Packard Motor Company
PACKARD MOTOR COMPANY
Matter of Public Importance
Mr KNIGHT (Campbelltown) [3.41]: I move:
Mr Moore: On a point of order. I draw your attention to Standing Order 151 which says that no member shall use offensive or unbecoming words in reference to any member of either House of the Parliament or make imputations of improper motives or personal reflections on members. Previous rulings from the Chair suggest that the honourable member for Campbelltown is out of order in seeking to pursue this matter as he is not permitted to attack the honourable member for The Hills either specifically or by innuendo. A series of rulings given by learned Speakers state that it is not only sufficient to transgress Standing Order 151 by naming the individual honourable member but also it is improper to use other forms of the House for this purpose and to do so by innuendo. In this regard I draw attention to the rulings of Speaker Kelly set out in Hansard of 4th November, 1976, at page 2448, in which Speaker Kelly said, dealing in that case with the question that grievances be noted:
That this House notes, as a matter of public importance the reference to the Australian Securities Commission by the Opposition of matters involving the business activities of the Packard Motor Company and calls upon the Government to co-operate fully with any inquiry.
Speaker Kelly went on to say that on a number of occasions those decisions had been upheld by the House of Commons. On 26th August, 1976, Deputy-Speaker Cahill held that it was not in order for a member to use imputations or innuendos for the purpose of attack on another honourable member. On that occasion Deputy-Speaker Cahill was relying specifically on a ruling by Speaker Ellis of 2nd August, 1967, at page 100 of the Hansard, where Speaker Ellis said:
It is not in order for the honourable member to attack another honourable member about his personal conduct. Should the honourable member wish to attack the conduct of another member he should do so by taking the appropriate course of moving a substantive motion in order that full opportunity is given to the Parliament to hear the complaint . . .
In addition to those rulings I draw attention to the fact that this motion is part of a course of conduct by the honourable member for Campbelltown. Last week the same member asked a question in the House designed to attack the honourable member for The Hills. He is not entitled to do so again by subterfuge. The earlier rulings of your predecessors demonstrate that this motion ought to be ruled of out of order.
Mr Whelan: On the point of order. It is clear that the Government does not want any discussion of this matter; why else would the Minister have prepared a three-
minute statement seeking to show why the honourable member should not raise this subject as a matter of public importance? It was good enough for the Speaker to indicate to the House that it was in order but somehow the Leader of the Government in this House finds it offensive. The motion does not talk about an individual member; it talks about a corporation. Standing Order 151 relates specifically to a member. This is a corporation of which the honourable member was at some stage, and may still be, a member. If members are not entitled to raise matters of public importance about companies in which they have shares, it will be a sorry day for this Parliament. It is also a matter for the Parliament to note that when the rulings were given by Speaker Kelly - and I notice that the rulings were also related to Speaker Ellis - those circumstances were different. Matters of public importance were not able to be debated at that time; we had the old system of moving motions under Standing Order 49.
The Leader of the House is saying that this Parliament cannot engage in a debate involving a member of the House when it is brought on as a matter of public importance. The matter is in order. You announced it first, in accordance with the procedure, and later called the matter on for debate. By frivolous objection and by spurious points of order by the Leader of the House, the Government intends to have this debate ruled out of order. That is clearly not appropriate. The honourable member should be permitted to proceed with the debate. The Government should be gracious enough to permit that to take place without interruption by a frivolous campaign of taking points of order. The Government Leader of the House is on his feet now ready to take another point of order in an attempt to consume the nine minutes left for the member to speak to the motion. This practice will frustrate the aim of parliamentary debate on matters of public importance. The Opposition will then ask the House to grant leave to deal with this matter by a suspension of standing orders. If the Government objects to that course the Opposition will then move, at the appropriate time, to amend the notices of motion to recommit matters of public importance so that these fatuous objections will be overcome.
