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WA Parliament House, Perth: transcript of doorstop interview: Dr Wooldridge - Code of Conduct for former ministers.



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T R A N S C R I P T

Stephen Smith MP Member for Perth Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP - WA PARLIAMENT HOUSE, PERTH, TUESDAY 9 JULY 2002

E & OE

Subjects: Dr Wooldridge - Code of Conduct for Former Ministers

SMITH: There could be no better support for Labor’s policy approach for a Code of Conduct for former ministers than the Royal College’s letter to Dr Wooldridge.

For all of this year, Labor has been suggesting to the Government a Code of Conduct for former ministers. This would see former ministers not using information which they have obtained during their period as a minister in any unfair way and also ensure that for a twelve month period former ministers not engage in employment or consultancies in those areas that they have had dealings with as a minister.

The Wooldridge House scandal and the Wooldridge e-mail imbroglio have shown the sense of this approach.

Over night we see the Royal College writing to former minister Wooldridge suggesting a $100 000 termination payment, the equivalent of four months’ work. We now know that Dr Wooldridge was being paid $300 000 a year by the College, that is nearly double his ministerial salary.

So we know that Dr Wooldridge gets a golden handshake of $100 000, what we still don’t know is how much the taxpayer will be slugged for the compensation payment to be paid to the College as a result of the cancellation by the Government of the Wooldridge House grant of $5 million, authorised by Dr Wooldridge in the dying days of his time as a minister.

So there is very clear support today for Labor’s Code of Conduct proposal.

We have moved previously in the Parliament for its adoption and the Government should embrace it immediately to avoid this conflict of interest situation.

JOURNALIST: Where does the Government stand now, in your opinion, over this controversy?

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SMITH : Well, former minister Wooldridge, the Royal College and the Government itself, I think, are very highly embarrassed by the circumstances that have occurred.

We said from the outset that Dr Wooldridge becoming a consultant for the Royal College put him in a conflict of interest situation. That conflict of interest situation should be fixed, not just for Dr Wooldridge, but for all former ministers.

We suggested a Code of Conduct so that there would be a twelve months cooling off period in which former ministers could not engage in employment or consultation in those areas which had been relevant to their portfolios.

This is an equivalent position to what we find in the United States and in the UK. The Government should adopt it, so as to avoid in the future the scandal which was Wooldridge House and the farce which was Wooldridge E-mails.

So I would hope that the Government would pick up this Code of Conduct proposal which we have been suggesting for all of this year. It’ll avoid this sort of embarrassment and this sort of potential for conflict of interest in the future.

JOURNALIST: Do you think he should just take the money and walk away.

SMITH: Well that will be a matter for Dr Wooldridge, but on the basis of the letter that he has received from the College, as I understand it, the College is offering him a $100 000 golden handshake, the equivalent of four months’ work. That let’s us know that he was receiving $300 000 a year from the College, nearly double his previous Ministerial salary.

Whether Dr Wooldridge accepts the offer from the College by 4 o’clock this afternoon or doesn’t, is essentially a matter for him. The point I have made is that there could be no better support for Labor’s proposal to introduce a Code of Conduct arrangement to require former ministers to desist from this sort of conduct in the future.

JOURNALIST: What do you think of the payment itself? Do you think it is appropriate for him to take it and just step down?

SMITH : Well it is a matter for him and a matter for the College. The College is no doubt highly embarrassed. We now know how much they have been paying Dr Wooldridge and how much they are proposing to pay him by way of a golden handshake.

It’s $300 000 a year by the College to Dr Wooldridge. That’s nearly twice his former Ministerial salary. So we know how much Dr Wooldridge is receiving. We know how much the College is paying.

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What we don’t know is how much the taxpayer will be slugged for the compensation payment which the Government has promised to the College as a result of the Wooldridge House, or GP House, debacle. The Government should make it clear today how much it’s proposing to pay the College as compensation for the termination of the GP House proposal.

JOURNALIST: This is more than just a controversy - it’s more serious than that …

SMITH: The GP House controversy?

JOURNALIST: Yes.

SMITH : Well, we’ve been saying for some time that the GP House affair was a scandal of the highest order. What we saw with GP House was in the dead of night, secretly, in the dying days of the Government’s last term, in the final days of Dr Wooldridge as a Minister, he gave $5 million to the Royal College for the purpose of constructing a building in Canberra.

He effected that by taking $4 million away from Asthma programs and $1 million away from rural and regional health services. The fact that that was a scandal of the highest order was confirmed by the Government when they changed that arrangement in the last budget.

We have said consistently that that was a scandal, that showed the potential for the conflict of interest which former ministers could fall into, using knowledge which they gained in the course of their time as a minister.

That was the very best example, I think, of why Labor’s proposal for a Code of Conduct, preventing former ministers from engaging in this sort of activity, ought to be adopted.

Ends

Contact : Andrew Dempster - 0407 435 157 or 02 6277 4108