Senate debates

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Australian Water Holdings

3:27 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I too rise to take note of the answers given by Senator Sinodinos today to questions from the opposition. The questions went to the personal integrity of the senator and whether ministerial standards that apply to a minister of the Crown have been upheld by him. One thing is increasingly clear in this matter, and that is the considerable gap between what the minister said to this parliament in his statements of 28 February and his reaffirmation of 16 March and the information that is now emerging from the New South Wales ICAC inquiry into Australian Water Holdings.

Unfortunately, we have seen today in the minister's lack of a fulsome response to these questions the contempt that this government has for this place as a place of account. This parliament is a place where the Australian people can and should get the facts and the truth about what is going on. Instead, today we again witnessed the arrogance of this government—a government that hides reports it does not want the electorate to see, a government that half discloses the facts and, even then, only after a process of shaming and painful extraction. Today we again saw the lack of a fulsome response from the Assistant Treasurer of Australia. This is a government that seems determined to treat this place and the Australian people with contempt by not approaching transparently and honestly the questions that are on offer for them to provide an account to the Australian people. Indeed, the heading of an article in today's Australian Financial Review, 'Politics of sewerage', is a very fitting one. There is a stench in the air here today that takes away from the important work that should be happening in this place and by which Australians expect us to govern for their benefit.

I note that in New South Wales three of Senator Sinodinos's Liberal Party colleagues are similarly under investigation by ICAC. The member for Terrigal, Chris Hartcher, made much noise about an 'honourable sacrifice' in stepping down from his ministry while he was being investigated. The member for Terrigal, the member for The Entrance and the member for Wyong have all resigned from the state Liberal Party while they are being investigated. This was made out to be a great virtue; they argued they were doing the 'honourable' thing.

Here in the Senate, all we asked for today were some answers to legitimate questions that arise because of this enormous gap between the statements that Minister Sinodinos has made in this place and what is now on the public record, as the ICAC inquiry has started in New South Wales. He has just stonewalled. Despite the deliberate obfuscation, we are committed to pursuing the facts and the truth from the Assistant Treasurer, and that is what today's questions were seeking to ascertain.

Does Senator Sinodinos, now declared a person of interest by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, really think that he can come into this place and continue to refuse to answer questions from the Senate? Surely the unanswered questions that hang over him about his role as Treasurer of the New South Wales Liberal Party and his simultaneous appointment as a director of Australian Water Holdings now call into question his capacity to uphold the law and demonstrate high standards of integrity. Surely the unanswered questions about the payment of $200,000, plus bonuses, for less than 100 hours work per year call into question his capacity to uphold the law and demonstrate high standards of personal integrity. Surely the unanswered questions about the bundling of donations to the Liberal Party being charged back to Sydney Water's expenses call into question his capacity to uphold the law and demonstrate high standards of personal integrity. And surely the unanswered questions today about the sham arrangements that seem to have been part of the business model of Australian Water Holdings at the time that the minister was a director call into question his capacity to uphold the law and demonstrate the high standards of personal integrity expected of ministers.

At best, the few words offered by the Assistant Treasurer today constitute a fobbing-off of legitimate concerns. This place deserves better. It deserves a better and fulsome response from the Assistant Treasurer. The Australian people deserve better from their elected officials. Standards matter, especially in the areas of business law and practice for which this Assistant Treasurer is responsible. The Prime Minister promised the Australian people a more mature and honest government. That is not what we have seen on display here today. What we are seeing is a government that is there not for the people but for the government's mates—a government that is sanctimoniously squawking its superiority here day in, day out but that is silent under scrutiny. I am calling, as Senator Wong and Senator Faulkner have, for a full and comprehensive statement to the Senate to correct the record and bridge the gap between what is now in the public domain and what the senator put on the record. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.


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