Senate debates

Friday, 22 June 2012


Appropriation Bill (No. 5) 2011-2012, Appropriation Bill (No. 6) 2011-2012; Second Reading

10:29 am

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

As I start the debate on these appropriation bills I should acknowledge the circumstances in which we find ourselves now, and that is that the previous bill, the Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Bill, was guillotined. I know that Senator Edwards was particularly keen to speak on that bill but he was denied that opportunity by the guillotine. It is appropriate at both the start and the end of debates, and indeed during every contribution, on each bill over the remainder of today and next week that we recognise the opportunity that has been denied to senators to talk to legislation that is important to their constituents. It is important to acknowledge that up front.

Appropriation Bill (No. 5) and Appropriation Bill (No. 6) 2011-12 seek appropriations totalling some $390 million. The key measures for which funding is sought by these bills are $112.6 million to the Department of FaHCSIA for the Family Support Program; $44.1 million to the Department of Health and Ageing for increasing payments in 2011-12 for primary care financing and for rural health services; $34.7 million to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy to assist commercial and national broadcasters to vacate digital dividend spectrum; and $43.7 million to the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport to fund a range of sports and grants that have been announced for things such as the Western Sydney football stadium and the Jim Stynes Achievement Scholarships.

I can remember when $390 million used to be real money. When we see numbers of this sort, although they may be for good purposes, we should always recognise that this money has come from taxing Australian citizens; that it is not our money—it is not the government's money and it is not the parliament's money—and we should always take a moment to reflect on that as we appropriate. As I was reading through the departments for which money has been appropriated, many of which have very long titles, I get a little bit nostalgic for the days when Commonwealth departments had simple titles like the department of health or the department of transport—it is just a personal preference and I look forward to a time when we have departments that have shorter, more straightforward titles.

In looking at these appropriation bills for 2011-12 it is relevant to consider the overall budgetary context, including the budget that has just been delivered. The government, in our view—and you may disagree, Madam Acting Deputy President—has resorted, in the budget that has just passed, to accounting tricks, money shuffles, the purpose of which was to manufacture a wafer-thin budget surplus, or what I like to call a 'technical' budget surplus, because it is not a real budget surplus; it is a manufactured budget surplus. We might call it dodgy; you might not, but it is a case of shuffling the cards to create the illusion of a budget surplus.

One thing that strikes us as particularly curious, if the government really believes in this budget surplus—which is not really a surplus at this stage; it is just a forecast of a surplus—is why the government is moving to increase the Commonwealth debt limit from $250 billion to $300 billion. That just strikes us, in passing, as ever so slightly curious—that the government might lack faith in its own budget forecasts. And there is good reason for the government to lack faith in those budget forecasts of a budget surplus, because this government has yet to deliver a single budget surplus. Budget surpluses on budget night are really wishes, hopes and prayers. They have yet to amount to anything more than that.

The Treasurer did not mention in the budget night speech his intention to increase the Commonwealth debt limit. I can understand that, because he would be a little embarrassed. It would be betraying a lack of confidence in his own ability to follow through and actually deliver that forecast budget surplus. At one level I can understand him not mentioning that, but it does remind me a little bit of that famous budget night speech.

I am sure you know, Madam Acting Deputy President, that journalists around Australia, budget aficionados and those of us in the opposition sit there on budget night waiting to hear what the forecast figure is for the budget bottom line. Will it be a surplus? Will it be a deficit? What size will it be? Indeed, that very number is the main reason for all of the budget lock-up. All of the budget security is because that budget bottom-line figure is market sensitive.

I remember well that famous budget night where the Treasurer, Mr Swan, did not ever actually mention what the budget bottom line was in his budget speech. He did not actually mention the size of the budget deficit. I went back at that time through budget speech after budget speech, and it was the first time that a Commonwealth Treasurer had not mentioned the actual budget bottom line, so ashamed was Mr Swan of the budget deficit forecast that he was delivering.

