Thursday, 26 November 2009
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Finance and Deregulation representing the Special Minister of State. Will the minister outline the importance of public servants providing impartial advice and commitment to government? Is the minister aware of instances where this has not occurred?
I thank the member for Wills for his question. Yes, it is important that federal public servants provide advice to the government in an impartial and committed way and I am, sadly, aware of recent instances where that did not occur. Yesterday the Senate Privileges Committee published its report on the Godwin Grech affair and made public a number of emails that are rather extraordinary. I would just like to quote a few of these emails to give an indication of the seriousness of what has prevailed here.
First, an email from Mr Grech to a Mr John O’Sullivan, who I understand is a key supporter of the Leader of the Opposition, says:
What I have in mind is that once Rudd and his hacks sign off on Ford Credit—you and I can change the contract to reflect your preferred fee arrangement and push that through quickly next week. I will not be running it past Henry and co.
Secondly, from Mr Grech to a redacted—that is, not disclosed—name:
My immediate motivation is to place myself where I think I could be of most value to MT—
I think we know who MT is—
and the Party. At this stage, I am probably more valuable here in Treasury (albeit the personal risks I am taking). I am also doing some fundraising for MT. He tells me the cupboard is bare.
And an email from Mr Grech to none other than MT—
If the opposition do not wish to hear the contents of these emails, might I suggest that they stick their fingers in their ears for the next couple of minutes. The next example is from Mr Grech to Malcolm Turnbull, the Leader of the Opposition. It says:
Perhaps it is best to meet somewhere private in Sydney this coming week. I can create a reason to be in Sydney for work, say on any day from Wednesday to Friday to meet up with you and Abetz. Must be very private, we must not meet in PH.
There is a response from the Leader of the Opposition that says:
Godwin, change of venue for 3 pm Friday. It’s Lucy’s office.
Finally, there is an email from Mr Grech to Mr O’Sullivan—and this may perhaps shed some light on the interjections from the member for North Sydney regarding the Secretary of the Treasury a minute ago. It says:
Today Treasury is as left wing loony as the government it serves.
That global communist conspiracy, it’s everywhere!
These emails of course raise some very obvious questions about Mr Grech. He is clearly not any kind of whistleblower, nor indeed a disgruntled public servant raising genuine matters of public interest. He is, in effect, somebody who has been acting as a spy for the Leader of the Opposition, who is not just passing on information but deliberately seeking to undermine, destabilise and interfere with the ordinary functioning of processes of government. That raises pretty clear questions about Mr Grech, but it also raises some very significant questions about the character and integrity of the Leader of the Opposition. He has been behaving pretty much like a KGB colonel handling his spy, his mole, inside the federal government, trying to ensure that he can not only get information but manipulate what is going on within the government. He has been behaving like some kind of shady character in a John le Carre novel.
The question here is: who here is displaying integrity and the kind of leadership that is required for somebody to aspire to lead the Australian nation? The Leader of the Opposition has got a lot of questions to answer with respect to this affair. When you look at the context and the text of all of these emails, both to and from the Leader of the Opposition but also to his key supporter and backer, Mr John O’Sullivan, there are very serious questions to be asked as to whether or not the Leader of the Opposition is a fit and proper person who is qualified to lead the Australian nation.
Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I ask the Minister for Finance and Deregulation to withdraw the smear and slur against the Leader of the Opposition at the end of his answer.
Conscious of the tensions, I listened very carefully to the minister’s answer so that he did not transgress into matters that would have required a substantive motion. On the basis that I do not think he strayed into that area, I think the conclusion he may have come to comes under the classification of ‘the cut and thrust of this place’, no matter how harsh people believe it to be.
Mr Speaker, on the point of order: standing order 90 says that all imputations of improper motives to a member and all personal reflections on other members should be considered highly disorderly. I regard the last phrase of the minister for finance as highly disorderly and an imputation of improper motives and a personal reflection. On behalf of the Leader of the Opposition I ask the minister for finance to withdraw.
Mr Speaker, further to the point of order: if this house of accountability cannot raise a question as to whether any member is a fit and proper person to lead the nation, then we can no longer have scrutiny in the House of Representatives. If this is unparliamentary, we no longer have accountability in the House of Representatives.
Mr Speaker, also on the point of order: having regard to this being the last sitting day, remarks such as that thrown at the opposition leader are totally inappropriate. The minister that uttered those words was quite prepared to come to the microphone and withdraw them. He should come to the microphone and withdraw them.
Yet again, I remind the member for Sturt that sometimes I have made requests for withdrawals from people who have been interjecting that may not have been the same if that person had had the proper call. I am saying to people that if they want to rewrite history about comments of the ilk of the Minister for Finance and Deregulation they may, but I am not going to on this occasion. I indicated that from very early on in the answer, even before the motion that the member be no longer heard was put, I listened very carefully to the response and I do not think there is anything, given the past practice of this place, that requires withdrawing.