Tuesday, 21 August 2018
Questions without Notice
Liberal Party Leadership
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health, Senator McKenzie. I refer to reports that the member for Dickson, Peter Dutton, was running a joint ticket with the member for Flinders, Greg Hunt, for the leadership and the deputy leadership of the Liberal Party. Can the minister guarantee that the Minister for Health was not running a joint ticket with the member Dickson, Peter Dutton, in the vote against Prime Minister Turnbull?
On the point of order, this is a question to the minister in her representing responsibilities and goes directly to the conduct of the minister she is representing, a member of the cabinet who is bound by cabinet solidarity. I would submit to you, Mr President, that these sorts of questions have been asked and answered. My recollection is that Senator Abetz asked similar questions of Senator Conroy when we were on that side of the chamber. It goes directly to the tenability of Mr Hunt as a cabinet minister. What could be more relevant to his role as a minister than his loyalty to the cabinet and to the Prime Minister, consistent with the Cabinet Handbook and with the principles of Westminster government.
Senator Wong, firstly, questions about the Cabinet Handbook should go to the Minister representing the Prime Minister in the first instance. Secondly, ministers can be questioned about public statements they have made outside that don't relate to their portfolio. Ministers representing other ministers in the other place can, of course, be questioned about matters of public administration within their representational portfolio. I will come back to the chamber in some detail on this. I will invite the minister to say if there is anything she wishes to add. I'm not going to rule the question out of order in this, because I'm going to allow the minister to add something if she wishes.
What I will say is that, I think, without reference to materials, this is a stretch because it does not relate to the portfolio responsibilities of the minister, a public statement made by the minister or the minister she is representing. Senator McKenzie, if you wish to say something in response to the assertions in that question, you may, if not I will move on and provide Senator O'Neill with an opportunity to ask a supplementary question.
Mr President, as a point of order, a supplementary question is meant to be designed in response to the answer given. If a minister says, 'I have no business in answering the question,' or, 'I don't want to answer the question,' how can you have a supplementary question?
This goes to the confidence a cabinet minister has in the Prime Minister. That was precisely the ambit of the initial question—whether or not that cabinet minister is loyal.
Senator Canavan interjecting—
Well, you can get up and take a point of order and tell us what your vote would have been too, Senator Canavan, if you want. I've made my first point. The second point I'd make is that I note this is precisely the same question that was asked of Senator Fierravanti-Wells and Senator McKenzie previously, and now Senator McKenzie is refusing to respond in relation to the Minister for Health, a cabinet minister.
On the point of order, Senator Wong is being incredibly disingenuous here, because there is a significant difference between a minister representing a minister in the other place, in relation to the sort of question that was asked, and a minister who is a portfolio minister in this chamber, who of course can directly answer in relation to conduct that is in their direct personal knowledge. I don't think it is appropriate or reasonable or that it can be expected for a minister representing a minister in the other place to answer on their behalf in relation to matters that do not relate to public administration, do not relate to public statements and are only in the personal knowledge of an individual concerned. There is no way that Senator McKenzie could possibly provide an answer in relation to that question based on the knowledge that she can reasonably be expected to hold herself.
Yes, I do, Mr President, if I may. This goes to whether or not a member of the cabinet has confidence in the Prime Minister. I would have thought that is self-evidently a matter that should be permitted under the standing orders.
Just going back to Senator Bernardi's original point of order, which has not been dealt with by Senator Wong—Senator Wong was referring to other issues that were not raised by Senator Bernardi, around topics of questions—Senator Bernardi's point of order went to the proper construction of supplementary questions. I refer you, Mr President, to Odgers, which says:
On 14 April 1986 President McClelland made a statement concerning the use of supplementary questions.
Since that time—
the time of the introduction of supplementary questions—
successive Presidents have consistently ruled that supplementary questions are appropriate only for the purposes of elucidating information arising from the original question and answer.
I put to you, Mr President, that this question has not satisfied that condition and therefore should be ruled out of order.
Senator Collins, I indicated before that I was going to let Senator Bernardi respond, because he raised the initial point of order. I have given Senator Wong a couple of opportunities. Do you wish to say something before I rule, Senator Bernardi?
Okay. On the first point of order raised by Senator Bernardi, that reference to Odgers, I would contend that the Senate has become, whether it should or not, somewhat more liberal in its application of those provisions since 1986, when I was 13 years old. I might say, having spent time in this building in the nineties, it's become somewhat more liberal over the last 25 years as well. If senators want supplementary questions to not just relate to the question but also relate to the answer given, question time will become very different, and I'm happy to raise this matter with the Procedure Committee. So I'm not going to uphold your point of order, Senator Bernardi, given the custom and practice for the last decade has been that the questions must relate to the primary question, not the answer as well.
On the second point of order, relating to the capacity of the minister to answer for a minister they represent, I am of the view a minister can be asked about statements their representational minister gave, statements or actions of a minister they represent, or policies in the portfolio of a minister that they represent. A minister cannot have a window into another's soul. Quite frankly, to ask a minister about a non-portfolio, non-public-statement matter or about the state of mind of a minister that they are representing is inappropriate. The earlier question to Senator Fierravanti-Wells was in order because it was directed at Senator Fierravanti-Wells as a minister in the government. This question is fundamentally different. Senator O'Neill, do you have a final supplementary question on this matter, given what I've just said?
Can the minister guarantee that the Minister for Health did not support the member for Dickson, Peter Dutton, in the vote against Prime Minister Turnbull? If not, will the Minister for Health be resigning from the executive?
Senator O'Neill, given what I've just said, I'm ruling that supplementary question out of order. With all respect, I just made a statement about what are appropriate questions to representational ministers. I will come back to the chamber in some detail, and I'll raise this matter at the Procedure Committee when it meets later this week.