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Tuesday, 19 August 1980
Page: 29

Mr KERIN (Werriwa) - by leave- I must say, in speaking on behalf of the Opposition on this matter, that the Opposition is disappointed. The Government has now given a statement which indicates that the matter is quite serious, but we are concerned that it has taken so long to do so. In terms of the length of this inquiry, we must say that it is a feeble response, if not a pathetic one, to a serious matter. This should not be a partisan matter. One has only to look at the work of a Senate committee regarding statutory authorities to realise that there is a widespread concern for the proper administration and accounting of statutory authorities. The honourable member for Mallee (Mr Fisher) today asked a question about some complaints from that Senate committee and the Auditor-General regarding the Australian Wheat Board.

This matter has been transformed into a partisan issue because the Government seems very reluctant to expose fully all the facts of a serious but seemingly straightforward misdemeanour. It has become partisan because of the length of time this matter has taken. Really, how much longer do we have to wait for a full and public explanation? Australia's international reputation is involved, yet this matter has dragged on literally for years. The Opposition and its spokesman on rural matters, Senator Peter Walsh, have never regarded this as a witch hunt. Recognition by the AuditorGeneral of the whole matter shows how legitimate the Opposition has been in pursuing it. Senator Peter Walsh has been attacked by his political opponents and by the rural media because basically one of the principals in this long-running inquiry is a very popular person. The Opposition regrets the actions of some rural leaders in trying to transform this matter into an attack on Senator Peter Walsh. It is not a matter for sentiment just because personalities are involved.

I draw the attention of the House to the statement today by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Nixon) in which there is reference to the police. Leaked copies of the Auditor-General's report have been widely published and most of us know what is in it - this is a very leaky Government. The Minister has had the report since May 1980. How much longer does the Minister need before he tables that report from the AuditorGeneral? We know that Asia Dairy Industries (Hong Kong) Ltd was operating what has been described elsewhere as a private slush fund for some directors and their families. These are serious charges. We need these sorts of statements laid to rest. The Opposition believes that the Minister has known basically the facts of this question for over a year. In fact two Ministers have had the information before them. Quite plainly and simply, the Opposition finds it hard to believe that this matter could not have been resolved by now.

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