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Thursday, 19 September 1985
Page: 747

Senator PUPLICK —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. In relation to the payment of $240,000 to Dr Armstrong, which is described as being compensation for restraints and releases, what are the restraints and releases for which Dr Armstrong has had to be compensated almost one quarter of a million dollars? Is the purpose of this payment related in any way to fear on the part of the Government that Dr Armstrong may have confirmed the criticisms and accusations made by Mr Ranald Macdonald about the extravagant waste and improper expenditure by the Australian Bicentennial Authority? What guarantee is the Government prepared to give, if Mr Reid is removed from his position as in some way being responsible for this fiasco, that the public purse will not be ripped off once again in order to blackmail or purchase him into silence?

Senator BUTTON —The issue of Dr Armstrong's termination payments has been discussed at some length on the relevant Estimates committee. In the course of that Estimates committee I tabled a letter, at the request of Mr Reid, from the firm of solicitors, Allen Allen and Hemsley, which set out the substance of the negotiations between Allen Allen and Hemsley, acting for Mr Reid as Chairman of the Authority, and the solicitors for Dr Armstrong. At this moment I am unable to go further into the details of that transaction which was conducted entirely by solicitors, other than to refer to the contents of that letter which I think is reasonably explicit. I remind honourable senators in the context of this whole matter that the Chairman was in the position of negotiating with Dr Armstrong or any senior employees of the Authority whose position was terminated. That was established by the legislation set up by the Fraser Government; it was not a matter in which the Government was directly involved. I am unable to comment, without examining the legislation, on guarantees in respect of the chairmanship of Mr Reid and the hypothetical situation which Senator Puplick addresses in his question about the possibility of Mr Reid's function as Chairman being terminated at some stage.

Senator PUPLICK —I ask a supplementary question. Am I to understand from Senator Button's response that the actual arrangement of the payment of $240,000 to Dr Armstrong as compensation for restraints and releases was not a matter which required the approval of the Prime Minister or was done with his knowledge?

Senator BUTTON —I think the answer to that question is simply that the details were negotiated by solicitors acting for Mr Reid. The Prime Minister was advised of the total settlement and I think made some comment about it but he was not involved in the negotiations as such.