When Mr Swan—going back to the budget just passed—was asked why he needed to lift the debt limit if he was returning the budget to surplus, he replied, 'Well, very simply, this is no big deal.' It might not be a big deal to him, but I can tell you that it is a big deal to the taxpayers who would have to fork out additional taxation to service the borrowing requirement of the budget going even further into deficit.

This government has done one good thing, I have to say, in relation to budget accountability. I know we are often critical of the government in relation to budget management, but it has done one very good thing—that is, it has made it much easier to identify deficit budgets and to identify surplus budgets and to tell one from the other. You would be well aware of the excellent economic record of Treasurer Costello, who delivered 10 budget surpluses. When Mr Costello was the Treasurer, the budget papers were white. Budget one was in surplus; two, surplus; three, surplus; four, surplus; five, surplus; six, surplus; seven, surplus; eight, surplus; nine, surplus; and 10, surplus—and you will notice that they are all in white covers.

The Swan budgets are all in deficit, and, very kindly, Mr Swan changed the colour of his budgets so that we could identify very easily the budgets which were in surplus. Whenever you see a white cover, it is safe to assume a surplus budget; whenever you see a blue cover, it is safe to assume a deficit budget. So here we have one deficit budget, two deficit budgets, three deficit budgets, four deficit budgets. We have a forecast budget surplus for this financial year—but, then again, we had a forecast budget surplus in Mr Swan's first budget speech. I think the budget for 2012-13 will end up being as much a work of fiction as the preceding four budgets. That is my prediction. We will see if I am correct; I suspect I will be. But, again, I think it is useful for all of us to observe that surplus budgets are in white and deficit budgets are in blue.

We find ourselves in the situation whereby this government has delivered cumulative record deficits of $174 billion. It is not, as this government says, because of revenue write-downs. We hear all the time that the budget has deteriorated fundamentally because of revenue write-downs. But if you look at the reason this budget will eventually go into deficit and the previous budgets were in deficit, it is overwhelmingly as a direct result of policy decisions by government. By 'policy decisions' I mean decisions to spend more money. That is the reason this government has delivered consecutive budget deficits, that it has cumulative deficits of $174 billion. It is not because of revenue write-downs; it is because of policy decisions by the government.

The government needs to be honest about that, it needs to be upfront about that. Whenever it talks about the revenue write-downs, it seeks to leave the impression in the minds of the Australian public that the budget is in surplus simply because of circumstances beyond this government's control—that it is a cruel world out there, that there are storm clouds on the horizon that have caused reduced business and consumer confidence and that therefore revenues are down and that—gee, shucks—therefore the budget is in deficit. It is not true. Yes, there are some storm clouds on the horizon. Yes, consumer and business confidence is down. But that is not the reason this government has delivered successive budget deficits. It is because of spending decisions by this government. The ultimate example of that was this government's stimulus package—this government's program to respond to the global financial crisis.

Senator Sterle interjecting

I heard Senator Sterle say that the Howard government never had a global financial crisis. We did not have a global financial crisis, but we had an Asian financial crisis. And let me let this government in on a secret: Australia is much more directly enmeshed in the Asian region than it is with the United States and than it is with the United Kingdom.

Government senators interjecting

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Will senators on the right please stop shouting across the chamber.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

So, despite the fact that during the Asian financial crisis our region was not growing, Australia continued to grow. When I hear from the other side that we had it easy when we were in government—that we had no challenges—I say that the Asian financial crisis was a big challenge. Our region was not growing, and we continued to grow. One of the reasons we continued to grow was that the Australian people had confidence that the government of the day knew what it was doing. The Australian people had confidence that if there were external shocks, external challenges, we would make the right call. One of the reasons business confidence and consumer confidence have taken a hit under this government is that the Australian people have lost faith in this government to make the right calls when there is a challenge.

