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Opposition warns against setting up an inquiry into business dealings of former Prime Minister, Paul Keating.

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HAMISH ROBERTSON: The federal opposition has warned the government against setting up an inquiry into the business interests of former prime minister, Paul Keating. The Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, told the parliament he would seek advice on allegations raised this week about the sale of Mr Keating's piggery interests. Mr Williams indicated that the government would look favourably on an inquiry suggesting it might be the only way to put the matter to rest. Justice Minister, Amanda Vanstone, said the new allegations went to the very heart of our parliamentary system. But Labor frontbencher, Bob McMullan has told Alexandra Kirk in Canberra that any pursuit of Mr Keating would be vindictive.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Bob McMullan, do you agree with the Attorney-General that, if only to put matters to rest, that some examination of the allegations is called for?


BOB MCMULLAN: Well, I think what is clear is that the Liberal Party has been putting these allegations around for ages. They can't now pretend that: oh, they've just heard of them; they must give them some consideration before they decide what to do. They have been pushing these stories around for months and the government is now politically stage-managing its response, trying to squeeze some political benefit out of it. I think it's very sad. I hope they get on with running the country as quickly as possible and get off pursuing their old vendettas.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: The government seems keen for an inquiry. Do you think the questions that go to the degree of trust people have in public figures is sufficient grounds for an inquiry?


BOB MCMULLAN: The Liberal Party around Australia is getting a bit of a reputation for trying to use quasi-judicial and other methods to pursue political vendettas. It's not something that's in the Australian tradition. I don't think it's in anybody's interests for it to become part of the Australian tradition.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: You don't think there should be an inquiry then?


BOB MCMULLAN: Well, nothing I have seen establishes the grounds for an inquiry, but I’m not the expert in these things, nor the spokesman for the party. I'm just concerned that this salivating vindictiveness that we are seeing emerging from the Liberal Party - we saw it in Western Australia; we're now seeing it at a federal level - and I hope it doesn't lead to another inquiry because it brings the whole process of government in this country into disrepute when political parties use it for partisan purposes.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: You consider it a private, not a public matter?


BOB MCMULLAN: Well, all the evidence so far is such, I think, but I don't pretend to be an expert in the matter. I can pretty well assess what I see going on in front of my eyes from the Liberal Party and the government, but I don't pretend to be an expert in all the little things that occurred or are alleged over these private business matters of Mr Keating. That's not my area of expertise or responsibility.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: On another matter, that is the Senate's powers, last week your leader, Kim Beazley, suggested a referendum on curbing the Senate's power so that the Senate couldn't block budget bills and in future, his office was saying, that could include such things as a GST. Now, you are saying, as of last night, that it's only the power to block supply that should be curbed. The Labor Party is back-tracking now.


BOB MCMULLAN: No, I'm making very clear my view within the broader range of Kim's opening up of options, what I think the priority is, and I think the priority is that the Senate should not have power to block supply and my understanding is Kim thinks exactly the same. But what Kim has said on behalf of all of us is if people come back and say the proposal about blocking supply is not broad enough, let's look at broader issues, well, we're open to that. We think it's time we were open to look at more comprehensive constitutional reform in this and a number of areas, but what I was doing last night was setting down, in what I think is some detail, the case for one part of what Kim puts forward which is that the Senate should not have power to block supply.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: But that is already the stated positions of Labor and the Democrats, so in effect you're suggesting no change should be made to that.


BOB MCMULLAN: I'm suggesting the constitution should be changed to make binding what has been the tacit understanding for some years.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And you shouldn't go any further than that?


BOB MCMULLAN: Well, no, I'm saying we definitely should do this. If people want to put forward alternative views about going further, I don't have a closed mind about it.