Mr Moore: Further to the point of order. The honourable member for Ashfield suggests that the advent of matters of public importance creates a new class of motion that permits members to avoid the provisions of the standing orders, particularly Standing Order 151, to attack honourable members. The honourable member suggests that there is some distinction between matters of public importance by motion and matters of urgency under the old rules. I draw attention to rulings which say that it is not permissible to attack another member by innuendo as an alternative to using a substantive motion, the Address-in-Reply debate, grievance debate and other procedures and forms of the House. This is quite clear from the nature of rulings given in 1976, particularly in a point of order taken by the then member for Canterbury, Mr Stewart, who quoted what Sir Kevin Ellis had earlier stated in another ruling as follows:
It has been long recognised that when an honourable member wishes to make allegations of improper conduct against another honourable member, the proper way to do it is by way of a substantive motion, containing the specific charge and supported by evidence. This practice has often been referred to when honourable members have, during question time, made charges or innuendos against other honourable members. The same principle applies to debate.
The honourable member for Campbelltown is seeking to avoid using the proper forms of the House. He should not be permitted to use a matter of public importance for a purpose for which it was not designed. The honourable member for Ashfield also suggested that I was agreeing, by not otherwise raising the matter at the time, that the matter had been ruled in order as a matter of public importance. That is not the case. You, Mr Speaker, dealt with the prima facie question. My right is to raise Standing Order 151 in the face of the House when the matter comes on for debate. I do not believe I should be denied that right.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The first matter that I consider relevant to this point of order is that the Speaker must take the motion on its face. On the face of the motion
it does not necessarily impute improper motives or use offensive or unbecoming words in respect of a member of Parliament, even though undoubtedly the business activities of the Packard Motor Company do touch upon a member of this Parliament. The second matter I consider relevant is that Standing Order 151 relates to matters that occur in the course of debate rather than the phrasing of a motion, and as yet the member for Campbelltown has barely spoken to the motion. The scope of the motion is exceedingly narrow. I have warned the member for Campbelltown on previous occasions that in moving a motion he must not use terms that breach Standing Order 151. The introduction of matters of public importance creates a new arena for debate, and it will be necessary for the Chair from time to time to define the parameters of such debates. I consider at the moment - as I did earlier - that the motion is in order in the form in which it stands. It is for the member for Campbelltown to ensure that his remarks do not contravene Standing Order 151.
Mr KNIGHT: In recent months the Opposition has raised serious matters concerning the Packard Motor Company. The Premier and his Ministers have consistently and persistently failed to respond to those issues. Indeed, the Premier sought to divert attention from this most critical of matters by contriving a crisis in the forestry industry and orchestrating today's special sitting of Parliament. The Greiner Government, in its death rattle, is desperately trying to divert attention from the skeletons in its own cupboard. We saw an example of that today from the Minister for the Environment. The lack of attention by the Government, together with the new material we have received - which shows a story of irresponsibility, recklessness and indifference to moral and legal obligations - have forced the Opposition to refer these matters to the Australian Securities Commission. Attempts have been made by the Premier and others to blame the collapse of the Packard Motor Company on the recession. In fact, senior staff of the company raised their serious concerns in confidential memorandums dating back to 1990. These have now been obtained by the Opposition. They are among documents that the Opposition has today referred to the Australian Securities Commission. A memorandum, written on 17th December, 1990, to the three directors - the honourable member for The Hills, Anthony Connelly and Laurie Downton - warned that the business was already in deep trouble. The memorandum, from the former company secretary, was handwritten, presumably because of its sensitive nature. The memorandum, written a full year before the Packard Motor Company went into receivership, said:
Imputations, allegations of improper conduct, charges or innuendos against another member may only be made on a substantive motion framed for the purpose.
The memorandum goes on:
After completing a review of the company's November 1990 balance sheet I am concerned that the company's position should be construed as insolvent.
Liabilities totalled $1.19 million, including payroll tax of $10,698 - that is part of that elusive amount which the Premier seems unable to find when questioned in this Parliament - and sales tax for November 1990 of $200,000. Former senior staff believed the company, by November 1991, owed $980,000 in sales tax, $150,000 in group tax and $706,837 to unsecured creditors. The last paragraph of the former company secretary's memorandum is most revealing. It says:
Liquid assets total $932,312, not including loan account for A. C. Packard or other doubtful items.
