Thursday, 15 February 2018
Deputy Prime Minister
I seek leave to move a motion relating to the breaching of the standards required of ministers by the Deputy Prime Minister.
Leave not granted.
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to give precedence to a motion relating to the breaching of the standards required of ministers by the Deputy Prime Minister.
Mr President, the behaviour and actions of the Deputy Prime Minister have brought the office of the Deputy Prime Minister into disrepute. This happens at a time when trust in politics is at an all-time low, when people have had a gutful of the behaviour of people in this place, and yet here we see a Prime Minister where questions are raised around due process, conflict of interest and the inappropriate use of taxpayer funds. What the Deputy Prime Minister chooses to do in his own time is his own business. We do note that this is a very difficult time for his family and indeed his new partner. But the reality now remains that there are serious questions about the conduct of the Deputy Prime Minister.
We know that arrangements have been made by the Deputy Prime Minister to place his new partner into highly paid positions within the National Party's parliamentary staff. We know the Prime Minister's own ministerial code of conduct states very, very clearly that partners shouldn't be offered positions within other ministerial offices. Of course, part of this hinges on whether the person in question was the Deputy Prime Minister's partner. Well, forgive me, but to try and avoid responsibility for fulfilling the ministerial code on the basis of whether she was technically his partner because he was in an ongoing relationship with his wife does not pass the common sense test. There is a serious question around whether he breached those standards.
Today we learnt from reports that it appears that the Deputy Prime Minister solicited a gift of free rental accommodation worth in the order of $12,000, again appearing to be a clear breach of the Prime Minister's statement. Worse still, when asked about this he told the parliament today that the person in question, his friend, approached him, offering to do him a favour. We know, however, from when he was asked about this several days ago, that it was Barnaby Joyce that approached Greg Maguire—the person in question, the so-called friend—to solicit some help in finding accommodation. It does appear that today the Deputy Prime Minister has misled the parliament.
We further learnt that this individual, who clearly stands to benefit from decisions that have been made by Barnaby Joyce, may have already been the beneficiary of decisions by the Deputy Prime Minister, in that some of the accommodation that he owns may have already benefited from a government contract. That is a clear conflict of interest if indeed that is the case.
We also learnt today that there are further revelations that the Deputy Prime Minister was paid by the Nationals to run for the recent by-election in New England. This is remarkable. The Deputy Prime Minister of the country, who is on almost $500,000, is paid a salary by the National Party to conduct a by-election campaign. It is utterly remarkable that the Nationals would think it was appropriate to cover the salary of somebody who was so incompetent. He was found to be a dual citizen. He denied it initially, sat on it and continued to be a minister. And what do the National Party do? They reward him for his incompetence.
We should also remember that the reason we are in the mess we are in with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is because Deputy Prime Minister Joyce has been so incompetent. This is a man whose hypocrisy knows no bounds. He took time during the debate around marriage equality to lecture us on family values and how important it was to ensure that we respect those values—of course, knowing all the while that he wasn't living up to them.
But that is not the reason for this suspension here today. The reason for this suspension is that there are serious questions about due process, about the potential for conflict of interest and, of course, about the appropriate use of taxpayer funds. All of this could be resolved, every last question right now could be resolved, if we had a national anti-corruption body. These are precisely the sorts of allegations that should be referred to a national anti-corruption body because there are serious questions now for the Deputy Prime Minister to answer.
One of the Deputy Prime Minister's primary functions is to serve as Prime Minister when the Prime Minister is on leave. We now learn that Deputy Prime Minister will be missing in action next week, and that honour will be handed over to Senator Cormann. That's simply not good enough. If he's not up to the job to be Prime Minister, he needs to go, and the Nationals need to sack him. (Time expired)
I will outline why Labor is supporting this proposition. On Wednesday next week Mr Turnbull will leave Australia for the United States but Australia's Deputy Prime Minister will not be the Acting Prime Minister. That is because this government knows how untenable it is for him to act as the Prime Minister. In fact, the government's own decision underlines how untenable it is for Mr Joyce to hold any ministerial office—
and it underlines that the Prime Minister knows this. If he can't be the Acting Prime Minister, why is he still in his job?
