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Thursday, 16 March 2000
Page: 14908

Mr PYNE (3:27 PM) —My question is addressed to the Attorney-General. Would the Attorney-General inform the House of the steps the Commonwealth is taking to limit its exposure with respect to the private legal costs of the member for Fremantle?

Mr WILLIAMS (Attorney-General) —I thank the member for Sturt for his question. I advised the House last week that there is a real risk that the Commonwealth's exposure to the member for Fremantle's legal costs could exceed $750,000. Members are aware that this liability is due to the actions of advisers in the offices of then Prime Minister Keating and the member for Fremantle when she was the minister for health. I wrote to Gary Gray, one of the trustees of the Carmen Lawrence Defence Fund, making the reasonable request that the trustees of the fund take steps to pay the proceeds of the fund to the Commonwealth and thereby reduce the exposure of taxpayers to the costs of the member for Fremantle. Mr Gray has responded. He said that the trustees of the fund `do not have the power to pay these funds to the Commonwealth'. This is quite extraordinary when we see media reports that the fund is writing to contributors seeking their agreement to the balance of the fund being used for other purposes, presumably ALP purposes.

Today I have again written to Mr Gray and have asked the trustees to take the only honourable and decent option open to them: to write to contributors and ask that they agree to the fund being used for what it was intended—payment of the legal costs of the member for Fremantle. If this does not occur, it will be another example of Labor protecting its own interests and thumbing its nose at ordinary taxpayers. What about the Leader of the Opposition? The Leader of the Opposition ought to do the honourable and decent thing and tell the trustees to do the honourable and decent thing.

Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.