Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2324

Senator MICHAEL BAUME (10.41 p.m.) —I speak tonight on a matter of great significance. It is a matter of the incredible Keating piggery saga involving two years of dishonest denigration of me for my revealing of totally accurate facts that I managed to get, as a result of a lot of hard work, from the Australian Securities Commission, the Land Titles Office and other impeccable sources.

  This two years of denigration of me has ended with the humiliating disposal of his investment by the Prime Minister (Mr Keating)—

Senator Hill —A total vindication of you.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —As Senator Hill says, it was a total vindication of me. The Prime Minister has claimed this investment to be `an outstanding one', `in Australia's best interests' and `a marvellous, wonderful, pure and beautiful thing'. Anyone who attacked it was in fact `attacking primary industry and Australia's future' rather than attacking a shonky deal based on rotten figures which falsely alleged this group was profitable and financially strong. Investors overseas were misled about the strength of this group. Danish directors of Danpork said—no doubt innocently—when trying to convince reluctant Danish farmers that their cooperatives should become involved in this project, that they were going into a deal with a financially strong Australian piggery and wholesaling group. That was false; the figures were false. At no stage has this company, this group of the Prime Minister's, ever made a profit.

  These false declarations would have remained there had it not been for my diligence and perseverance and my standing up to a campaign of personal vilification for two years for daring to criticise this `perfect' Prime Minister, who is so good at dishing it out but simply cannot cop it. He spits the dummy when anyone points out that his feet are not only clay but are dissolving, disgusting, smelly clay.

  Let us have a look at this. Mr Keating thinks he has closed the book on his disgraceful piggery adventure by—and I use his words—`disposing' of his interest. He did not say `sell'. He is wrong. He has only ended a chapter. There are many more chapters to be written in this documentary that will expose some totally inappropriate and improper behaviour by his companies and their associates.

  There is already a long list of such improper and inappropriate behaviour by them, and I will deal with that later. I move to today's announcement by the Prime Minister that he had `disposed' of his piggery interests so ending his role in an $80 million joint venture with a Danish multi-national. This disposal creates more political problems for the Prime Minister than it solves. Disposal may have saved his financial skin by getting out of a disastrous investment in a loss-making venture that was incapable of ever making a profit—particularly if interest rates are to move upwards again. The New South Wales environmental inquiry placed such severe restrictions that the project was simply not viable in its present form.

Senator Collins —How do you know that?

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —How do I know that? I know it not only from leading experts in the field telling me so, but also from Mr Keating's goons who roamed the gallery bleating that the New South Wales government's actions of having an inquiry that recommended halving the project's size and introducing tough environmental controls, have made it unviable. That is what they have been briefing the media.

Senator Collins —Well, he is out of it now. He is not in it any more.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —He is out, and the manner in which he is out has created greater potential for conflict of interest than had he stayed in.

Senator Ian Macdonald —Who bought it?

  Senator Collins interjecting—

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Exactly, who bought it and on what terms? This is the key point, and if the minister would shut his mouth and open his ears, even he might understand. If this is no longer viable, how did Mr Keating manage to dispose of it? Who would buy something that is unviable according to Mr Keating's goons who are roaming the corridors? This raises major questions that he must answer, no matter how embarrassing it is for him. He is not off the political hook, even if he has been saved from the financial hook, because this humiliating withdrawal involves the potential for a massive conflict of interest. That is why he has to reveal the details of the manner in which he has disposed of this obligation that he had entered into.

  Quite apart from the question which has been raised by some people about how he found $430,000 on a parliamentarian's salary to go into this in the first place, the simple question remains: how much did he get for disposing of this enormous burden which was not viable and could not be? To whom did he dispose of it? What happened to the obligations to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, entered into by this group when Mr Keating was the Treasurer? What has happened to the guarantees, if any? If he disposed of it to foreigners, is there any FIRB approval required? Let us face it, Mr Keating changed the rules in 1992 so maybe there is no FIRB approval required. But we do not know that. There are so many vital questions relating to the potential for conflict of interest that they just must be answered.

