Michael Duffy Gives Peter Costello A Lesson In Question Time

This exchange between the Keating government’s Attorney-General, Michael Duffy, and the new Liberal member for Higgins, Peter Costello, is regarded as one of the standout moments in the House of Representatives in 1992.

The incident is a rare example of a demolition job done with style and wit.

Hansard transcript of Peter Costello’s question to Attorney-General Michael Duffy – September 10, 1992.

Mr COSTELLO —My question is directed to the Attorney-General. Was the Director of Public Prosecutions correct when earlier this week he voiced his concern that the Australian Securities Commission will not devote sufficient resources to identification, investigation and prosecution of corporate crime? Is it true that major corporate crime investigations have been halted because of disagreements between the ASC and the DPP? Why has the Attorney-General failed to do anything in the last 12 months to resolve this argument and to ensure that a proper stand is taken on law enforcement against major corporate crime?

Mr DUFFY —I thank the honourable member for Higgins for his somewhat belated question. While on that point, I quite seriously do congratulate him because it is now two years and five months since he became a shadow Minister. He came here as a star turn from Victoria.

Mr Tuckey —Just answer the question.

Mr Downer —Come on; answer the question.

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —The honourable member for O’Connor. The honourable member for Mayo.

Mr DUFFY —This is the first question he has directed to me on corporate affairs in two years and five months.

Mr Tuckey —Mr Acting Speaker, I raise a point of order. There is a convention in this place that, when sensible and serious questions are asked, they get a simple answer, and if you have not got it, sit down.

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —I warn the honourable member for O’Connor. If he takes another frivolous point of order, I will name him.

Mr DUFFY —Having had that pent up for some time and got it off my chest, I will now move to the question. The fact of the matter is that in the period that the honourable member for Higgins is referring to it is just absolutely unbelievable that anyone on that side of the House, and in particular him, could come in here and criticise this Government in this area.

Mr Tuckey —Oh, come on!

Mr Costello —Now, answer the question.

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Higgins.

Mr DUFFY —There are two parts to the honourable member’s question. The second part is a matter of choice which I will deal with first. The question was: what has happened in corporate crime and particularly in the prosecutions area? It may interest the honourable member to know, although he cannot read a budget—that is quite clear from his statement on the Attorney-General’s budget when he did not manage to turn the next page—that the ASC budget in 1992-93 was $132m. The estimate of the ASC was that $50m of that went to corporate crime: to investigations and to litigation. In addition to that, the DPP had another $5m in relation to the investigation and litigation area.

Having sat here for so long waiting for the question, I will go through the record bit by bit and I hope the honourable member listens. In 1991-92 there were 668 cases where the ASC initiated court proceedings. Of those, 539 were criminal cases and 129 were civil cases. In 1991-92 there were 36 significant convictions and 314 minor convictions. As at 30 June 1992 there are 116 serious criminal trials under way in this country and 77 civil trials.

The other matter which you did not refer to but you go on about from time to time is the 16 cases referred to by Mr Hartnell on one occasion. In respect of those, eight criminal and six civil charges have been laid. In respect of the differences of opinion, which are well known and even you have picked up on, between Mr Hartnell and Mr Rozenes, it is not surprising that there is some difference of opinion—

Mr Keating —A real sleuth.

Mr DUFFY —A brilliant performance; as the Prime Minister said, a real sleuth, in the sense that it is delightful to see you up here today rather than sneaking around like some midnight prowler sticking stupid press releases in the press gallery at 12 o’clock at night. It is a delight. It is not surprising that there are some differences between the two of them, in the sense that one is the Director of Public Prosecutions and the other one is a corporate regulator-investigator. That said, Mr Hartnell and Mr Rozenes should have solved their problems.

Mr Tim Fischer interjecting—

Mr DUFFY —I can do without any assistance from you.

Mr Tim Fischer interjecting—

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the National Party!

