By Margo Kingston
November 24, 2000
Source: Webdiary SMH
It had to be dragged out of them, but officials from the Department of Finance today made some big admissions on the Reith Telecard affair under pressure from the Senate estimates committee.
Try as they might to dodge, waffle and prevaricate, the masters of cross-examination, Labor Senators John Faulkner and Robert Ray, shed a little bit more light on the great coverup.
The scandal broke in the Canberra Times on Tuesday October 10, nearly a year after Finance discovered the $50,000 fraud. The very next day, the Prime Minister announced that DPP Damian Bugg had decided to prosecute no-one over the fraud. He also said he had asked the Solicitor-General, David Bennett QC, to advise whether Reith was liable for the $50,000.
This reference to Bennett was made much of by Howard as proof of his good faith. Remember both he and Reith, when the story broke, said there was no obligation for Reith to pay.
Well guess what? Way back in May, Finance wrote to Reith saying it would issue him a debit notice for the full amount, based on legal advice that he WAS liable. That advice was given by a legal officer in the department. (Finance today refused to release that advice.)
Reith said no. Instead, he sent Finance a cheque for $950 a week later, which he claimed was the cost of calls made by his son Paul, to whom he unlawfully gave the card details to make private calls. On October nine, the day before the story broke, Finance again wrote to Reith demanding he pay up as legally required. Read the rest of this entry »