Do honourable members remember the boat - Indulgence:
I am concerned that if further losses are to be incurred due to the sale of assets at a loss (i.e. boat -
No wonder two of the company directors resigned immediately. They understood the stark meaning. One continuing director not only failed to observe his fiduciary duty but tried to strip the company bare. In November 1990, for instance -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I warn the honourable member for Campbelltown that, because of the nature of the comments he is making, he is now infringing my ruling. I advise him to confine himself to the generalities that the motion implies.
Mr KNIGHT: Let me deal with the question of why this matter has been referred to the Australian Securities Commission. One of the fiduciary duties of a director is to behave honestly and not to strip his company of assets. What we find is that at various times approximately $220,000 was owed to the company by one of the company directors. That was the money which helped provide for the luxury boat. Shortly before the company went down the tube, that money was transferred. The Opposition understands that it was transferred - I wonder if I might have an extension, by leave, since so much of my time was eroded?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no provision for an extension of time.
Mr KNIGHT: Much of this rorting was concealed in the fixed assets register of the company. What we find now is that the receiver has been unable to trace the fixed assets register. The transfer of the debt from the honourable member for The Hills to the company, which then went to the bottom of the harbour, carried with it the debt for the luxury boat that he had for his personal use. That was illegally and corruptly transferred.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member for Campbelltown is transgressing the scope of the debate.
Mr KNIGHT: In conclusion, let me say the question of the location of the fixed assets register is of enormous significance to this case and nobody - not one of the previous directors - has come forward with that document. [Time expired.]
Mr COLLINS (Willoughby - Attorney General, Minister for Consumer Affairs and Minister for Arts) [3.56]: In December last year the honourable member for Campbelltown raised in this House matters relating to the collapse of the Packard Motor Company. At that time I gave an undertaking that I would ask the Commissioner for Consumer Affairs to provide a report based on the motor company's obligations to consumers under the Motor Dealers Compensation Fund. That report, which was tabled in this House last week, answers a series of matters relating to the honourable member for The Hills and his liabilities under the Motor Dealers Compensation Fund. The final report into the circumstances and impact on consumers of the failure of the Packard Motor Company Limited outlined the details of the investigation undertaken to date by the Department of Consumer Affairs. It gave detail of the circumstances of the closure of the company, and its impact on consumers and customers.
The investigation by the Department of Consumer Affairs centred on the company's transactions with its customers and any obligations under the Motor Dealers Compensation Fund arising out of the placement in receivership of that company in November 1991. The Packard Motor Company was placed in voluntary receivership
some four months ago on 8th November, 1991, and ceased trading three and a half months ago on 26th November, 1991. As a consequence, a number of motor vehicle sales entered into prior to the appointment of the receiver were left uncompleted and purchasers of secondhand motor vehicles covered by statutory warranty were unable to have the warrantable defects rectified by the dealer. The department's investigation, while having found no evidence of serious impropriety, found that the closure of the dealership has had a significant impact on many consumers, and at least two of its customers will be financially disadvantaged. It needs to be understood that the report of the Department of Consumer Affairs, for which I bear ultimate responsibility as Minister for Consumer Affairs, is the sole manner in which I am to report on this matter to this House. The report spells out in detail the liability to consumers arising from the closure of the motor dealer. These potential losses arise in the following categories: warranty claims, unsatisfied encumbrances on traded vehicles, lost deposits, and other claims. These potential losses, at the time of compilation of the report, amounted to an estimated $166,000. However, through assistance provided by the Department of Consumer Affairs, and acceptance by other parties of obligations - particularly under linked credit provider relationships - actual losses suffered have been reduced to $98,700.
When I tabled that report last week - which was a couple of weeks before I had earlier indicated it might be available - I said that if subsequent information became available to me through the Commissioner for Consumer Affairs, I would provide that information to the Parliament. In other words, I gave the Parliament the best estimate of the losses that are known to the Department of Consumer Affairs now, but it may well be that further customers come forward and that further losses will come to the attention of the Department of Consumer Affairs. Through the commissioner, I will table those if they come to my knowledge. Losses to consumers will be further reduced through access to the Motor Dealers Compensation Fund, set up under the Motor Dealers Act to compensate consumers who suffer a loss arising from a dealer's failure to account for money or valuable property received in relation to motor vehicle sales, or failure to meet its statutory obligations. It is expected that the total payout from the compensation fund will be $86,318.88. However, this may be reduced by $32,025.03 if the Department of Consumer Affairs is successful in a dispute with General Motors Acceptance Corporation Australia, the financial arm of General Motors-Holden's Pty Limited, regarding the application of the linked credit provider provisions in relation to two transactions.