With the global financial crisis, the Australian people know that the government made the wrong call when it came to massive spending on school halls. They know the government made the wrong call when it came to massive spending on pink batts. And they know that e reason we did not go into recession was not due to those spending measures. It was because of demand from China for our mineral resources. It was because the Reserve Bank cut interest rates. It was because we had a floating exchange rate. They are the reasons we came through the global financial crisis. Also, we had the world's best prudential regulatory environment, courtesy of Mr Costello's reforms. That is why we survived the global financial crisis in relatively good nick. When looking at these appropriation bills we must look at why we are in the situation that we find ourselves in today. The reason is the policy decisions made by this government. This government acts as though it is just a victim of circumstance: it is a bad world out there, things happen that are beyond our control—gee, shucks, revenue is right down and we cannot balance the budget. That is not true; it is because of policy decisions. The important thing with this government, and indeed with all governments, is to look not at what the government says but at what it does—to look at the policy decisions it makes.

One of the reasons I find myself becoming increasingly frustrated in my disability portfolio is that when you look at the forecast debt interest costs for the next financial year, you see that they are $7 billion a year. Debt interest of $7 billion a year represents an opportunity forgone. Every one of those seven billion dollars is going towards absolutely nothing. They are going to fund not a single school, not a single hospital, not a single supported accommodation place and not a single port; those dollars are going to support absolutely nothing. If this government had managed its affairs better, if it had lived within its means, there would have been enough money today to fully fund a National Disability Insurance Scheme. The additional ask for an NDIS is $7½ billion; $7 billion to $8 billion will be the annual interest bill for this government. It represents an opportunity forgone. It is frustrating, and it is tempting to say, 'It does not really matter if the government goes into debt.' It does matter, because that debt has to be repaid, with interest, and those dollars represent an opportunity forgone. That is why I want to see government live within its means. That is why I want to seek government not go into debt unnecessarily. Debt compromises the ability of governments to do the things they need to do, such as implement an NDIS. I suspect that is part of the reason why this government allocated only $1 billion for the NDIS over the forward estimates rather than the $3.9 billion recommended by the Productivity Commission.

I will leave it there, because time is short. We know that the guillotine is going to come down and I know that Senator Brandis is champing at the bit to make a contribution.

10:47 am

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

Yesterday afternoon, during the debate on taking note of answers, I made some remarks about freedom of speech. I said, among other things, that last year a column by the respected veteran political journalist Mr Glenn Milne was removed from the Australian newspaper—it was withdrawn after it had been published. It was taken down from the Australian's website. That column contained serious allegations concerning the Prime Minister.

Yesterday, also, in the other place, the honourable member for Barton and former Attorney-General, Mr Robert McClelland, made a contribution in the debate on the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2012. Speaking about trade union officers, Mr McClelland said:

Officers have sought to obtain personal benefit, or benefit on behalf of others, at the expense of members of their union. Reported instances include not only misapplying funds and resources of the union but also using the privileges of their office to attract and obtain services and benefits from third parties.

Aside from issues of profiteering, secret commissions and tax avoidance, these undeclared benefits can compromise officials. Rather than diligently representing the interests of their members without fear or favour, they effectively 'run dead' as a result of these side deals. This is no less than graft and corruption in its most reprehensible form, and it occurs at the expense of vulnerable members whose interests they have been charged with representing.

A little later in the speech, Mr McClelland referred to litigation in which he had been involved as a solicitor in the 1990s, involving the Australian Workers Union. He said:

… these issues also arose in those matters that I was involved with in the mid-1990s, which were filed in both the then Industrial Court of Australia and the Federal Court of Australia. There are a number of matters, generally under the name of Ludwig v Harrison and others, but probably most relevantly matter No. 1032 of 1996.

Also, Mr McClelland was involved, as a member of the firm Turner Freeman, in a related matter in which the parties were again William Patrick Ludwig as applicant, with Steven Harrison and others, including Bruce Morton Wilson, as respondents. Those matters, filed in the Industrial Relations Court of Australia, New South Wales District Registry, are identified as No. NI96/2082—in other words, industrial matter 2082 of 1996.

