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

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 6 April 2000
Page: 15389

Mr FAHEY (Minister for Finance and Administration) (9:31 AM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

The Appropriation (Dr Carmen Lawrence's Legal Costs) Bill 1999-2000 makes provision for a special appropriation to meet the Commonwealth's liability, under a judgment of the Federal Court of Australia. The Commonwealth's liability relates to the legal costs of Dr Carmen Lawrence MP in connection with the Marks Royal Commission in Western Australia, and her related court challenges to the commission.

The Federal Court held that the Commonwealth is legally liable to pay damages for breach of contract which arose following the Commonwealth's initial refusal to pay the legal costs incurred by Dr Carmen Lawrence MP in relation to the Marks royal commission and her court challenges to that commission.

On 25 February 2000 the Federal Court ordered that the Commonwealth pay damages and interest to the date of judgment and the legal costs.

In the bill, the parliament is asked to appropriate moneys from the Consolidated Revenue Fund to meet these liabilities. The amount to be appropriated is not specified in the bill due to the nature of the judgment.

Similarly, the amount of post-judgment interest cannot be quantified until the judgment debt is paid. The purpose for which money can be appropriated under the bill is, however, limited to amounts resulting directly from that judgment.

Accordingly, the appropriation is not discretionary. Money appropriated under this bill is additional to the appropriations made in other appropriation acts in 1999-2000.

The appropriation is necessary and required as a matter of urgency to allow the Attorney-General's Department to finalise the matter in accordance with the judgment of the Federal Court and to limit the Commonwealth's further liability for accruing interest.

The appropriation is sought by way of a specific appropriation bill, with introduction and passage in this session.

Let me state for the record that the need for this bill is the result of a typical ALP style deal done under the former Keating Labor government to help one of its mates.

The judgment of the Federal Court makes it clear that the Commonwealth was contractually bound by a political compact organised by the offices of Dr Carmen Lawrence and then Prime Minister Keating and supported by a decision of cabinet on 8 June 1995 to pay what were, essentially, the personal legal costs of Dr Lawrence, in a matter totally unrelated to her responsibilities at the time as a federal minister.

This unfortunate arrangement has necessitated the introduction of this bill, which burdens Australian taxpayers to the tune of at least three-quarters of a million dollars.

With that in mind I note that senior figures in the Australian Labor Party established a trust fund, called the `Carmen Lawrence Defence Fund'. This fund sought and received public donations to pay Dr Lawrence's legal costs. It is understood the fund may be holding as much as $100,000.

I also note that the Commonwealth Attorney-General has rightly asked that the fund contribute towards Dr Lawrence's legal expenses. Such a contribution would only seem just and proper.

If such a contribution had been made this appropriation would be a smaller amount and taxpayers' money would have been saved. If the fund were now to make a contribution it would partly offset the appropriation that the parliament is now asked to make.

There is no doubt that it would be in the best interests of taxpayers that the fund be exhausted before the taxpayers are called upon to pay anything.

The Attorney-General has also asked the Australian Labor Party to contribute towards the cost of these expenses. Once again a contribution from that party would also appear to be more than appropriate. Such a contribution would further offset the appropriation provided for in this bill.

It is my duty to commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum to the bill.

Debate (on motion by Mr Laurie Ferguson) adjourned.