  If Mr Keating has been rescued from this unviable operation by someone, I wonder how grateful he must be. Fancy a Prime Minister putting himself in a situation where he is rescued from an unviable operation in which he has invested $430,000—an operation which is massively in debt as well, by the way, by $4.5 million on a subordinated loan to a lobbyist. All these things were revealed only because of my diligence in the face of continual, contemptible personal attack by the government. If Mr Keating is under such a massive obligation to his rescuer, what a very worrying potential for conflict of interest there is there.

  I imagine there are many people in Australia who would love the Prime Minister to be under that kind of obligation to them; many people who want changes in the law to improve their capacity to own assets or their capacity to increase the proportion of their holdings in various matters. Indeed, there are many people who would like the Prime Minister to be under that kind of obligation to them. That is why it is vital that he lets the public know what the truth is about his disposal of this interest. If he will not do so, there should and must be some kind of inquiry. This failed Treasurer, the man who brought us the recession we had to have, is now a failed businessman, too. This failed Treasurer has exposed himself to the risk of being under a massive obligation to people who may well seek to have him under that kind of obligation—a crazy situation for a Prime Minister to ever get himself into.

  As I said, there must be full revelation of this matter. I admit it would be unusual for the Prime Minister to be involved in a revelation about anything, because when he bought this operation he did not meet the cabinet rules. He did not tell his Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, as he was required to do, what this investment was or the value of it. He never told Mr Hawke—and I know that for a fact. Mr Hawke has been quite happy to reveal the nature of the conversations he had with Paul Keating on this matter, and it did not include revelation of the facts while Mr Hawke was Prime Minister and Mr Keating was Treasurer. And it should be remembered he bought this investment while he was Treasurer.

  I suppose he is keeping up this reputation for non-revelation. He did not admit to the parliament that he had a half ownership, and so on. Everyone knows the sordid story. He did not get around to correcting the forms that were filled in and sent to the Australian Securities Commission, saying this investment was a $43,000 investment, to show that it was a $430,000 investment. There have been non-stop misrepresentations and lies about this investment from the very beginning. There have been failures to report. No-one will be surprised to know that even though Mr Keating says he disposed of these interests a fortnight ago, there are no documents with the Securities Commission yet which indicate any change whatsoever in the ownership of these interests. I doubt that we will ever get a straightforward report. No doubt I will have to keep up the same sort of devilling inquiry to establish whether or not our Prime Minister is under some obligation to someone, to find out who that person is.

  I assure the government I will maintain this pursuit. I assure the government this is not the end of the book; it is only the end of the chapter. So much stinks in this operation—and it is not just the pigs—that it must and will be uncovered.

  This is the sort of nonsense that the Prime Minister went on with—that the reason he got out was that he did not want to subject the partners in this business to the unprincipled taunts of an unprincipled opposition which were affecting the business, its prospects and all other questions which come along. It was not the opposition that began and held the inquiry into the expansion program at Scone; it was the New South Wales government, which had been a strong supporter of the proposal, as Mr Keating has been so keen to demonstrate so often by quoting Mr Greiner. It was the New South Wales government which, under the law, was obliged to have an inquiry, and that fair inquiry required some restraints and restrictions on that project that rendered it unviable. So here we have once again Mr Keating looking around for someone to smear, someone to attack, someone to criticise, because he made a boo-boo. He was a drongo; he was a business incompetent; he was conned by some people who have showed him a set of false accounts and he could not tell the difference.

Senator Collins —Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. Again, there has been an enormous amount of latitude. I do not want to curtail Senator Baume's remarks, but we have listened to four highly descriptive, extremely offensive and totally unparliamentary expressions about a member of the other place. Senator Baume knows perfectly well that is grossly disorderly and he should stop doing it.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —I thank the minister. I will stop doing it in future. I notice he did not ask me to withdraw what I have already said. We have been told totally falsely that the reason the Prime Minister has withdrawn is because of the attacks of a backbench senator, demonstrating how shonky all these accounts were. That is why he is withdrawing from his involvement with the Danes. That is, of course, absolute nonsense. Nothing I have done here, nothing that has been done in the other chamber, has altered the fact that the project was planned for an environmentally risky area. An independent inquiry found that it was not an appropriate place for it to go ahead.