The House needs to understand that once a business is placed in receivership and a receiver is appointed, the matter of determining the capacity of the company to meet its liabilities rests, in the first instance, with the receiver. The New South Wales Department of Consumer Affairs has an obligation and a responsibility to those consumers affected by the inability of the company to continue trading. In respect of this particular matter - the Packard Motor Company - the Commissioner for Consumer Affairs has had detailed discussions with the receiver regarding claims which may arise under the Motor Dealers Compensation Fund. Other matters relating to outstanding moneys rest with the receiver, the directors of the company and its creditors. I am satisfied that in terms of the duties of the Department of Consumer Affairs a thorough investigation has been undertaken and that the appropriate steps are being taken to ensure that any moneys owing to the public purse are recovered.
The Department of Consumer Affairs has one clear responsibility; that is, to ensure that the rights of consumers are adequately protected. It has met that responsibility to date and will continue to meet it in relation to this case and any similar case. As honourable members will know, both the Packard companies, Packard Motor Company Pty Limited and Tony Packard (Liverpool) Pty Limited, were placed into
voluntary receivership by the honourable member for The Hills himself. I will be surprised if time shows that the failure of the companies was related to anything but the recession. Indeed, the report that the Commissioner for Consumer Affairs made available contained that finding. That is the same recession that has brought down so many longstanding and outstanding Australian businesses in the past couple of years. I am advised that the receivership is progressing normally and there is nothing to suggest that the directors have been unco-operative with the receiver. The directors have reported to the receiver on the state of affairs of the companies and have expressed their opinions as to why the companies failed. Those reports and a report from the receiver will be submitted to the Australian Securities Commission.
If the receiver has any reason to believe that the directors have engaged in any conduct that constitutes a contravention of any legislation, State or Commonwealth, that will be reported to the Australian Securities Commission. I ask the honourable member for Campbelltown to note precisely what I have said: if any irregularity is discovered, it will be reported to the Australian Securities Commission. It would then be left to the Australian Securities Commission to determine whether any investigation of the affairs of the companies was warranted. In other words, this matter is in the hands of the Australian Securities Commission. If there is any discrepancy at all, it will certainly look at it.
It has the powers now to look at it. That is the point that I draw to the attention of the honourable member for Campbelltown. I shall develop that in just a moment. I assumed that the honourable member was aware of the procedure, but it would seem from his motion and from his comments to the House today that he is not aware of this procedure. If the Australian Securities Commission has any problem about the information brought to its attention, it has the power now to proceed whether or not anyone in this House agrees. It has the power and, indeed, the responsibility to proceed if there is any discrepancy in the information brought to its attention. That information is available to the Australian Securities Commission. It would be left to it to determine whether any investigation was warranted. The Australian Securities Commission has been responsible for corporate regulation since that responsibility was transferred to it by the States in January 1991. There is absolutely no question but that this Government would co-operate fully with any investigation undertaken by the commission, should such an investigation be deemed appropriate by the Australian Securities Commission.
The honourable member for Campbelltown raised a specific aspect of the Packard collapse on 4th December, 1991. It related to the failure of the Packard dealership to pay out the encumbrance on a vehicle it had accepted as a trade-in on a vehicle it sold. The honourable member for Campbelltown should be aware from reading the report of the commissioner that I tabled last week that this matter has been thoroughly investigated by the Department of Consumer Affairs. There is no doubt that the consumer will be reimbursed $30,000 from the Motor Dealers Compensation Fund. If a dispute with General Motors Acceptance Corporation is resolved, the consumer will recover the full extent of his loss. The role of the commissioner in respect of the collapse of these companies is clear; that is, to assess the actions of the dealer in terms of the legislation that is administered by the department. The commissioner has said that from the information available to him there have been no breaches of that legislation by the Packard companies or its directors. It goes without saying that the commissioner would - and I reinforce this - co-operate fully with any investigation that may be undertaken at any stage by the Australian Securities Commission. It is interesting that
the honourable member for Campbelltown raised this matter today, because if he had read the front page of this morning's Australian, at the top of the page under the heading "Corporate watchdog attacks Duffy" is an article, sections of which are exceptionally relevant to this debate. The article reads:
- a [property at] . . . Windsor Road, [and a] Porsche) that the company will not be able to honour its short term obligations.
