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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17100

Mr MURPHY (10:40 AM) —I would like to take the opportunity again to raise the matter of the case of former Senator Dr Malcolm Arthur Colston. Four years ago, two independent expert medical specialists determined that Dr Colston had only months to live. This is a matter of serious public interest because it is all about the protection of taxpayers' money and the very serious allegations that were brought against Dr Colston of rorting his travel allowance. One of two things is the case: Dr Colston continues to defy medical science; or the doctors who have examined him are medically incompetent. It is my understanding that in the case of Dr Colston he is very anxious, as is his family, to clear his name—

Mr Martin Ferguson —Ha, ha!

Mr MURPHY —Well, I have been on this matter in the federal parliament for something like 3½ years to get to the veracity of the state of health of Dr Colston—

Mr Martin Ferguson —He looks fitter than you do.

Mr MURPHY —He probably does. I am at a loss to understand why the Director of Public Prosecutions has not had any personal face-to-face contact with Dr Colston and is relying purely on medical specialists to say that he had months to live. He had months to live in May 1999; and the latest medical assessment of him, the third review, concludes that he has only months to live. Yet, as I exposed in one of my numerous questions, Dr Colston has had 16 interstate aeroplane trips at taxpayers' expense on his gold card, concomitant with 27 motor vehicle trips at taxpayers' expense. A reasonable person would conclude: surely if someone is capable of making those trips, he is capable of sitting in a court room and answering questions which are of the gravest concern in terms of protecting public revenue and the public interest.

All of us in this House are affected by the case of Dr Colston. I have said many times in the House, and I will say it again today: I do not wish ill of Dr Colston. But if one takes the trouble to go through the questions that I have asked in the House and the information the Attorney-General has given me, clearly this case needs to be resolved as quickly as possible. The third review has been going since July of last year; it will soon be 12 months. How long does it take to establish whether someone who was allegedly terminally ill more than four years ago and was not capable of standing trial on 28 charges of defrauding the Commonwealth through travel rorts is still incapable of standing trial more than four years later? This is unbelievable.

Mr Martin Ferguson —Other members took their medicine.

Mr MURPHY —Yes; the member for Batman is correct. The Attorney-General needs to take the stick to the Director of Public Prosecutions, because this parliament and the members of this parliament whom I talk to are sick and tired of this case. The public are sick and tired of it. They want a resolution to it.

Against the background that Dr Colston is only too happy to clear his name, as is his family, you would think a more serious effort would be made to allow Dr Colston to make himself available and make it quite plain to all of us that he does have only months to live. If that were shown, I would leave the case alone, and I am sure the media would as well, because no-one wants to hound a dying man. But there is a lot of evidence to suggest that he has not been as sick as he was claimed to be and as was allegedly found to be the case by the so-called eminent expert medical specialists who examined him in May 1999—clearly he was not about to die in May 1999.

Through the parliamentary secretaries, I would like a message taken back to the Attorney-General that we should get this matter resolved as quickly as possible. (Extension of time granted) No-one believes that it takes almost 12 months to establish on a third review whether Dr Colston is terminally ill or is capable of standing trial. This is a matter of serious public interest because it goes to the heart of protecting taxpayers' money. It gives all of us in this House a very bad name. I am not going to stop speaking out on this issue and asking questions about it until we get a satisfactory resolution.

I think it is about time that the Director of Public Prosecutions gave Dr Colston a call and satisfied himself about his state of health and his capacity to stand trial. He should invite Dr Colston to make available to the parliament and the media the so-called medical evidence, which has been around for more than four years, that says that he has got only months to live. I do not care who he gives it to. If reasonable people examine that evidence and conclude that he does have only a very short time left on this earth, then I will stop asking questions and I am sure that the media will too.

I would also like to raise the issue of the government's inaction with regard to serial rorting of our taxation system. A couple of years ago Paul Barry wrote some articles in relation to the high priests of our society, the legal profession, who were employing family law and bankruptcy provisions to avoid paying their fair share of taxation. In the case of barristers in New South Wales, I brought it to the attention of parliament on several occasions that a third of them were not even up to date with their taxation returns. I want to state in the parliament today that nothing has changed in more than two years—or close to 2½ years—with respect to dealing with bankruptcy and family law in relation to criminals. It goes beyond barristers; I am not here on a crusade to nail the legal profession to the cross, because clearly many other people in our society are using bankruptcy and family law provisions to avoid paying their fair share of tax.

I am sure that these criminals, these rorters, who are not paying their fair share of tax have a Medicare card. I am sure they drive upon our roads, and use our education system and all the other public facilities. What contribution are they making to our society? What is the government doing about it? I am satisfied that the government is not doing very much. One only has to look at the Cole Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry and the submission of the CFMEU to see that. The member for Batman could direct you to his brother and his submissions to the Cole royal commission.

What makes people sick and tired—they have had a gutful of it—is the fact that most prevalent companies in the building industry are phoenix companies. Criminals set up these phoenix companies, have all their assets stripped, go to the wall and start up again the day after they go to the wall, denying their workers their lawful entitlements and saying, `Look, we're very sorry that our company went broke but we'll give you the job back. You won't get your long service leave, your holiday pay, your superannuation et cetera, but we'll give you your job back.' The same business is operating, the company gets a change of name, the same directors are operating and nothing seems to be done about it.

One has only to look at the findings in the Cole royal commission to know that the government is not serious about stamping out this dreadful practice. It takes us back to the bad old days of the 1960s and the 1970s when we had the bottom of the harbour schemes. The phoenix companies are operating in that way today, and they are not making their fair contribution to our society. I hope that the government is going to do something to stamp out this serial rorting. (Time expired)