Tuesday, 3 December 2019
Questions without Notice
Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction
My question is again to the Prime Minister. Yesterday the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction told the House that his interests are declared in accordance with the rules, despite his failure to declare the partnership's 55,000 shares in a company reportedly worth $150 million. The minister's office has dismissed his disclosure obligations, saying, 'The rules require that direct and controlling interests be disclosed.' Does the Prime Minister accept this interpretation of his ministerial standards?
Yes, on a point of order. I accept under the Practice it's well established that the Prime Minister can refer to anyone who has ministerial responsibility, but this question goes solely to the ministerial standards, which are entirely within the remit of the Prime Minister, not the Attorney-General.
That is right but, as he points out, the Practice makes it very clear the Prime Minister—that title obviously means he is the minister for everything—can refer a matter to another minister. In this case, he's referred it to the Leader of the House in his capacity as Attorney-General. Whilst I can see the Manager of Opposition Business has a difficulty with it, according to the well-established practice, that's the way it is. It might be something for parliaments to consider in the future, but he is certainly entitled to do that.
In the Prime Minister's previous answer he did note that, with respect to standards and the standards in this case that apply to disclosure on the ministerial and parliamentary interests register, there seems to be a standard that the opposition apply exclusively to the government—or, indeed, one or two ministers in the government—but don't apply to themselves. In this interest and in this matter, it's simply a question of the way in which traditionally members of both sides of the House as ministers have disclosed matters on the parliamentary register and to the Prime Minister. The way in which that disclosure has always occurred is, where there is a trust or where there is a company with interests in subsidiaries, the trust is declared and the company is declared but those things inside the trust or the subsidiaries are declared by virtue of declaring the head company or the trust. In fact, if applying that standard or the standard that members opposite now seem to think applies or should apply, the member for Spence and the member for Makin have both disclosed shares in BHP, a company with interests in close to 400 subsidiaries.
Now, according to the standards of the Leader of the Opposition, if they were to apply their own standard to their own members, they would be required to list every single one of those subsidiary companies. The member for Gellibrand has declared an interest in Telstra but failed to list the subsidiaries. The member for Sydney has disclosed a family trust that holds shares but has not disclosed the shares—
The Attorney-General needs to pause.
Mr Bowen interjecting—
The member for McMahon will cease interjecting. I need the Attorney-General to resume his seat for a second. I listened very carefully to the question. I had a caution about it until the very end, which was when the member for Hindmarsh said that the question related to the ministerial standards rather than the Register of Members' Interests. What the Attorney's doing is obviously referring to the Register of Members' Interests, but the Prime Minister has no responsibility for that whatsoever. The Prime Minister has no responsibility for the Register of Members' Interests of the House of Representatives. He can't even be questioned on it on his own. That is crystal clear. Not only can he not be asked a question on it, no-one can answer such a question on his behalf. The question was about the ministerial standards. So I'm happy to call the Attorney-General.
Indeed, Mr Speaker, and the principle that applies to the disclosure of trusts and those matters that sit inside a trust applies equally to the ministerial standards. It always has done. If it were not the case, we would have the member for Sydney having to disclose all of the shares that are held in the trust that she holds.