Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Matters of Public Importance

Ministerial Conduct

4:39 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | Hansard source

I am very pleased to participate in this debate and to bring the attention of the chamber to the Prime Minister's failure to uphold ministerial standards. It is quite clear that what we witnessed today, what we saw from the Prime Minister, is another example of coalition secrecy and coalition cover-up. I take the view that the Prime Minister has either deliberately tried to cover things up or failed to understand the seriousness of the issues surrounding the AWH inquiry at ICAC.

The coalition fought long and hard on this issue today and yesterday. Senator Sinodinos looked, at one stage, as if he was not going to move; he was going to tough it out. But this is a serious blow to the government, to have such a senior minister forced off the front bench.

I take the view that the PM should have acted earlier. The PM should have acted earlier because not only was it clear that there was a problem surrounding the appearance of Senator Sinodinos at ICAC but the view, in some quarters, is that it could be a serious problem.

Those opposite, on a number of occasions, have raised my appearance at an ICAC inquiry, to try and say, 'Well, anyone can be called to an ICAC inquiry to give evidence.' That is true. Anyone can be called to an ICAC inquiry to give evidence. But let me tell you: when I was called to ICAC, I was told, from the first contact with ICAC, from the ICAC investigative officers, that I was not a person of interest and all they wanted to do with me was to clarify some facts. I was not a person of interest. That is somewhat different from what Senator Sinodinos is facing—and I will come to that in a minute.

When we talk about sleaze and guilt by association, there has been the sleaze and guilt by association from the other side because I had a knowledge of Ian Macdonald—not Senator Ian Macdonald but the disgraced Ian Macdonald of the New South Wales government—for some 30 years, as did many other politicians on both sides of the political fence. But what I did when I went to ICAC was to decline to have an order under section 38 of the ICAC Act made. What that means is: if you seek an order under section 38, then you get various protections as a witness. The evidence you have given is subject to an objection or a direction under section 38 of the ICAC Act and it cannot be used subsequently in criminal or disciplinary proceedings except in proceedings for offences under the ICAC Act. I took the view that I had nothing to hide. I took the view that I did not need any special protection.

Senator Sinodinos yesterday said to me that if he needed any advice, he would ask me for some advice. Well, I will give Senator Sinodinos a couple of pieces of advice. The first piece of advice is: when you go to ICAC, tell the truth. Tell the truth—that is my first piece of advice to Senator Sinodinos. My second piece of advice to Senator Sinodinos is: do not seek protection under section 38 of the ICAC Act because—if you are as squeaky clean as your colleagues are saying you are; if the Prime Minister has got so much confidence in you—why would you seek a section 38 protection under the ICAC Act if you have got nothing to fear? So two pieces of advice to Senator Sinodinos: tell the truth and do not seek protection you do not need. Those are the two pieces of advice from me to Senator Sinodinos. We will see in a couple of weeks whether he takes that advice, especially in relation to telling the truth and to seeking protection that you really do not need if you have done nothing wrong. So let us see what he does with that.

I bet Senator Sinodinos would love to have the character reference that I got out of ICAC. I bet he would love to know that ICAC is going to say the same about him that ICAC said about me. Let me tell you what ICAC said about my appearance at ICAC. I quote chapter 3 from the report:

In many instances, Mr Macdonald’s evidence is contrary to that given by his former political colleagues of high seniority and certain trade union associates, such as the Hon Luke Foley MLC, Anthony (Tony) Maher and Senator the Hon Doug Cameron (all of whom were impressive witnesses, not shown in any material respect to have given false or incorrect evidence).

They said that I was an impressive witness and that I told the truth. That was my appearance at ICAC, simply because I knew someone over a period of time and simply because he was involved in the same political party as myself. But that is not the case with Senator Sinodinos. Clause 30 of the opening statement by counsel assisting the inquiry says this:

Based upon PricewaterhouseCoopers' valuation, if the PPP came through Mr Sinodinos would have enjoyed a $10 million or $20 million payday.

And further:

"It is presently difficult to offer observations on the conduct of Mr Sinodinos. He has other involvements which will come under scrutiny in Operation Spicer."

…   …   …

"It is quite transparent that Mr Sinodinos’ true role in Australian Water Holdings was to open lines of communication with the Liberal Party. There will be evidence that he tried to do so."

That now brings me to the article in today's Australian by Dennis Shanahan, who says:

Sorry, senator, you don’t have a choice—

that is, to stand down. I do not know why Dennis Shanahan felt he had to say sorry. Maybe because he completely misunderstands what is going on in ICAC. He goes on to say:

Sinodinos is in limbo for at least the next two weeks, before he’s due to give evidence to ICAC, with only the vague suggestion of guilt by association through corruption and the developing sleazy theme of being a "door opener" to Liberal politicians.

I do not know that counsel assisting the ICAC inquiry, Mr Watson QC, is developing a sleazy theme or if that is an allegation from The Australian to protect a wounded, former frontbencher from the coalition, but it is no sleazy thing. That is what ICAC are saying they will have a look at: the relationship between Senator Sinodinos and the Liberal Party and the role he played.

Let me finish up on this. I think ordinary Australians around this country would be horrified to think that someone could get $200,000 a year from a company to do 100 hours work—while the same company did not have the money to pay its tax account—and to have an opportunity to pick up $10 million to $20 million. These are the issues. And if you want a royal commission in this country, let us have a royal commission into the sleaze in the business community when people do that with shareholders' funds. (Time expired)


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