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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Page: 4420

Senator ABETZ (12:44 PM) —Mr President, I seek leave to make a statement not exceeding three minutes.

The PRESIDENT —Leave is granted for three minutes.

Senator ABETZ —I thank the Senate. A lot has been said and written about my involvement in what has now become known as the OzCar affair. I have already publicly apologised, but I wanted to take this very first opportunity in the Senate to repeat that apology and in addition apologise for any perceived reflection on the Senate. I also want to briefly deal with the three assertions made against me: that I pressured a witness; that I misled a Senate hearing; and that I scripted a witness’s evidence. All three assertions are wrong.

First, as the joint statement I made with the Leader of the Opposition on 4 August makes clear, the witness volunteered his information. When the witness approached us we listened because he was a person with direct knowledge of the matters in question.

The second assertion is that I misled the Senate on 19 June by suggesting that a journalist had told me about the now known to be fake email and its contents. The simple fact is that a journalist did tell me this. He said he had been contacted by the witness, who had shared his information including the contents of the email. The journalist then shared that information with me. As the joint statement made clear, the witness had previously shown me the email. Both statements are true; they are not mutually exclusive. Having received information from two separate sources it is quite appropriate to rely solely or partially on just one of those sources without exposing the other.

The third claim is that I scripted the evidence, coached the witness and somehow interfered with the provision of evidence to the committee. This allegation is also wrong. Again, as spelt out in the joint statement, at no stage did I script the evidence, coach the witness or suggest what his answers might be. I would point out to the Senate that talking to witnesses before they give their evidence is common practice, so is asking questions provided by a third party. Every senator knows this is true. Indeed, ministers know beforehand many of the questions they will be asked in question time. I can even recall being given notice of questions the crossbenchers proposed to ask me. It is how the parliament works.

However, improper influence of a witness is what the standing orders provide against, as they should. There was no improper influence. I repeat: I did not pressure a witness, I did not script a witness’s evidence, nor did I mislead the Senate.

Having said that, Mr President, I would like to take this opportunity to repeat my apology to the Australian people and to the Prime Minister over this matter and again apologise for any perceived reflection on the Senate. I thank the Senate.