The chairman of the Australian Securities Commission, Mr Tony Hartnell, accused the federal Attorney-General's Department yesterday of interfering with and hampering the fight against corporate crime.
In an emotive speech to the Australian Institute of Company Directors in Sydney, Mr Hartnell said the department's demands for a report on every serious breach of corporate crime was "of no benefit for Australia . . . other than helping Four Corners and the ABC".
The ASC chairman said an aspect of the law which required his office to prepare a report for the Attorney-General, Mr Duffy, whenever one of its investigations found a serious breach of the law should be repealed.
Mr Hartnell went on to say:
"We don't enforce the law and that's hard to justify in 1992. Reporting to the Attorney-General does not make for effective law and it should be repealed," he said. "Do we want to report or do we want to litigate? You can't do both."
. . . Mr Duffy had no need for the reports, and "sat on them anyway".
The article continued:
"We cook the egg but nobody gets to see it," . . .
The Chairman of the Australian Securities Commission is saying, "Do not ask us for any more reports. If we have got the evidence, we want to litigate". If there is anything there to litigate, any charge to be brought, the ASC is perfectly competent and empowered to do precisely what this motion suggests. The motion is completely irrelevant. It is an insult to the Australian Securities Commission, its competence, its chairman, its role, and to the Federal legislation on which it is based. In other words, if there is any claim whatever for the ASC to take proceedings in this matter, I assure honourable members that the Government stands ready to assist the ASC in any way possible, as it is obliged to. I do not think we need tell the Australian Securities Commission how to suck eggs. I do not think we need tell the ASC how to do its job. Its chairman is capable of determining that and he has the power to do it. If there is any charge to be brought, it should be left to him to do so.
The motion is irrelevant. It is particularly irrelevant given the comments that appeared this morning on the front page of the Australian. By implication the motion suggests that the chairman of the ASC needs assistance from the honourable member for Campbelltown to do his job. The honourable member for Campbelltown is being grossly impertinent and insulting to the Chairman of the Australian Securities Commission who, as I understand, is perfectly capable of doing whatever he is required to do under comprehensive Federal legislation, which provides him with wide powers in relation to the subject-matter of this debate today. In summary, if ever there was a day when the honourable member for Campbelltown could be less relevant and move a less relevant motion, this is the day and this is the motion. [Time expired.]
Mr SCULLY (Smithfield) [4.11]: The documents which have been provided to the Opposition and which have been referred to the Australian Securities Commission,
reveal that a personal debt of more than $220,000 is owed to the Packard Motor Company by its director in respect of the boat commonly known as Indulgence. Suddenly and mysteriously that debt has disappeared. It was not paid. Apparently it was transferred to the fixed asset register of the Packard Motor Company, thereby reclassifying a personal debt for a luxurious indulgence as part of the stock of motor vehicles. Of course, such a transaction should be discovered easily by perusing the fixed asset register, but where is it? The Opposition is advised that the company's receiver can find no trace of the fixed asset register. It was the debt - not the boat - which figuratively went to the bottom of the harbour, and it seems that the fixed asset register quite literally has gone to the bottom of the harbour. Under the new uniform company laws of this country, company directors have a legal obligation to modify trading once the possibility of insolvency is drawn to their attention. The directors of Packard Motor Company were informed in December 1990 that "the company's position could be construed as insolvent". Other documents in the hands of the Opposition reveal that, against the advice of staff and in spite of their concern, the honourable member for The Hills took no heed of the warnings.
Mr Tink: On a point of order. The honourable member for Smithfield is making a personal allegation about the honourable member for The Hills. As was ruled upon previously, the motion is referable to matters relating centrally to the company. In my submission the honourable member for Smithfield is speaking about personal matters relating to the honourable member for The Hills.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I uphold the point of order. Debate must remain within the ambit of the terms of the motion.
