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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8131


Senator LUDWIG (6:37 AM) —I seek leave to move a motion relating to the return to order requesting the provision of all documents relating to the inquiries undertaken by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet into the possible conflict of interest between the ministerial responsibilities of the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer and the commercial activities of Endispute Pty Ltd.

Leave granted.


Senator LUDWIG —I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

On Tuesday the Senate moved that by Thursday the government should provide all such documents. As we understand the matter, in answer to the return to order, Senator Ian Campbell indicated that there was insufficient time to draw all the documents together. As I understand it—but I am happy to be corrected—he went on to say that the government was going to comply with the order at a later date. However, the documents that we have sought include `all documents' relating to the inquiries undertaken by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet into the possible conflict of interest between the ministerial responsibilities of the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer, Senator Coonan, and the commercial activities of Endispute Pty Ltd. This included, but was not limited to, a copy of the report of those inquiries furnished to Mr Howard. He referred to this report during question time in the House of Representatives last Tuesday, 3 December.

There has been sufficient time for that report to be provided by the government. They may find it bothersome or tiresome to retrieve all the other documents but, in particular, they could have and should have returned that one document for the Senate today. Therefore, the government is absolutely remiss in not complying with this order from the Senate. They did have, and still have today, sufficient time to at least provide that report. We are talking about a report on ministerial standards, which should not be kept locked in a safe somewhere in a back room of the Prime Minister's office. It should see the light of day—as we have done this morning!

The provision of this report into Senator Coonan's divestments produced by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, presumably by Mr Max Moore-Wilton himself, is appropriate. Even if the government were unable to provide all the documents by today, they were able to provide that report. There has certainly been sufficient time for that. Senator Coonan says that she resigned from Endispute last year and that on 3 January she held a meeting—possibly in the leaky conservatory—with Endispute company secretary and husband, Mr Andrew Rogers. Her resignation from Endispute was allegedly accepted, but there is no ASIC record of her resignation on paper until 15 November, when the company secretary informed ASIC. The question is: did Senator Coonan tell the Prime Minister of her changed circumstances before 15 November?

This and other key questions should have been canvassed in this report. In the time available, the answers should have been produced here. This is a matter of ministerial conduct, and the public have a right to be assured that Senator Coonan gave the Prime Minister assurances that her connections with mediation company Endispute are proper and correct. Mr Howard may well huff and puff about meeting ministerial standards but it seems he will not release any proof that these standards have been met. We are not able to see if Senator Coonan has met them. We are not able to see what she told the Prime Minister. Is her account an accurate reflection of what has transpired over the past month? We cannot know. Did PM&C do its job properly or did it give Senator Coonan the benefit of the doubt? These are key questions that should be answered. There has been time for the report to be provided. There has been time for the government to answer these critical questions. The government have denied us this report. We can only conclude, given that they have not produced the report in the time available, that the government are, in effect, covering Senator Coonan's tracks by refusing to release this important document.