Senator Santo Santoro, the Minister for Ageing, has resigned from the Howard ministry after a week of allegations and revelations over an undeclared share ownership.
He is the second minister to resign in the past fortnight.
It was revealed earlier this week that Senator Santoro had failed to sell off shares in a biotechnology company, CBio, after he was appointed to the Ageing portfolio last year. This constituted a perceived conflict of interest with his health-related position.
Santoro sold the shares sometime last year and advised the Prime Minister, John Howard. He went public with details of the shareholdings at the beginning of this week to head off media disclosure. Santoro claimed he donated the profits from the shares to a charity but it was revealed yesterday that the money was given to the conservative lobby group, Family Council of Queensland, However, the organisation is not a charity. Moreover, its president, Alan Baxter, is the person who originally advised Senator Santoro to purchase the shares.
At a press conference today, Santoro described his behaviour this week as “further oversights”. However, it now appears that he has traded shares in around 50 companies during his time as a minister. He said he had now made additions to his parliamentary statement of interests.
A former Queensland state minister, Santoro lost his seat in the 2001 Queensland election but was appointed to the Senate to replace John Herron in 2002. He is regarded as an important factional powerbroker in the Queensland Liberal Party.
Santoro’s resignation follows Senator Ian Campbell’s resignation on March 3. Three other Queensland Liberal MPs (Andrew Laming, Gary Hardgrave and Ross Vasta) are currently under police investigation over alleged rorting of their electorate allowances. A week ago, an ALP shadow minister, Kelvin Thomson, resigned over revelations he wrote a reference for crime figure Tony Mokbel. This week, Prime Minister Howard came under attack over attending a function in 2004 which was also graced by a pornographer who is now in prison.
This is the text of a media release from the Prime Minister, John Howard.
Earlier today I accepted the resignation of Santo Santoro as Minister for Ageing.
After a detailed review of his financial records, required by me, he provided advice indicating a number of investments not hitherto disclosed to the Senate or to me.
He has written to the Registrar of Senators’ Interests today providing the relevant information.
While commonsense needs to be applied to issues of ministerial conduct including the capacity to accept inadvertent error, circumstances such as those now outlined by him are unacceptable.
Senator Santoro clearly has failed to comply with the rules of the Senate and has not made the disclosures to me required of him as a Minister.
He had no option but to resign.