MOTION TO SUSPEND STANDING AND SESSIONAL ORDERS
THURSDAY, 20 MARCH 2014
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
We know first of all, and this is an important point to establish, that Arthur Sinodinos is entitled to the presumption of innocence. We understand there is a process underway and the process should not target unfairly someone's innocence or pre-presume the outcome. Labor supports that principle. I add personally that my dealings with Arthur Sinodinos have always been professional, pleasant, civil and decent. But there is a second principle which people want to know. The people of Australia are entitled to know what has gone on here. It is not enough for the Prime Minister not to tell us what he has done. It is not good enough for the Australian people to say, 'when we asked the Prime Minister what he knows on 20 occasions for him to not tell people what he knows.' It is not enough for a Prime Minister of Australia to brush off the Australian people with a reference of private conversations about ministers in Government not being worthy of being answers in Question Time. It is not appropriate for a Prime Minister of Australia to talk about the standing aside of a Minister and the only information he will provide not only the Opposition but the people of Australia is that it is a private conversation and that he does not need to explain his actions to anyone.
What the Prime Minister has actually answered in no less than 26 or 27 questions, over the last two days, is the Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, has said: He does not want the Australian people to know what the Prime Minister knows, and to know when the Prime Minister learned of certain key information. We have seen today in this Parliament unanswered questions. This is why we should suspend standing orders. We asked the Prime Minister today: ‘was he aware of the remarkably large one million dollar amount’, which would raise eyebrows in every lounge room in Australia of an informal one million dollar success fee and what did the Prime Minister know about this? We asked the Prime Minister today: 'what was the role and what did he know about the role of Senator Sinodinos in arranging a letter from Premier Barry O'Farrell to help secure a large contract?'
He says that he knows and that he will not tell us when he knew this, or what he knows. We asked today: 'what is the knowledge that the Prime Minister has about one of his Ministers being involved and facilitating a $20 million windfall fee?' These are not ordinary amounts of money. These are not ordinary goings on. Most Australians would understand that if someone says, 'if you can arrange a contract, you will get $20 million,' that is not business as usual. What we want to know - and I think what the Australian people want to know - and the one thing that we do know is that the Prime Minister is not telling us, in fact, his awareness or state of mind on these matters.
Then when we have asked questions about, 'what has Senator Sinodinos done?' The Prime Minister said that the reason he has stood aside is not that he has done anything wrong - and the Prime Minister is entitled to say that - but what the Prime Minister says is the ministerial conduct standards of this Abbott government is if a minister becomes a sideshow or a distraction, then you must move sideways - whatever moving sideways means - a point I will come to. This is why we must suspend standing orders to deal with this issue.
The Abbott government's ministerial standard for accountability is if you become a sideshow - this must be worrying Mr Joyce - or a distraction, that this is the standard that the government will apply to their Ministers. The standard the Prime Minister will not apply to himself is his willingness to be transparent with the Australian people. It is a fairly made question, I believe, that what has changed? ICAC said they were going to investigate Australian Water Holdings in December 2012 and he wanted to scotch the rumours of a cloud. Yet well informed sources in the Liberal Party tell us the reason why the remarkably well-credentialed Senator Sinodinos was not appointed to the Cabinet - which I think most people thought was a likelihood - was because there was a cloud.
I actually admire the Prime Minister's commitment to Senator Sinodinos - I admire that on a personal level. What I do not admire is his unwillingness to be transparent about what he knew. There may not have been a cloud over Senator Sinodinos, but there are smoke signals coming from the Prime Minister's Office that he knew more than he said. I have heard the almost eulogistic comments from those opposite about Senator Sinodinos. That ‘in fact he is a great fellow’ - and I too have found him reasonable to deal with; I say that. So why wasn't Senator Sinodinos appointed by the Liberal Party to the Cabinet? Which I think everyone expected. Of course there were the rumours - probably not allies of the Prime Minister within the Liberal Party - that there were concerns raised. But when we have asked the Prime Minister just to come clean - Prime Minister, just come clean and tell us what you know—what he says is, 'I do not have to tell you. That is a matter that will be at ICAC.' But we are not asking about Senator Sinodinos; we are asking about what the Prime Minister knows. That is why we should suspend standing orders.
What happened to the famous due diligence process at the Prime Minister's Office? We understand that the Assistant Minister for Health's Chief of Staff slipped through that until the Chief of Staff became a distraction, not Assistant Minister Nash. But what happened to the due diligence process? I do not think anyone seriously believes that there was a due diligence process. I suspect that there was a chance the people just sort of hoped - there was more hope than due diligence - that this matter would go away. How on earth can a Prime Minister say that he will not tell us what he knows at any point, when there are clear signposts that these matters have been discussed with the Prime Minister's knowledge and within his orbit of influence? Does the Prime Minister know anything that the public does not already know? This is a fundamental question. The first question is: what changed from September last year to now materially that has led to a Minister standing aside. The second issue is that surely we saw in September last year issues that raised concern and commentary then, but what we do ask now is: does the Prime Minister have any knowledge of any matter with Australian Water Holdings?
This Prime Minister is being shifty. I get that he does not want to tell Qantas workers about his future. I get that he does not want to reveal the Commission of Audit to Western Australian voters before the election—I get that. It is shifty, but I get that. What I do not understand is that there is no way he can simply say ‘it is someone else's issue when it comes to the conduct of his own Ministers’. I get that he has contracted out the Commission of Audit to the Business Council of Australia, and he says, 'I don't know what they are doing'. I get that he says, 'I have not read a 900-page report'; I get that he does not know anything about manufacturing or fighting for jobs. What I do not get in this place is question after question - legitimate question after question - what did you know, and when did you know it? And what I really find uncomfortable at the Prime Minister's shifty conduct is this: what is it that he knows that the public does not? At the very least, he should come clean and say if he knows nothing more than is in the public report. So be it - end of matter. Labor will then leave this question alone. But if it emerges that the Prime Minister is aware of more than he has revealed to the Australian Parliament, to the Australian people, to the Opposition, to the Australian media - then that is a problem for this Prime Minister. It is not the standard he sets for everyone else.
And indeed the final, most frustrating issue in this whole standing aside issue is that we know that the Act of Parliament governing Ministerial conditions does not allow for this sort of half-pregnant proposition that the government has advanced about Senator Sinodinos. His label is still on his office - he has still got his office! Does he get his superannuation? He is going to forego it - he will probably give it to charity. Fair enough. The Prime Minister needs to come clean with what he knows, when he knew it, and does he know anything that he hasn't told the rest of Australia.
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