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Wednesday, 12 October 1983
Page: 1645

Mr PEACOCK (Leader of the Opposition)(3.14) —I move:

That the Minister for Finance be condemned for deliberately misleading the House in his answer to the honourable member for O'Connor during Question Time on Tuesday, 11 October 1983.

Let us go back to the start. Yesterday the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins) was asked by the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey):

Can the Minister for Finance assure the House that he has not been involved in any way with bottom of the harbour tax transactions?

The answer given by the Minister for Finance commenced as follows:

I suppose I have been involved to one extent; that is, to introduce into this House legislation which would recoup the money which was stolen from the Australian taxpayers by, amongst others, members influential in the Western Australian branch of the Liberal Party.

He then went on, before starting to smear the honourable member for O'Connor, to make the following short remark:

As far as my personal conduct is concerned, absolutely no.

That means, therefore, that he was virtually nailing as a lie the implication in the honourable member's question. But we were to discover later that day that there was no implication of a lie in the honourable member's question. The lie was explicit and to the point in the Minister's answer:

As far as my personal conduct is concerned, absolutely no.

That is, he was saying that he had no involvement in any way with bottom of the harbour tax transactions. No responsible opposition can allow that situation to go through. In circumstances where we are questioning the matter one of our own members has been thrown out of the Parliament. There is a sense of outrage on this side of the House, if there is not on the other side, that the Minister can sweep aside a lie. He cannot sweep aside a lie. He has been nailed for what he is-the person who was holding himself out as almost the apotheosis of antiseptic morality, one who could not be questioned without getting a lie in return and who, the following day, denied that the lie even occurred.

Why did the Minister mislead the House yesterday? He obviously did not realise that the Opposition had all the material that it still has on this matter. Apart from the bottom of the harbour tax schemes, we might well be advised to start looking at the capitalisation of the interest on the Minister's land deals, which could have been a very significant amount. We would like to know what taxation was paid on those deals. We would like to know whether the Minister disclosed it to the Prime Minister in this so-called open and frank inquiry. If he did, does the Prime Minister support him? If he did not, has the Prime Minister had the wit to recognise that this was contained within the material that the honourable member for O'Connor produced last Thursday night in the most devastating way which revealed the Minister for Finance for what he is? I hesitate to use adjectives that cover the sorts of descriptions that ought to be put at the feet of the Minister for Finance. But as the former Treasurer, the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard), said last night, double standards have been applied-not just double standards but elements of hypocrisy leading to a total misleading of this Parliament.

I said that the Prime Minister today linked himself with this misrepresentation , firstly, by seeking to ignore it and, then, by affirming that in fact the Minister had not misled the Parliament. The fact is that, by extracting this information with question after question, we found that the Minister was forced to come into this chamber and overturn his earlier answer. Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive.

In moving the procedural motion for the suspension of Standing Orders I referred to the fact that the Prime Minister came into this Parliament and tabled the disclosure of pecuniary interests. Since then we have been told that Ministers have had difficulties putting down the amounts of money that their wives earn. 'Selective amnesia' was the correct interpretation given to it by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard). Double standards also applied. Where is this Government's integrity if it is going to stand by a Minister who has lied to the Parliament, if it is going to sit behind a Prime Minister who embraces the lie and if the Minister for Finance is going to hold himself out in this Parliament as the same man of morals who did not volunteer one cubit of information on this form of bottom of the harbour transaction? He did not volunteer information to the Prime Minister or to the Parliament until we put the heat on him and had to extract it from him. As I said last night and I say in this chamber today, the thrust of this matter is that the Minister for Finance has had to admit that he has been involved in a bottom of the harbour scheme nearly three weeks after the Prime Minister tabled the document.

