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Tuesday, 18 October 1983
Page: 1822

Mr DAWKINS (Minister for Finance) —Mr Speaker, I seek your indulgence to make a short statement in relation to some misrepresentations and some additions to questions last week.

Mr Sinclair —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. The Notice Paper normally refers to ministerial statements being made by leave. We customarily expect two hours' notice of these ministerial statements. It is a practice which has normally been observed. I understand there are some exceptions. Surely this is not the occasion to seek your indulgence. If the Minister wishes to make a ministerial statement he should seek the leave of the House.

Mr Lionel Bowen —Mr Speaker, I was under the impression-perhaps the Minister for Finance did not make it clear-that he wished your indulgence to add to an answer . It is not a prepared statement.

Mr SPEAKER —I must admit I was a bit confused by the Minister. He sought indulgence to add to an answer, but then he said something about a statement. If the Minister for Finance seeks indulgence to add to an answer given to a question, that indulgence is granted. I think he understands the difficulty with a statement. Making a statement is not subject to indulgence from the Chair.

Mr DAWKINS —That is understood. Opposition members should pay close attention.

Mr Peacock —Are you adding to an answer or making a statement?

Mr SPEAKER —What the Minister for Finance is doing is the subject of a ruling from the Chair. He has been granted indulgence to add to an answer given last week.

Mr Howard —He should not abuse that indulgence.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Bennelong is being presumptive in what he says. I call the Minister for Finance.

Mr DAWKINS —Last week a number of questions were addressed to me relating to a number of matters. One related to the question of an allegation of involvement in tax evasion. I will--

Mr Sinclair —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. You remember your ruling last week that this was a matter which was outside the province of this House during Question Time. I suggest that if it is outside the province of Opposition members to ask questions on this matter, it is also outside the province of the Minister to add to an answer which has been declared ultra vires.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I remind the Deputy Leader of the National Party that a number of questions were asked with regard to a certain company and the progress taken by that company which involved the Minister. If I recall correctly, only one question-addressed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition-was disallowed. I would have to hear the Minister for Finance further before ruling on the point of order.

Mr DAWKINS —A number of questions relating to this matter were directed to me and another such question was directed to the Prime Minister today. A number of issues arise out of that about which I think I should inform the House. In the first instance, one of the questions asked last week was preceded by the tabling of some documents by the honourable member for O'Connor. The Government did not resist the request to table those documents, but I have since been able to ascertain that they were private documents not generally available to the public . It is perfectly clear that they were obtained by improper and possibly illegal means.

Mr Peacock —That is not true.

Mr DAWKINS —Just hang on a minute. I have since had an opportunity to survey the records in relation to the affairs of the company and I am satisfied that there is nothing in those documents which does anything more than confirm the earlier remarks that I have made on this matter. However, serious issues arise from the production-

Mr Spender —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I have tried patiently to explain to the Minister that he has indulgence to add to an answer. He is really now, in going into the documents, getting into a matter which is proper for a statement, not an addition to an answer. I suggest that it would be much more appropriate if he made a statement- about those documents. It really is stretching-

Mr Peacock —Mr Speaker, the Minister may not be aware that the Opposition is prepared to give him leave to make a statement, should he seek it.

Mr SPEAKER —The Chair is really in some difficulty in granting indulgence on this matter.

Mr DAWKINS —To make your task easier, Mr Speaker, I seek leave to make a short statement.

Leave granted.

Mr DAWKINS —The production of these documents which, as I have indicated were obtained by improper and possibly illegal means, raises very serious questions. As I have said, there is nothing in the documents that provides anything other than a confirmation of what I have already said, but to provide open access--

Mr Howard —Are you claiming that the documents are inaccurate?

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I remind the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that leave has been granted to the Minister. I suggest that he allow the Minister to make his statement.

Mr DAWKINS —To provide for the publication of these documents would in the first instance sanction the theft, if that is what it was, and it would mean that for the first time in this country commercial espionage would become part of the political process. Secondly, the publication of these documents would be a savage denial--

Mr Howard —Even Keating is laughing at that.

