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Senator Parer dismisses allegations of a conflict of interest made by a former officer of the Queensland Department of Mines and Energy.

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MARK COLVIN: The Warwick Parer affair has expanded rapidly from a small dark cloud in the Prime Minister’s sky to become a full-blown storm.  According to today’s allegations, Senator Parer, the Minister in charge of mines, scrapped environmental guidelines on export coal production.  That, say the critics, resulted in a direct benefit to his family trust holdings.


The Queensland Senator continues to deny conflict of interest, but he admitted for the first time, today, that he is looking at divesting the $2 million worth of Jellinbah East Mine shares held by his trust.


This report from Gerald Tooth in Brisbane.  It begins with Jim Leggett from the Queensland’s Mines and Energy Department.


JIM LEGGETT:  At the time that he presided over the abolishing of the requirement for export licences it was a public issue.


GERALD TOOTH: And are you saying that he has benefited from that?


JIM LEGGETT:  Oh, I am suggesting that he may well have benefited.  There’s a perception of him benefiting from the removal of a second tier of scrutiny.


GERALD TOOTH: At a time that you say that he knew that there were problems and there was in fact need for more scrutiny?


JIM LEGGETT:  That’s right.


GERALD TOOTH:  Jim Leggett, former Queensland Government Mines Department senior environmental officer on the World Today.  He’s alleging that the Senator removed Federal export regulations on coal mines in the full knowledge that there were environmental problems with export coal mines in Queensland, including the Jellinbah mine in which his family trust has shares.


Mr Parer called a press conference to refute the allegations this afternoon.  Well, there was some confusion about whether it was a press conference, with Senator Parer’s Press Secretary, Bob Baudino, insisting that only those media outlets invited could attend which resulted in this confrontation.


UNIDENTIFIED:  You’ll get out or I’ll get the security to see you out.  Now, that’s the end of it.  Move!  Will you get the security guards  [inaudible] gatecrash without permission.   You’re disruptive.


UNIDENTIFIED:   I am not disruptive.


Mr Parer, have you got any objections to me being here?


WARWICK PARER:  Well, if you’re disrupting, yes.


GERALD TOOTH: When the dust settled, minus photographer and newspaper journalists who had also tried to attend, Warwick Parer took to Jim Leggett’s allegations with equal gusto.


WARWICK PARER:   Total rubbish from Mr Leggett.


GERALD TOOTH: Mr Leggett’s alleging that it was to your benefit....


WARWICK PARER:   Oh, rubbish.


GERALD TOOTH: Are you saying there was no benefit as a shareholder in this Queensland  [inaudible] ?


WARWICK PARER:  None whatsoever.  That mine had already ... well, I certainly didn’t have to approve it so it must have been approved by the previous government or didn’t need it.


GERALD TOOTH: Are you saying that there was no benefit  [inaudible]?


WARWICK PARER:  None whatsoever.  It made no difference whatsoever.


GERALD TOOTH: Are you refuting his evidence that there was environmental damage?


WARWICK PARER:  He worked for the Department of Mines.  They were his masters and it was up to them, the State Department of Mines, to be able to act on it or not;  nothing to do with us.


GERALD TOOTH: But he’s given evidence to a pollution inquiry that hasn’t been  [inaudible].


WARWICK PARER:  Look, I’ve heard it all, I’ve seen it all over the years;  it’s gone nowhere;  he’s still pushing it.


GERALD TOOTH: So you were entirely aware of these allegations?


WARWICK PARER:  No,  only what I’d read....


GERALD TOOTH: Of this ... in fact not  [inaudible]


WARWICK PARER:  Only what I’d read in the newspapers ... only what I’d read in the newspapers and the claims made about a lot of other mines around.  I certainly wasn’t aware of it in the days that I was involved with that particular company.


GERALD TOOTH: That evidence that you say that you were aware of was around before the legislation went through, wasn’t it?


WARWICK PARER:  Well, yes, but hang on, what are you ... I am not sure what you’re on about because he was an employee of the State Department of Mines.  His responsibility was to them, and he made certain claims, and he made them on a whole range of things, and as far as I know they’ve gone nowhere.


GERALD TOOTH: Senator Parer remains adamant that there is no conflict of interest relating to his family’s trust share ownership, yet now, for the first time he’s considering divesting the shares.


WARWICK PARER:  The thing is that I have done nothing, in any shape or form, that has promoted my financial position.


UNIDENTIFIED:  Have you considered divesting yourself of these interests and put the matter to rest and stop the Opposition....


WARWICK PARER:   Yes, I have and I’ve looked at all the options. It’s pretty difficult under the situation but we’re still looking at them.


UNIDENTIFIED:  You may still do that?


WARWICK PARER:   I may still do that.


GERALD TOOTH: There’s been speculation the whole issue has blown up because of leaks within the Queensland Liberal Party as a result of a bitter wrangle over placings on the Senate ticket decided last Sunday when sitting Senator, David MacGibbon was demoted to third spot.


WARWICK PARER:   I totally discount anything to do with Senator MacGibbon.


GERALD T OOTH: And will he continue to tough it out in spite of continuing damage to the Government’s image?


WARWICK PARER:  It’s not a matter of  toughing it out.  I haven’t done anything wrong.


GERALD TOOTH: How damaging are these continuing headlines to the Government, though?


WARWICK PARER:  Well, I think that the public are getting sick and tired of it.  You know, they see a lot of this as muckraking, which it is.  They want us, and they want the Opposition, to get on with putting up good policies that are going to address the real issues out there, that are going to address things like investment.  And that’s what I have been on about - investment in Australia;  creation of real jobs.


UNIDENTIFIED:  Do you concede this affair is hurting the Government?


WARWICK PARER:  No, I think it’s boomeranging.


MARK COLVIN: Well, that’s Senator Warwick Parer’s opinion.  That report from Gerald Tooth.