Senate debates

Tuesday, 24 August 2021


Environment and Communications References Committee; Report

5:05 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | Hansard source

Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. I understand why members of this government are sensitive when accusations of rorts are put to them, because it is something that is endemic within this government. What I'm talking about is the involvement of Minister Taylor in what have become known as water rorts and grassland rorts. Let's face it: this is a government that is full of rorts. It doesn't stop with Minister Taylor. We've got the sports rorts and car park rorts, and I'm sure we'll be discovering more before too long. The fact that these rorts are so endemic in this government is why Labor has called for an anticorruption commission, something the government has not agreed to.

This inquiry has heard very concerning evidence about private flights paid for by a grant recipient headed by a Liberal Party life member. Those flights were taken by Minister Taylor and his chief fundraiser. Those trips coincided with fundraisers for the Liberal Party in the period leading up to the grants being administered. Equally concerning is what seems to be misleading evidence that has been given to the inquiry by a number of witnesses. There are some things that Labor is particularly concerned about. Firstly, Minister Taylor seems to have misled parliament by maintaining that his office had not discussed the program with the recipient company prior to the opening of applications, when FOI documents on the website of the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources clearly show the opposite. Secondly, it appears that, in answer to a question on notice, the managing director of Empire Energy said that a CLP fundraising dinner was not referenced in its invitation to Minister Taylor when he visited the Northern Territory. There is other evidence, particularly in the Saturday Paper, to the contrary. Thirdly, in answer to a question on notice, the managing director of Empire Energy said the company did not discuss the design of the grant program with Minister Taylor or his office, but an FOI return includes an email from Empire Energy to Minister Taylor's office in January this year that refers to discussions about the grant program. Fourthly, in response to a Senate order for the production of documents, Senator Ruston presented an answer which said there had been no correspondence between Minister Taylor and Empire Energy discussing the program, when there is FOI evidence to suggest the contrary. So we have at least four occasions when ministers or other witnesses appear to have given misleading information to either the Senate or this inquiry.

In response to these concerns, Labor will use the Senate inquiry to pursue this apparent misleading evidence from witnesses. What we will also do is move another motion for an order to produce documents this week in this chamber to seek all correspondence relating to Minister Taylor's visit to the Northern Territory, there is a stench around these grants. There is a stench around Minister Taylor's involvement in them, and we deserve to see all correspondence regarding Minister Taylor's visit to the Northern Territory.

Finally, because of the concerns that have been raised in the inquiry around the probity of these grants and the potential misbehaviour and misconduct of Minister Taylor in particular, Labor will ask the Auditor-General to conduct a performance audit of the grant program, noting the close political connection between Minister Taylor and Empire Energy, and draw to the Auditor-General's attention the presence of Minister Taylor's chief fundraiser on the site visit and the company's presence at a Liberal fundraiser on the night before the site visit. These are serious questions, they deserve to be taken seriously and that's why Labor is taking firm action in the way that I have outlined.


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