Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Questions without Notice
Day, Mr Bob, AO
My question is to the Minister for Finance, Senator Cormann. I refer to the minister who, in his very comprehensive statement on Monday, told the Senate that he 'understood at the time that the non-payment of rent meant that any potential breach of section 44 of the Constitution had been avoided'. On what basis did the minister come to this understanding?
At any point while he was Special Minister of State, did the minister seek any legal advice in relation to the possibility of a breach of section 44 of the Constitution? If so, from whom? The Attorney-General, the Australian Government Solicitor, then Solicitor-General Gleeson or alternative legal counsel?
I did not believe at any time that there had been a breach of section 44 of the Constitution. The department at no time gave me advice to the effect that there could have been a breach of section 44 of the Constitution. I confirm for the Senate again: not a single dollar in rent was paid for the electorate office of former Senator Bob Day. Senator Marshall and, indeed, Labor senators, for political reasons, are trying to make an assumption on what the constitutional position will be that is ultimately determined by the High Court. But neither the government nor the opposition nor anyone in this chamber can determine what the constitutional position is.
We did obtain legal advice. The legal advice came up with a different interpretation, and obviously that will now be tested in the High Court, and it will be a matter for the High Court to confirm the position one way or the other.
I am not trying to make assumptions at all. I am just trying to get straight answers to the questions that I ask. Did the minister advise the Prime Minister, or his office, of the possible breach of section 44 of the Constitution?
As I was about to say in answer to a question by Senator Wong earlier, before I was interrupted by a point of order, during my 6½ months as Special Minister of State it was not my practice to trouble the Prime Minister on routine matters relating to inquiries by members and senators—whether they were Labor, Liberal, National, Greens or indeed Independent members and senators—and this was a routine matter. No, I did not trouble the Prime Minister on this occasion either.