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Senator discusses his trip to Iraq and his relationship with Woodside Energy and Curtin University.

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


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


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Thursday 17 March 2005

Senator discusses his trip to Iraq and his relationship with Woodside Energy and Curtin University


MARK COLVIN: Senator Lightfoot's trips to Iraq ha ve brought into question his relationship with three organisations - Woodside Energy, Curtin University, and the Regional Government of oil-rich Kurdistan. 


Woodside Energy flatly denies any relationship with the Senator.  


That seems to contradict Senator Lightfoot himself, who told PM last November that Woodside had paid for a trip he took to Kurdistan last year. 


After that was broadcast, both the Senator and the company contacted this program to clarify the statement, but neither denied that - directly or indirectly - Woodside money had funded the journey. 


A Woodside spokesman said today that the company might have briefed him on its projects, as it would any MP. 


But Woodside does pay for the position of Professor Robert Amin at Curtin University, and it was Mr Amin who was not only Senator Lightfoot's travelling companion in Iraq last year, he also took out the cash for the donation on the Senator's trip in January this year. 


Michael Vincent reports. 


MICHAEL VINCENT: It was in July last year that Senator Ross Lightfoot made his first visit to post-war Iraqi Kurdistan.  


He was enthused by what he saw, and talked about it on this program in November. 


ROSS LIGHTFOOT: Well, it's an odd thing, but as a student of history, I have marvelled at the survival of the Kurds - their tenacity, their difference, their ethnic difference, their moral difference, their religious tolerance. I want to do something, you know, towards the latter end of my career - I've been in politics spanning 18, 19 years now - that was worthwhile, and the Kurds have always appealed to me as people that need assisting. 


MICHAEL VINCENT: During the course of that conversation, Senator Lightfoot told the PM program that Woodside had paid for that trip. 


Today he changed his tune. In his statement to Parliament he said that the trip was paid for by his travelling companion, Professor Robert Amin.  


The Professor is the Chair of the Woodside Hydrocarbon Research Facility at Curtin University. 


When PM spoke to Woodside today this is how a company spokesman explained the situation. 


"There was no authorised payment to Lightfoot ever." 


The spokesman says, however, that it could be argued that Professor Robert Amin is a representative of Woodside because the company pays for the Chair that the Professor holds at Curtin University. 


Certainly it's emerged today that Woodside trusts Professor Amin to withdraw large amounts of money from its Curtin University facility. 


But the company says if Amin did pay for the Senator's visit, that was not authorised by Woodside and the company has asked Senator Lightfoot to correct his previous statements. 


The spokesman also said Woodside had not had any dealings with Senator Lightfoot, and that none of the current executive management have ever had a relationship with him. 


PM asked if Senator Lightfoot had ever carried any letters or documents for Woodside to the Kurdistan Regional Government. 


A spokesman for Woodside said, "Not that we're aware of", and then added, "not that he was authorised to do". 


It's worth noting that in early November last year Woodside Energy announced that it had signed a two-year agreement with the Iraqi Oil Ministry to identify oil and gas projects in Kurdistan. 


So what about the Senator's latest trip to Iraq, this January, and the $US 20,000 donation from Woodside that was made while he was there? 


The spokesman for Woodside said that last October it put a sum into its Curtin University research facility account. 


It then rang Professor Amin and told him to quote, "Get some money out and give it to Iraq". 


PM asked if they meant cash - "Yes", the Woodside spokesman said. "We instructed the Professor to get cash out." 


Woodside says it was Professor Amin who made the arrangements for how the cash should be donated. 


Today, Woodside said Professor Amin, an Iraqi Kurd, gave the money to a representative of the Kurdish Regional Government in Australia, Mr Simko Halmet. 


It was Mr Halmet who was Senator Lightfoot's travelling companion to northern Iraq this year. 


On January 26, Senator Lightfoot's Iraq travel diary notes Professor Amin rang him in Kurdistan. 


The Senator says he told Amin the Woodside donation for Halabja Hospital had been presented to the Kurdistan Regional Government's Prime Minister. 


Neither Professor Amin nor Mr Halmet has been contactable today to comment on how the money was delivered and by whom. 


Senator Lightfoot's diary also notes that the Prime Minister's daughter is a medical student at Curtin University. 


PM asked the Woodside spokesman if it funds that position. He said he was not aware of such an arrangement, but Woodside does fund four or five Iraqi engineering students at Curtin University as part of its two-year agreement. 


Meanwhile, Woodside says it's doing an internal investigation of the donation and the spokesman says the outcome will be made public. 


Curtin University says Professor Amin is not available for comment, and in a statement late today, the uni says it disputes claims that Professor Amin was involved in Senator Lightfoot's January trip to Iraq.  


The statement doesn't address the phone call which Senator Lightfoot says he received from the Professor while in Iraq. But the university says it did know about the $US 20,000 donation which it says was made by the university on behalf of Woodside. 


Meanwhile, in relation to the July visit to Iraq which Senator Lightfoot initially told the PM program was paid for by Woodside, Curtin University's statement says it provided some "support" for a previous visit by Professor Amin and Senator Lightfoot to Iraq. 


MARK COLVIN: Michael Vincent.