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Wednesday, 2 February 1994
Page: 207


Senator MICHAEL BAUME (3.10 p.m.) —by leave—I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Gareth Evans) to a question without notice asked by Senator Michael Baume this day, relating to the Prime Minister's ivestment in a piggery.

The supplementary part of my question asked Senator Gareth Evans to give an unequivocal assurance that the Prime Minister (Mr Keating), either as Treasurer or Prime Minister, had not been involved in any negotiations or dealings whatsoever—including with Danish government members or officials—in relation to the piggery project. That is a very simple question: has he or has he not as Treasurer or Prime Minister been involved other than at arm's length or as a passive investor?

  The reason for the question is that Mr Constantinidis was the first person to publicly state that the Prime Minister was heavily involved in the operations of the company, at least to the extent of its negotiations with the Danes. We know that negotiations with the Danes went on for a very long time—in fact, longer than that for which the Prime Minister was on the back bench. That is on the record. So when Senator Evans tells the chamber that everyone knew that the Prime Minister was negotiating, he was in fact misleading this parliament because that is simply not true. At no stage was this parliament told, nor did it appear in print, that the Prime Minister was heavily involved during his period on the back bench in negotiations with the Danes.

  It is intriguing that neither the Prime Minister nor his ministers—nor his minions as they scurry up and down the press gallery, spreading poison and terrorising the gallery into not running any material about this issue—at any stage suggested that the Prime Minister's involvement with the business was other than at arm's length. Certainly, that was the impression that Senator Evans falsely presented today. Senator Evans responded that it was an arm's length exercise and always had been. He did not qualify that by adding that that was in terms of the accounts. In fact—to quote one of many examples—when asked about his pigs on radio 6WF in Perth on 30 June 1992, the Prime Minister said:

Mine is really just a passive investment.

It is either a passive investment or it is not. If at any stage he has been heavily involved in negotiations on behalf of this company, we are entitled to know that he did not really mean that it was only a passive investment but that it has been a very active investment.

  They are all now starting to admit the absolute correctness of the bulk of the points I have been making—firstly, of course, about the accounts, a matter I have been pursuing for 99 per cent of my time since raising this matter in this place. They are admitting that there was an error, and they have been forced to admit that the Prime Minister has not at all times had an arm's length relationship with this company and at all times been a passive investor.

  We have asked a simple question. That question is: in view of the fact that the Prime Minister is now known to have been involved in detailed, heavy negotiation with the Danes, will we get an unequivocal assurance that when he was Treasurer—in other words, when he first acquired his interest in this venture—or when he was Prime Minister, he was not involved in any such negotiations.

  The question hangs in the air: why should the Prime Minister enter into an investment in a company which was losing multimillions of dollars—that is, according to the correct accounts—unless he knew there was a prospect of some venture like the Danish one coming good? It was the only reason the company was worth that sort of investment. We want an assurance that he had not been involved in any undertakings. I wonder why Senator Evans refuses to give any.