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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17176

Mr McMULLAN (2:40 PM) —My question is to the Treasurer. Can the Treasurer confirm that Mr Graeme Samuel, as a commissioner of the AFL, played a key role in the negotiation of the television rights to Colonial Stadium, which are now expected to be subjected to one of the largest trade practices cases yet heard in an Australian court? Can the Treasurer confirm that documents presented to the court by Channel 7 in its dispute with the AFL will be available to the ACCC? Given that the appointment of Mr Samuel was a decision for the Treasurer and the Treasurer alone, what checks did the Treasurer make? Specifically, was the Treasurer aware before he appointed Mr Samuel of the potential conflict of interest arising from this case? Is this not further evidence that the Treasurer should not have appointed Mr Samuel as interim chairman of the ACCC?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I am very happy to answer that question. I point out that Mr Samuel was the nominee of the Victorian Labor government, supported by the Tasmanian government, the Northern Territory government and the Western Australian government, and supported by me because no other nominee was put forward who was qualified for the post—a post, incidentally, which he has not even taken up yet. He takes it up on 1 July. As to these allegations, I am aware of them, because Mr Kerry Stokes came and put them to me, just as no doubt he has put them to you. There was in fact a lobbying campaign, which included Mr Stokes, against Mr Samuel. It always rather amused me when I read in the press that he was the candidate of big business. In fact, big business lobbied against him. The allegations that were put by Mr Kerry Stokes were that there was this case that was proceeding and ought to proceed in the courts. There is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with these cases proceeding in the courts. I have great confidence in the courts to be able to handle civil matters. As I said earlier, from 1 July, if there is any matter in which he has an interest—as other chairmen have had interests—he can disqualify himself, in much the same way as people in the cabinet can disqualify themselves from taking decisions in the cabinet.

Mr COSTELLO —Martin, you are onto a big point now, old son. We always take our advice from the ACTU on these issues, Martin, don't we? They know a conflict of interest when they see one.

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER —The Treasurer will address his remarks through the chair.

Mr COSTELLO —As I said earlier, I think the commission has six or seven commissioners. It takes decisions as a commission. Various people can disqualify themselves if they think that they have a particular conflict of interest. Can I say that in all of the dealings I had with Mr Samuel when he was President of the National Competition Council he behaved impeccably. I congratulate the Keating Labor government for appointing him to that post. It apparently thought that he had no conflicts of interest when he was running competition policy as the chairman of the National Competition Council. I inherited him in that post, and I think he did a very good job. I have no doubt that, other than Professor Fels, he is the most qualified person on competition policy in Australia, and I am yet to hear anybody who has higher qualifications mentioned in debate. I pay tribute to those four Labor governments—at least—which take the same view. If federal Labor wants to sniff around with its muckraking in relation to Mr Samuel, all I can say is that it pales considerably in comparison with state Labor—and that is not a very high standard to pale against.