It is, in the opposition's view, of great significance that Mr McClelland chose to throw a spotlight on those matters. The opposition agrees with Mr McClelland's observation about the corrupt conduct of—and I am sure they are a small minority—some union officials. The opposition agrees with Mr McClelland's observation that the bill before the parliament at the moment in relation to registered organisations does not go nearly far enough. But what is most significant is the fact that Mr McClelland chose to throw a spotlight on those proceedings concerning corruption in the Australian Workers Union in the mid-1990s concerning which he, as a lawyer for Mr Ludwig, had direct knowledge and concerning which Mr Bruce Morton Wilson was one of the respondents. What is even more consequential is that in his speech yesterday Mr McClelland made what the Australian Financial Review this morning describes as 'pointed references' to the Prime Minister. This is what he said in his speech yesterday:

… I know the Prime Minister is quite familiar with this area of the law; as lawyers in the mid-1990s, we were involved in a matter representing opposing clients.

What Mr McClelland appears to be saying is that the Prime Minister knew about all of this as well. Mr Bruce Morton Wilson was one of the adverse parties against whom Mr Ludwig brought that series of proceedings.

Now, on 29 August last year, Mr Milne published in the Australian newspaper the opinion piece to which I will make reference. As I said yesterday, that opinion piece contains extensive and detailed reference to the Prime Minister's involvement in these events—as revealed and alleged in the proceedings conducted by Mr McClelland in the Industrial Relations Court of Australia and in the Industrial Division of the Federal Court in the mid-1990s. One can but wonder why it is that Mr McClelland, as a backbench member of the government, chose to draw attention to those matters from the 1990s—matters concerning which, as a solicitor, he had direct and thorough knowledge. One can but wonder why, in particular, Mr McClelland chose, in a very pointed way, to throw a spotlight on the Prime Minister's knowledge of those matters.

What we do know is that three courageous journalists, Mr Glenn Milne, Mr Michael Smith and Mr Andrew Bolt, had sought to bring to public attention the matters Mr McClelland referred to—those proceedings which he chose to remind the House of Representatives about yesterday. We know as well that, of the three journalists whose names I have mentioned, two suffered a grievous professional price for trying to reveal to the Australian people what Mr McClelland was hinting at yesterday.

Mr Glenn Milne's article, a copy of which I have here, deals with extensive allegations concerning the Prime Minister—none of which, by the way, have been the subject of a defamation suit against either him or the publishers of the Australianwas published on 29 August 2011. Within hours, it was taken down from the Australian's website after the direct intervention of the Prime Minister with the then CEO of News Limited, Mr John Hartigan. Yet the Prime Minister did not choose to sue for defamation. If ever there has been a case of political interference with the media, that would have to be it.

We also know that Mr Michael Smith—a very successful broadcaster first, as you will remember, Madam Acting Deputy President Moore, in Brisbane on 4BC and latterly in Sydney on 2UE—proposed to air those allegations as well on his radio station. We know that Mr Michael Smith was sacked by management. One can but wonder what political intervention occurred to produce that result. Of the three journalists who have sought to bring this issue to the attention of the Australian people, the only one who did not suffer a serious professional consequence was Mr Andrew Bolt. The events that Mr Robert McClelland, who is a very honourable man—I was his shadow until he was dismissed from the ministry by Julia Gillard at the end of last year and I must say that he conducted himself as Attorney-General with integrity, as a gentleman—

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Brandis, I need to remind you that you should refer to the Prime Minister by her correct title. I know you are aware of that.