The Deputy Prime Minister has repeatedly demonstrated a failure to abide by the standards demanded of ministers. That disqualifies him from any ministerial office, let alone acting as Prime Minister of Australia. I make very clear at the outset that I make no judgement—
Government senators interjecting—
I want to make very clear that I make no judgement, nor any comment whatsoever, about Mr Joyce's personal life. I make no judgement about him as a husband nor as a father. What we are asserting is that, in his professional capacity as a minister, Mr Joyce has failed to adhere to the standards that one expects of a minister. The foreword to the statement of ministerial standards makes this crystal clear. It declares that 'ministers must act in a manner consistent with high standards of integrity and propriety'. It also says that 'ministers shall conduct themselves in a manner that will ensure public confidence in them and in the government'. I think even Mr Joyce's most loyal supporters could not, and would not, reasonably assert that he has acted in a manner consistent with the highest standards of integrity and probity and conducted himself in a manner that will ensure public confidence either in himself or in the government.
The revelations this morning that Mr Joyce sought, and was subsequently offered, rent-free, an apartment from a prominent local business man is evidence of this. The statement of standards states:
Ministers … must not seek or encourage any form of gift in their personal capacity.
Mr Joyce's claim today that he did not seek the apartment has been directly contradicted by two journalists, who spoke directly to the owner of the apartment. And, even if we were to accept Mr Joyce's version of events, what is not in dispute is that he continues to benefit from the gift to this day. One is reminded of the $40,000 gift from Ms Gina Rinehart.
Secondly, it has been confirmed in this chamber this week that the former staffer that Mr Joyce has now made clear he is in a relationship with was subsequently employed, with the involvement of Mr Joyce's office, by two other senior members of the National Party. Again, I make no comment on the fact of the relationship. What I refer to is the Statement of Ministerial Standards, which is very clear on these facts:
Ministers' close relatives and partners are not to be appointed to positions in their ministerial or electorate offices, and must not be employed in the offices of other members of the executive government without the Prime Minister's express approval.
The Deputy Prime Minister and Mr Turnbull try to use a legalistic argument to evade culpability by arguing over the time at which Mr Joyce's former staffer came to be officially regarded as a partner. Can I say this: these are legalistic arguments which ignore the central issue, which is the principle that the standards uphold. There are sound reasons as to why these standards exist and why the safeguards, prohibitions and guidelines in them exist. The principle that is sought to be upheld here is one of the avoidance of conflict of interest. It is so the public can be assured that there is no conflict of interest in the appointment of persons to taxpayer-funded positions. And, frankly, it is also to ensure that those close to us are not exposed to unwanted public scrutiny that such suggestion of partiality would attract, and we have, I think, seen that this week.
Most importantly, these actions do not pass the Prime Minister's own test:
Ministers … must act in a manner that is consistent with the highest standards of integrity and propriety … and … conduct themselves in a manner that will ensure public confidence in them and in the government.
The sad reality is—and I wish the National Party could see this—Mr Joyce's position is untenable. It is unthinkable at this time that he can act in any ministerial office, as is demonstrated by the fact that the government itself cannot appoint him to be the Acting Prime Minister. Mr Joyce has failed to live up to the standards that Australians rightly expect of ministers. It is right that the Senate today expresses its view that Mr Joyce must resign, and he should resign today.
As Deputy Leader of the National Party, I rise to speak on this particular motion and completely reject the notion that Barnaby Joyce, as minister, is not acting in the absolute best interests of regional Australia and the coalition government. He has explained the nature of his relationship with his former media adviser earlier this week in a very, very public statement. In relation to the employment of partners, of people that you are in a relationship with, he has explained the complexity of that issue in his statement. I am very, very happy to read that out for the Senate right now.
