House debates

Thursday, 9 February 2006

Deputy Prime Minister; Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry; Minister for Transport and Regional Services

Censure Motion

3:07 pm

Photo of Warren TrussWarren Truss (Wide Bay, National Party, Minister for Transport and Regional Services) Share this | Hansard source

Mr Speaker, what Mr Besley has said is that there is nothing untoward that emerged from WEA’s checks. I think he went much further in his statement today in the Australian where he said:

… information given to the minister contained no evidence of wrongdoing. Instead, the minister was told the WEA had given AWB a “clean bill of health”.

Let me say that is entirely consistent with my understanding and my reading of the reports that were presented to the minister. The Leader of the Opposition also made the quite extraordinary comment that the minister was receiving daily reports, or very regular reports, on the activities of the AWB. This was an annual report provided only once every year on the previous pool’s activities. However, there was a second report, a report that was made publicly available to every wheat grower in Australia. It was also available to anybody else, and is still available to anybody who would choose to look at it. I presume the opposition, since they claim they have been trawling through all the documents, have actually had a look at that public document. It is publicly available. They will note that that public document also raises no reservations whatsoever about the Iraqi contracts that should have caused alarm to either the minister or anybody else reading it. The publicly produced documents by the WEA clear the AWB of any wrongdoing, or certainly do not cover any issues that would have raised concern.  The confidential report, which deals with this issue, also raises no issues which would be of concern to a competent minister.

The reality is that this government has cooperated fully with the Cole committee of inquiry. In this regard the Leader of the Opposition made another completely inaccurate statement. He said that the Cole inquiry did not have access to the confidential report. That is wrong. The Cole inquiry not only has access to the 2003-04 report to the minister for agriculture, which is the one that deals with these sorts of issues, but it also has board minutes, secretariat records, working papers and correspondence relating to WEA and AWB. It has all been provided to the Cole commission by the WEA.

Whatever the Cole commission wants in relation to this issue, it most certainly has access to. There are, as I mentioned to you, confidentiality provisions within the act and, needless to say, the Cole inquiry will need to consider the act in examining what bits can be made public. But certainly the issues in relation to the Iraq study, in my view, contain no commercial-in-confidence matters. I have no objection personally, and I suspect also that no-one in the government has any objection, to the Leader of the Opposition or a person that he might nominate having a look at those particular sections or, for that matter, the whole report, so long as he is prepared to acknowledge that there are some confidential issues that I would expect him to respect.

The reality is that this censure motion has no substance whatsoever. The Minister for Trade, the current Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and I, as the minister for agriculture for about six years, have acted completely responsibly in these matters. There was no occasion when the WEA brought to the minister’s attention any concerns at all about the Iraq contracts or the arrangements for trucking or other matters in Iraq. In fact they said precisely the opposite: they had given the AWB a clean bill of health. On that basis, the government’s response has been entirely appropriate.

There are allegations that are being made. Again, we have acted very openly and completely in this issue by setting up a rigorous commission of inquiry under Cole, a man noted for looking under every stone, and we have been prepared to make every piece of information available that he could possibly want. It is appropriate that that inquiry run its course. It will have access to the right information, and I have every confidence it will exonerate the government in its findings because, frankly, all ministers have acted responsibly in this matter.


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