New South Wales Agent-General In London



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SpeakersKnight Mr Michael; Fahey Mr John
BusinessQuestions Without Notice

NEW SOUTH WALES AGENT-GENERAL IN LONDON

Mr KNIGHT: I direct my question to the Premier, and Treasurer. What reasons has Neil Pickard given for his unauthorised travel in contravention of a directive from the Premier's colleague the Minister for State Development and Minister for Arts? Why will the Premier not sack Mr Pickard without compensation for breaching his contract?

Mr FAHEY: I thought the honourable member for Campbelltown was going to ask me a question about Trevor Boucher. I thank the honourable member for the question as it gives me an opportunity to explain to the House some of the details concerning a decision I have made today. On 1st September I announced my intention to abolish the position of Agent-General in London. I said that the resources could best be used to further the interests of the New South Wales public by replacing the outdated post of Agent-General with a trade mission which focused on Europe.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Port Stephens to order.

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Mr FAHEY: The Agent-General was given six months' notice rather than the minimum three months' notice required in his contract, in view of the fact that the Government was not merely removing the Agent-General but was closing the post. That meant that ceremonial responsibilities had to be wound up, a new head of the trade mission had to be recruited and appointed, and many details, including real estate arrangements, had to be finalised before the Agent-General's post was properly scaled down to a trade mission.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Campbelltown to order for the second time. I call the honourable member for Londonderry to order for the second time.

Mr FAHEY: As part of that process I asked the Minister for State Development to ensure that there were no excessive expenditures, including expenditure in relation to travel. The Minister, through his director-general, issued an official memorandum dated 17th September, 1992, addressed to the Hon. Neil Pickard. That memorandum was sent via fax at 6.12 p.m. on 17th September, Sydney time.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ashfield to order.

Mr FAHEY: Under the heading "International Travel Approval", it stated, "The Minister wishes to approve all international travel by staff, following my approval and recommendation". The memorandum was signed personally by the director-general. On the same day, 17th September, 1992, the director-general issued a formal letter to the Agent-General in which he said that the Minister "wishes to be informed about and to approve any travel by you out of the U.K. during the balance of your time in London". In a nutshell the Agent-General in London and his staff were notified that any travel out of the United Kingdom would require approval by the responsible Minister, the Minister for State Development.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Broken Hill to order. I call the honourable member for Bulli to order.

Mr FAHEY: However, there is some dispute about when these directives were received in the London office. That dispute has caused some delay in getting to the bottom of this issue.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is far too much interjection from the Opposition benches. The answer will be delivered sooner to allow further questions to be asked if members of the Opposition remain silent.

Mr FAHEY: Notwithstanding the hysterical scandal mongering by some members of the Opposition, the Government has a responsibility to the public to get it right. The Agent-General has acknowledged that the ministerial directive from the Director-General of the Department of State Development faxed to his office on 17th September was received on that day. However, Mr Pickard stated, "This circular was not regarded by me or my staff as a directive to either the Agent-General or the Agent-General's staff members".

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order.

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Mr FAHEY: There is a further dispute about the second ministerial directive, which was sent via the Department of State Development special courier. Because the ministerial directive was directed personally to Mr Pickard, the Director-General of the Department of State Development advises me that he sent the ministerial directive via his department's courier either in the internal mailbag of 21st September or 24th September, and it arrived, respectively, two days later.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Kogarah to order.

Mr FAHEY: However, Mr Pickard insists that his office did not receive this ministerial directive until 9th October, and he claims it was not opened until 12th October. Mr Pickard acknowledges that he was informed by telephone as he had already left for a privately-funded holiday in Rome. He subsequently attended two business conferences in Nice and Dusseldorf, as part of his official visits, on his way back to London.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Broken Hill to order for the second time.

Mr FAHEY: At each of these official conferences the Agent-General was met by an officer who had flown from the London office.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Penrith to order.

Mr FAHEY: However, there can be no doubt that the Agent-General has clearly acknowledged that both his staff and he personally were aware of the ministerial directive about travel approval by 12th October at the latest. I am not suggesting that he agreed with the ministerial directive, but clearly Mr Pickard does not dispute that he was aware of it. Yet, on 18th October, Mr Pickard left his holiday in Rome and undertook official appointments in Nice and Dusseldorf without ministerial approval. In addition, Mr Pickard was joined at these conferences by staff members who were also acting without prior ministerial approval for their travel, as was required by the directive of 17th September.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Canterbury to order.

Mr FAHEY: Last night, after some extensive delays, I spoke to the Agent-General. Those delays were caused by the normal problems of time zones experienced by Australians ringing London, and they were exacerbated by an inability to contact the Agent-General to discuss the issue. During the early hours of the London morning his telephone appeared to be engaged. I arranged for one of Mr Pickard's staff to have him telephone me, but the closest I could get to the Agent-General was to have the building porter knock at the front door and pass a message for Mr Pickard to telephone me urgently.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Smithfield to order for the second time. Though honourable members may find the Premier's answer interesting, amusing or whatever, they must remain silent when the member with the call is speaking. I seek the co-operation of all honourable members in that regard. I have now registered a considerable number of calls to order. Though at this stage I do not deem all offending members to be on three calls to order, I warn those who have been called to order already that should they deliberately flout my ruling they are likely to be called to order again far more readily.

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Mr FAHEY: I am advised that the message was received by Mrs Pickard at approximately 7 a. m. During the next five hours I did not receive any return telephone call from Mr Pickard. At approximately midnight, Sydney time, I again telephoned Mr Pickard and this time I successfully located him at his London office. There is little more to add than to say that I found Mr Pickard's explanations inconsistent and unconvincing. He acknowledges that the ministerial directives were issued, and that he was aware of them before he and his staff undertook international travel in breach of those ministerial directives. As such, I have been left with no alternative but to terminate the Agent-General's contract. Mr Pickard has breached his agreement with the Government, and today I have faxed a letter to the Agent-General terminating his contract.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Penrith to order for the second time.

Mr FAHEY: The Government is prepared to fund Mr and Mrs Pickard's return airfares to Sydney. Any compensation, if applicable, will be determined by a judicial body. With that in mind, I feel restrained from making further comment, but for the benefit of members I seek leave to table the following documents: memorandum of 17th September, 1992, being a directive on international travel; letter of 17th September, 1992, being a directive on international travel to the Agent-General personally; and letter of termination forwarded by me this day to the Agent-General.

Leave granted.