Ms Campion worked in the Deputy Prime Minister's office. A relationship developed, and she did the responsible thing and sought employment in Senator Canavan's office for a position which she was eminently qualified for and skilled to perform. And she did great work in that office, not just for Senator Canavan but for the entire National Party. I know, as a backbench senator then, that she visited my office and assisted us to develop our social media skills within the office as well.
Vikki did great work when Matt, obviously, stepped down as a result of things going on with the High Court. As is the usual practice, Vikki, as were other staff in his office, was deployed throughout the National Party's pool, and that is incredibly appropriate, and there is nothing unusual about what happened.
When we go to issues around ministerial accountability, Barnaby Joyce has been incredibly accountable in this whole process. He has publicly made a statement that has ensured that we are all clear about what occurred and how he has taken personal responsibility for what occurred.
I think Senator Wong was talking about issues around the accommodation that the Deputy Prime Minister has been in receipt of. That's all been declared completely publicly. I know you're trying to whip up a stir here, but everything is public. Everything has been declared in the usual process and as is appropriate.
Again I go to the statement by the Deputy Prime Minister, which is up-front and honest about what occurred. I think it's important that we remember that, as a minister of the Crown, your No. 1 job is to deliver for your constituency. Barnaby Joyce, as a member of the National Party, as the Leader of the National Party, has been doing that day in, day out, whether we look at the $8 billion delivered for the Inland Rail or his pursuit of a decentralisation agenda to ensure that we have more local and well-paying government jobs right across regional Australia. We look at the Regional Investment Corporation legislation, passed by the Senate this sitting fortnight—incredibly important legislation for the delivery of jobs and investment in regional communities and our industries, and it was Barnaby Joyce that actually developed that.
When we go out onto the ground, into our communities, the reality is life happens. Our community knows that. But, I tell you what: they back Barnaby Joyce. They back what he delivers for them in government, what he's been able to deliver as agriculture minister with a $4 billion agricultural white paper, and now they're looking forward to what he'll be able to do within the infrastructure portfolio. It won't just be about the Inland Rail; hopefully, he'll be able to get the Victorian Labor government to get behind infrastructure projects in a real and meaningful way.
When we look at the trade agreements rolling out our support for agriculture industries in regional communities, we see that no-one has done that better than Barnaby Joyce. When you go out into regional communities—not just in Tamworth, but right up and down the eastern seaboard and beyond—they back Barnaby Joyce not because he is being a fabulous husband, not because of what he has or hasn't done within his office but because of what he has absolutely been able to deliver for them.
When they send all of us here, the people of Australia want us to deliver for them and to remember why we're here, and Barnaby Joyce has done that 100 per cent. He enjoys the full support of the National Party—and the leadership of the National Party is actually a gift of the National Party party room. Barnaby is on leave next week, as he is entitled to do. For that period of time, Mathias will be Acting PM. (Time expired)
On a point of order—I'm not taking the call on the debate—we still haven't got a copy of the motion. Given that, apparently, this has got such a great sense of urgency, it would be courteous, on a serious matter like this, for the chamber at least to be provided with a copy of the motion, which we still haven't got.
Fellow senators, think about how this looks to the Australian people. We've just heard from Senator McKenzie that Barnaby Joyce is on leave next week—a week when he is expected to fill the role of Prime Minister. As the Deputy Prime Minister, he's expected to fill the role of Prime Minister. What could be more important? But he's going on leave. This motion here today is not about Barnaby Joyce—
Mr Barnaby Joyce. This motion is about the institution of parliament. None of us want to see this place being seen by the Australian people as a joke. This government has had crisis after crisis in recent years. We've seen former minister Sussan Ley have to step down from her job—resigned over a scandal. We've seen Mr Stuart Robert resign from his position as a minister over a scandal.
We've had crisis after crisis. It's no wonder that politics is at such a low ebb in this country and that people are throwing up their hands in disgust right around this country when they see politicians and political parties putting themselves first. That's what this is—this is about Mr Barnaby Joyce's career and this is about keeping a Prime Minister in power. It is a Prime Minister and a political party that will do whatever it takes to hold on to power. It's not a good look.
