Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Australian Water Holdings

3:27 pm

Photo of Kim CarrKim Carr (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister Assisting the Leader for Science) Share this | Hansard source

Today we had a situation where the Leader of the Government had to be reminded of what his responsibilities were to this chamber and to represent the Prime Minister and on behalf of the government be accountable to this chamber when it came to very basic questions about what the Prime Minister knew about the details surrounding the operations of Australian Water Holdings, and in particular the operations of Australian Water Holdings when the Assistant Treasurer had in previous arrangements been the chairman of that company and simultaneously Treasurer of the Liberal Party and later President of the Liberal Party in the state of New South Wales—situations which have now come to light as a result of proceedings in ICAC which we have seen reveal quite extraordinary developments.

I notice that Senator Macdonald is with us today. Senator Macdonald has been able to offer us all advice on what he saw as the Prime Minister and his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, enforcing 'a culture of obsessive centralised control phobia'. I quote from the Sydney Morning Herald of 4 December last year. They were out of touch with voters, according to Senator Macdonald, who had shown that the government of this country had come to the points of centralisation where every staff appointment from every backbencher, every committee appointment, every ministerial appointment, every parliamentary committee appointment into cabinet and other actions within the Liberal Party and the National Party were being determined by a vetting process made in the name of the Prime Minister but by the chief of staff of the Prime Minister. So on the very point of the Assistant Treasurer's appointment to the ministry, the question arose: what did the Prime Minister actually know of the circumstances surrounding the events in New South Wales and the corrupt activity of Australian Water Holdings? This was a question that was asked on 16 September, the very day of Senator Sinodinos's appointment to the ministry.

Mr Abbott made it clear that, as far as he was concerned, there was absolutely no cloud whatsoever over Senator Sinodinos. We simply ask this question: what did the Prime Minister do to satisfy himself—or, more importantly, what did the Prime Minister's chief of staff do to satisfy herself—that Senator Sinodinos was a man able to fulfil the role of Assistant Treasurer given the circumstances that have now been revealed at ICAC? In February of last year Senator Sinodinos put forward a proposition that he was the director of a company which had been surrounded by the stench of corruption. We know that he was the director of Australian Water Holdings for two years. He claimed to the Senate that he had no knowledge of the involvement of the Obeids in that company. He was shocked, he said, when he discovered this. He said he had no knowledge about the capacity of this company to divert donations to the Liberal Party when he was the treasurer of the Liberal Party. So the chairman of the company, the treasurer of the Liberal Party, knew nothing about the operations of the company and knew nothing about the fact that the Obeids actually owned one-third of the company at the time.

We have, as I said, an obsessive, centralised control and phobia in this government, yet the Prime Minister did not choose to establish the facts in this matter prior to the appointment of Senator Sinodinos. So I can understand why Senator Macdonald would be unhappy about the circumstances. I can understand why, faced with the circumstance where he was not able to secure a place on the frontbench, he might feel a little aggrieved at what is going on, just as many Liberal-National senators and members of the House of Representatives are very aggrieved that the vetting of staff in members' offices is being conducted by the chief of staff of the Prime Minister. You have to ask yourself this question: why was this situation allowed to develop when there is this level of centralised control within the government? I am sure that there are many senators in this chamber— (Time expired)


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