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Democrat Senator and Liberal Senator discuss the roles of Senator Sibraa and Senator Richardson in promoting the business interests of Greg Symons in the Marshall Islands

PETER THOMPSON: The spotlight remains trained on the Keating kingmaker, Graham Richardson, with renewed calls for him to stand down immediately. It's also being claimed this morning that the Communications Minister was involved in another matter with a man who's been at the centre of his problems, Greg Symons. It's alleged that Graham Richardson helped his relative in negotiations over a business venture involving a coal loader at Newcastle, in the mid-1980s. Mr Symons appears in court today in the Marshall Islands on a string of forgery charges over a business immigration scheme. It was Graham Richardson's move to help Mr Symons over this affair which began the Senator's problems. And it's not only the Right-wing powerbroker who's under renewed pressure, so is another New South Wales member of the Right, the President of the Senate, Kerry Sibraa, who also lent his support to the activities of Mr Symons. Both Senators have been asked to please explain by the Prime Minister. We are joined on the line now by the Opposition Leader in the Senate, Robert Hill, and the Democrat Leader, Senator John Coulter. This morning, these men hold the fate of Senator Sibraa in their hands. To talk to them, John Shovelan.

JOHN SHOVELAN: If I could start with you first, Senator Coulter - did Senator Sibraa yesterday, tell you that a Minister had asked him to write on behalf of Mr Symons, to the Australian Embassy in Washington?

JOHN COULTER: What he actually said was that a prominent Minister had asked him, and he said you would know who, and I said, `Oh, Senator Richardson', and he just went straight on with the conversation. So I take it that that was confirmation that it was indeed Senator Richardson who had made the request.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Why did he raise that with you?

JOHN COULTER: I think he was concerned that the spotlight was falling on him and what he told me was that he had written a letter seeking an introduction for Mr Symons, to the Australian Embassy in Washington. He went on to explain that a meeting had occurred. He didn't explain to me how the information had come back to him, whether it had come from Mr Symons, whether it had come from Senator Richardson, or whether it had come from the Embassy. But what I was told was that the meeting had taken place, it was with a Mr Lamb. Mr Lamb had said to Mr Symons that he couldn't help him because he was working for the Marshall Islands, not working for Australia, and apparently that was the end of it. Now, on the face of it, that seems a fairly innocuous thing for Senator Sibraa to do.

JOHN SHOVELAN: But isn't this the letter that we are talking about that Senator Sibraa wrote, this is the one where he is supposed to have said that the President of the Marshall Islands had asked the Australian Government to help set up Mr Symons' Island business migration scheme?

JOHN COULTER: Well, I don't know that. That was not mentioned yesterday morning. That's a news item that I have picked up since, and whether that is in the same letter or whether it's in a separate letter, I really don't know. But I will be seeking from Senator Sibraa this morning, a copy of that letter, or letters, so that I can have a look at them for myself.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Well, the Democrats are considering whether to continue to support Senator Sibraa as President. The Opposition say he has meddled in the affairs of another country, pretending to be acting on behalf of the Australian Government. Does it look like he might become the first victim of the Marshall Islands affair?

JOHN COULTER: Well, I don't think so, at this stage. As I say, the information that I have at the moment, looks pretty innocuous with respect to Senator Sibraa.

JOHN SHOVELAN: So at the moment, he still has your support.

JOHN COULTER: He still has our support until we see other evidence, but I wouldn't say that he would be the first casualty. In my view, Senator Richardson has gone well beyond the stage where he warrants continuation as a Minister.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Well, when you say well beyond, why, what has changed in the last day or two? I mean, the Democrats a week ago, were arguing amongst themselves about this.

JOHN COULTER: I think now we have fairly clear evidence that Senator Richardson knew very very well that Mr Symons was a business person of very very dubious character, who had conducted a number of very ..... I mean, I am being kind here, very doubtful business ventures. And then he issued him a glowing reference to go to another country, knowing full well that he may ..... he could easily bring Australia into disrepute, and in fact, he has done just that. Now, for an ordinary person to do that is pretty bad, but for a Minister of the Crown to do that, seems to me to be well beyond the standards that one would expect of any Minister at all.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Well, Senator Robert Hill is on the line from Perth. Senator Hill, clearly when you return to Canberra, you will be moving against the President of the Senate.

ROBERT HILL: Yes, that's right.

JOHN SHOVELAN: What action will you be taking?

ROBERT HILL: Well, he has lost our confidence. We would therefore ..... well, a number of mechanisms but basically, a no confidence motion is the usual one.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Senator Coulter, but your support for something like that isn't clear yet.

JOHN COULTER; No, I was trying to contact Senator Sibraa late last evening, unsuccessfully. I will make a further attempt this morning to get hold of, as I say, the letter or letters, and I still don't know whether there is one or two, or perhaps even more, and then I will consult with my colleagues and we will form an opinion then. But on the basis of the evidence we have at the moment, we wouldn't support that, but we certainly will move against Senator Richardson.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Senator Hill, do you want a public inquiry into this whole Marshall Islands affair, if Senator Richardson doesn't stand down?

ROBERT HILL: Well, up to now, we have said the responsibility is with the Prime Minister. He should be standing down Senator Richardson and causing to be conducted a full inquiry into the relationship between Senator Richardson and Mr Symons. If however, he continues to fail to meet that responsibility, it's becoming clearer to us that it needs to be an inquiry of a different nature and that is a public inquiry and an open inquiry, and we are gradually heading in that direction, but it's only because the Prime Minister is failing to meet his responsibility.

JOHN SHOVELAN: You say, if he continues to fail to meet what you say are his responsibilities. That means you have got some idea of a deadline in your head, does it?

ROBERT HILL: Well, as each day goes by, the matter seems to worsen. That's what is disturbing us, the Australian Government gets further and more deeply involved in the matter. The affairs of Mr Symons concern us more. We find the Australian Government has in fact, in part funded his company when it was in receivership. And of course now, we have Senator Sibraa involved in the matter as well, and furthermore, apparently asserting that the Australian Government had been asked to help, by the President of the Marshall Islands, and this same President that was contacted the other day by Senator Richardson. We believe it's getting close to the need for a full public and open inquiry.

JOHN SHOVELAN: What do you think Senator Sibraa should do today?

ROBERT HILL: We believe that he should resign.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Should just stand down today.

ROBERT HILL: That's right.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Senator Coulter, do you support the idea of a public inquiry?

JOHN COULTER: Well, I'd certainly agree with Senator Hill there in that if Mr Keating does the right thing, he would immediately dismiss Senator Richardson as a Minister, and of course, if that happens, then I suppose the other matter which we are still collecting evidence on, would still remain and that might involve an inquiry. But we really do need to see what Mr Keating does, and I hope that he will move quickly and Senator Richardson will cease to be a Minister.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Senator Coulter, is the Senate likely to come back to discuss the issue of the access to tax records asked for by the West Australia Inc inquiry?

JOHN COULTER: No, the reason for calling ..... recalling the Senate earlier was if the West Australian inquiry had a deadline regarding the acceptance of evidence. We now know that they don't have such a deadline, that they can accept further evidence after Tuesday week and for that reason, all these matters can be left until the Senate reconvenes on Tuesday week.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Senator Hill, Senator Coulter, thank you.