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. Mr McClelland conducted himself with integrity and as a gentleman. He conducted himself more impressively as Attorney-General, I am bound to say, than does the incumbent. In any event, what Mr McClelland seemed to be seeking to draw to the attention of the House of Representatives deals with the self-same matters that Mr Glenn Milne was punished for trying to draw to the attention of the Australian people on 29 August last year and what Mr Michael Smith was punished for trying to draw to the attention of the Australian people at about the same time on radio station 2UE and that Mr Andrew Bolt continues to seek to draw to the attention of the Australian people.

We must ask why it is that Mr McClelland chose to throw the spotlight on those matters yesterday. Why is it that he pointedly sought to refer to the Prime Minister's knowledge of those matters? What are the facts which Mr Milne and Mr Smith sought to communicate to the public before they were interfered with that plainly Mr McClelland knows about and invited public attention to in his remarks yesterday?

Senator Joyce, who is about to follow me in this debate, has some other observations to make. Let me conclude my remarks simply by saying this: there are matters being concealed. There is an area of public discussion being stifled here of the utmost seriousness. The public is entitled to know of those matters. It is entitled to know of the allegations made in the Federal Court and industrial court proceedings conducted by Mr McClelland's firm in the mid-1990s which he drew attention to yesterday. The public is entitled to know the roles of the various dramatis personae whose names have been mentioned. It is entitled to know the facts which Mr Milne and Mr Smith sought to draw to the attention of the public last August and which Mr McClelland refreshed our memory of in his speech yesterday.

11:02 am

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (Queensland, National Party, Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

An issue has come back to light not by the recent actions of any person in the coalition but by the statements of a former Attorney-General of the Commonwealth of Australia in the other chamber, a person who most would say deserves the title 'honourable'. I have never found Mr McClelland to be vindictive, haphazard or unnecessarily partisan. He is a fair, reasonable and decent person and therefore the statements that he makes have to be taken seriously. At times like this, we must have the courage to reopen the files and have a look at what went on here.

Without being trite, I always remember one of my favourite movies, The Thin Red Line, and the discussions between Travolta and Nick Nolte, who was playing the character Colonel Tall. On the deck of the frigate when they were going in, he said, 'The closer to Caesar, the greater the fear.' Well may you have fear the closer you get to this Caesar, because we have seen the deliberate actions taken against those who dare to question. I have been listening in the last week to Senator Conroy talking about transparency and unreasonable influence on the media. One must assume that if he professes that creed in here then he believes in it. We must look closely at exactly what happens to people who follow that creed. Senator Brandis has already spelt out that this has had consequences for people. A range of people have done the right thing by our nation by trying to be transparent on an issue, which the Australian people have a right to know about, because it goes to the highest offices of our land. Mr Glenn Milne from the Australian basically lost his job. Mr Michael Smith, a person who acted as a police officer and detective for a number of years, a person who is extremely capable, not just on radio but in his understanding of the law, lost his job. They did not lose their jobs because they lied. That has never been asserted. It is because they breached editorial direction. And who was the person most aggrieved by that breach of editorial direction? Apparently it came from the Prime Minister's office. This influences the liberty of the fourth estate to express their views. If it was a case that could be defended no doubt somebody could have come out of the Prime Minister's office and defended it. That was not the case. They found the messenger and shot them.

That being the case I wish to go back over a number of documented cases and re-investigate this. Labor sources from Gillard's office have said in the past that they were looking at people and what they did in their 'younger days'.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Joyce, could I advise you to refer to the Prime Minister as 'the Prime Minister'.

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (Queensland, National Party, Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Certainly. The Prime Minister's office said that they should look at what people did in their younger days. I imagine that means that under their guidelines we can ask serious questions about what people did in their mid-30s, when they were a partner at Slater and Gordon. One would presume that a person who has been made a partner in Slater and Gordon was a person of some competency. I presume that Slater and Gordon know enough about the law not to appoint imbeciles or fools but are appointing people who are capable.

