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Tuesday, 21 May 1985
Page: 2245

Senator PETER BAUME(4.49) —When Estimates Committee C met, which I think was on 15 April, a number of questions were asked concerning the cases brought by the Premier of New South Wales against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in relation to the cost of the settlement of one of those cases. The case was in fact the Four Corners program. It was determined at that sitting, as I understand it, that the legal advice to the ABC was not to settle, but to fight the case; that the legal advice from the in-house lawyers in the ABC was not to settle but to fight the case; and that the advice from counsel was not to settle but to fight the case. Nevertheless, the ABC Board, ignoring all that advice, reached a settlement with the Premier of New South Wales.

At the Estimates Committee hearing we were able to elicit that the Premier of New South Wales received no damages at all for the action which he had brought. That is not surprising since all the legal advice available to the ABC was that it would have won. What has emerged is that the ABC agreed to meet the legal costs of the Premier of New South Wales in a case which, on the face of it, seemed to have little merit and which he would not have won had it gone to court. All the advice given to the ABC was that it should fight because it would have won.

I asked a question at the Estimates Committee hearing as to the legal costs to the ABC-that is to the taxpayer-that it was agreed to meet on behalf of Mr Wran. The questions I wish to ask now relate to an answer to a question taken on notice that was forwarded to the Committee by Mr Johnman on 17 May. The answer I received to my question was as follows:

The legal costs to the ABC are being collated and will be provided to the committee as soon as possible.

The legal cost to Mr Wran.

The Wran action was settled on the basis that his solicitor and client costs as assessed (i.e. agreed) or, failing agreement, taxed by the Supreme Court, would be paid by the ABC.

Although a detailed bill has not been prepared, Mr Wran's solicitors have written assessing their costs at $46,275,20 in the Breakfast Program Action and $49,848.10 in the Four Corners action.

Two questions arise from that reply. First of all, are the legal costs to the ABC yet available? They were promised to the Estimates Committee as soon as they were available. Secondly, and more importantly, since we are talking about the expenditure of public money-taxpayers' money-for which the ABC is only a trustee, I want to know whether the sum of money amounting to a bit more than $94,000 has been taxed. That is, has it been assessed by the Supreme Court as being appropriate? If this has not been done, I put this question to the Minister in the chamber, the Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes), through you, Mr Acting Chairman: Is it not proper that when amounts of this magnitude are sought for payment from the public purse on behalf of a politician who has brought two cases which were clearly without much merit-

Senator Robert Ray —That is according to you.

Senator PETER BAUME —According to me and according to the legal service. The Premier was not willing to pursue the matter in court and he settled for no damages.

Senator Peter Ray —So what.

Senator PETER BAUME —Nevertheless, I simply want to know whether or not the costs will be taxed so that the public can know that the legal costs have gone through the normal processes which they should go through to ensure that they are appropriate to be met.

Senator Button —It is not the normal process to tax costs in settlement and you ought to know better.

Senator PETER BAUME —It was stated in the answer.