I may have erred in suggesting last week that the Government was involved with organised crime. When I look at the way in which the Government has gone about its pecuniary interest disclosure I do not think the Government could be involved with anything that was organised at all unless it is a step back from that-namely, organised deceit, hypocrisy and lies. As I said this afternoon-I will reword it another way-the Minister's hypocrisy is perhaps exceeded only by his leader's contempt for the way in which this Parliament operates in that the Prime Minister joins with the Minister in the denial that the Minister misled the Parliament yesterday.

What is the detail beyond the figures given to the Parliament last night? Beyond all that material in relation to Coomel Pty Ltd is the fact that the Minister had held the relevant shares for three of the five years that he had been a director and had a legal responsibility for the accuracy of its annual returns. Is this a denial of that legal responsibility? Does the Minister tell us now that he was in breach of a duty of care as the Minister? What form of common law actions could be brought against the Minister? Is it negligence, breach of a duty of care and breach of the duties of a director? Listed under the statutes of this nation is the fact that the Minister was a director for three of the five years of Coomel Pty Ltd when it held shares in the company that went to the bottom of the harbour. He had a legal responsibility for the accuracy of the reports and the accuracy of those annual returns.

Will he tell us more on this matter? Will he in fact come forward and tell us about the capitalisation of interest on his land deals? What amount of money was made? Is he in fact-I will not walk down this path too far-going to stand by his actions and say that in regard to those land dealings it was the liquidator who handled everything, as he said in the Parliament last week? It will be recalled that when the honourable member for O'Connor interjected on the Minister asking him whether he was involved in the negotiations of these land deals, the Minister denied it. I simply pose the question-because we got a denial yesterday that he was not involved in any bottom of the harbour taxation transactions: Was he involved with the liquidator in these land deals? It would be hard not to think that perhaps it was likely that he took more than a passing interest in the matter. Why?

Mr Hodgman —An amount of $1.6m.

Mr PEACOCK —The total amount was $1.6m. In fairness to the Minister I say that there were other shareholders and other directors but those others were not in this Parliament proclaiming themselves as socialists, denying any interest in the capitalist system and accusing all others of being immoral-indeed, amoral- for being so involved.

Mr Howard —Rorters, dodgers and rip-off merchants.

Mr PEACOCK —Rorters, dodgers and rip-off merchants. Also, as the Minister said, we are not speaking about the strict definition of law breaking. That does not worry the Minister now and it did not seem to worry him before. What troubled him was that he was forced to talk about morality, business ethics and cheats. Will the Minister also tell us today why his company has not received the taxation assessment? When he was in charge of the Australian Taxation Office was he as vigilant in chasing his own affairs as he was in chasing others to ensure that he returned to the Australan people-to use his phrase-the money that was owed by him? Do honourable members remember that in September assessments were issued to shareholders in Metro Industries Ltd who were holders of shares at the time its subsidiary, Treamog Pty Ltd, was sold to bottom of the harbour operators on 12 December 1976? Others have got their assessments. What was the Minister doing when he was in charge--

Mr Dawkins —Who has got them?

Mr PEACOCK —The Minister asks: Who has got them? I can quote from Press reports. I can get them and send them to the Minister. We can give the Minister that detail. Today I questioned the Treasurer (Mr Keating) on Press reports and I will be pleased to hear from the Minister on that matter. It may well be that he sought to stop everyone from getting an assessment. The reality is that the Press reports to which I referred indicate that assessments have been issued to shareholders who were holders of shares, as I have said, at the time the subsidiary Treamog Pty Ltd-the company with which the Minister knows he was associated through this transaction-was sold to bottom of the harbour operators. That is why I asked the Treasurer to inquire of the Commissioner of Taxation and advise the House why Coomel Pty Ltd was not issued with a taxation assessment. Interestingly enough, the Treasurer said that he could not comment on this matter because of the secrecy provisions. Only five minutes earlier we had heard him denigrating the former Treasurer for ever having utilised the phrase ' secrecy provisions'. So I asked him whether he will reveal the truth. But no, he had to use the same words as all Treasurers, naturally, have been bound by on that point. The hypocrisy goes from the Minister for Finance through to the Treasurer and, as I said earlier, through also to the Prime Minister.