I would like to draw your attention to an article by Mr Ebru Yaman in the Australian in October 1995 that referred to an ALP candidate linked to graft. That ALP candidate was standing for the Senate at position No. 3 on the ALP ticket. The ALP candidate at that point in time was Ms Julia Gillard, the current Prime Minister of Australia. The article said:

"There is currently an investigation under way by the National Crime Authority who have also referred the matter to the Victoria Police, who are also investigating this particular matter," he said. Last night, Ms Gillard strenuously denied all of Mr Gude's allegations.

She said she was still a partner with Slater & Gordon and had "no intention of leaving". Ms Gillard also denied she had ever paid money to the AWU or borrowed money from the union to work on her house.

"I am aware it is an allegation of Mr Gude's that I acted on behalf of Mr Wilson. Whether or not Mr Wilson was a client of mine is irrelevant," she said.

It is interesting that at that point in time Ms Gillard, by her own statements, had no intention of leaving Slater and Gordon, so one would presume there had been no discussions. But later on we find out that she left. The first question is: why?

I would now like to go to a quote by the Prime Minister herself on Australian Story, Sunday, 12 March 2006. Ms Gillard said:

I remember in 1995 Phil Gude … raised a series of allegations against me they had the status of rumours going around the ALP the rumours where that I had been involved in a relationship with a man who was an official at the AWU and the nature of the rumours where that he in some ways had misappropriated created money to spend on my house renovations, I had been renovating a house at that stage and you know clothing for me.

The allegations also extended to her expenditure on clothing items. This house has now come back. An article in the Financial Review today says that Mr McClelland, the former Attorney-General:

… repeatedly referred to allegations made against Mr Wilson that have been made several times in the Victorian Parliament, most recently in 2001 when he was accused of misappropriating about $500,000 of union funds, including $102,000 spent on a house in Kerr Street, Fitzroy.

The Prime Minister had no comment yesterday and has repeatedly denied allegations she was linked to union corruption. Mr McClelland made pointed references to the Prime Minister's involvement.

I would now like to refer back to the Victorian parliament, where, on 12 October 1995, the Minister for Industry and Employment said:

Serious allegations of fraud and impropriety have been brought to my attention.

It is alleged that the former secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Mr Bruce Wilson, who left the union's employ in August of this year, has apparently misappropriated union funds and used his position as secretary in the most improper manner.

I understand the AWU is still receiving bills for strange items ordered by Mr Wilson. All attempts thus far to find him have come to nothing. What did Mr Wilson do when he found out that his actions had been discovered? The first thing he did was to seek legal advice from the union's solicitors, none other than Slater and Gordon. From whom did he receive that advice? One Julia Gillard.

I am informed that Ms Gillard is no longer with Slater and Gordon due to commitments as an ALP Senate candidate. That may not be the only reason she is no longer working at Slater and Gordon.

To further elucidate this, I will go to another article, from the Sydney Morning Herald of Tuesday, 30 July 1996, by Murray Hogarth, which I think clearly states the case for why this is a concern. We have a concern with Mr Thomson and his use of other people's money. That is the issue here—not what he did but the fact that he did it with other people's money. If we look at what is happening currently in the Health Services Union, what resonates in the community is the misappropriation of other people's money and the fact that people are receiving a pecuniary benefit that is in no way associated with benefit to the union members. This is the thing that so many union members are absolutely up in arms about. Allegations that go to the highest office in the land in regard to that have to be answered and answered clearly.

Mr McClelland, a former Attorney-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, a member of the Australian Labor Party, has now raised this issue again. This is not an issue of incitement. I read the paper like everybody else. We have to start asking serious questions of the Labor Party. If the former Attorney-General is asking questions of the Prime Minister, then I think it is incumbent upon this chamber to do its part in fleshing out exactly what is going on here. So I look at this article by Mr Murray Hogarth in the Sydney Morning Herald from 30 July 1996, which says:

Between 1992 and 1995, about $370,000 flowed through two Perth-based accounts - operated in the name of the "AWU Workplace Reform Association Inc" - which, until last month, had never been heard of in the AWU's national offices in Sydney.

