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Thursday, 14 May 1987
Page: 3287

Mr BRAITHWAITE(10.41) —I am glad that the Minister for Trade (Mr Dawkins) is at the table. On 25 March the Minister tabled a cursory report on matters I raised, following a freedom of information request, about irregularities in accounting for the Australian Council of Trade Unions tour of Western Europe. Firstly, there was Mr Kelty's overclaiming of hotel bill, particularly his Swedish hotel, for which he claimed $800. Mr Kelty's bill at the hotel was $1,030. This was split between $430 paid in cash and $600 paid on Mr Kelty's Diners Club account. I refer to two things from the FOI evidence. Mr Counihan paid the $430 off Mr Kelty's bill from an advance to cover mission members' accommodation costs. Firstly, a hand-written page shows the amounts Mr Counihan paid off each tour member's Swedish hotel bill. Next to Mr Kelty's name was `$340'. Secondly, next to the $430 on Mr Kelty's Swedish bill the accounting section of the Department of Trade wrote `less Counihan'.

It must be remembered that these are both Trade Department documents from the FOI office. I therefore concluded, as would any reasonable person, and as did the Department, that Mr Kelty had only paid $600 towards his Swedish hotel bill; that Mr Counihan paid the balance of $430-and thus that, by claiming that he was entitled to retain $800, Mr Kelty had overclaimed by $200. But the report of 25 March asserts that Mr Counihan did not pay $430 off Mr Kelty's bill. That is a remarkable change from the earlier evidence that was provided.

A supplementary FOI request now sheds more light on this matter. A fax sent on the day that I asked my second question in the House again records that Mr Counihan paid $430 off Mr Kelty's bill. But later fax messages of the same day indicate that, while it had been assumed Mr Counihan had paid the $430, in fact Mr Kelty had paid this amount, but there was no separate receipt in Mr Kelty's name. This partly exculpated Mr Kelty from overclaiming $200, but at the same time, complicated matters by implying, that Mr Counihan's original claim was false, not supported by a receipt, and yet approved by the Department.

I was not surprised that my second FOI request also turned up a statutory declaration by Mr Counihan, stating that he only paid $300 off the bills of nine mission members, but not including Mr Kelty's-as well as a minute advising he had been inadvertently overpaid $300 and returning a money order for this amount. Significantly, both were dated 23 March, the Monday following my asking questions in parliament, but some two months after the completion of the acquittal process which refunded $130 to Mr Counihan. I find this whole manoeuvre extremely contrived.

There is more evidence supporting the hypothesis that the accounting section established that it was Mr Counihan, rather than Mr Kelty, who paid this $430. On 6 January 1987, Mr Kelty sent a copy of his Swedish Hotel Bill and Diners Club account to Mr Counihan personally. A date stamp shows the Trade Department's expenditure control section received it on 12 January apparently from Mr Counihan. A Trade Department accounting officer, Zarla Sloan, discovered Mr Counihan's $3,000 kitty just one day later, on 13 January. A memo records this discovery. It was this same day that Mr Counihan's expenses were acquitted and it was calculated that Mr Counihan was owed $130 on top of the $3,000 he was advanced. One would have thought that such and acquittal must have been on the basis of receipts produced by Mr Counihan. It was also on this same day that the accounting officer who discovered Mr Counihan's $3,000 kitty, had written the words ``less Counihan'' next to the $430 cash amount on Mr Kelty's bill.

It is inconceivable the accounting section did not verify the existence of the travel kitty with Mr Counihan, and also verify that it was Mr Counihan who had paid the $430 in cash off Mr Kelty's bill. There was also probably indirect contact between Mr Kelty and the Trade Department's accounting section, most probably to determine whether Mr Kelty had the original bill. It is hard to imagine that the matter of who actually paid which amount was not canvassed. All of this would suggest that it was not Mr Kelty but Mr Counihan who paid the $430 and that the report was prepared from evidence contrived after my initial questioning, to clear Mr Kelty of the charge.

Given that Zarla Sloan discovered the existence of the Counihan payments only the day after she received Mr Kelty's bill, it is almost certain that Mr Counihan must also have told her or the person who wrote the handwritten list of payments that it was he who paid the $430. Consequently, it is also hard to escape the conclusion that I originally drew, that Mr Kelty indeed overstated his Swedish hotel claim by $200 and that the subsequent report by the Minister offers nothing for which I should offer an apology for which he asked. I recommend to the House that this whole matter be made available to the Auditor-General for his inspection and investigation. I am quite prepared to make all the freedom of information matters available to him.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.