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Wednesday, 3 May 1989
Page: 1676

Senator CHANEY —My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate in his capacity as Minister representing the Prime Minister. I refer the Minister to the amazement expressed in the National Companies and Securities Commission (NCSC) report on Rothwells Ltd about the $400m price tag put on the proposed petrochemical plant in Western Australia at the time the State Government, under Mr Peter Dowding, decided to buy into it and bail out Mr Laurie Connell. I ask the Minister: Is it not a fact that the investment of $175m by Western Australian taxpayers bought a share in a project whose most valuable asset, as the NCSC notes, was the State Government's own approval to proceed with the project? Given the Commonwealth's outrage and threats of fund cutting retaliation against other State governments and in particular its reaction to the New South Wales proposals to raise taxes to carry out essential public works to rescue the environment, what is the Government's attitude to the extraordinary dealings of the Western Australian Government over the petrochemical plant? Will the Government take any action against the Dowding Government, or will it continue its double standard of attacking non-Labor governments and letting the likes of Mr Dowding and Mr Cain get away with financial murder?

Senator Stone —Every other crime in the book, but not murder yet.

Senator BUTTON —Senator Stone has indulged us with great charity by way of interjection. I am not familiar with the NCSC report in relation to Rothwells. I really cannot answer any part of that question, but I will endeavour to obtain an answer about the matter. Senator Walsh has already indicated in answer to an earlier question today that State governments, for a variety of reasons, should bear a greater burden of the nation's international debt problem by adjustments in Commonwealth outlays for the States, and I agree with that. So far as I am concerned, that should be approached with equity for all States.

Senator CHANEY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the Minister for his partial reply and ask him to provide the rest of the reply as soon as possible. In light of the Minister's comment in his answer that the State governments should bear a greater share of the burden of adjustment to our international debt, I ask the Minister: Is a payment of $175m worth of taxpayers' money for a non-asset in any sense a contribution towards improving our international debt or our competitive position, or is that in fact just an additional burden on the Australian community which is likely to make that problem worse?

Senator BUTTON —I have already said that I do not know sufficient about that matter. I will find out about it.