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Former Attorney-General appears in court on fraud charges.

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Wednesday 12 September 2007

Former Attorney-General appears in court on fraud charges


TANYA NOLAN: A former minister in the Hawke Government has appeared in an Adelaide court today, vowing to fight charges that he defrauded the Commonwealth. 


It's alleged that Peter Duncan, who was also a former Attorney-General of South Australia, dishonestly obtained a government grant of more than $800,000 for his now-failed business. 


The former minister now lives in Indonesia, but today a magistrate ordered Mr Duncan to stay in Australia to face the charges. 


PM 's Nick Harmsen was in the court and he filed this report. 


NICK HARMSEN: Having served as Attorney-General in Don Dunstan's Labor Government during the 1970's, Peter Duncan would be well familiar with the Adelaide Magistrates Court. 


But rather than overseeing the administration of justice, today the 62-year-old was there to face three Commonwealth charges. 


Nevertheless, Peter Duncan was relaxed and smiling as he walked up the steps. 


(sound of journalists taking photographs outside courthouse) 


PETER DUNCAN: How are you? 


NICK HARMSEN: He wasn't prepared to answer their questions, but Duncan told journalists he was innocent and would fight the charges against him. 


PETER DUNCAN: I deny any action which was dishonest in any way, shape or form in relation to the failed company or failed businesses. 


NICK HARMSEN: That business was Omnipol Australia, a plastics recycling agency of which Duncan was a director. In 2001, Omnipol sought a grant from the Federal Government agency AusIndustry to develop new technology. 


In court, Commonwealth Prosecutor Greg Fisher said Duncan had lied about the company's ownership structure in the grant application, and that by doing so had dishonestly obtained a gain. 


Less than 18 months after the grant was awarded, the company collapsed and Peter Duncan moved to the Indonesian island of Lombok. He's been living there ever since. 


A warrant was issued for his arrest in 2005, but it wasn't executed by Federal Police officers until Duncan flew into Melbourne's Tullamarine Airport last week. 


In court today, Duncan's defence lawyer expressed surprise at the way the AFP had handled the case. 


Paul Rofe QC said his client had always co-operated with the authorities and that Australia's Consul-General in Bali had even recently dined at Lombok restaurant. 


Outside the court, the accused man mounted a further defence of his character and issued a warning. 


PETER DUNCAN: I want to point out that, in the context of the media's dealing with this, these charges - I am not charged with murder, rape or mayhem, they are relatively minor charges and I would ask that the media deal with them with in the, with an appropriate amount of balance. 


Having said that, finally I just want to say that I have in the past four years suffered greatly as a result of trial by media. In the future, now that I am back here for at least temporarily, I want to make it clear to people that any further defamations or libels or the like of my character I will fiercely oppose and take the appropriate action. 


NICK HARMSEN: Duncan sought to have his bail conditions changed so he could return his partner and restaurant in Indonesia this weekend. 


His lawyer, Paul Rofe QC, told the court that Duncan had contributed 23 years of public life and deserved to be trusted. But Magistrate Simon Smart disagreed and ordered he remain in Australia. 


Mr Rofe told journalists that decision would be appealed. 


PAUL ROFE: I have instructions to do so. 


JOURNALIST: When will that be? 


PAUL ROFE: Hopefully before the end of the week. 


NICK HARMSEN: In the meantime, Duncan will have to live at an address in Tasmania. He's been excused from appearing at another court hearing scheduled for next week. 


TANYA NOLAN: Nick Harmsen reporting from Adelaide.