House debates

Thursday, 8 September 2022


Ministerial Conduct

2:35 pm

Photo of Peter DuttonPeter Dutton (Dickson, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition from moving the following motion immediately—

That the House:

(1) notes:

  (a) the Prime Minister has repeatedly claimed to be bringing a higher standard of accountability, transparency and integrity to Government;

  (b) the Prime Minister said on 8 July that "Well, what we need is transparency. I want politics to be cleaned up. And that's why we will have strict adherence to the Ministerial code of conduct";

  (c) at least three Ministers have disclosed that they own shares, when the ownership of shares is specifically barred under the Ministerial Code;

  (d) the Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories has admitted to the House that she was in breach of the Ministerial Code;

  (e) the Assistant Minister for Health holds managed funds which have significant shareholdings in health care and private health insurance companies;

  (f) the Attorney-General invests in funds which have significant holdings in businesses which he is responsible for regulating, and;

  (g) the Prime Minister and other Ministers when asked about these matters have repeatedly dismissed the questions and claimed that 'there is nothing to see here'; and

(2) and therefore calls upon the Prime Minister to either:

  (a) live up to his rhetoric and take steps to actively enforce his Ministerial Code, including seeking formal advice from the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in relation to each of the Ministers reported to hold shares or to hold managed funds which hold shares in circumstances which give rise to a conflict of interest; or

  (b) admit that this Prime Minister is in fact failing to enforce his Ministerial Code and in turn is failing this critical test of whether his government is demonstrating the higher standards of integrity and accountability that he has claimed to uphold.

This is a very serious issue that is before the House, absolutely it is, because the Prime Minister has claimed to the Australian public that he is going to usher in a new era where there is greater accountability, where ministers will be held to a higher standard, and it's absolutely clear in the changes made by this Prime Minister in relation to the Code of Conductfor Ministers, released in June 2022 by this government, as has been detailed in the House today at 3.11—specifically, 3.11(i) and (ii)—and 3.12. Part 3.12 wasn't referred to today, of course, but it's worth reading it into the record:

If a Minister becomes aware that a fund or trust has invested in a company that might give rise to a perception of a conflict of interest, the Minister should inform the Prime Minister immediately and liquidate the investment in the fund or trust if required to do so.

None of that has happened.

We've got a situation where earlier this week a minister claimed to this House that some sort of self-assessment process had been undertaken by her, during which—surprisingly!—she cleared herself of any wrongdoing. She later claimed that, in fact, she had breached the Code of Conduct for Ministers, for which she knows, as we now do, there is no consequence. How is it that this Prime Minister is pretending to uphold some different code or some different standard when there is absolutely no consequence for a breach of the code? Could it be any clearer? Have a look at the Assistant Minister for Health in terms of those shareholdings. Could they be shareholdings in the education sector? Could they be shareholdings in a building company? No. As it turns out, the assistant minister has an interest in shares relating specifically to her own portfolio: health and private health insurance funds. You could ask, 'Is there a consequence for such conduct?' Under this Prime Minister there is no consequence. Again, that minister has conducted her own assessment and, would you believe it, she's cleared herself of any wrongdoing. What a robust process of a higher standard being maintained by this government!

Then we come to the Attorney-General. The Attorney-General, as we have seen over the years through his own statements—I mean, let's rely on his own words and conduct here—without doubt, by his own admission, would be the smartest person in the world! There's no question about that. He would be the smartest person not just in this parliament and not just across the country—listen to him: he is the most learned person in this place and, in fact, across the world! When you go through his listings, they've been very successful. Congratulations! That's a wonderful thing and to be celebrated. And he has properly disclosed them, as he points out. It is inconceivable, given the Attorney-General's background; given his knowledge of the industry; given his connections, particularly to companies that are involved in the litigation process and that fund litigations; and given his network across Melbourne, across members of the bar, across the legal fraternity in New South Wales and across the country. He's been Attorney-General; he's occupied that office before.

Despite his significant investment in a company that he knows a great deal of detail about, he's telling this House that, somehow, he's surprised by the revelations which we have laid out. The connection can't be any clearer. I haven't got before me the exact figures of the shareholding that the Attorney-General has declared, but let me put it in simple terms: the shareholding owned by the Attorney-General has effectively doubled in value since the Labor Party came to power. Is that directed to decisions being made by the Attorney-General? Well, I'll let people draw their own conclusions. But what I do know is that, when the Attorney-General made a decision, and when that decision was announced, made in his capacity as Attorney-General with a direct impact on the company involved, the company listed and provided advice to the Australian Stock Exchange, as is their obligation. They were very, very happy with the decision made. As it turns out, so too were the shareholders.

Does this result in any consequence under the Prime Minister, who is saying to the Australian public that he is leading a new way, that he's coming in here for a kinder, gentler, friendlier parliament, where transparency will reign? Is there any consequence for the Attorney-General when he surely, with all of the knowledge he possesses, with his superior intellect, with his capacity above any other human being—has this detail escaped him up until this very moment? Is that a credible account of his position? Is it a credible account of his own interest, his own investments? I'll let people draw their own conclusions. There are many on the other side of this chamber who I know hold a very similar view to us in relation to this Attorney-General.

It doesn't pass the pub test. It doesn't pass any test whatsoever, and it's incumbent on this Prime Minister to uphold his standards. If he were to do that, he would demand that this Attorney-General dispose of his interests, exhaust the conflict of interest which is clear to all to see and uphold the high standard that he has claimed to the Australian public he adheres to. So far, not only has the Attorney-General failed this test; two other ministers, that we know of, have equally failed the test, and there may be more.

We haven't come to our favourite friend, the member for Maribyrnong. We may do. I think the Prime Minister will probably deal with him in the next reshuffle. Let's see what the Prime Minister has in store for him. You are his favourite, Bill, I know that much. He may deal with you himself.


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