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Thursday, 17 December 1992
Page: 5336

Senator MacGIBBON —I direct my question to the Minister for Transport and Communications. I refer to the Minister's stubborn refusal to entertain the idea that allegations raised by parliamentarians from both sides of Parliament about the Civil Aviation Authority's TAAATS contract were accurate. These allegations have now been proved to be accurate by the Macphee report. I will not bore the Senate by going through all the Minister's quotations; they are best encapsulated by this remark:

A number of claims have been made about irregularities, some of them quite extraordinary and defamatory, in aspects of the process followed by the CAA in relation to this project. There is no evidence to support any of these claims.

Since the Minister has not resigned, when will he take the honourable course and resign?

Senator COLLINS —As I advised the Senate yesterday when there was a debate on this matter, the processes to establish the independent inquiry that was in fact held were begun by me and would have been concluded by me had Senator Richardson's resignation not occurred and had I not moved out of the portfolio. That is a matter of record which can be confirmed, of course, by the two senior officers of my Department—the Secretary and the Associate Secretary—who conferred with me on this matter.

  I had a very useful and, I found, productive hour or so—perhaps not quite an hour—with Mr Macphee today discussing that report. But the fact, although Senator MacGibbon would like to hide from it, is that the substantive number of allegations made by Senator MacGibbon were all rebutted by the Macphee report. To again put these claims in context—and I have great pleasure in highlighting this again—the most outrageous of these allegations made by Senator MacGibbon, with careless abandon, was that people had behaved corruptly. Those allegations included allegations about me.

  My colleagues who were in here at the time will recall—and I see them nodding in assent—that those outrageous allegations that people were receiving kickbacks were made with careless abandon, not just for the reputation of the individuals involved but, more importantly, in my view, in absolutely careless abandon of the reputations of the reputable companies concerned which would have had to have been parties to such corrupt practices. I am delighted that Mr Macphee not only lay that outrageous allegation of Senator MacGibbon's to rest but also confirmed it in a very succinct way, I thought, in his interview on AM this morning.

Senator MacGIBBON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I never at any stage accused people of corruption. I said I was hearing allegations of corruption and, for a limited intellect like that of Senator Collins's, I can understand that he cannot understand the difference. In light of his answer, how does he reconcile the finding of the report that the advice to the board by Mr Baldwin and Dr Edwards was fatally flawed, it was inadequately researched and tested and Hughes was not assessed fairly? That was the burden of the criticism from both sides of the Parliament. What is the Minister's answer to that?

Senator COLLINS —The facts of the matter were—and I think they have been well laid out in the Macphee report—that these were two competent, reputable and technically proficient companies that entered into a very close contest. In fact, if Senator MacGibbon wants to refer to the actual points that were allocated to every single one of the criteria of both these companies, he will find out that in every single criteria they were literally one or two points apart in an overall score of 100. It was a tight contest.

  On the crucial question of the complicated and technical issue of the number of lines of computer code that were contained in the flight data processing heart of that system, from personal experience as a non-expert—this is an area that causes everyone's eyes to glaze over if one is not a computer engineer—it was found that a risk did exist in the Hughes bid but that Dr Edwards had placed undue weight on that risk. For that, he stands criticised and it is now a matter for the board. As Mr Macphee confirmed again with me today, the primary responsibility, as the report lays out, is with those two named individuals in that report. It is now a matter, following the government investigation, for the board to determine what will happen with those individuals.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The Minister's time has expired.