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Victoria: casino debate in Parliament continues

JOHN HIGHFIELD: There was quite a slanging match in the Victorian State Parliament today over the Senate inquiry into Victoria's casino tender process, with more allegations to consider. The name of Channel Nine proprietor, Kerry Packer, was bandied around by the Opposition as it tried to accuse Premier, Jeff Kennett, of improper involvement in the bidding process, but Mr Kennett and his Treasurer, Alan Stockdale, gave as good as they got in the Parliament with abuse flying back and forth across the Melbourne chamber. And afterwards, the Opposition pledged to keep pursuing details of a defamation payout made to Mr Kennett by Channel Nine three years ago.

ABC Radio State political reporter in Melbourne, Tony Allen, with our report.

TONY ALLEN: It's not easy to follow the twists and turns in Melbourne's casino debate, but enough allegations have been raised about the awarding of the licence to Lloyd Williams' and Ron Walker's Crown Casino to prompt Labor and the Democrats to force a Senate inquiry into the process. Hearings are expected to begin in August and, today, the name of Mr Packer, a partner in Crown, was drawn into the debate. The Victorian Opposition has consistently tried to suggest members of the Kennett Cabinet knew details of the rival bids for the casino licence.

Some material was released under freedom of information legislation. It was a list of documents sent by the Victorian Casino Control Authority to the State Treasury in 1993. While it appears these documents would have shown details of the casino bids, their contents haven't been released for commercial confidentiality reasons.

In Parliament today, the Opposition attacked Mr Kennett and Treasurer, Alan Stockdale, suggesting if information was going to the Treasury, the Cabinet wouldn't have been at arm's length from the bidding process. Both men insisted they had no access to these Treasury documents and Mr Stockdale turned on Opposition Leader, John Brumby.

EXTRACT

ALAN STOCKDALE: Everybody in this House knows why you adopt these silly bully-boy tactics, because you've got no evidence.

SPEAKER: Order! Order! The honourable the Treasurer, address the chair.

ALAN STOCKDALE: Mr Speaker, he has no evidence whatever. He knows it and he's trying to substitute childish aggression for evidence, and it won't wash. It didn't wash in the election campaign and it is going to drive you out of office, very unfortunately for us.

TONY ALLEN: After a few more questions in this vein, the Opposition changed its attack. Shadow Attorney-General, Rob Hulls, referred, out of the blue, to the celebrated $400,000 defamation payout former Queensland Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, received from Channel Nine. He said that payout was criticised by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal in 1987 as being unusually high and giving rise to a potential conflict of interest. He then called on Mr Kennett to disclose details of his out-of-court defamation payout he'd received from Channel Nine in 1993. That involved a Channel Nine broadcast about the death of a Board of Works' employee. In his question, Mr Hulls made no reference to the casino and he got this initial reply from the Premier.

EXTRACT

JEFF KENNETT: Now, in terms of Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Channel Nine, Mr Speaker, I wasn't privy to that particular deal, and I'm sure that the honourable member there, on the other side, given his increasing reputation in slime, knows much more about it than I do.

In terms, Mr Speaker, of my own legal matters, many of them have been started because of the activities of the Labor Party, and I thank them for what they've been briefing either journalists or people down at Channel Seven in conjunction with some of the journalists down there.

In terms of those that I have been fortunate to settle, whether it's with the former Prime Minister, Mr Keating, who as you know because of your close association with him, he took legal action against me. He and I settled, as did Mr Landau (?) and I.

There are a range of other law suits that I've either been the victim of or the instigator of. All of those, I'm happy to say, in terms of settlement, where they were settled, as he might know, are bound up by both parties agreeing to confidentiality.

Now, I'm not going to blow the settlement that the former Prime Minister and I had or even Mr Landau, or Channel Nine or any of those others that are just part of the normal legal process. I do think, today, that we're seeing yet another reason, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Speaker, why this poor, miserable, sad Opposition is just so absolutely out of touch with the community that we serve.

TONY ALLEN: Then after more interjections from Mr Brumby, Mr Kennett got personal.

EXTRACT

JEFF KENNETT: If this is a matter of such public importance-and I must admit, I haven't been asked by anyone as I walk down the streets: Excuse me, Jeff, excuse me, can I have the details of your settlement with Channel Nine? If it's so important, why didn't you ask the question when the settlement took place-12 months, 18 months ago? Why didn't you ask it if it's so important? You poor shrivelled example of an Opposition Leader.

SPEAKER: Order! Order!

TONY ALLEN: And then Mr Hulls chimed in, anxious to clarify his motives.

EXTRACT

ROB HULLS: The reason the Victorian public are entitled to an answer to this particular question is quite obvious, and that is that at the time this settlement took place, very, very serious questions were being debated in the Cabinet about the gaming industry, including the fact that Mr Kerry Packer was getting involved in the casino at the very time.

TONY ALLEN: Outside the House, Mr Hulls refused to explain what he meant by linking Mr Packer and the casino with the defamation payout but he said the Opposition would continue to explore the issue inside the House.