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Friday, 30 March 1984
Page: 994

Senator PETER RAE —My question is directed to the Minister for Industry and Commerce. Were the pre-Budget quota controls on the clearance of cigarettes imposed earlier than usual last year? Is the Minister aware that there was an abnormally high-in fact, extremely so-level of clearance of cigarettes immediately prior to that unusually early imposition of those pre-Budget quota controls in late June last year? Has the Minister been asked to consider holding an inquiry into the possible leakage of his decision to impose pre-Budget quota controls earlier than usual last year? If so, what was his response to the request? If not, will he now consider holding such an inquiry?

Senator BUTTON —I am aware that the pre-Budget quotas on tobacco products, potable spirits and beer were imposed earlier than usual last year. Senator Peter Rae can believe it or not-I am sure he will-but the purpose of that was to try to cut out the unnecessary speculation which normally occurs in the pre- Budget period. It was felt that if the quotas were applied earlier than usual the speculation process might be aborted. I am also aware that there was a very high clearance of tobacco products in the two days immediately prior to the announcement of the pre-Budget quotas. The total amount involved for the three tobacco companies was $4.3m above normal clearances. I should also point out that W. D. and H. O. Wills (Australia) Ltd alone, in the two or three days prior to the May 1983 economic statement being made, cleared approximately $6m worth of products in anticipation that the statement would contain quotas. In that sense it has to be set in some degree of context.

My recollection of whether I was asked to consider whether there should be an investigation into this matter-I would certainly like the opportunity to refresh my memory on this-is that I was asked whether there should be an investigation and, in the course of discussions, decided that there should not be. The reason for that was that there were a very large number of departmental officers involved in the need-to-know process in my Department as well as in other departments. In those circumstances it was considered highly unlikely that the source of any leak, if there was one, could be identified. I certainly remember having a discussion about the matter in the course of which I tried to ascertain how many other departments, apart from the Department of Industry and Commerce, were in the need-to-know situation. There were several. In those circumstances I felt that such an inquiry would probably be unsuccessful in producing any result .

Senator PETER RAE —I raise a supplementary question, Mr President. I was directing the question to the fact that there was an unusually early imposition. The May statement was anticipated. Therefore, the tobacco companies could anticipate a rise in the price of their products. That imposition of quota controls was applied at an unusually early date.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Rae, are you asking a question?

Senator PETER RAE —Yes. The question I wish to ask is: Is it not a notorious fact that a person is under suspicion in relation to this matter? Would not an inquiry help in identifying whether that is correct or otherwise? Will the Minister in replying now or later, after he has refreshed his memory, keep those two matters in mind?

Senator BUTTON —I am aware that it was an unusually early imposition. I certainly was very conscious of that. As I said, it was done for a particular purpose. To my knowledge it is not a notorious fact that a particular person is under suspicion. Certainly at the time that I had some discussions about this question it was not suggested to me that any individual or identifiable group of individuals was under suspicion and notoriously so. In the light of the latter part of Senator Rae's question, I will certainly make further inquiries.