All of us need to support this motion today because this is about trust in the institution of parliament. I'm not going to get personal either about Mr Barnaby Joyce—I never have. I'm not going to get personal about this at all, but I will say in relation to politics that this is a man who has been happy to come into this place and the other place and lecture us on morality on issues like same-sex marriage and then display double standards. He's happy to tell young people that if they want an affordable house they should move to Armidale, and then he takes, rent free, an expensive apartment in the same town. This is a guy who is on $400,000 a year. How does this look?
The reason I'm raising these issues is that I ask senators to reflect on how this looks about politicians. Each and every one of us in here is a parliamentarian and a politician, and this diminishes each and every one of us. We are asking for the Deputy Prime Minister—if, indeed, he still is the Deputy Prime Minister next week when on leave—to step down, to resign from his position, for the good of the parliament and all of us and for the reputational damage that this continues to do to our institution.
He has clearly breached ministerial standards. Examples have already been given of the decisions that he's made. Each and every time it looks to the Australian people like this is self-serving politicians feathering their own nest, having their snouts in the trough and taking double standards every chance they get. That's what it looks like to your average punter on the street. That actually matters. That is what matters here today. This is about the institution of parliament, not about Mr Barnaby Joyce.
It should be a clear decision. No doubt it will be some weight off the shoulders of the National Party. I've seen you refuse to answer any questions you've been asked about Mr Barnaby Joyce this week. There has not been any meat on any bones in any answers. I've watched your body language, and clearly you're under the pump and this is a very difficult time for you. I suggest you make it easier by supporting this motion.
No offence to you, Senator Cormann—I think you'll do a very good job as Prime Minister next week—but the man who's supposed to do the job is Barnaby Joyce, and he's going on leave when he's supposed to be the Prime Minister. Young children around this country will be saying one day to their parents: 'I'm going to be Prime Minister. That's what I want to be when I grow up.' When Barnaby Joyce has got the chance to step into the big role, into the shoes of the Prime Minister, and sit in the big chair, he squibs it and goes on leave because he cannot stand the heat of what will happen next week. Senators have estimates the week after that. That's going to be a very busy week, let me tell you. Save yourself some pain and get Barnaby Joyce to resign. (Time expired)
Through you, Madam Deputy President, I'm asking Senator McKim if he wants to talk about office relationships and the conflicts that come with them while you are a member of the parliament. That's what I'm asking. He can respond now or at some later time, if he chooses to. This is a party that did not ever make comment on Sam Dastyari's conflict—not one word. He was a member of parliament who had a monstrous conflict in accepting money from foreign interests. He got demoted and then promoted—and there was not one word from you.
Opposition senators interjecting—
Senator Hanson-Young was with the family on the whale watch trip—thousands of dollars that it cost. Their hypocrisy knows no boundary. I never heard them reflect on themselves when they took a $1.5 million or $1.8 million donation.
It's got everything to do with this! If you want to talk about someone under influence because they've got a free flat for $7,000, I'll have a talk about you with $1.5 million or $1.8 million—whatever the figure was—
My colleague tells me I'm out by hundreds of thousands of dollars. You people are hypocrites. You need to concentrate on the terms of some indictment that you imagine in your mind has been done here, because you behave like that in this place every day. You pull down jobs while Barnaby Joyce builds them. You pull down the bush and all the developments that occur in rural Australia while Barnaby Joyce builds them. He, on his worst day, would contribute more to this nation than your whole mob would in your best month—every time. Barnaby Joyce has done a phenomenal job and there's nothing, nothing, in the indictment that you have so loosely laid down that would in any way compromise him in doing the great job that he has done. He remains the leader of our party with absolute confidence. He will be there for as long as he chooses to be. You will not see our party move on it. You suggest that we are the ones with their career and their reputation at stake here. We will stand with this man. He's a fine leader of our party. He's a fine member of parliament. He's a fine Deputy Prime Minister.
