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Monday, 7 February 1994
Page: 442

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Foreign Affairs) (3.08 p.m.) —I do not feel under a special obligation to respond on every occasion that Senator Baume rises to his feet. I guess this is going to be an ongoing saga through the course of this year as it was, as he says, for most of the last two years. I simply remind him and I remind the Senate that every time he has got to his feet in the past in order to raise these questions in a most portentous fashion in the public interest he has raised issue after issue. To the extent that those issues have any sort of substance requiring any response at all, Senator Baume has fallen flat on his face every time.

  Senator Baume has raised questions portentously about AQIS and a potential conflict of interest there in that part of the administration of government. He was wrong, wrong, wrong. He raised questions about alleged influence in relation to the Foreign Investment Review Board process, again in a pompous and portentous way, saying that he was doing it in the public interest. He was absolutely wrong and foolishly wrong when the matter was fully explained. He has raised questions in the context of litigation now pending in New South Wales about alleged conflicts of interest so far as tax benefits are concerned. He is wrong, wrong, wrong. He raised factual questions about the nature and extent of the Prime Minister's investment and he was wrong as soon as the response was put on the public record in relation to that.

  There must be a point at which there is simply no longer any obligation on the part of the Prime Minister to respond to these sorts of issues being raised in this fishing, trawling, insubstantial, muckraking fashion that Senator Baume has made peculiarly his own. Again, there was an example today. He talked about the huge debt currently being incurred by the company, quite apart from any extension of that so that it becomes a $30 million operation rather than a $20 million loan, as it is at the moment.

  As to the $20 million or $22 million loan, Senator Baume ought to be well aware that that is well and truly weighed off against commensurate assets and realisable assets, as I understand it, of the company. He is not talking about a loan in the abstract; he is not talking about a loan that has that sort of weight about it; he is talking about a balanced judgment by the commercial lenders that this is an enterprise worth continuing to support.

  That is a judgment, of course, that has been made by the opposition's own party colleagues in New South Wales. It is worth reminding those opposite on this occasion, as we have on previous ones, just how the New South Wales government regards this particular project and its potential expansion. I will quote, for example, from Mr Greiner in 1992 when he was announcing the likely increase in the scale of this project with all the supporting loans that are necessary to produce that result. He said:

Securing of this project now places New South Wales at the forefront of technology in the pig meat industry, increasing our productivity and international competitiveness.

The teaming of leading edge Danish technology with the competitive advantages enjoyed by Brown and Hatton provides the joint venture company Danpork Australia with strong capabilities to supply not only the growing domestic market but also the burgeoning demand for high quality pig meat in the Asian region.

This undertaking is not only large; it is of major strategic significance to New South Wales. My government will continue to give top priority to fast tracking the project—

he has not quite done that—

through the necessary environmental assessment and approvals processes so that the economic benefits of this significant development are realised as quickly as possible.

Mr Armstrong, the Deputy Premier of New South Wales and Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs, said at the same time the project would underpin the future of the state's pig industry and give an enormous boost to grain and fodder producers.

  This is the nature of the enterprise in which the Prime Minister, with the best will in the world, is engaged, to make his contribution to the economic health of this particular industry, to his own state and to the nation. In doing so, he is taking some commercial risks, as entrepreneurs and shareholders always do with a significant equity investment. But he does not need to be or deserve to be, nor is he justified in being, exposed to the kind of questioning that those opposite are going in with day in day out utterly without substance, as has been demonstrated in the way in which they have fallen flat on their faces on all those previous occasions when they have tried to get it going.

  Perhaps Senator Baume would like the Senate to engage in a similar exploration of every one of his undeclared economic interests, his undeclared company interests, his undeclared partnership interests. Senator Baume is just raising questions that have no rational justification.

  These are matters of commercial judgment on the part of the Prime Minister, on the part of the reputable banks and other companies that are engaging in it. Those opposite have not come up with a skerrick of a suggestion that there is any impropriety, any breach of the familiar principles that govern ministerial responsibility or prime ministerial responsibility in these matters. They are just muckraking and crawling around the bottom of the barrel, as they have been for the last couple of years. They will get nowhere. Why do they not abandon the unequal struggle?

  Question resolved in the affirmative.