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Thursday, 8 June 1989
Page: 3661

Senator NEWMAN —My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I ask the Minister: Was Mr Syd Hickman a member of the personal staff of the Minister for Defence, Mr Beazley, until last year? Is Arvin Consultancy Pty Ltd, of which Mr Hickman is the Managing Director, a consultant to Australian Marine Engineering Consolidated Ltd (AMECON), one of the two consortia which are currently competing for the new Anzac ship project? Does the Government agree that this situation has the appearance of providing inside information to one of the tenderers? Does the Government condone this situation? Is the Government aware of the situation in the United States where regulations govern this conduct and former government employees in this situation are obliged to avoid such employment for a substantial period and could be liable to a gaol sentence if they break the rules? Has the Government given any consideration to the introduction of regulations to determine the conditions under which those in government positions can take up employment in industry when they have been privy to confidential and/or classified information? If so, what action is the Government intending to take? If not, why not?

Senator BUTTON —I recall Mr Syd Hickman. I recall that he was a consultant for Mr Beazley, the Minister for Defence.

Senator MacGibbon —He knew all about defence contracts and their requirements. He possessed inside information.

Senator BUTTON —I would hope so. If he was a consultant to the Minister, I would hope that would be the case. I believe that he is now a consultant, although I do not know with what firm, but I accept the information contained in the question. I do not know whether he is a consultant to AMECON-I will find that out.

In so far as the suggestion of inside information being available to tenderers in competitive situations and so on is concerned, of course that is a potential area of conflict of interest and concern. There are, however, Public Service rules about this matter and I will obtain the necessary details of those rules for Senator Newman. I cannot say that I remember them at this precise moment. I have some knowledge of the situation which applies in the United States. I must say that whatever virtues the system in the United States has, it has not stopped very extensive corruption in relation to defence contracts.

Senator Newman —Some people have gone to gaol.

Senator BUTTON —That may be so, but the point remains that it has not stopped corruption in relation to defence contracts. I do not know whether that is a desirable model to follow or not. I do not think we necessarily need to grab at any model which is available, particularly if it happens to be in the US. But I will to get a more detailed answer in relation to the Public Service rules that apply and what action is required.

Senator Newman —And ministerial staff.

Senator BUTTON —I think the rules apply to ministerial staff. I will also try to obtain information on what action is required under those rules.