  Let us look at the litany of lies that have surrounded attacks on me over my determination to bring this scandalous situation to the attention—

Senator Collins —It would be impossible to tell a lie about you, Senator Baume. Everything would be true.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Nothing is beyond the minister. Let us look at the litany of lies aimed at me. Some of the media sycophants have gone along with this, saying—and I quote what the Prime Minister's troops have said today: `Baume has uncovered no impropriety whatsoever'. Let us deal with that lie. Let us look at fact No. 1: Baume forced the revelation through audited accounts that the profitability claimed for this piggery group was false and that it had suffered a huge loss. These false claims have resulted in Danpork directors wrongly telling the Danish public, and farmer shareholders, that their Australian partner was financially strong. It never has been and it does not look as though it ever will be.

  Fact: Baume revealed the problems Mr Keating's partner, to whom he entrusted the running of his piggery, had with abiding by the Corporations Law which he has habitually broken. That partner is Mr Al Constantinidis, a habitual breaker of the Corporations Law, as I have established here over and over again.

  Fact: Baume revealed that the Prime Minister's investment in his piggery was a huge $430,000, not the $43,000 falsely reported to the ASC and reported in the media, with no denial from Mr Keating. Fact: Baume revealed that the Prime Minister's companies owed lobbyist Mr John Brown $4.5 million, a fact Mr Keating's companies have dishonestly sought to conceal or diminish.

  Fact: the inquiry into the Prime Minister's piggery group that Baume forced on the Australian Securities Commission resulted in the revelation that five of the seven Brown and Hatton piggery group were technically insolvent, with liabilities exceeding assets, and were able to continue only due to support from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia—surprise, surprise—and their ultimate shareholders, Messrs Keating and Constantinidis, although we did not ever find out what guarantees, if any, either of them put up.

  Fact: Baume revealed that the credit committee of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia on 6 August 1992 reported to the board that it was making provision for the loss of $4.5 million against the Keating piggery group's loans of almost $20 million. Since then, of course, their loans have gone up because they have lost so much more money, they have had to borrow more to keep going.

  Fact: Baume exposed the dishonest nature of a letter to the Securities Commission from Mr Keating's partner, Mr Constantinidis, in which he blamed previous directors for filing inaccurate annual returns which in fact Mr Constantinidis himself had filed with the Securities Commission. Fact: Baume disclosed that Paul Keating breached Hawke government cabinet rules by failing to report that he had purchased this interest in the first place.

  Here we have a succession of clear, unequivocal, unanswerable facts, and all I ever got from the other side was the sort of smear that was sprayed all over me today—if a smear can be sprayed—from Senator Evans, who said, `Baume is always wrong; he has been proved wrong always'. It is fascinating, is it not? When I say to him, `Demonstrate where I was wrong. Produce one document to demonstrate that I have been wrong', not one document has been presented. Yet I have tabled report after report demonstrating the facts of this matter. There has never been a response to those facts by the people on the other side of this chamber who purvey the constant lie that somehow what I am saying is wrong. I want to finish with this typical Keating style. He said today:

It is a gross indictment of the opposition that it has attacked the primary industry.

I have never attacked this primary industry. I hope that a scheme that is actually introduced and run properly will work. But I certainly strongly oppose the kind of shonky deal to which the Prime Minister wrongly and improperly gave his name and his imprimatur when he was Treasurer in order to help get it off the ground. That is a fact. The Danes had not signed this deal when Mr Paul Keating became a part owner; they only signed it after Paul Keating became a half owner. It was only finally resolved and the deal finally signed after Mr Paul Keating became the Prime Minister.