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Thursday, 9 June 1994
Page: 1562

Senator CARR (9.51 a.m.) —I rise to speak to the minority report of the Select Committee on Certain Aspects of Foreign Ownership Decisions in Relation to the Print Media. That report contains a rebuttal of every point that has been raised today and every point that was raised throughout these dreadful proceedings. Before I go to that, I place on record, on behalf of the Labor senators, our thanks to the secretariat, who acted with propriety and professionalism through what has been an extremely difficult inquiry, and despite the obvious malicious use of Senate committee powers to undermine the reputation of the Senate processes themselves and, ultimately, Senate committees.

  The majority report is the last gasp of those in the Liberal Party who refuse to believe that they actually lost the last election. What we have seen through this whole process is a presumption that somehow or other the media were to blame for their loss; that they were not to blame—the old scapegoat routine of the highest order. What we have seen through this process is an attempt by the opposition to harness the powers of the Senate in order to run a vindictive, amoral, and malicious campaign to undermine the integrity of many people within this country.

  We have got a long list of people who have been abused, assaulted and threatened through this committee—people such as Keating, Willis, Dawkins, Hawke, Kerin, Pooley, Hinton and Roberts; the list goes on. Those particular gentlemen have been the subject of vilification through this committee process. This outrageous attack on the civil liberties of those citizens of this country has demonstrated the grave danger posed by the Senate committee system itself to some fundamental principles of democratic government in this country.

  We suggested that if there were substantive issues to be discussed on the question of foreign investment, the most appropriate way to deal with them was through a standing committee—for instance, through the Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration. Of course, what is behind this is the political motive of the opposition, in league with the Democrats. The opposition needs a high profile platform such as this committee provides to try to attack the reputation of this government by undermining and attacking the credibility and reputation of Australian citizens. That allows opposition senators to use the full powers of privilege—the full powers of the Senate—to try to attack Australians.

  We say that from its very beginning this committee was flawed. It was flawed because it relied on a number of presumptions which were pre-judged from beginning to end. For instance, we have the fundamental nonsense that somehow or other the government disposed of Fairfax.

  Nothing could be further from the truth. It was not the government that disposed of Fairfax; the receivers did. It was alleged that the government removed people from the list of bidders. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was not the government that removed people from the list of bidders for Fairfax; the receivers did. It was alleged that the government trawled the world looking for foreign bidders for Fairfax. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was not the government that did that; it was the receivers. Ultimately, this committee has been based on a presumption that the Fairfax assets were the government's to sell. Nothing could be further from the truth.

  It was alleged that there was a deal done, that somehow or other there was a connection between the government and Black in terms of political coverage in return for an extension of his ownership. What is often forgotten by Senator Alston is that headlines such as `The pork-barrel republic' appearing day after day in the Fairfax press actually supported the coalition, and give the basic lie to that proposition. It demonstrates that there is absolutely no evidence to support the notion that there was an arrangement between the Labor Party and Fairfax.

Senator Loosley —Did anyone support the Labor Party federally?

Senator CARR —Nobody in the Labor Party was able to look to Fairfax for support because all the Fairfax dailies supported the coalition. They said, `Vote Liberal' again and again. How those opposite can stand back and say that somehow or other there was a sweetheart deal between Fairfax and Labor, when Fairfax came out and said `Vote Liberal', I find very difficult to follow. It is absolutely ridiculous.

  It has also been said that somehow or other Mr Keating made some tongue-in-cheek remarks in Seattle suggesting evidence. That is the coalition's evidence. How pathetic! It was then said that these things were never refuted. Mr Keating refuted those remarks on Four Corners on 5 November 1992, on PM on 14 November 1992 and on Lateline on 19 September 1992. He again refuted the articles in interviews with Tom Burton in the Sydney Morning Herald on 24 October 1992, in a transcript of interview on the 7.30 Report on 22 November 1992, and in the House of Representatives on 24 and 25 November 1993. It is unbelievable that a chairman of a committee, acting in his usual judicial, impartial style, as he has shown to us here, is suggesting such things that are absolutely factually wrong. Mr Keating has refuted the nonsense that those opposite have presented again and again.

  It goes further than that. These days we are seeing from coalition members a change in attitude on foreign investment, suggesting that somehow or other they have become new-found economic nationalists. There are more backflips in the coalition these days than in the Moscow Circus. Again and again we see the pirouettes, the diving, the flipping. Once again we see notions of political opportunism being explored.

  Honourable senators might get the impression that Senator Alston might have opposed the sale of Fairfax. That is totally without foundation. His press release at the time supported the sale of Fairfax to Conrad Black. The coalition policy at the time was for the abolition of the FIRB. It was for an open slather policy on foreign investment.

Senator Alston —Madam Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I would not normally want to interrupt the debate, but if Senator Carr is intent on referring to a press release, please ask him to read it because it is talking about the 1993 decision and not any sale of Fairfax in 1991.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Zakharov)—There is no point of order.

Senator CARR —Senator Alston indicated his support for that practice. Coalition members have supported an open door foreign investment policy throughout this whole period. We have seen in recent times their attempt to jump around, to dive about and to suggest something different. What we have to remember, however, is the major political problem they face in that line of argument.

  I can recall that only recently Mr Downer was still talking about his attitude towards foreign investment. But yesterday at the National Press Club he was talking about a new policy. I remind honourable senators of what he has said in the past. In the House of Representatives on 5 September 1989 he said:

We will live to regret the day we were equivocal about foreign investment because those investors will go to other parts of the world, and increasingly they are starting to do that.

He continued:

I hope that members of this place will in future go out into the community and argue the case for foreign investment, even though it is not popular in some sections of the community, and show a bit of courage, a bit of leadership, and persuade those people in the community that their sentiments—on whatever those sentiments are based—are sentiments that if implemented in terms of policy would do this country very real and very lasting damage.

He says in the House of Representatives:

So my view is that in a sense I am an unrepentant internationalist.

Mr Downer will have some difficulty explaining this switch in policy. We come back to the very basic fact that what is at stake here is the deal done between the Liberal Party and the Democrats. The deal is very simple: in return for bagging Keating, Senator Alston comes forward with this Peronist nonsense and a policy which he knows has not been tested in the marketplace, which he knows will not be carried by his party room, and which he has no intention of implementing. What he gets out of it is a bit of a kick-on for Keating—a `cheap political shot' as the Australian Financial Review this morning describes that approach.

Senator Campbell —Madam Acting Deputy President, I take a point of order. I have sat here and listened to references to the Prime Minister being called—

Senator Schacht —What is the point of order?

Senator Campbell —Does the minister want to listen? I could have taken a point of order on the verbal diarrhoea he has had all morning. He continues to interject and is not pulled up—

Senator Murphy —Sit down and shut up.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Zakharov)—Senator Campbell, what is your point of order? You have the floor for your point of order.

Senator Campbell —Now I have two points of order. Firstly, is Senator Carr required to refer to the Prime Minister by his proper title or is it quite okay for us all to now call him `Keating'? If that is okay, please rule that way. Secondly, will you rule on what Senator O'Flaherty—I am sorry—Senator Murphy said in terms of, `Sit down and shut up?' Could I have a ruling on that as well, Madam Acting Deputy President?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —On the first point of order, I remind everybody, as we frequently do in this place, to use the correct terms particularly for members of parliament. On the second point, I did not hear the interjection.

Senator CARR —I apologise for the oversight. The final point I want to make as my time is very short—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I am sorry; your time has now expired.