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Bernardi denies pro-tobacco ties breach rules

January 28, 2013

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Jessica Wright and Daniel Hurst

THE Liberal senator Cory Bernardi denies he has breached parliamentary disclosure rules by failing to declare his links to a right-wing pro-tobacco group fighting gun controls.

Senator Bernardi insisted he did not have to declare his involvement with the American Legislative Exchange Council because he did not believe it posed a conflict of interest.

Labor and the Greens called for him to be stood down as chairman of the senators’ interests committee, which polices declarations.

The US-based council, which has financial ties with big tobacco companies, lobbied the Gillard government against its plain tobacco packaging laws.

ALEC is also working with the National Rifle Association to block the guns crackdown planned by the US President, Barack Obama.

An ALEC member since 2009, Senator Bernardi was dumped as Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s personal parliamentary secretary in September after he made a speech to Parliament that warned against legislating for gay marriage on the grounds that it could lead to calls to legalise bestiality and polygamy.

On Sunday, Fairfax Media reported that Senator Bernardi had acted as an international delegate for ALEC and as a member of its International Relations Task Force.

But Senator Bernardi argued his pecuniary register was ”completely up to date”. He said senators were required to disclose officeholder positions, organisations to which donations of more than $300 were made or where membership could result in a conflict of interest.

”None of which applies to my status with ALEC, whose international membership supports federation, free markets and limited government,” he said on Sunday.

However, the rules say senators are required to disclose ”any other interests where a conflict of interest with a senator’s public duties could foreseeably arise or be seen to arise”.

The Greens senator Richard Di Natale said Senator Bernardi was ”unfit to chair” the senators’ interests committee.

In a letter circulated on Sunday, Senator Bernardi claimed he was not contacted by Fairfax Media before the story was published. But Fairfax Media did contact his office and stands by its story.

Mr Abbott is yet to comment.

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