Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Australian Water Holdings

3:16 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Employment (Senator Abetz) to questions without notice asked by Opposition senators today.

There are so many legitimate unanswered questions about the Prime Minister's knowledge of the issues which have been ventilated in this place and also before the Independent Commission Against Corruption in relation to Senator Sinodinos's dealings. Let us recall what occurred today.

Over the last two days the coalition government has chosen to do everything in its power to prevent Senator Sinodinos answering questions or providing information to the Senate on the allegations and facts which have been ventilated in the Commission Against Corruption hearing. We saw that yesterday, when questions were refused to be answered and points of order were taken. We saw that this morning when the government went through extraordinary procedural shenanigans in order to avoid having to have Senator Sinodinos attend the chamber, as per an order of the Senate, to provide a statement. This is not an abstract discussion. This is in the context of some very serious allegations of corrupt behaviour in relation to Australian Water Holdings, which have been put on the public record before the Commission Against Corruption. I refer senators to my discussion earlier today about some of those matters and how Senator Sinodinos's previous statement to the Senate did not adequately address the facts which have subsequently been put on the public record.

Today we saw the Minister representing the Prime Minister being asked a number of questions about the state of the Prime Minister's knowledge when he appointed Senator Sinodinos to the ministry—what he knew about Senator Sinodinos's dealings, as both director and chair of Australian Water Holdings; whether he knew that his minister stood to gain a personal benefit of $10 million to $20 million, described as a 'payday' in the Commission Against Corruption; and whether he knew, in particular, about donations provided to the Liberal Party, which were Sydney Water money being funnelled through Australian Water Holdings.

These are legitimate questions and Senator Abetz was not able to answer them. Whilst I appreciate he was in his representative capacity, I would make the point that these are matters which have been on the public record for a period of time. One would have thought that he could have been briefed but, more importantly, I make this point: questions have been asked for months about Senator Sinodinos's appointment to the ministry. I recall a lot of commentary about why it was that Senator Cormann was appointed to cabinet and not Senator Sinodinos, as had previously been touted. Why was it that, out of the potential list of, I think, 30, Senator Sinodinos was in fact the last on that list when he was, as those opposite have continued to assert, a man of great capacity?

That gave rise to the question as to whether there were reasons why it was that the Prime Minister chose to not only not put him in the cabinet and to prefer Senator Cormann but put him so low down in order of precedence. Those questions have been raised. The Prime Minister himself has said that there was no cloud over Senator Sinodinos.

Given that backdrop, it is somewhat surprising that the Prime Minister's representative in this place cannot answer legitimate questions about what the Prime Minister knew when. What I would say to this chamber is this: it is reasonable for the Australian people to know the answer to a number of questions. They are entitled to know what the Prime Minister knew about Senator Sinodinos's activities, dealings and conduct at AWH at the time he made the decision to appoint him to the ministry. They are entitled to know if the Prime Minister took appropriate steps to consider whether or not Senator Sinodinos ought be appointed to the station of minister in the light of those facts. The Prime Minister may well have made proper inquiries and he may well have come to a view. I think, given the circumstances that we have seen in the last 72 hours, it is incumbent on the Prime Minister to explain that. (Time expired)


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