Senate debates

Wednesday, 5 March 2014


Assistant Minister for Health; Censure

2:48 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

The point is this: there was originally a denial that there was any association between the chief of staff and the lobbying firm Australian Public Affairs. That was corrected. There clearly is a relationship. In fact, it is a part-ownership of that company. That is the fact of the matter. Secondly, you simply cannot deny a conflict of interest—right up until the day that the chief of staff has resigned—and rely on what the chief of staff's wife has said. It is not the chief of staff's wife who is responsible here; it is the chief of staff and the minister who are responsible here. It is the chief of staff who had to divest under the ministerial staffers' code of conduct.

It is not about getting an undertaking from his wife or partner that they will do this or that. It is about a divestment requirement of the ministerial code of conduct, and that was not adhered to. It is no use trying to protect the minister by running around trying to block a motion to discuss this censure. There will be a debate on the censure. We need to go to this and we need to drop this defence of the minister's chief of staff on the basis of undertakings given by Ms Cain. That is not the point here. The point is that the minister has denied, right up until the end, the conflict of interest, and has given the Senate no explanation as to why the divestment was not required before the person concerned took on the chief-of-staff role.

I am supporting the motion to suspend standing orders because, ultimately, ministerial responsibility has to mean something. And it is clear from the way Prime Minister Tony Abbott's government is operating that they do not believe in ministerial responsibility—whether it is for Minister Morrison, who tries behind the military; or whether, now, it is for Senator Nash, who is trying to hide behind a refusal to debate this. We will debate this. But we will debate this because ministerial responsibility has to mean something in a Westminster system, and the Greens want to make sure that it does.


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