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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2227

Senator MICHAEL BAUME (3.50 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Gareth Evans), to a question without notice asked by Senator Baume this day, relating to the Prime Minister's investment in a piggery.

It has just been stated in the other chamber that the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) has sold out of his piggery interests and has, of course, blamed the opposition for that. I say to him in response to the normal bucketing that I received from Senator Gareth Evans that the fact that the Prime Minister has been rescued from his disastrous investment by an unknown rescuer creates an even greater potential for conflict of interest than the extraordinary investment that he held. The Prime Minister will be deeply—I will not say the word indebted because that is what his companies have been—under an obligation to whomever has rescued him from what is clearly a financial disaster.

Senator O'Chee —Bankruptcy.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —I think the Prime Minister is protected from that by the corporate veil while his companies are massively in debt, despite what the Prime Minister pretended in the House of Representatives a few minutes ago when he said that really there was not a surplus of liability over assets within the group because he did not know how to consolidate his accounts. It might be a good idea for the Prime Minister to have the sort of experience I had of being chairman of the annual report award committee of the Australian Institute of Management for a few years so he can work out what one and one make, because there is no doubt he has absolutely no idea, as is evident from his investment in the first place, what sort of a financial mess this extraordinary group has been and is in.

  I admit that the Prime Minister probably had every good reason to be suckered into this in the first place because the accounts for the years 1989 and 1990, when they were eventually released, claimed that there was a profit of $1.3 million for the first two years. That might have been the basis upon which the Prime Minister invested the $430,000, which I understand he borrowed from someone to put into this venture. One director of Danpork Australia Pty Ltd said that this was a financially strong body with which his company was joining. He said it was a `financially strong meat wholesaler and pig producer'. Clearly, the corrected audited accounts, when they were eventually released as a result of my pressure, showed that those profits did not exist and had never existed. They were massive losses.

  It would be interesting to know whether Senator Evans has been misleading this chamber by not informing us during question time over the last two weeks that the Prime Minister has disposed of his piggery. Instead of that, Senator Evans kept saying that the Prime Minister is at arm's length. He is not at arm's length. He is not even an owner, according to the Prime Minister, and has not been for the last two weeks. Yet Senator Evans quite happily got up in this chamber and continued to deceive us, if in fact he had been told by the Prime Minister, because the Prime Minister was no longer an owner so how could he be at arm's length from the management. I believe he had an obligation to advise this chamber that the potential for conflict of interest which clearly existed had by then been removed.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.