Mr SCULLY: Other documents in the hands of the Opposition reveal that, against the advice of staff and in spite of their concern, one director took no heed of the warnings. One document reveals that at this very time the Packard Motor Company continued to fund $91,500 in salaries for three staff who worked at that director's electorate office. Further, a statement of account reveals that "A.C. Packard electoral expenses of $5,959.90 were billed to the Company". Apparently this was denied by Mr Packard last Friday night on the "7.30 Report". A handwritten notation on the statement asked whether a personal computer owed to the company by the member's electorate office, had been transferred to the company's fixed assets register. Former senior staff say that the register was used regularly to transfer the member's personal debt to the company, including the member's so-called electoral expenses.
Mr Collins: On a point of order. Your earlier ruling on this matter should be brought to the honourable member's attention. I am not anxious to cut across the flow of debate this afternoon - indeed I am most reluctant - but clearly the matters of detail amount to a substantial attack on the honourable member for The Hills. Opposition members have had their attention drawn to the way in which they can do that. This is an inappropriate way, and I ask that it be ruled out of order.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Smithfield has strayed again to debate matters that I have ruled are not within the scope of this debate. I will not repeat the detail of my ruling as I do not wish to erode the time remaining to the member to speak. However, I advise him that he must stay within the general parameters of the debate, otherwise I will direct him to resume his seat.
Mr SCULLY: The additional documents in the hands of the Opposition reveal
that at the time the November 1990 balance-sheet had been completed, the director concerned continued to receive an annual salary of $111,800, plus a $300 management fee for every new and used car sold by the company. The Opposition understands that, on average, 60 cars were sold by the company each month, which increased the director's salary by $18,000 a month or $216,000 a year. The costs of running an office at 389A Windsor Road were estimated at $3,500 a month before the property was sold at a $100,000 loss. The property was purchased for use as an electorate office until a constitutional problem was brought to the attention of that director -
Mr Hazzard: On a point of order. The honourable member for Smithfield has been given more than a fair degree of latitude. That he is not naming the honourable member for The Hills does not mean that he can continue to try to slip the matter past this House. I ask that he be directed to keep strictly within the confines of the motion and not direct any personal comments towards the member.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Smithfield has continued to flout my ruling. As his time has now expired, it is perhaps academic that I state that I would have directed him to resume his seat. However, I so state as a warning to other members of the Opposition who wish to contribute to this debate.
Mr TINK (Eastwood) [4.16]: Implicit in this motion, as drafted by the honourable member for Campbelltown, is that the Government may not co-operate fully with an inquiry. As usual in these sorts of matters the honourable member for Campbelltown is way off beam. It is quite plain from what has occurred already that the premise upon which the motion is based is stupid and inaccurate. The honourable member for Campbelltown has been at the centre of this issue for some four or five months, and I think it is a case of the record speaking for itself. For example, late last year the honourable member for Campbelltown asked the Attorney General when his department would complete its investigation regarding alleged misappropriations, said to total $37,000. As the House will recall, this matter was raised earlier this year. On the very day when the Leader of the Opposition moved a matter of public importance - the central thrust of which was that the investigation into the company by the Department of Consumer Affairs had not at that stage materialised - the Attorney General tabled the report of the Department of Consumer Affairs. The report, as the Attorney General said at that time, was about two weeks ahead of schedule. In other words, the department, doubtless at the urgings of the Attorney General, increased its efforts to beat the timetable that was set originally for the report.
The premise upon which the honourable member for Campbelltown moves this motion is flawed and false. It is interesting to read some of the comments of the Opposition in this debate. The honourable member for Campbelltown expressed some amazement that the Minister would not necessarily know what some people in his department were talking about when it came to individual complaints that might be made about the Packard Motor Company. In the bad old days when the colleagues of the honourable member for Campbelltown were running this State - when we had the Bill Allen affair, the matter involving the chief magistrate, and the Leader of the Opposition's Cabinet colleague going to gaol - I can understand why the honourable member and his colleagues would expect Ministers of the Crown to know what was going on, day in and day out, in respect to any matter relating to one of their number.
