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Wednesday, 2 April 1980
Page: 1417

Senator SCOTT (New South WalesMinister for Special Trade Representations) - I am not aware of any confusion in the chamber tonight. I shall speak briefly on this matter. One thing is quite clear in the discussions relative to Asia Dairy Industries (Hong Kong) Ltd, and that is the measure of persistency. As recently as 27 March this subject was discussed as a matter of public importance. I have since been asked a question and for the last hour and a half or so we have been devoting ourselves to this matter once again. So there is no shadow of doubt that there is a real measure of persistency referable to this matter. Having listened to the debate tonight, I have to say that the Government's response is absolutely similar to and along the same lines as my response on other occasions. Nothing really has been added in this debate, and nothing of great consequence can be added to the reply at this stage.

As I stand here in this chamber tonight it is not my province to defend or to prosecute. It is my province to explain the circumstances that surround the questions involving Asia Dairy Industries (Hong Kong) Ltd. Once again I must refer honourable senators to the position as it pertains. This circumstance applies to a number of measures that have been raised tonight by Senator Walsh and others. With respect to the honourable senator's request that the AuditorGeneral's reports to the Minister be tabled, I must reiterate the statement that I made on 27 March 1980. 1 stated:

The inspection and audit of the accounts and records of the ADI were carried out under section 63p of the Audit Act 1901. Under the legislation the Auditor-General is required to report to the Minister; there is no requirement for tabling of reports by the Minister in the Parliament.

Such reports to Ministers on inspections of accounts and records, as distinct from reports on financial statements by the Auditor-General, are made on a confidential basis. There is a very good reason that that should be so. If it were not so, we would be running the risk of having any number of unsubstantiated allegations moving through the community- unsubstantiated allegations that may be of extreme damage to individuals--

Senator Walsh - They are running around now. If they are not true, table the report.

Senator SCOTT - That is not my concern; it is my concern that I do not add to them. These sorts of allegations can be damaging to individuals and to organisations, and they could be damaging to the circumstances surrounding our own country in its relations with other countries and other areas of business in which it is involved. I have to say once again that honourable senators certainly can be assured that the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Nixon), who has instigated these determinations and inquiries, will ensure that all aspects relating to this subject will be satisfactorily resolved and that a statement will be made by him at the appropriate time.

Senator Walsh - But will he table the report?

Senator SCOTT - It is not in our power to table the report now because of the various matters that could be consequential upon that. I have explained- I guess 1 must explain it once againthat under the legislation the Auditor-General is required to report to the Minister. There is no requirement for the tabling of reports by the Minister in the Parliament. Indeed, it may be a matter of judgment. The matter of judgment is that we are not here to add to a whole lot of running allegations and inferences in the community. That is a matter of judgment. We have a measure of concern for individuals and organisations and, indeed, for our country and for the standing of those individuals and organisations. It is in order to ascertain, and to be sure of ascertaining, all the matters that are relevant that we, as a Government, are taking the line that we are in this matter.

Of course, certain irregularities have been alleged and where there are irregularities, whether they be in reference to matters of finance or to general business procedures, the matters will have to be investigated. In this circumstance an investigation over a wide field is needed.

Again I refer to the matter which I raised earlier, namely, that reports by the AuditorGeneral to Ministers on inspections of accounts and records, as distinct from reports on financial statements by the Auditor-General, are made on a confidential basis. I do not believe that it should be necessary for me to add to that. I have already given the reasons for their being a measure of confidentiality in these matters. As I have said, it is important that we be sure of all the facts relevant to the problem that is being investigated before we come down with a final decision. Certainly- I hope I made this clear in my speech earlier tonight- we as a Government are not here in a defence role; nor are we here in a prosecuting role. We are determined that proper investigations over a very wide and deep field will be made and that ultimately the Government, through the Minister, will be in a position to make a responsible reply that will be a total, clear and fair explanation.

Senator Cavanagh - You have said that three times already.

Senator SCOTT - I am trying to emphasise the point. I am impressed by the fact that the honourable senator had noticed that I have said it three times. It is an indication of the concentration that he is devoting to what I say.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is a cover-up. There is grave concern about a cover-up.

Senator SCOTT -Senator McClelland says it is a cover-up. It is not a cover-up, as I see it. I believe that what I have been saying tonight is an indication that certainly it is not a cover-up. The Government is taking the line it is taking to ensure that there is no cover-up. It is taking that line in order to amass all of the relevant details and finally to display the matters surrounding the Asia Dairy Industries company. The Hong Kong based Asia Dairy Industries company is a subsidiary of the Australian Dairy Corporation. It was established in 1964 under Hong Kong law.

Senator Cavanagh - You are having to waste time. It is the toughest speech you have ever made.

Senator SCOTT -I am glad that the honourable senator is paying attention. Quite obviously he is enjoying it. It is not essential that he stay and listen. I appreciate the fact that tonight he has chosen so to do.

Senator McLaren - Wait till you read your speech next week. You will be ashamed of it.

Senator SCOTT - Even if that were the case, I imagine the same comment could be applied to some other honourable senators from time to time.

Senator Cavanagh - You have been corrupted by getting into the Ministry. That is what has happened.

The PRESIDENT - Order! Senator Cavanagh, was that a personal reflection on any person? You used the word 'corrupt'.

Senator Cavanagh - No, I think it was a general statement in relation to the change in the attitude of an individual.

The PRESIDENT - The word 'corrupt' must be used very carefully and not against a person.

Senator Cavanagh - I am careful, and I would not dare use it against Senator Scott. There can be a change in personality when one gets into a bad environment.

Debate interrupted.

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