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Wednesday, 20 September 1972
Page: 1689


The CHAIRMAN (Mr Lucock (LYNE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Order! I suggest that the honourable member for Bowman might reflect on the remarks that he made in regard to the Attorney-General. There is a standing order of which the honourable member should be aware which relates to a reflection upon the personal capacity of any member of this House or any member of the other place. I think the honourable member should reflect on the remarks that he made earlier about the Attorney-General.


Mr KEOGH - Thank you, Mr Chairman. I accept your ruling. It was not my intention to reflect on the Attorney-General specifically but rather on the administration of his portfolio. I accept your ruling and will make sure that my remarks are kept within the limits of the consideration of the estimates of the Attorney-General's Department. I want to refer to the action I believe the Attorney-General should have taken in relation to the difficulties that have been faced by certain people who very often have invested their life savings in companies. The directors of these companies, by their actions, have left themselves open to criticism for using the investors' funds other than for the purpose for which they were interested in the company. They have left themselves open to the suggestion that those funds have been misdirected and used in such a way that the people who have invested them have been left in a position whereby they have had no call on the actions of the company and, in many instances, no call on where their life savings have gone. 1 want to refer to the investment made by the gentleman who raised the matter with me in a company known as Nickelfields of Australia NL. This gentleman has asked me to take the first available opportunity to raise this matter in the Parliament, and I do so on this occasion because, since the Senate Select Committee on Securities and Exchange has taken no action to investigate the affairs of this company, I believe that the AttorneyGeneral, acting in his capacity as the principal law officer of the Commonwealth, either should take action to see that the Committee does investigate the affairs of this company before its report is presented to the Senate or, alternatively, should take action himself to see that the affairs of this company are investigated. The main reason why I believe this action is important is that 2 of the directors of that company, at the time of the events to which I wish to refer, were members of the Senate. One was Senator Ian Wood, a Liberal Party senator who represents Queensland, and the other was Senator Malcolm Scott who at that time was a Liberal Party senator representing Western Australia. I will refer to this matter by reading the letter in which it was raised with me. The letter reads: 1 should like to refer to the case history of the speculative mining exploration company Nickelfields of Australia NL. This late comer in the mining boom was floated in early 1970 with a capital of $1,823,000 in fully paid 10c shares, which reached a peak of 67c in 1970. . . . Exciting reports of fabulously rich gold and mercury leases in Indonesia were released, and the company was also interested in tin dredging in north Queensland and nickel exploration in Western Australia. Yet by April 1971 the Company's accountants conducting the share register had refused to process more transferees because of non-payment of their account. This led shortly afterwards to suspension of the Company's shares from trading on the Stock Exchanges because share transfers had not been processed or scrip issued for some considerable time. Later in the year the Company was wound up on the petition of a creditor, and a substantial deficiency resulted.

At that stage the Senate Select Committee was considering the episodes of Tasminex, Minsec, Leopold and Queensland Mines, and so on, and one could pose the question: Why was it that the Senate Select Committee did not consider the affairs of this company? If in fact the Senate Select Committee did have some reason for not considering the affairs of this company, why did the Attorney-General not take action to refer this matter to the Committee? In the circumstances, I have been asked to pose these questions: How did this company manage to lose shareholders' funds of $1,825,000 and incur other substantial liabilities in a period of a little more than a year, and what has happened to those funds? Why was this matter not investigated by the Senate Select Committee? What is the position of shareholders who did not receive scrip or who were unable to dispose of their scrip? Is their loss deductible for taxation purposes? What shares in fact did these 2 senators I have mentioned hold in the company? 1 believe the significance of raising this matter is to highlight the fact that many of the particulars regarding the share dealings of members of Parliament in various parts of Australia have been swept under the carpet. I am anxious to clarify the situation because I believe that these senators, because of the matter that has been raised with me, are in a position at the moment in which they need to have their names cleared. I refer to a question that was asked in the Senate on 14th September by Senator Murphy in respect of the report of the Senate Select Committee on Securities and Exchange and the reply that was given by Senator Rae, who is presently Chairman of that Committee. I quote from the Senate Hansard of that date. Senator Rae said:

I suggest to Senator Murphy that the Committee's report has not been delayed in any way for any purpose, but there have been some times when less interference of a political party natura might have enabled the Committee to spend more time on the preparation of its report.

The suggestion made in that answer is that there has been party political interference with the inquiry of the Senate Committee. The suggestion has been made to me that that political interference could have reflected on the integrity of members of tha Senate chamber.







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