It is well documented that this Government does things differently. Departments are allowed to carry on with their business while the Attorney waits and encourages the prompt tabling of a report. This Government set up the Independent Commission Against Corruption and introduced freedom of information legislation. Frankly, the Government has a different attitude to all these matters. The premise upon which this motion of the honourable member for Campbelltown is based might well have been true when his party was in government but it is false in relation to this Government. There is no suggestion that the document tabled by the Attorney General was produced by Mr Holloway in other than appropriate and independent fashion. It renders false the matters raised by the honourable member for Campbelltown. For example, the honourable member for Campbelltown was reported in the Australian of 23rd January as referring to an amount of $37,000 with regard to allegations of misappropriation. That type of allegation or suggestion of misappropriation is nowhere to be found in Mr Holloway's report. There is no such misappropriation. I venture to suggest that the matters raised by the honourable member for Campbelltown, and those that the honourable member for Smithfield will refer to in due course, also will be found wanting. A large number of people outside the Parliament are legitimately concerned about their jobs, and these issues have been raised by the Opposition in some vain attempt to take the heat off what are the real issues of the day - jobs. It is interesting to note what Mr Holloway said in the context of jobs. The report states that the failure of both Packard companies appears to stem from the current economic climate.
The honourable member for Smithfield and the honourable member for Campbelltown should be fair dinkum about the matter. They should not blame the honourable member for The Hills, rather the Prime Minister, for the situation in which the Packard Motor Company Pty Limited finds itself. One might find interesting also what Senator Button has done to the Nissan company. These matters are not totally without relevance. If the honourable member for Campbelltown were fair dinkum about jobs and matters of public importance, he would address his mind to those matters. I repeat what the Attorney has already put on the record that from the point of view of the Commissioner for Consumer Affairs no impropriety has been found and any serious allegations are without foundation. The matters relating to the Minister for Industrial Relations have been fully investigated. It is not a bad thing that the Minister knew nothing about particular matters. To the contrary. It demonstrates that the department is carrying out its job without hindrance, which was not characteristic of the Labor Party when it was in government - when it rorted everything in sight. [Time expired.]
Mr KNIGHT (Campbelltown) [4.21], in reply: The response of the Government to this matter of public importance has been quite instructive. First, 10 of the 15 minutes of my speaking time were lost to attempts by the Minister for the Environment to gag the debate, to try to have ruled out of order debate which you Mr Speaker, had ruled in order. We started with the gag - anything to stop the matter being aired. The Government was entitled to put up three speakers but only two members spoke. Who did not speak? Who sat in mute contempt for the Parliament but the honourable member in this Chamber who knows most about the affairs of the Packard Motor Company Pty Limited who sits here still like a dog with its head down and its tail between its legs?
Mr Hazzard: On a point of order. Mr Speaker, the honourable member for Campbelltown has had the benefit of more than five directions from you about not straying away from the matter before the House. In fact, he has strayed deliberately and consistently in the most transparent way. He is endeavouring to trivialise a matter of public importance and direct debate towards the honourable member for The Hills. Mr Speaker, I ask that the honourable member be directed to desist with hollow, transparent allegations and return to the relevant topic before the House.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I uphold the point of order. The honourable member for Campbelltown has received numerous warnings about the scope of the debate. He has lapsed once again. That is the last warning he will receive. If he does offend again, I will ask him to resume his seat.
Mr KNIGHT: Mr Speaker, I appreciate your latitude. The honourable member for Eastwood spoke not one word about the substantive matters. He spent his brief period addressing the House attacking people who were either dead or long gone from the Parliament or trying to blame members of the Federal Parliament for a situation in which a company in New South Wales finds itself. What did the Attorney General have to say? In a performance reminiscent of a modern day Pontius Pilate, he washed his hands of the allegation. Indeed, the Attorney General devoted most of his speech to summarising, abstracting, re-reading and re-emphasising parts of a report that has been before this House already. As the Attorney General knows that report deals with specific matters relating to consumers. It deals with the very narrow responsibility of the Department of Consumer Affairs to investigate whether consumers have been ripped off. I am not surprised that he spent some time on that report; members of Parliament certainly waited a long time for it. However, the report did not deal with any of the substantive matters that the Opposition is referring to the Australian Securities Commission. It did not deal with whether staff were paid their entitlements, whether or not any asset stripping took place, whether or not the fixed asset register has mysteriously disappeared, the issue of the fiduciary duties of a director, or any of the matters raised today or that have been referred to the Australian Securities Commission. Instead, the Attorney tried to sidestep the issue by dealing with old matters from a narrow perspective. Indeed, he did not deal with that matter at all. It is no wonder that the Premier has the attitude he has with environmental matters. He seems to have an inexhaustible supply of logs on the backbench.
