Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Matthews Review

3:35 pm

Photo of Steve FieldingSteve Fielding (Victoria, Family First Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Assistant Treasurer (Senator Sherry) to a question without notice asked by me today, relating to the Matthews review.

This is about making sure that our veterans are being looked after and not being diddled by a process that is highly questionable. I want to return to the issue of the appointment of Mr Harris as one of the principal leads in the Matthews review into pension indexation arrangements for military superannuation and whether there was any conflict of interest.

In his answer earlier, Minister Sherry stated that his trip to England and Scotland in 2005, which was paid for by Mr Harris, was declared on his Senate register of interests. Well, in fact there is some record of the trip, but it is not as Minister Sherry made it sound to this chamber. On Minister Sherry’s register of interest it says: ‘Return economy airfare to London; economy airfare to Edinburgh, Bristol; train fair to London; four nights accommodation in London; financial consulting. October 6 to 16.’ Nowhere in that declaration does it mention Mr Harris.

The link with Mr Harris was not declared there at all. Nowhere on that declaration does it say that it was paid for by Mr Harris. It seems that Minister Sherry conveniently forgot to share that with the Senate when he said he had declared it. In fact, it is true that there is no record declaring that Mr Harris provided that trip. The issue is that Mr Harris played a key role in that Matthews report and, as I stated before, that report, which the government is relying on, contradicted nearly every previous Senate recommendation.

I also asked a supplementary question of Minister Sherry about the remuneration that Mr Harris received for his appointment as one of the principal leads on that review. It seems Senator Sherry did not want to answer that question, because instead of addressing it he went on to tell the Senate that Mr Matthews did not receive any remuneration for the role. The question was: what remuneration did Mr Harris receive? That is a question that is left open, and I would like to know whether Mr Harris was paid for his work in that particular role. He does need to come clean on that issue.

We have already seen, with the former Minister for Defence, Joel Fitzgibbon, and the way his office was used by his brother, and with Senator Conroy organising his mate Kaiser a $450,000-a-year job, that there are jobs for the boys. I am really concerned about making sure that we know exactly what conflicts of interest may have existed. I do not believe the funding of Mr Harris’s trip overseas was disclosed properly and clearly. There is clearly a problem there, and I want to get to the bottom of it. Was anything paid? Also, it seems odd that this review contradicted nearly every other Senate recommendation we have had on military superannuation. This is a real issue for a lot of veterans in Australia. This was a review that this government undertook, and it contradicts nearly every other recommendation of previous Senate inquiries. So there seems to be an about-turn, an about-face, and I think we need to get to the bottom of what involvement and what links there are between Mr Harris and Minister Sherry and whether that has any influence on the results of that particular review.

Question agreed to.