Mr DUFFY —We are running off videos of your performance to lift the morale of the Party. I have sent one to Holt already. They should have solved their philosophical and operational differences. Make no mistake about that. On 27 August Mr Rozenes came to me and said that those problems had not been solved. The fact that they have not been solved has been confirmed by their spectacular media performances in the last few weeks, and particularly before the Joint Parliamentary Committee. This matter has been around for a long while, as the honourable member says, but yesterday he came in here bleating about having been misrepresented. What he said on AM on 8 September is relevant to the question. It is a beauty. He said:

It’s hopeless, isn’t it? Look, this problem became apparent about a year ago.

There are a lot of ‘oughts’, so I will go through it slowly.

The first one is:

I said, then, that he ought—

by ‘he’ he means me—

to go in. . .

Go in to the ASC! I have never heard anything like having the Attorney-General raiding the ASC.

Mr Costello interjecting—

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Higgins!

Mr DUFFY —Or the DPP—which one did you mean?

Mr Costello interjecting—

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —Order! I warn the honourable member for Higgins.

Mr DUFFY —You claimed you were misrepresented before. No. 1 and No. 2:

I said, then, that he ought to go in, he ought to do an audit on both offices. . .

‘He’—me—auditing! No.3:

. . . he ought to find out where the charges were.

What do I do? Go through their files while I am in there, or do I go out and come back? Unbelievable!

Mr Costello interjecting—

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —Order! I have warned the honourable member for Higgins. I will name him if he interjects again.

Mr DUFFY —There is a fourth ‘ought’. No. 4:

He ought to find out who was responsible.

No. 5:

. . . and he ought to discipline whoever has failed in his duty.

That was his solution. As a result of the visit from Mr Rozenes, which if it did not concern anyone in my position it should have, I said, `We are going to sit down again and go through this problem, because I am not going to sit around and listen to performances’. We all know that September this year is the fiftieth anniversary of Casablanca; but, that said, I am not prepared to sit around and watch two senior corporate officers performing in the way—

Mr Carlton —You have for 12 months.

Mr DUFFY —We just had the interjection, ‘You have for 12 months’. Which dopey member was that? It was the honourable member for Mackellar. We went through it just a moment ago, did we not? While this Government has been sitting around, it has put $132m into a scheme the Opposition did not even want. It wanted a hopeless, so-called cooperative State-based scheme to go on forever. In April 1990 we had the great conversion. It was like St Paul on the road to Damascus. The honourable member for Higgins said, `No, we’ll have a national scheme’. There were very few people not saying it at that stage except, of course, the Western Australian Liberals, who were hanging out until the last minute. Do honourable members remember how they had to come back and meet between Christmas and the New Year? That is how stupid they are. So do not come in with that sort of stupid comment.

I went through it before, but I will do it again. In 1992-93, the ASC budget was $132m; $50m of that went to corporate crime and there was another $5m in relation to investigation and litigation. There were 668 cases, 116 serious criminal trials and 77 civil trials at 30 June this year. So do not talk such rubbish. What has happened in relation to this matter is that today both Mr Rozenes and Mr Hartnell are coming to Canberra.

Mr Beazley —That will make your day.

Mr DUFFY —There was an interjection then from the Leader of the House which I could have done without. He said that that will make my day. I could do without that and the interjection! Having said that, let me tell the honourable member for Higgins that because of his deep and biding interest in this matter, shown by his incisive questioning over the last 2 1/2 years, this afternoon they will either come to me with a solution or—

Mr Peacock —Or they will get 12 months leave on full pay.

Mr DUFFY —Mr Acting Speaker, is it not amazing that to get an interjection with any incisiveness we have had to go back to that old has-been? That said, let me say this: this Government will demand today a strategy that will resolve this matter once and for all. If section 12 of the Australian Securities Commission Act, which I commend you to read, and section 8 of the Director of Public Prosecutions Act have to be used by me to resolve it, that will be done.

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