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Monday, 4 November 1996
Page: 4982

Senator FORSHAW —My question is directed to the minister representing the Prime Minister. Minister, I refer to your answer to a question without notice last Thursday relating to the ownership by the Minister for Industry, Science and Tourism of Ralsten Pty Ltd. As it was clear from your answer you did not understand what is at issue here, I ask: are you aware that Ralsten Pty Ltd is a company which trades in shares? Mr Moore did not say, as you asserted he had in your answer, that the company is no longer trading. Are you aware that Mr Moore actually owns this company, even though he has resigned as director and chief operating officer; how can you maintain that ownership of a company which trades in shares does not breach the Prime Minister's guideline that `Ministers should not operate as traders'?

Senator HILL —According to what I have read in the press, which was an assertion by one of your colleagues in the other place, the articles of association of the company include the capacity to trade in shares. Whether it is actually trading, I do not know—

Senator Bob Collins —It is.

Senator HILL —I will get to that. Whether it is a trader in shares, I do not know.

Senator Faulkner —What about the next aspect; were you right?

Senator ALSTON —My answer, as Mike Seccombe pointed out, was incorrect.

Senator Faulkner —Why didn't you correct it?

Senator HILL —Why don't you let me answer it?

The PRESIDENT —Senator Faulkner, there is an appropriate time to take notice of answers.

Senator HILL —What Mr Moore had said, which was in the context of the question that was asked, was that he is not a trader. What he did add—well, the question was whether Mr Moore was in breach of the regulations.

Senator Faulkner —When did you find out your answer was incorrect?

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Forshaw has asked a question that I am sure he wants an answer to. Senators should cease interjecting to allow Senator Hill to answer.

Senator Faulkner —When did you find out you were wrong?

Government senators —Throw him out.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Faulkner!

Senator HILL —In his statement what he said, which I was recollecting—but now I have had a chance to refresh my memory by re-reading it—was that yes, he did own nine out of the 10 shares but that he had passed control. He said he had nothing to do with the operations of that company. Then, in answer to a subsequent question, I think he read from a letter explaining the passing over of the operational control of the company. He reiterated that he did not trade, and that is the core of the question.

The issue is whether he is in breach of the guidelines. The guidelines provide that ministers shall not trade. He did not trade, nor does he control this particular company. Therefore, he is not in breach of the guidelines. To the extent that my recollection of what he said when he was referring to himself not trading was incorrect, I regret that and apologise to the Senate.

Senator FORSHAW —Madam President, I have a supplementary question. Firstly, minister, you have just acknowledged that you were incorrect. Could you indicate when you actually ascertained or were informed that your response last week was not correct? Secondly, as the question indicated, Mr Moore is the owner of this company. If, as you say, it is not trading in shares, can you explain why the annual return of the company, lodged with the Australian Securities Commission, specifically stated that the principal activity of the company is that of share trading; and how, therefore, can it be that the owner of the company specifically involved in share trading cannot be involved in trading shares?

Senator HILL —I am sorry, Madam President; I will try to make it clearer. I did not say that the company is not trading in shares. I do not know if it is trading in shares. I acknowledged that I understand, from what your spokesman in the other place said, that the company has within its articles the capacity to trade in shares. It may or it may not. I understood it to be what is described as a diversified investment company—but be that as it may. As to when I was first alerted to the fact that my answer may have been somewhat misleading, it was the assertion made—

Senator Faulkner —Somewhat?

Senator HILL —Very technical, senator; the assertion made by Mike Seccombe in his article in the Sydney Morning Herald .