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Thursday, 10 October 1985
Page: 999

Senator MICHAEL BAUME(3.42) —Among the many interesting elements of this opinion is the fact that it explodes one of the excuses that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) used in making Mr Reid a scapegoat for his own disgraceful and incompetent behaviour in the matter of the Australian Bicentennial Authority. The interesting point that emerges here is that the Prime Minister said in the House of Representatives on 8 October that for a variety of reasons he formed the view that the only motive for `the composition of the settlement was tax minimisation'. That view is, of course, exploded by the opinion of the same date, which says that the Authority was in the view of the Solicitor-General entitled to act and rely on the advice from Allen Allen and Hemsley.

When we look at this whole saga of the Prime Minister's actions-quite apart from the questions that Senator Sir John Carrick raised: The Prime Minister clearly misled the House; his Department was in possession of letters-we see that by having a belated reliance on advice the Prime Minister has in effect exposed his own lack of competence. The Senate will recall that the Prime Minister made no effort either to establish what was the basis on which Dr Armstrong was employed or to seek to gain any legal advice when this matter was settled, as I recall it, on 28 August. The reason he did not either seek advice or look at the letter which was in his Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, for which he is allegedly responsible, is very simple. At that stage there was a hope that this deal would be kept secret and that it would not be available to scrutiny by the Senate until the next lot of hearings of the Senate Estimates committees and that the matter would by then have blown over. The reality is that it did not blow over and that the facts escaped. The Prime Minister then floundered around looking for a scapegoat. The impressive feature of this document is that it reveals that the Chairman of the Authority should not be the scapegoat but that the person who is responsible surely must be the Minister in charge of the Authority, and that of course is the Prime Minister.

It is curious to read through the opinion as amended on the 8th-it was originally given to the Prime Minister on the 3rd-and to compare it with the Prime Minister's justification for objecting to what happened and trying to provide Mr Reid as the scapegoat. The claim that the only motive for the composition of the settlement was tax minimisation is an absolutely disgraceful allegation which cannot be sustained. I believe that the solicitors involved have today presented to the Board of the ABA their view of the Solicitor-General's opinion. The fact remains that the Solicitor-General's opinion does not support tax minimisation being the prime cause that the Prime Minister used to find a scapegoat for this affair.

As Senator Sir John Carrick quite properly pointed out, there was no attempt to mislead the Prime Minister. His own incompetence misled him and this was evident from his failure to look at the letter of appointment that was in his own Department's file all the time. It had been there from the time the Prime Minister's Department took over the running of the Authority at the beginning of this year. That letter resided under his own authority. He was not sufficiently competent as an administrator to be aware of it and he has misled the House by saying that it was not in his possession. If he did not have it it was not because of any misleading by Mr Reid but because of his own incredible incompetence.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Haines) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

Question resolved in the affirmative.