Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Matters of Public Importance

Ministerial Conduct

4:19 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment) Share this | Hansard source

As Senator Brandis rightly highlighted then, and before today, the Labor Party—from Senator Wong down—have been unable to specify a single act of wrongdoing by Senator Sinodinos, yet they have continued with their smears. They have ignored the fact that Senator Sinodinos has made very clear to this Senate and to all Australians that he will cooperate fully with the Independent Commission Against Corruption in New South Wales.

He will cooperate fully in those proceedings, as many witnesses have done before—most recently, as he highlighted yesterday, former Labor minister Greg Combet and current Labor frontbencher Senator Doug Cameron. They both cooperated with ICAC proceedings. They cooperated with ICAC proceedings as witnesses, just as Senator Sinodinos will, but they were not subjected to the same type of smear campaign that Senator Sinodinos has faced. There were no calls at the time for them to step aside from their positions. Yet the Labor Party has done just that in relation to Senator Sinodinos. In fact, they have gone further than that in calling for the resignation of Senator Sinodinos, yet they have not even been able to cite an allegation against him, let alone an act of wrongdoing.

There is a right place and a wrong place for the prosecution of these things. The right place is the appropriately established tribunal that sits in New South Wales, the ICAC, where Senator Sinodinos will give his evidence. The wrong place to go over matters that predate not only his career as a minister but his career as a senator is this Senate chamber. This is the wrong place. This is not a court in which to assess these matters that predate his time as a senator. The right place is the ICAC, where he will give his full and complete cooperation.

Sadly, Senator Sinodinos has, for the good of the nation and the good of the government—so we can get on and focus properly on the big public policy challenges Australia faces—stood aside today. As the Prime Minister has rightly indicated, it is the right and decent thing for Senator Sinodinos to do and what you would expect from someone who has given so much to his country and so much service over such a long period of time. As the Prime Minister rightly indicated, he looks forward to Senator Sinodinos's restoration to the ministry in due course, once these matters are handled.

This is not of course the first time this has occurred. We should all keep in mind precedents where ministers have stood aside and rightly been returned. These precedents have included both ministers and shadow ministers. One example was Phillip Lynch in the Fraser ministry. He stood aside but, following an official inquiry that found no illegal or improper doings, rightly returned to the ministry. Ian Sinclair was rightly returned to the ministry following investigations into allegations made against him. Wayne Swan stood aside for a period of time as the shadow minister for family and community services but eventually returned to the frontbench and became the Treasurer of Australia.

There was also the amazing case of Mick Young. Mick Young stood down from the Hawke ministry on 14 July 1983 following the revelation that he had disclosed matters of national security. A royal commission upheld those allegations—yet do you know what the Labor Party did? They re-elected him unopposed to the ministry. Allegations were upheld, yet they re-elected him unopposed to the ministry. He was again forced to stand down at a later stage in relation to other matters—and the Labor Party again reappointed him to the ministry. So there are good precedents where people have been exonerated, as I am sure will occur with Senator Sinodinos, and there are other precedents, such as that of Mr Young on the Labor side. In his case they simply ignored due process and reappointed him to the ministry.

This government will apply the best of ministerial standards throughout its term. We will ensure, as we have done, that full disclosures are made, as they have been, across the government and that those disclosures are applied and adhered to in order to ensure that no real or perceived conflicts of interest occur amongst ministers, parliamentary secretaries or their staff. We will make sure, unlike those opposite, that we run a clean show.

We heard earlier today the very long list of people, from state and federal parliaments and Labor Party ranks, who have done wrong—in some cases ultimately finding themselves in jail. The two relatively recent cases that spring to mind are those of the former national president of the Labor Party, Mr Williamson—national president only a couple of years ago during Ms Gillard's prime ministership but today in jail—and the former member for Dobell, Mr Thomson. Mr Thomson was a member of the Rudd and Gillard governments who left parliament only at the last election. Today he is awaiting sentencing.

Those opposite come in here and smear the name of a good man, yet have absolutely no track record of their own that they can stand by. Those opposite come in here and use this Senate as their own kangaroo court rather than allowing the right proceedings to occur in the right place.

Senator Sinodinos is a great Australian. He came here as part of a Greek migrant family. He is a great Australian success story—somebody who grew up as the son of Greek migrants and went on to become the longest serving adviser of Australia's second-longest serving Prime Minister. He is a man who has given much, not just to the government of this country but to charities and other organisations, including the Mary MacKillop Foundation, the Aboriginal Employment Strategy and the Australian Institute of Management. He has been recognised as an Officer of the Order of Australia for his service to government, to the community and to the Greek community in particular. He has been recognised as one of the great public policy minds of this country. I have no doubt that he will rightly be back and that those opposite will be seen in due course to have smeared a man for absolutely no reason and with absolutely no rationale whatsoever.


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