Peter Costello, the federal minister responsible for ASIC, was
asked about the Steve Vizard fiasco at the end of a half-hour interview
with ABC Victoria’s Jon Faine this morning. It shouldn’t have taken the media a week to finally get Costello on the
record but his comments were interesting and will give the media
frenzy fresh momentum today after an extraordinary amount of coverage
so far.

The treasurer said he “asked ASIC” to explain what happened and
chairman Jeff Lucy had offered up the same excuse he used publicly last
week about Commonwealth DPP Damien
Bugg, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to lay criminal charges of
insider trading. However, Costello then confirmed the unattributed front page report in The AFR last Thursday when he said: “It all has to do with the accountant and whether or not the accountant would give a statement.”

The uncooperative accountant is Greg Lay and Costello went on to
suggest he is not happy with this excuse about the witness statements,
and he was “going to call for further advice” on the procedural
aspects of ASIC’s powers. Peter Faris and Crikey have led the way
pointing to ASIC’s hypocrisy
and inconsistency and Trevor Sykes was very strong in The Weekend Fin, declaring:

“ASIC and the DPP hunted Rene Rivkin with a dedication that
is totally missing from the Steve Vizard case. One excuse now being
offered is that the DPP was unable to pursue Vizard because his former
accountant, Greg Lay, was unwilling to testify against him. That’s
horsesh*t. In Rivkin’s case, ASIC issued Section 19 notices to
witnesses who did not want to give evidence. Under these notices, the
witnesses are compelled to attend an examination where they must
testify under oath.”

Rivkin’s former lawyer Mark O’Brien is Sykes’s best mate from their days
together in the Packer empire, but the point is still well made.

News Ltd’s Terry McCrann continues to hammer away with two more columns over the weekend, including this in the Sunday tabloids and a stronger piece in The Weekend Australian
which is not online. McCrann correctly pointed out that the blizzard of
publicity has already destroyed Vizard’s reputation, although Prof Ian
Ramsay somehow thought this remained to be seen on Inside Business.

Former ASIC chairman Alan Cameron, the man who pulled the
regulator’s punches during the Yannon scandal ten years ago, did offer
support to Jeff Lucy during this interview on Inside Business, but he was a lone voice.

The Age’s Stephen Bartholomeusz is also toughening his line (5 July, 7 July and 9 July), although he remains the most sympathetic of the major commentators. Vizard has some interesting links to The Age which, to the paper’s credit, were reported in this David Elias feature last week.

Finally, there’s the question of whether Vizard perjured himself with
his initial denial of claims made during the trial of his other
book-keeper, whistleblower Roy Hilliard. The SMH pushed this line on
Saturday but then backed off a little this morning, as you can see here.

There are just so many angles to this saga that it will run every day
until next week’s court appearance, after which we’ll have all the
character referees and post-punishment commentary to turn over, plus
any comments that Vizard himself offers up.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey