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Monday, 14 October 1991
Page: 1799

Mr SMITH —-My question is directed to the Acting Prime Minister. He will be aware of Senator Button's claim on the Sunday program that the decision on foreign ownership in the Fairfax group would have been different if Cabinet Ministers had been allowed a free vote. Does he accept this concern? Was the confusion deliberately created to deceive members of Cabinet? Can the Acting Prime Minister assure the House that no deal has been done which would favour any one bidder over another for the Fairfax assets?

Mr HOWE —-It is my understanding that the Cabinet decision was binding; however, the discussion took place late at night and there was no formal vote, so I can understand how some Ministers may not have felt bound by the decision. However, the question at this stage is hypothetical. Caucus has indicated its position. The matter that was referred to by the honourable member is in the hands of the receiver, who must decide which bid best meets his client's interests. Should that bid include foreign equity, it would be subject to consideration by the Foreign Investment Review Board, which would then make a recommendation to Treasury. The Treasurer has already indicated that he would then consult with his colleagues on the matter before making a final decision.