Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Matters of Public Importance

Ministerial Conduct

4:54 pm

Photo of Anne UrquhartAnne Urquhart (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to support the matter of public importance today on the Prime Minister's failure to uphold ministerial standards. This government has been constituted for a mere six months. In that short time we have seen the trashing of ministerial conduct and accountability and a contempt for this parliament. For most of this year, this Senate has dealt with matters of impropriety by government ministers. As Senator Wong articulated well this morning, this Prime Minister is a dangerous combination of arrogance and weakness. He leads an arrogant government that refuses to be accountable. He leads a weak government that sets itself standards and fails to uphold them. And, worse, this is a Prime Minister who led an opposition which sought at any opportunity to attack the personal integrity of Labor Party and Independent members of the 43rd Parliament. He sought to bring arguments before this place well before anyone had had their time in court, and yet he displays the most curt arrogance in dealing with any serious matters of his own, or his side's own, doing. It is a government that is but six months old and that has already become more arrogant about its responsibilities than any government in living memory. It is a government that has adopted Joh Bjelke-Petersen's famous 'Now, don't you worry about that' approach to public life.

No-one took that approach in this morning's debate more so than Senator Brandis. With the utmost bravado, Senator Brandis spoke of Senator Sinodinos's character, of his numerous public awards, of the coalition's wonderful associations with business, of their superior character, of their superior knowledge of things worth knowing about. You can tell that Senator Brandis is enjoying his position. But as the first law officer of this land, you would expect him to have a bit more self-control, a bit more grace, in dealing with matters of such sensitivity. Given his successful attempts to drag out the debate this morning to delay a vote, he must have known of the senator's intentions to stand aside just before question time today. One would assume that Senator Abetz and the Prime Minister also knew of Senator Sinodinos's intentions. The country knew about it. The Financial Review reported Senator Sinodinos's musings this morning.

And this isn't the end of the matter. Senator Sinodinos may have temporarily stood aside but many questions still remain unanswered. If the Prime Minister is serious about ethical standards, he will require Senator Sinodinos to make a full disclosure about his involvement in AWH. Further, it is incumbent upon the Prime Minister to explain his knowledge of Senator Sinodinos's involvement with AWH and the steps he and his office have taken to examine this matter.

This afternoon, moments before question time, we had former Assistant Treasurer Sinodinos stand down from his position in the ministry. Senator Sinodinos has made the decision to temporarily stand aside for the duration of the ICAC trial, and the Labor Party welcomes his decision. However, the Senate has not received an explanation from Senator Sinodinos about his dealings with Australian Water Holdings. Senator Sinodinos came into the Senate at approximately 1.55 pm today to make a statement. His statement lasted approximately two minutes, leaving two to three minutes before question time. Why did Senator Sinodinos not use this statement to answer questions raised during the debate this morning if he has got nothing to hide? Why did he sit down with two or three minutes to go until question time? Why won't he answer the legitimate questions put forward by the opposition?

This morning, the Senate spent a number of hours debating the worth of Senator Sinodinos making a full statement to the chamber. We know that the New South Wales ICAC has heard disturbing allegations of corruption by persons associated with the company Australian Water Holdings. We know that Senator Sinodinos was firstly a non-executive director and then became chairman of AWH. We know that concurrently he served first as treasurer and then as president of the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party. Virtually all of the behaviour alleged at ICAC occurred while Senator Sinodinos was with AWH from 2008 to 2011—alleged behaviour that includes skimming money off government contracts to be paid as excessively generous salaries and dodgy share deals. The Prime Minister must require that Senator Sinodinos make a full statement to the Senate about this matter. The statement this afternoon from Senator Sinodinos was purely political, not about providing ministerial accountability to this place and through this place to the Australian people. (Time expired)


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