Mr DAWKINS —You just wait a minute; you will be on your feet in a moment. Secondly, it would constitute a savage denial of the privacy of my mother and brothers, whose financial affairs are also touched on in those documents. Thirdly, it would pre-empt the consideration by the Standing Orders Committee of the matter of the disclosure of pecuniary interests. If the House decides as a result of considering the report of the Standing Orders Committee that we should publish the minute details of the financial affairs not only of honourable members but also of their parents and siblings, then it may be proper to have those documents published, but in the current circumstances it would be simply a distortion of the principle of the disclosure of pecuniary interests which has been introduced to alert the public to possible conflicts of interest. The system of disclosure is not intended to provide an opportunity for financial voyeurs to salivate over and pry into the affairs of others.

Mr Speaker, a question has been raised about certain transactions which were undertaken by the liquidator. I have already addressed those matters in earlier statements and I have also produced statements from the liquidator and do not intend to add to them, except simply to remind the House that the liquidator indicated that in respect of those transactions there was at all times full and true disclosure to the Commissioner of Taxation. The question of my relationship with the liquidator has also been raised. So sure was the Opposition of its position that as late as yesterday the honourable member for O'Connor contacted Mr Colin Gardner, who was the liquidator at the time-he has since retired-to seek certain information about these transactions. Members of the Opposition were so well informed about this campaign that has been waged over the last week and a bit that they had to wait until yesterday for an opportunity to contact Mr Gardner to try to find any evidence that would apparently be difficult to me. The honourable member addressed to Mr Gardner the question of his relationship with me. Mr Gardner has indicated to me what he told Mr Tuckey. He said:

. . . I was prepared to tell him in general terms that to the best of my recollection you had little to do with the liquidation and I believed you were not present in this State when negotiations were completed.

I said your brother Roger took on the task of looking after your mother's interests and I recalled having most contact with him.

He went on to say:

Although I consulted with one or more contributories--

that is, the shareholders--

and I hope reasonably informed all of major decisions I made, the decision to sell this land was as with all other decisions my responsibility. I believed and still do that in the matter of the sale of this land I made the correct decision and accept responsibility for it.

That should put beyond any doubt the points I have made and ought to add to and clarify the remarks I made on 6 October and 13 October. This discloses what the Opposition is up to in relation to this matter.

Let me remind the House of where this matter started. It started with allegations of my involvement in tax evasion. When I said absolutely no, I had no involvement in tax evasion, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) accused me of misleading the House on the basis that there was a connection between this company and Metro Industries Ltd, the directors of which sent Treamog Pty Ltd to the bottom of the harbour. I thought I would take a leaf out of the Deputy Leader's book. He has claimed on other occasions that the authority of the Australian Taxation Office is absolutely conclusive in relation to these matters. I have here a letter from the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation in Western Australia in which in the last few lines he indicates that Coomel Pty Ltd, in liquidation, will be relieved of any recoupment liability arising out of its holding in 1976 of the 600 shares in Metro Industries Ltd.

This letter from the Deputy Commissioner indicates that there is no liability for this company-the company of which I was a shareholder-in relation to these bottom of the harbour activities. I would have thought that, in the circumstances, and given the remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition on Nationwide last week, he would be prepared to apologise to me for the accusations he has made, which are quite clearly unsubstantiated, as I have demonstrated today. I should also indicate that, in relation to a remark made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, which was reported in the Age of Saturday, 15 October, about me having some association with Peter Clyne, I am referring that matter to my solicitors because that is a gross and unsubstantiated defamation of me.

One other matter ought to be made perfectly clear. What this matter is really all about is an attempt to undermine the enthusiasm this Government has for the disclosure of pecuniary interests. Notwithstanding the events of the last week, notwithstanding the fact that the system has been abused and misused by the Opposition, and notwithstanding the fact that it may have provided the Press with an opportunity to report gross and untrue allegations about me and my affairs, I indicate to the House my absolute resolve that the process of the disclosure of pecuniary interests should be extended and should be formalised in a way in which all members of this House are required to disclose their pecuniary interests to this House and, through this House, to the people of Australia.

Members of one group on one side of the House are misusing a system and making wild allegations on the basis of documents which I believe to have been stolen, although the honourable member for O'Connor has maintained that these documents are publicly available. I can absolutely assure the House that they are not publicly available, and there is no way in which they could properly be in his hands. The group of people who on the one hand are prepared to deal in stolen private documents about people's financial affairs but on the other hand resist the extension of those principles to themselves stand condemned by their actions .