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Thursday, 9 June 1994
Page: 1677

Senator MICHAEL BAUME (7.05 p.m.) —Earlier in the day I outlined a whole series of questions that I believe the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) should consider answering. The questions related to the piggery, in which he was a half owner for just under three years. I have some further questions that I would like to ask tonight. I believe it would be in the best interests of the Prime Minister, and certainly the parliament, for these questions to be answered.

  I refer to the alleged secret commissions and questionable property transactions involving Mr Constantinidis, who was Mr Keating's former partner in the piggery; Mr Trevor Jones; the Scoufis family, former owners of the Olympia group; and others. Why is the former manager of the North Auburn branch of the Commonwealth Bank, where Mr Constantinidis and his companies had an extraordinarily favourable relationship, now an employee of the Brown and Hatton piggery group and its associate, Intercool Constructions?

  Who is the real beneficial owner of Moonbi Estates Pty Ltd, which is shown in Australian Securities Commission documents as being owned by Mr C. S. Codounaris, who happens to be secretary of Mr Keating's family company, Euphron Pty Ltd? Evidently, he was his nominee on the board of Euphron Pty Ltd and he appears to be acting on behalf of the Danes on other group boards. Moonbi Estates purchased from the Brown and Hatton group part of its $1.3 million Tamworth piggery for $220,000, which it has developed and sold off in subdivided lots, but which shows in its latest annual return for 1993 no assets and no profits.

  Did the amended FIRB approval given to the Danpork joint venture on 23 December 1991, a few days after Mr Keating became Prime Minister, relate exactly to whatever proposal is now proceeding? If not, will a further amendment to the application be required or did the One Nation changes introduced by Mr Keating make such further application unnecessary?

  There is also the question as to whether Mr Keating, wittingly or unwittingly, allowed his status as Treasurer and then Prime Minister to be used to attract Danish investors to enter a joint venture with a financially unsound Australian partner whose piggery site was environmentally unsuitable for the proposed project, as has subsequently been shown to be so, and where Mr Keating was clearly its major asset. He purchased his half ownership while Treasurer and the joint venture was signed in April 1992 after he became Prime Minister.

  Did the Prime Minister, knowingly or unwittingly, mislead the parliament and the public by repeatedly claiming his interest in the group was entirely passive and at arm's length, when it was later admitted that he was heavily involved in negotiations with the Danes over the joint venture while he was a backbencher between June and December 1991? Was he involved in any way as Treasurer, either before or after he bought his half interest? What was the nature of his private meeting with Danpork's chairman, Mr Ole Jacobssen, in Australia in April 1992 when Mr Keating was Prime Minister?

  Did the Prime Minister, knowingly or unwittingly, mislead parliament last March by denying the fact that the piggery group's liabilities exceeded its assets and that it was therefore technically insolvent? Why did he terrorise journalists and the media by writs and the threat of writs from publishing factual material about his piggery investments, quite apart from what is shown in Hansard to be threatening behaviour to the editor of the Sunday Age?

  Why did he, his ministers and his staff blackguard me as a muckraker without a shred of substantiation through a concerted campaign aimed at the press gallery when he knew, or should have known, the factual nature of my statements, particularly about his company's breaches of the corporations law and failure to pay bills on time? Why did he fail to require his partner to correct false returns by his companies once these had been pointed out to him in the parliament? The necessary corrections were only made when the Securities Commission required the companies to do so at my instigation.

  Why did he entrust the running of the group to Mr Achilles Constantinidis who has, as I have established, a record of habitual breaches of the corporations law and ASC requirements—not only with the piggery group but with other companies which are recorded as owners of substantial real property assets that are not shown in their annual returns to the Securities Commission; who is being sued for breach of trust; who is being investigated by the Institute of Chartered Accountants for an alleged breach of professional ethics; who certainly misled the Securities Commission that the false piggery group returns filed with the Securities Commission had come from the previous owners when, in fact, he had filed them all himself and was a previous owner; who established what appears to be a curious financial relationship with the former manager of the Commonwealth Bank's North Auburn branch, who is now an employee of one of Mr Constantinidis' companies and who is claimed to have collected secret commissions on various real estate activities?

  Why did Mr Keating dismiss as more muckraking in briefings to the press gallery, either directly or indirectly, my revelation that the credit committee of the board of the Commonwealth Bank had recommended in August 1992 that the bank make a $4.5 million provision for losses against loans of almost $20 million to this group? Why did Mr Keating at no stage advise his Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, of the size and nature of his investment in the piggery which he made while Treasurer immediately it was made, as required by the ministerial declaration rules? Mr Hawke's comments have confirmed this failure.

  Why did he mislead, either knowingly or unknowingly, the parliament in his declaration of interest that his investment in the piggery was only by way of a shareholding in Euphron Pty Ltd, when it was in fact half-ownership, and which held, he said, an interest in a piggery-refrigeration group when in fact Euphron totally owned the group by holding the only interest in it? Did he know, or was he recklessly indifferent to whether or not improper actions were undertaken—which happened to be to his advantage—involving misleading foreign investors into believing that a near-bankrupt piggery-refrigeration group was `financially strong' as it was wrongly described to Danish institutions and cooperatives, when it had never made a profit and its liabilities exceeded its assets; filing false returns with the Australian Securities Commission wrongly claiming member companies of the group were profitable and had positive shareholders' funds when the opposite was the case; money laundering $230,000 from the Danish investors to his half-owned company through the purchase of a property at Scone for $120,000 and its resale three months later to the Danes for $350,000? The annual return of the company involved, Belesdan Pty Limited, to the ASC reveals no such profit.

  There are many other questions that also need to be answered, but at this stage I would like to make a few other points on a different subject. The first one was the matter of the involvement of Councillor Samaras of the Wollongong council in actions relating to electoral fraud. I complained about the fact that our privilege arrangements were being misused by Counsellor Samaras because he denied any involvement.

  I have here a report that reveals that Councillor Samaras, a Labor candidate for next year's New South Wales upper house election, is on an internal Labor Party charge of unworthy conduct over an incident preceding a New South Wales Young Labor election in 1992. The charge was laid by five executive members of New South Wales Young Labor, who also charged party members Gino Mandarino, who has been suspended, and several others over the same issue. In other words, he was clearly involved in this matter, which is all I had said, and he denied that by using the privileges arrangements.

  I also just want to say briefly that Mr Knott, the member for Gilmore, has quite wrongly said that his threatening to shoot two councillors of the Kiama Council was an off-the-cuff emotional response. I have to tell the chamber that he has made similar threats in the past to workers on that council, to employees of the council. In fact, this is a continual pattern of behaviour by this man. (Time expired)