House debates

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Questions without Notice


2:24 pm

Photo of Michelle RowlandMichelle Rowland (Greenway, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Prime Minister. Given Christine Holgate lost her job over $20,000 worth of Cartier watches given as bonuses to executives, what are the consequences for NBN Co paying $78 million in taxpayer funded bonuses in the depths of the recession?

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The Minister for Communications will resume his seat. The Manager of Opposition Business on a point of order?

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

It goes to the circumstances where the Prime Minister can refer to aminister. The purpose of that within the standing orders and within the Practice is where the minister is in a unique position to provide further information. This question goes exactly to the treatment that the Prime Minister gave to Christine Holgate and contrasts it with what NBN Co have done. There is no additional information on that that can be invited from the relevant minister.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I will hear from the Leader of the House and then I will deal with the point of order.

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

The question contains its own assertions as to figures, and usually when Labor ask these sorts of questions those assertions are wrong. That is only going to be in the knowledge of the minister.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I will just say to the Manager of Opposition Business that this is an area of Practice, not the standing orders. Under the Practice, it's a problematic area. I will say that. I will certainly say it's a problematic area. It may well be that that is the intent of the Practicethat a Prime Minister can, as often happens, answer part of the question and refer the rest to the relevant minister or refer the entire answer to the minister. The Manager of Opposition Business has made his point, and that is one part of Practice historically such that if a minister had the detail that the Prime Minister didn't, the House could be provided with our system of questions without notice directly rather than the question automatically being taken on notice. So I understand the point the manager is making. But the other part of Practice is it's unqualified, and that is that the Prime Minister can choose to refer any question to any relevant minister. It is unqualified. So I appreciate the point the manager is making, but nonetheless that doesn't prevent the Prime Minister from referring the question.

2:27 pm

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

As was made clear in the way the government handled the Australia Post matter, there were significant concerns. It was referred to an investigation by the secretary of the two departments—my department and the Department of Finance—supported by advice from an external law firm. That advice did, indeed, find that there were significant concerns about compliance with the requirements of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act. What is also the case is the former chief executive of Australia Post chose to resign. We acknowledge her performance during her time in that role, but those are the facts.

In terms of the NBN, I simply make the point that a large portion of the number quoted in the media today goes to a very large number of staff across NBN. Under the terms of their employment, there is base pay and there is at-risk pay, arrangements that have been in place since Labor set up NBN as a government business enterprise, I remind the House. The proposition seems to be that, in some way, when the conditions for at-risk pay to be paid have been met the terms of employment should be retrospectively varied by the employee. You can just imagine what Labor would say about that if any large corporate in Australia did that.

I do make the point also that the Minister for Finance has written to the chief executive of NBN, as he has to other government business enterprises, drawing his attention to a review of performance bonus arrangements for senior executives and equivalent employees. That was done before Christmas, and NBN is fully aware of that.