Thursday, 15 March 2012
Questions without Notice
I am very pleased to be asked about this issue because I think it is an opportunity to make sure the chamber understands what occurred, as opposed to some of the assertions which have been made publicly. Can I say at the outset that I welcome the opposition's welcoming of Mr Gonski's appointment. I was very pleased to see that Mr Hockey and Mr Robb released a statement welcoming his appointment and that his appointment has been warmly received by members of the business community. In terms of the criteria for the choice of Mr Gonski, I would refer the honourable senator to the section of the act which states that a person is eligible for appointment if they have substantial experience or expertise and professional credibility and significant standing in at least one of the following fields—
Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I am pointing to the requirement for the minister to be directly relevant to the question. I asked a very specific question as to whether the minister, her office or her department was told by Mr Gonski that Peter Costello was the most qualified person on the Future Fund board to be appointed as its next chairman—yes or no? It is a very specific question. It requires a yes or no answer. While the minister might want to carry on with all of the other stuff, that is what we are wanting to hear.
If I may say, Mr President, I am surprised the opposition do not want to be reminded of what the criteria in the act for the appointment of chair are. Against that criteria Mr Gonski stands out as an exceptionally qualified candidate and nobody will demur from that. In relation to the—
Honourable senators interjecting—
Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The minister is now abusing the Senate. She was asked a question about whether a statement was made by a named individual, and that was the entire question. It cannot be the case that reciting criteria for an appointment is directly relevant to the question: was a statement made by Mr Gonski? The minister, as you must see, Mr President, is abusing the Senate and you ought to bring her to order.
Mr President, there is no point of order. Senator Wong is attempting to give a comprehensive answer to the question asked. While Senator Brandis may be concerned about the decades-long failure of Peter Costello to win the top job in any field he is in, that is not a reason for making a point of order.
There was a thorough process that led up to the government's decision to appoint. First, the Department of Finance and Deregulation began the process of identifying appropriate candidates for the chair and board positions in the second half of last year, an executive search firm was engaged and the department asked Mr Gonski to meet with the board to seek their views. Mr Gonski was requested to speak with members of the fund to seek their views on key attributes for the upcoming vacancies for chair and member of the board as well as potential candidates they considered might be suitable to fill these upcoming vacancies. Mr Gonski was not asked to provide recommendations about who should fill either of these positions but to summarise the views of the board and to convey this to government. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. How does the minister reconcile Mr Gonski's public statements that the government was told that a majority on the Future Fund board wanted Mr Costello to be the next chair with her own claim that Mr Gonski did not make any recommendation about who to appoint? Why won't the minister stop using tricky semantics to obscure the plain fact that Mr Gonski told the government that the Future Fund board wanted Mr Costello to be its next chair?
As I said, Mr Gonski was not asked to provide recommendations about who should fill either of these positions. Mr Gonski's report did not recommend any candidate. But I would make this point: during—
Honourable senators interjecting—
Mr Gonski, as I said, was not asked to make any recommendations, and he did not. He spoke to board members and summarised their views for the department. He has made that clear and I have made that clear. What we have, in the face of the outstanding candidate, Mr David Gonski—welcomed by the other side—is that some of those opposite who still hanker for Mr Costello to have the top job now want him to have a different top job. It was extraordinary. Today we saw former Prime Minister John Howard actually advocating for the first time for Peter Costello to have the top job.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Will the minister now table Mr Gonski's written advice to the government about the appointment of the next chair of the Future Fund given the minister's own office gave a copy of that advice to Laura Tingle at the Financial Review to read at her leisure?
That memo is not a public document. I note that Senator Cormann moved an order for production in this place yesterday. That was not supported by the chamber. Obviously, if there are other proper mechanisms by which people seek to have the document made public, I will make a decision at that time. This government and I, as part of this government, will always, in the face of the sort of politicisation that Senator Cormann is engaging in—and it is interesting that it is Senator Cormann and not other members of the coalition—ensure that we pick the best people for the job for things such as the Future Fund, which are so important to Australia's economy, and we have. We have picked the best person for the job. The opposition know that he is an outstanding appointment.