Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 8 Hansard (26 October) . . Page.. 2069 ..
MS FOLLETT (continuing):
The lowest point of all in this matter was reached when Mr De Domenico was trying to convince the Assembly that the conduct of this auction would be beneficial to other businesses in the Territory. That is an assertion that is little short of laughable. What we have seen here, of course, is that other small businesses who happen to be auctioneers have clearly been cut out of the action by a member of the Government's own company on the basis that he would be doing this auction not because he is in business to do auctions but so that he could big-note himself around the community in his own electorate by virtue of donating the charges for that auction to charity.
I am the first to say that I support the charity which would have been the recipient of the $250; but, Mr Speaker, I think that there is no doubt whatsoever of Mr Hird's motivation in taking this course of action. The only possible motivation here was for Mr Hird to gain political advantage from the conduct of a government sale of assets. That is the motivation here, and let us be very clear about that. Mr Hird is able now to make that donation to Fabric - a charity which we would all support - but on the basis that he won a government contract to do so. That is unacceptable. That is a breach of any known ethical behaviour in any parliament in at least this country. Mr Speaker, that is the basis of our problems.
Mr De Domenico, by proceeding along these lines, has denied the business to other auctioneers who presumably need to make their living from being auctioneers. He has also managed to devalue the assets of many other small businessmen, namely, the people who own existing taxi plates in the Territory. By the mishandling of this episode, the taxi plates have been devalued substantially, by around $60,000 each, thanks to the way in which the Government has chosen to conduct this auction. I take that as a very serious matter. How the Minister for Business could possibly claim that this was somehow a benefit to small business I simply have no idea. I think it is a totally fraudulent claim. Mr Speaker, I said earlier that Mr De Domenico had claimed to speak to whoever was in charge of the auction arrangements in his department to ask whether this was an appropriate matter, and I stand by that. I think the Hansard record will bear that out if the Minister cares to look at it.
Mr Speaker, if I could just summarise: I believe that there has been a serious breach of ethical behaviour, if not an actual conflict of interest, in the way that the Government has handled this matter. I believe also that the fact that the Auditor-General has now taken on an additional reference indicates that he also has some concerns about the way that this matter has been handled. I think there has been a failure of leadership on Mrs Carnell's part. She should have made it quite clear to both her Minister and her members that she was not happy with this kind of behaviour. She has, at the very last moment, referred the whole thing to the Auditor-General, which indicates that she thinks there is something wrong here. She thinks there is something wrong, quite clearly. Mr Speaker, she could have circumvented the whole incident by saying that she believed that this was inappropriate, by saying that the tenders ought to be recalled and that the auction, which at that time was some weeks away, should be rescheduled, if necessary, or given to another tenderer because the process that was conducted simply did not stand up to scrutiny.