You come in here and attack him through this hypocrisy. You have been silent on so many other matters. I will bet you London to a brick that not one single lick came out of your mouth in relation to the Dastyari matter. You want to talk about conflict and seriousness? You want to talk about that? Let's talk about that. If you want to talk about interoffice relationships and its impact on people's performance, I could start today, go alphabetically and get to about 50 or 60 people here and right across the community. You people need to take a breath and think about what you're saying. It is grubby. It is below the point. The only reason you have brought yourself in here today is that you know that the Australian people have moved past this. The media have run out of any opportunity to put one more word in the paper. They've run out of pictures. So what you're trying to do is add a bit of water and turn a cup of soup into enough for the whole eight of you. I'm telling you now, you'll fail at this, just as it's failed at the moment. The reason it's failed is that there's been no weight in the indictment. There is nothing to see here. These things are tickety-top. There are movements of staff in the hundreds around this building every week. You do it yourself. You share resources. You sit your resources in the one room over there with the Greens. They're attached to you, but you sit them in a common office. You come in here and try to lecture us because you've found some sliver of a thing, some lightweight sliver of a thing, and you think we're going to fold. I will tell you that biting into us is like biting into a stone fish. It won't end with your story. (Time expired)
I rise to support Senator Di Natale on this motion and also to agree with Senator Wong that the Deputy Prime Minister's position is untenable. I will go further and say that it was untenable last year. He should have stood down as Deputy Prime Minister and the party should have insisted on it when he was accused of being—and it was proved to be right—a dual national. He should have stood down then and gone to the backbench at least. Senator Canavan did that. He stood alongside the then Attorney-General Brandis and said, 'This is the right thing to do.' Senator Canavan did the right thing and went to the backbench. That's what Mr Joyce should have done back then.
Earlier today, when an earlier motion was being circulated, I would not have supported it because it directly said that the Prime Minister should sack the Deputy Prime Minister. I thought that was not the way it should go. I say to the junior partner of the coalition, the Nationals: it's your job and your responsibility now to do what you think you should do. I'm pleased, in a way, that Mr Joyce has probably taken some of the advice I gave him in a tweet earlier this week, in which I said:
Suggestion for Barnaby. Announce today: "Because of circumstances ,I have asked the Prime Minister to have Foreign Minister Bishop stand in for him when he goes to Washington next week".
A tweeter said to me that the Nationals won't do that because it is common sense. No aspersion on you, Senator Cormann—I realise now that the foreign affairs minister will be overseas next week and you will be the Acting Prime Minister.
But I do think, as Senator Wong said, it is untenable. You can't have this person in there, and you as a government shouldn't want it, either. As a government you've been making some traction, you've had the PM getting some traction and getting ahead of Opposition Leader Shorten in the polls. If he goes to Washington next week and is at the White House, with Mr Joyce as Prime Minister, the headlines will all still be about Mr Joyce.
You are wrong, Senator O'Sullivan. There is still plenty in this story; there's plenty of stuff going around. I suspect The Daily Telegraph and Sharri Markson have had stuff in a file marked 'get you Barnaby' going on for months.
I shall. I was just making the point that I thought that a comment made by Senator O'Sullivan was wrong. The newspapers haven't run out of stories and I suspect that Sharri Markson and The Daily Telegraph still have heaps and heaps and heaps of material that has been marked 'Barnaby'—since about last April, May or June. Who knows—they have had it.
I will go back to the original point. If you had any sense as a party—I'm only one man and the new boy here, but if this were happening to me my staff would be telling me 'Derryn, get back, sit down, apologise, clean up your act.' This is a definite breach of ministerial standards and I think it is a disgrace that he's staying there for one more day.
Honourable senators interjecting—
That the Senate calls on the Deputy Prime Minister to resign from his position of Deputy Prime Minister of Australia for clearly breaching the standards required of Ministers; and if he does not resign, calls on the National Party to sack him as leader.