Wednesday, 27 August 2008
Questions without Notice
I also pass on my congratulations to you, Mr President, and to Senator Ferguson. My question is to the Special Minister of State. Minister, 93 days ago, on 27 May, you advised that the government staffing committee would be investigating the awarding of a contract for the 2020 Summit, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister’s office, to CMAX, a company which was owned at the time by Minister Fitzgibbon’s media adviser, Christian Taubenschlag. Fifty-six days ago, on 2 July, in a press conference, you told journalists that the release of the report was imminent. Minister, would you advise the Senate of when that report will be released and why its release has been inexcusably delayed?
Let me respond to Senator Ronaldson by confirming that in May this year I did inform the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration that the government staffing committee had agreed to examine matters related to the award of a media services contract to CMAX Communications. I can also inform the Senate that the government staffing committee, of which I am a member, commenced its review of this issue. But of course, before the committee could conclude its deliberations, we were informed that the Auditor-General would be undertaking a performance audit of the CMAX Communications contract.
I am sure that the shadow minister himself would be aware of this, because the performance audit that I refer to in fact was requested by one of his own colleagues, a frontbench member of the opposition, though not the shadow special minister of state himself. I can absolutely assure Senator Ronaldson and the Senate that the government will be ensuring that the Auditor-General is able to complete his audit and any inquiries he cares to make without any political interference and I certainly hope without any political bluster from the opposition.
I can inform the Senate that the government staffing committee, when it received its advice in relation to the Auditor-General’s inquiry, did formally suspend its consideration pending the conclusion of the Auditor-General’s performance audit. I can also assure the Senate and the shadow special minister of state that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet will be fully assisting the Auditor-General in the performance of his audit function.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister should perhaps check his facts first. I did indeed write to the Auditor-General and I got a response. In light of the minister’s comment where he advised the Senate that the inquiry would be suspended, I seek to quote from a letter from the ANAO, funnily enough addressed to me:
The audit will have regard to the outcomes of the review being undertaken by the government staffing committee in respect of the engagement process.
So, Minister, on the basis that you have now told us that it will be suspended, how will the ANAO undertake its inquiry, given that it ‘will have regard to the outcomes of the review being undertaken by the government staffing committee’? Minister, is it a deliberate attempt to cover up this grubby deal done between the Prime Minister’s office and Mr Taubenschlag’s company or are you going to give the ANAO full access and are you now going to again put that committee back together so that the ANAO can investigate?
I can assure you that I did sight a letter from the Auditor-General that related to a request from Senator Johnston in relation to an audit of CMAX Communications. But I certainly accept, Senator Ronaldson, what you say in relation to that. I had confirmed to me as late as this morning, on my inquiry, that all material related to the contracting of CMAX Communications has been provided to the Auditor-General by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, but I will go further and also make absolutely clear that the government staffing committee, in response to this question, will of course provide all assistance to the Auditor-General. (Time expired)