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Tuesday, 1 February 1994
Page: 32

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Foreign Affairs) (4.08 p.m.) —As I said in question time, the Prime Minister may or may not wish to respond further to the specific matters that have been raised by Senator Michael Baume today. If he does not respond, I would find that entirely understandable in the light of Senator Baume's extraordinary record of false and malicious claims made on a number of occasions about the nature of the Prime Minister's investment.

Senator Michael Baume —I raise a point of order. I understood that it is normal for the chair to intervene when the word `malicious' is applied to an honourable senator. It imputes motives and I would have expected you to have taken action, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT —I am sorry. I did not hear the word used, but it is generally regarded as unparliamentary. I do ask Senator Evans to withdraw.

Senator GARETH EVANS —At your request, Mr President, I withdraw. However, I make the point that Senator Baume's allegations—

Senator Michael Baume —An unqualified withdrawal.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I make the withdrawal at the President's request. I do so unqualifiedly, because he has requested me to do it unqualifiedly. Senator Baume's allegations, however, have been demonstrably and consistently wrong on all sorts of key issues, particularly on every occasion where there is some element involved of alleged misuse of public office or some taking advantage of a position of public trust to secure an advantage which might not be given to people in similar commercial circumstances. Senator Baume is nodding his head because that is exactly the nub of his allegation again today, because he is now making the issue the role of the Commonwealth Bank.

  But what I was seeking to say in question time was that the whole community could be entirely forgiven for treating Senator Baume's allegations—or issues that he raised again—with complete contempt, given the record that he has already established. Let me remind the Senate quickly of that record. He claimed in the One Nation statement in February 1992 that Mr Keating lifted the FIRB threshold to $50 million so that the piggery in which he had an interest could enter a joint venture with a Danish company without the need for FIRB approval. However, that claim is wrong. The joint venture was approved by the FIRB under the original guidelines months before the change announced in the One Nation statement.

  Senator Baume and other opposition senators have alleged that the Australia Quarantine and Inspection Service was told to expedite its consideration of requests by Danish interests for live pigs and live pig products to be imported into Australia. The insinuation was that Mr Keating had brought pressure on AQIS, misusing his office in the process, because of his personal financial interests. That again is wrong. The company in which Mr Keating has an interest has developed its pigs in Australia. It has never had any interest in importing pig or pig products from Denmark. By definition, Brown and Hatton was involved in the joint venture with Danpork because of the ban on importation. So Mr Keating would hardly derive any benefit from a relaxation of the quarantine restrictions. AQIS officers moreover told the Senate estimates committee hearing that they had never been approached by the Danpork-Brown and Hatton joint venture, nor would one expect them to have been under any circumstances.

  Senator Baume has consistently and deliberately misinterpreted the accounts of Brown and Hatton and other companies. On 12 November last year he claimed that Mr Keating's investment had risen in value inexplicably from $430,000 to $4.2 million within six weeks. He said that Mr Keating appeared to have been allowed to buy shares at an extraordinarily favourable price. Senator Lewis later suggested under parliamentary privilege that that was a bribe. But the audit accounts, which those opposite are so willing to talk about today, were a demonstration that the value of Mr Keating's investment has not risen at all. On the contrary, it has almost certainly fallen. In January this year—

Senator Michael Baume —Read what I said, Gareth.

Senator GARETH EVANS —Senator Baume made his biggest mistake—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Baume, you have been heard in silence.

Senator GARETH EVANS —His biggest mistake this time was getting it wrong outside the Senate, without the protection of parliamentary privilege. He claimed that a company in which Mr Keating had an interest applied for a taxation benefit under a policy introduced in the One Nation statement. Among other defamatory imputations he implied that Mr Keating had broken the obligations of his office as Prime Minister by introducing a policy measure so as to provide for himself a private financial benefit.

  He is wrong again, because no company associated with Mr Keating had applied for any such taxation benefit. Senator Baume was caught absolutely cold in this respect—100 per cent wrong. On 26 May the New South Wales Supreme Court, against his objections, held that imputations contained in Mr Keating's statement of claim for defamation were appropriate to be drawn from what Senator Baume had to say and should go before a jury. That is where the matter lies. Accordingly, it is not appropriate to comment on that in any more detail.

  But what I am saying—and it is relevant to the response to these imputations, sleaze and innuendo—is that Senator Baume's track record is absolutely appalling. He is out there with his trowel, his trawl. He is muckraking, trying to raise by innuendo over and over again some imputation against the Prime Minister of misuse of public office, or irresponsible or inappropriate behaviour. He is wrong. He has been wrong every time in the past; and every time in the future he seeks to go on with this he will be proven wrong.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.