Thursday, 21 February 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Prime Minister. Yesterday, the Prime Minister described the meeting between the US Embassy and Helloworld as an 'embassy staff meeting'. Why did the Prime Minister withhold the critical fact that Joe Hockey attended the meeting himself, a fact confirmed at Senate estimates today? How is it possibly appropriate for Mr Hockey, a million-dollar shareholder in Helloworld, to attend a meeting with Helloworld to discuss the embassy's travel arrangements?
In the member for Rankin's question, he asserted that the Prime Minister withheld information in his answer yesterday. I don't think he can assert that he knows what information the Prime Minister did or didn't choose to put into the Hansard. It's up to the Prime Minister how he answers a question, it's not up to the opposition. The opposition can't direct ministers how to answer—
Opposition members interjecting—
Just pause for a second. Would those members interjecting behind the front bench cease interjecting. I think the Leader of the House and the Manager of Opposition Business would agree on one thing: they both want me to hear the question and the points of order so I can adjudicate. The Leader of the House.
Mr Speaker, the standing orders are very clear that the answer cannot be directed by the House. The minister has the entire discretion about how to answer a question, therefore the member for Rankin's question today, asserting that the Prime Minister did or didn't leave something out of his answer suggests to me that he is in breach of the standing orders and that he should withdraw that part of the question or rephrase it. I don't think he can know what is in the Prime Minister's mind when he answers a question and assert it as a fact in his question the next day.
I've heard the Leader of the House on that point. Respectfully, I disagree with him. I'm trying to say this as subtly as possible: there are two principles here. You don't want Speakers giving their opinion of the factual accuracy of any questions. Speaker Andrew addressed this point a number of years ago quite obviously, and I think his principle's the right one, which is: by ruling such a question out of order, it prevents the minister or the Prime Minister rebutting claims that they regard as factually inaccurate. I've referred to that before, and I think I'll stick with that for this question. The question's in order. Now the Leader of the House on behalf of the Prime Minister is going to answer the question.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. As has been pointed out yesterday, and as I've pointed out again today, the Australian embassy staff meeting with QBT on 26 April 2017, which is the meeting in question, was not in relation to the tender process.