Mr Ruddock —It is corrupting them all.

Mr PEACOCK —The corruption is reeking through Minister after Minister. Let us bear in mind the fact that the Minister for Defence Support (Mr Howe) came into this Parliament after he had indicated to the Prime Minister and through that report that was tabled, to the Parliament that there was a nil return so far as his wife's remuneration was concerned. It was $53,000, was it not? How could the Minister overlook half of his household income, an amount of that size? That is why I used the phrase to which the Minister objected-because it can be substantiated through not six, not seven, not eight, not nine, not 10 or not 11 but 12 changes already in this document relating to pecuniary interests.

Mr Howard —The $53,000 is only beer money for the penthouse Left.

Mr PEACOCK —It is beer money for the Left, my colleague says. The Minister for Finance-the apotheosis of the socialists in this House along with the Minister for Defence Support-is pushing the Left line but making as much on the side as he possibly can and seeking to hide it from the Parliament. Once it is discovered, he denies that he ever sought to hide it. What sort of standard is that by which to judge a government? What sorts of scurrilous dealings have also been going on? I want the Minister to address this question of capitalisation of the interest on his land deals because he has denied that he had anything to do with it. He has said that it was only the liquidator. Whether we take that answer or the denial on the bottom of the harbour taxation transactions, there is something rotten in the state of this Government and its handling of the matter. The Minister cannot come into this House and tell us that he has made an open declaration. The Minister cannot tell us that he has conducted himself properly as a Minister when he, in fact, had charge of the Taxation Office and had been fiddling the revenue himself. He cannot come into this House and simply ask me how many people have been issued with assessments when the Minister cannot indicate to me when the Treasurer can expect that that money will be paid .

Do you remember, Mr Speaker, that the Minister for Finance said last year that people who avoided the payment of tax should return it to the people of Australia and that 'it is necessary to make the cheats pay'? If it is necessary to make the cheats pay, that means, in my view, because of the moral turpitude that was heaped about this place by the current Minister, that the cheats have to pay their tax and the cheats have to pay for the lies they tell. The payment of the latter is not in dollars and cents but in the standing of the Minister and those who have been prepared to stand with him as he has sought to cover up not only his shonky dealings but also the lies in relation to those shonky dealings.

Mr Cunningham —Where is your evidence?

Mr PEACOCK —The honourable member asks about the evidence. The fact is that the Minister produced it. After all the grilling, he produced it last night. The evidence leads to but one conclusion: That this Minister has been involved in a bottom of the harbour scheme and that he denied that he had such an involvement only hours earlier. He cannot rewrite the record. He may be able to change his behaviour in the future, and I assume that when we ask him further questions in the days or weeks ahead we will get truthful answers. I assume that we will be told as a consequence of the matters that are brought forward that the Minister now recognises that sufficient material has been brought into this Parliament showing the way in which Coomel Pty Ltd was associated with a bottom of the harbour tax transaction which may not of itself have been improper but which was improper, in the words of the Minister last year, in that the one salient impropriety that we focus on today is the impropriety of misleading this Parliament. There is not a man or woman in this place who would not affirm that the most fundamental duty of any person occupying the ministerial benches, when asked a question here, is to tell the truth. This Minister stood back from that. He turned it on its head. He lied to the Parliament, and he sought to mislead it again today.

There was a bottom of the harbour tax transaction, he was involved in it and he denied that he was involved in it yesterday afternoon. The evidence confirms that he was so involved. We are talking, to use the Minister's own words, about morality, business ethics and cheating. That is why the Minister for Finance must be condemned for deliberately, not innocently, misleading the House in his answer yesterday. I say 'deliberately' because, as an occupant of the board of Coomel, as a director, he had the legal responsibility for the accuracy of its annual returns. He cannot in this Parliament deny any knowledge and claim ignorance because, as he has said himself, ignorance does not connote innocence. The Minister must be condemned.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired. Is the motion seconded?