PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 22913

Doorstop Interview, Parliament House

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 11/10/2000

Release Type: Doorstop

Transcript ID: 22913

Subjects: Minister Reith

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

JOURNALIST:

…Mr Reith or others won’t be facing any charges ?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the correct procedures have been followed. It’s been referred to the police and they’ve said no criminal charges after going to the DPP. I’ve now referred the question of civil legal liability to the Solicitor-General, the highest legal adviser to the Commonwealth, a respected eminent lawyer and we should await his adjudication. Now this is the right way of dealing with things, not trying to destroy people’s reputations under Parliamentary Privilege, but dealing with a serious matter in a serious way and naturally if the Solicitor-General says there’s a liability on Mr Reith’s part he will repay the money.

JOURNALIST:

He’s agreed to that Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well yes he has and I would expect him to anyway. And I don’t think there would ever be any contest on his part.

JOURNALIST:

Is the timing of this a bit coincidental from the DPP? It was only released a couple of days ago and now we’re finding out . . .

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I haven’t . . . look, I have no control over the timing of the release of the DPP’s report. When I heard about this matter in May I said immediately get the Attorney-General’s advice. The Attorney-General said you should send it to the police. It was sent to the police. The police as they often do, they then referred their brief to the DPP and the DPP said no capacity for criminal prosecution. When I heard that this afternoon I said well right we’ll resolve the civil liability issue by sending that to the Solicitor-General. Now what more process can be followed? That is the right way of dealing with these things.

JOURNALIST:

It’s exquisite timing isn’t it that after months of a police investigation, two days after the matter was . . . .

PRIME MINISTER:

Well are you suggesting that somebody orchestrated that?

JOURNALIST:

No I am just suggesting it’s exquisite timing.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes well I mean life is full of exquisite things. And it had nothing to do with me or the Government. I mean these things happen that way.

JOURNALIST:

Were you off put by the fact that you didn’t find out until May when Mr Reith . . .

PRIME MINISTER:

No I wasn’t because I was told that the matter was being dealt with in accordance with the Department of Finance’s processes when Mr Reith came to see me in May, I immediately got the Attorney-General’s advice and he said give it to the police and we followed the right procedure. Now I don’t know what else the Government is expected to do. Mr Reith plainly didn’t authorise anybody to use his card in this fashion. He’s acknowledged manfully the fact that he made an error in giving his son details of it. He’s made recompense in relation to that. As to the rest of it, the great bulk of the money, I am interested in, as much as anybody else in finding out who’s responsible for this and if there is a legal liability on his part, which he disputes then he’ll have to pay it back. And the best way rather than have endless litigation is to get the advice of the Solicitor-General and the Solicitor-General is a respected lawyer, David Bennett QC and I’m perfectly happy for him to adjudicate on the matter, give an opinion. And I know that Mr Reith will pay back, make arrangements to pay back the money if the Solicitor-General finds that that is the right thing to do.

JOURNALIST:

If he has to repay the money will he also have to stand down from the frontbench?

PRIME MINISTER:

I wouldn’t have thought there was any need to do that, no.

JOURNALIST:

Does he enjoy your full confidence?

PRIME MINISTER:

Mr Reith does enjoy my full confidence. I think he made an error of judgement some years ago in providing this information to his son. I guess other parents on occasions make errors of judgement in relation to the welfare of their children. There’s no evidence that Mr Reith gained in any way from this. I mean there have been some funny analogies made about the recovery of payments that people shouldn’t have got. Mr Reith hasn’t got a dollar. Mr Reith has not been in personal benefit from this. This idea that in some way Mr Reith has got the $50,000 is nonsense, he hasn’t. Plainly I’m angry like any other taxpayer that somebody has got hold of these details but what I have to do is have a proper process and I am doing that and now I am going to dinner.

[Ends]

Transcript 22913