Mr Hazzard: On a point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Smithfield to order.
Mr Hazzard: It is clear that the honourable member for Campbelltown was about to embark on a discourse on environmental matters, which are not relevant to the matter before the House. Matters of public importance are of significance and should not be trivialised by the honourable member for Campbelltown. I ask that he be directed to confine his remarks to the substance of the matters he has raised.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am sure that the honourable member for Campbelltown was making only passing reference to the matter and we will hear no more about it.
Mr KNIGHT: The Attorney General dealt in some peripheral way with the role of the Australian Securities Commission. He said repeatedly that if anything was wrong, the ASC would look at it; that it did not need me or the Parliament to raise these issues. We have raised before the Parliament, and are seeking to send to the ASC, material to which in the normal course of events the ASC would not have access. By way of analogy - but in a different situation - if someone has evidence of a crime being committed but decides not to pass on that evidence because it is the job of police to investigate crime and to find the evidence -
Mr Collins: On a point of order. I shall be as brief as possible on the point of order. If the honourable member wishes to have that information on the record, he should seek to do so by means of a censure motion against the honourable member, not by way of a matter of public importance.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No point of order is involved.
Mr KNIGHT: The Attorney General asked about the information we have available. The information we seek to send to the ASC is information it would not otherwise have, such as the memorandum dealt with at length in this House, the material referred to by the honourable member for Smithfield, and a letter from the National Mutual Insurance Company dated 18th February, which has never been seen before. The letter refers to a substantial amount of superannuation passed on to National Mutual Insurance Company in January 1992 - an amount of $51,082 - representing both employee and employer contributions for 30th April 1991. It suggests that no contributions at all have been passed on for the months of May 1991 through to January 1992. Where has that money gone? The Attorney General, Minister for Consumer Affairs and Minister for Arts wants to talk about how many consumers have been ripped off and what measures may be taken by the Government and by taxpayers to compensate those people. That is not what we are talking about today.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Eastwood to order.
Mr KNIGHT: We are talking about other people, including employees who have lost their entitlement and their superannuation. There has been an attempt by honourable members to try to confuse the issue by saying that this is only about bankruptcies and that people go bust in difficult economic times. We are not talking about bankruptcies per se. Every member of this House feels sorry for people who go bankrupt through some lack of judgment or sheer bad luck. However, we are talking about a director who knew that the company was going down the tube. An internal memorandum said so.
Mr Hazzard: On a point of order. The honourable member for Campbelltown has made allegations in relation to what a director did or did not do. He is seeking to make allegations about the director's position and again imply that it may be the honourable member for The Hills. I ask again that he be brought back to the general thrust of the matter of public importance. At the moment it appears that he will end up like other hollow men - not with a bang, but with a whimper. He should stay within the confines of the matter before the House.
Mr Knight: On the point of order. What I have clearly been attempting to do, in the last few seconds that the Government will allow anyone on this side to speak on this matter, is to draw a distinction between bona fide bad luck and bad judgment bankruptcies and attempts by directors - whatever other positions they may hold, whether they be members of Parliament or members of the community generally - to strip the assets of a company when they know that the company is in trouble.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member for Campbelltown is transgressing the point of order and debating the issue. On the point of order, the Chair must decide the point at which discussion of the document transgresses to being an attack on a member of this House. The honourable member for Campbelltown obviously can talk about what is in the documents but, by the very nature of the motion, it is for the Australian Securities Commission and not for the member for Campbelltown in this debate, to draw conclusions from that material. The honourable member's time for speaking has expired.
Motion agreed to.
Mr Hartnell questioned the value of the reports when the Attorney-General could not make them public if there was any suggestion of court action because they would prejudice trials.