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Thursday, 27 November 2014
Page: 9563

Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (15:28): I rise to take note of Senator Cormann's answer to my question about his broken promise to the victims of the Trio Capital collapse, specifically the association of the ARP Growth Fund. The senator tries to run away from the promises he made in opposition. Through you, Mr Deputy President, I say to the minister: he may well run but he cannot hide. At least not now with the eyes of the Senate watching him on this matter. Running away from reality, running away from his promises, breaking his word—but it is clear today that his word, like the word of the Prime Minister, simply means nothing. Indeed, his words mean less than nothing. His words have been constructed to deceive.

Let us be clear about the facts that underpin my question to the minister today. The facts are these: before the election, at a number of conferences and forums and on the public record, the minister gave indications of support for compensation. On 7 May last year he said:

… we do believe that there is a case for the government to look more closely as to whether there would be some justification for a level of compensation, if not for the full amount of the loss, but at least a level of compensation.

In a press release dated 2 July 2013, a matter of weeks before the election, the minister advocated the need to:

… explore whether unique circumstances surrounding the Trio collapse justify at least a level of compensation to victims so far left out in the cold.

These are his words on the public record. So why, now he is in government and he has had responsibility for this matter for the whole year, has he not met once with the people to whom he held out such promise?

I will go through the critical moments in the time line for this particular group, who communicate with many other groups around the country and should have had wind of something. If the minister had such good news to tell them, he certainly has not communicated it. This is what happened. The election of the Abbott government happened on 7 September. There followed, shortly after, a meeting with the member for Bradfield, Paul Fletcher. Shortly after that, there were two more meetings, with Senator Williams. Then there was a letter to the Assistant Treasurer at the time, Senator Sinodinos, setting out a course of action to have the matter advanced: to instruct the department to form a working group to investigate the issue or to set up an independent review. This was followed by a meeting on 16 December with Mr Paul Giles, the chief of staff to Senator Arthur Sinodinos, where the Association of ARP Unitholders put forward a submission to the Assistant Treasurer. Then silence.

Then there was the elevation of Senator Cormann to Assistant Treasurer. Hopes were raised again—and the previously fierce fighter for this cause remained silent. Surely Senator Cormann would honour his promises now that he was in a position to do so, they thought. Then there was a short phone conversation with Mr Giles in March, saying things were on track. Then again the deafening silence, a silence that has lasted all year. It is now nearly a year since that meeting on 16 December. What do the minister's answers today mean? We will see what they mean. If it goes the way of all other promises of the government, it will end up in a broken promise. This group certainly deserves to be treated with respect, but all we see, once again, is that the government, which said anything to get elected, now that they are in government, are doing the complete opposite.

The minister needs to deliver on his promise of compensation. He might try to crab-walk away from it, but that is what he promised. He needs to admit that he is simply ignoring this group and hoping they might go away. The whole issue may just be an inconvenience for Senator Cormann now that he is a minister, but 18 months ago it was an issue he claimed to care about and an issue he said he would fight for. People took the senator at his word and trusted him to help. People have been putting forward victim impact statements with regard to the impact on them of this terrible decision of the government not to support them: 'For the past few years, we've felt helpless and alone as our calls for assistance in resolving this matter have been drawn out—to this point fruitless. There has been no support. The most significant and heart-wrenching impact has been watching the dramatic decline of my wife's health. Not long after the Trio collapse unfolded, my wife's health declined suddenly and rapidly, and it ended up with a medical condition resulting in strokes.' This is the sort of story that is happening while the government is twiddling its thumbs. Clearly the minister has a real responsibility to honour his words before the election. He made a promise of compensation. He cannot walk away from it now.

Question agreed to.