We have to find out who set these accounts up. We have to find out whether the person who set these accounts up had told the Australian Workers Union that they were setting up these accounts. We have to find minutes to prove that the accounts that were being set up were under the instruction and the auspices of the Australian Workers Union and not set up outside. Any competent solicitor would start asking those questions. So who is setting these up? What is the purpose of these accounts? What is the source of these funds? What is the application of these funds? That is what a person who was competent would ask. Most certainly it is what a partner of a law firm would ask. They would definitely be the questions that a partner of a law firm would ask, especially if they were the ones drawing up the accounts. It also says:

All the money came from the big construction group Thiess Contractors, which says the payments were legitimate, arising from a tripartite agreement between it, the AWU and the West Australian Government.

Indeed, says Thiess, the Government paid it money for an employee training program at a $58 million Thiess construction project and it then paid the AWU. But once in union hands, it seems, the funds went walkabout when the AWU branch in WA was crying poor and running up a debt with head office approaching $1 million.

It is now known that nearly $220,000 was withdrawn using about 40 cash cheques—

There seems to be similar vein here with another person, Mr Craig Thomson, and his use of cash—

ranging from $4,000 to $50,000.

Exactly where all the money ended up is far from clear. The man who should know, a former top official, Mr Bruce Wilson, says it is all "old hat stuff" and he has "nothing to say".

However, two of the so-called "WA Inc" accounts were finally emptied in April last year, when about $46,000 was paid into an even more mysterious Perth-based account called the Construction Industry Fund. It, too, is understood to have been closed this year and may have no legal connection to the union.

Several other cheques totalling about $35,000 were made out in 1993 to a now ex-AWU official, Mr Ralph Blewitt, and, once, about $67,000 went to the trust account of the high-profile Melbourne law firm Slater and Gordon. The timing of this payment has caught the eye of AWU bosses. It coincides with the purchase of a house in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy in Mr Blewitt's name.

A cheque made out to the "Slater and Gordon Trust Account" was dated five days before the firm arranged settlement on the $230,000 property.

…   …   …

In a major new development, the Herald has learned that on July 14 last year, a cheque bearing what appears to be Mr Wilson's signature was written in an apparent bid to transfer about $160,000 from the "Members Welfare" account in Victoria, into the still-unexplained "Construction Industry Fund" in Western Australia.

But the cheque was caught at the last minute by a "freeze" on the account placed by lawyers acting for the present AWU State secretary in Victoria, Mr Bob Smith, who was a bitter enemy of Mr Wilson, and remains a close ally of Mr Steve Harrison, one of the two rival joint … secretaries.

A month later, in strange circumstances, the $160,000 was "unfrozen" in a peace deal done by Mr Smith and his lawyers …

Now these are articles from the papers. This is public knowledge. The question that we have to ask is: is it that with these issues being raised once more by a former Attorney-General, the Hon. Bob McClelland, it is believable that a person in a relationship with Mr Bruce Wilson over a number of years and who had the competency to be a partner of Slater and Gordon would be unaware of the actions taken by her partner at that time even though the benefit of those actions was evident in the house she was living in—that is, they were paying for them? Is this believable? Is this believable that a person could be completely unaware? As I said, the defence given by the Prime Minister is that she was young and naive. Is that believable? It is becoming abundantly apparent to all and sundry, including the former Attorney-General, that, from what we can see—and with his calls for a further investigation and greater tightening—it is obviously not believable—and this is the former Attorney-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, one of the most respected people in the Australian Labor Party.

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Universities and Research) Share this | | Hansard source

Deputy President

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Mason, there are seven seconds left, so I will not call you, because the time allotted for the consideration of these bills has expired.

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Universities and Research) Share this | | Hansard source

Deputy President

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

No, your time has now expired, Senator Mason. The question now is that these bills be now read a second time.

Question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.