, there's approximately 50 to 60 oversights. I wish to stress that they in fact are over a period of about 15 or 16 months, and I wish to stress that a lot of the transactions and fact occurred, you know, in an arms length situation, because, you know, I am not, you know, a trader of shares in the normal sense of the word, you know, I don't sit at a computer, I don't constantly ring brokers and brokers don't constantly ring me. 

 

You know, but over either a 15 or 16-month period you're looking at about, you know, that number of shares. 

 

GILLIAN BRADFORD: The assembled media were today bluntly stunned at this catalogue of share trades, and the fact that a politician as experienced as Santo Santoro would not have kept his dealings up to date on the pecuniary interest register. 

 

His explanation went like this. 

 

SANTO SANTORO: Look, to be honest with you, I certainly had my mind on other duties, including ministerial duties. 

 

Look, there are instances where in fact the financial advisers that I have will make decisions for me, because I honestly, you know, am not a person that trades, you know, intensely. 

 

As I said, although the figure of 50 to 60 may sound like a large figure, it is over a period of 15 to 16 months, and, you know, so when you anatomise that, you know, it is not a … I'm not somebody who sits frenetically. In fact, I don't sit frenetically at a computer indulging in trades.  

 

GILLIAN BRADFORD: The Prime Minister's office was aware late last year of Senator Santoro's dealings with the company CBio. But even then Senator Santoro says it didn't occur to him to check his other dealings. And he says the Prime Minister also did not ask him to provide an assurance that all his other share trades had been disclosed. 

 

REPORTER: The Prime Minister said he resolved it with you last year … 

 

SANTO SANTORO: No, that … 

 

REPORTER: … presumably there was some conversation with his office. 

 

SANTO SANTORO: Um, yes there was, there was a conversation with his office, but that was in relation to CBio. 

 

GILLIAN BRADFORD: But more than an hour after his media conference, after many questions had been asked about the Prime Minister's judgement, Senator Santoro issued a clarification saying the Prime Minister did tell him last year that he must ensure he complied with all obligations to report to the Senate. 

 

Senator Santoro is the Government's second high-profile casualty. Only two weeks ago the Human Services Minister, Ian Campbell, was forced to resign over a 20-minute meeting with the disgraced Western Australian Premier, Brian Burke. 

 

Senator Campbell's offence seems trivial in comparison. 

 

Yet, despite the catalogue of errors, the Queensland Senator is still hoping for a kind word or two in his ministerial obituary. 

 

SANTO SANTORO: Without in any way wishing to sound gratuitous about myself, I think I've achieved a considerable amount in the Ministry for Ageing, and I really do regret that it's come to this. 

 

GILLIAN BRADFORD: The Prime Minister says the Senator had no choice but to resign. 

 

JOHN HOWARD: This is a clear breach of the Senate rules, and of his obligation to me. He had no alternative but to resign. 

 

I am frankly angry and disappointed at the Senator's conduct. 

 

MARK COLVIN: The Prime Minister John Howard ending that report from Gillian Bradford.