Australian Labor Party Is Hit by Charges of Corruption

By Ron Scherer, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 24, 1991 | Go to article overview

Australian Labor Party Is Hit by Charges of Corruption


Ron Scherer, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


THE Australian press is calling it a Down Under Watergate.

The Royal Commission, an independent inquiry in Perth, has heard testimony since March 12 about the relationship between some of Western Australia's high flying businessmen and the state's Labor government. Then, on April 10, the inquiry turned to the same businesses' relationship with Prime Minister Bob Hawke.

So far, Mr. Hawke's reputation remains intact, but there has been more than enough material to keep the tabloids happy.

* Laurie Connell, the former head of Rothwells, a failed investment bank, testified that he gave a A$250,000 (US$320,000) campaign contribution to Hawke's Australian Labor Party after having lunch with the prime minister. At the lunch, Mr. Connell said, the prime minister assured Connell the Hawke government would not put a tax on the gold mining industry. Connell was involved at the time in a gold mine as well as banking. In total, Connell says he and other businessmen at the lunch gave A$950,000 for Labor's 1987 reelection campaign. In Parliament, the prime minister denied the contributions influenced his decision not to tax gold miners.

* Connell also testified he gave massive amounts of cash to former Western Australian Premier Brian Burke. At one point, a Burke assistant arrived at Rothwells looking for a A$300,000 cash contribution, which was deposited in a slush fund run by Burke. The assistant later destroyed all records. Burke is now the Australian ambassador to Ireland and the Holy See. He plans to return to Perth at the end of April to give his side of the story.

The revelations have galvanized the opposition Liberal Party, which is peppering the prime minister with questions in Parliament.

Hawke and Paul Keating, the deputy prime minister and treasurer, have not taken the criticism sitting down. Mr. Keating pointed out April 15 that the Liberals had asked for and received A$50,000 from Connell. …

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