A Senate committee has demanded Attorney-General George Brandis responds to key questions about the Bell Group litigation saga.
The inquiry is examining whether the federal government sought to short-change taxpayers by doing a deal with the Western Australian government on Alan Bond’s liquidated assets.
The Senate committee released its interim report on Wednesday night, blasting Senator Brandis’ lack of co-operation.
The WA government believed it had an agreement with Canberra, but was dudded when the Australian Taxation Office and the Commonwealth successfully challenged WA laws relating to the Bell Group in the High Court.
The Labor-dominated committee urged the Senate to insist that the attorney-general respond to the committee’s questions.
It noted the failure of the attorney-general and officers of his department to provide responses to questions that would enable clear facts to be established regarding the Commonwealth’s actions.
It also called on the Senate to reaffirm its commitment to the principles of ministerial responsibility and accountability.
The committee said based on the evidence that has been provided by the tax office it is clear that the Commonwealth is entitled to significant funds from the liquidation – in the order of at least several hundred million dollars.
“It is important that the Commonwealth recover the funds to which it is legally entitled so that these funds can be reinvested in the Australian community,” the committee said.
Committee chair Labor’s Louise Pratt said the committee was unable to table a substantive report because Senator Brandis and his department had refused to answer questions.
She asked the Senate to insist the attorney-general respond to the questions, or justify why answers couldn’t be provided.
“If Senator Brandis has nothing to hide then it should be a simple process for him to answer those questions,” she told parliament.
The committee’s deputy chair, Liberal senator Ian Macdonald, said the committee was a farce and the attorney-general had been found to be “blameless”.
The committee was due to table its final report on Tuesday but tabled the interim report on Wednesday due to the fact it had been “frustrated in its request for information”.
It intends to table its final report by June 21.