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Thursday, 9 December 1993
Page: 4282


Senator GARETH EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) (3.39 p.m.) —The government has made clear, on many occasions, its very strong view that there is simply no justification whatever for embarking on this particular inquiry. The circumstances justifying the increase in the Black stake from 14.9 per cent to 25 per cent have been amply and rationally explained in terms of financial economic management considerations.

  The notion that there was anything improper or inappropriate in anything said by Prime Minister Keating to Mr Black at any stage is utterly without foundation, despite all the pompous forensic nonsense talked on this occasion, as on many others previously, by Senator Alston. That is very clear from statements that have been made publicly by Mr Black, who is the only witness on this matter the opposition has or is likely to have.

  What is going to be very interesting is to have Dr Hewson's views exposed on these same issues, given the evidence, of which we are aware, that Dr Hewson was not in fact prepared to place any limit on the quantum of the foreign ownership taken up by Mr Black or anyone else. We do not believe that this inquiry is necessary or justified. But now it is going ahead and manifestly the numbers in this place will determine that outcome; therefore, there is no point in speaking much longer on all this at this stage.

  Now that the inquiry is going ahead we are indebted, I may say, to the Australian Democrats for forcing upon a very reluctant and a very embarrassed opposition terms of reference which will in fact guarantee an even-handed evaluation of this particular exercise, ensuring that there is an evaluation not only of the government's position on the question of foreign ownership here but that of the opposition as well. It is entirely appropriate that that should be so. Under those circumstances, we do not believe the reference is justified. We will divide on it, but we have a healthy appreciation of what the net result of our endeavours in this respect today will be.