Wednesday, 22 August 2018
Great Barrier Reef; Order for the Production of Documents
Under standing order 74(5), I ask Senator Michaelia Cash, the Minister for Jobs and Innovation, for an explanation as to why Senate order for the production of documents 954, relating to documents concerning the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, has not been complied with.
Yesterday, I tabled with the President a letter of explanation, and I will read it for the Hansard record: 'Dear Mr President, I write with regard to the Senate order for the production of documents 954, relating to documents concerning the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. Given the short period of time since the order was made and the wide scope of the order, encompassing a Commonwealth department and agency, further time will be required to respond. A response will be provided to the Senate as soon as possible. I have copied this letter to Senator Cormann and Senator Carr. Yours sincerely, Michaelia Cash.' That is dated 21 August 2018—that is, yesterday—and I have confirmed with my office that Senator Carr's office was provided with a copy of this response.
by leave—I move:
That the Senate take note of the explanation.
It's an extraordinary claim by the minister that simply providing the President with a letter to say that she needs more time should be satisfactory to this chamber. This is a proposition that is not just a matter of a few days; it was first moved two months ago—two months ago. In the first iteration of this proposition, it was directed at both the CSIRO and AIMS; and, in that case of the first iteration of this, the CSIRO had no difficulty responding. But this minister accepts the nonsense that AIMS should be exempted from this proposition.
There's a simple explanation here. The minister's office is absolutely more chaotic than the rest of the Turnbull government. Now, that's saying something. Equally, it's quite clear that this minister is preoccupied with what the Australian Federal Police are doing. She's not concentrating on doing her job. She's not concentrating on actually fulfilling her obligations to this chamber. She's preoccupied with what the Federal Police are saying to her and about the prospects of being charged for what is clearly a criminal offence—the actions that were taken in regard to the AWU raids. It is abundantly clear now: the actions of this minister, who's not able to even manage her office, let alone manage the affairs of the statutory authorities for which she is of course responsible.
What is equally clear is that there's been a botched arrangement in regard to half a billion dollars being allocated to the Prime Minister's very, very wealthy mates—arrangements that have been entered into because the Prime Minister effectively panicked. He panicked because President Obama, in November 2014, made the observation that he wanted the Great Barrier Reef to be there for his grandkids to see. Some two years later, nothing had been done. This is a government that had a windfall advantage in terms of its receipts. Instead of going through the normal processes of procurement, or through a normal appropriation, for public good research by a public sector research agency, it chose to hand out half a billion dollars, under the most extraordinary of circumstances, to a group of incredibly wealthy men and women that happen to be directly connected with the Prime Minister.
What we sought to do was get information from the CSIRO and from AIMS, and two months ago we asked the Senate to agree to an order for the production of documents. The Senate agreed. The CSIRO was able to respond, but AIMS was not, according to this minister. So I reduced the scope of the request, to assist the minister. What do we find even there? That, instead of doing her job, this minister gives us a lousy letter and says 'Well, that should satisfy you.'
Under the normal arrangements in the Senate, the normal courtesies were extended. I waited a little while and then got my office to ring up the minister's office and say 'Well, when will they be available?' In a very offhand way, her office replied 'Well maybe in the next sitting period.' With this government, you wouldn't be certain there will be a next sitting period, because this government is, of course, preoccupied with its own survival, not with meeting its obligations to this parliament. With all the attendant speculation about an early election, I think we are entitled to see what's been going on with the allocation of such an extraordinary amount of money. I understand that the Liberal Party is somewhat distracted this week. I understand that this has been an extraordinary set of difficulties, with the Prime Minister about to be dismissed, probably as early as tomorrow. But I don't think that's any excuse for the minister to allow her office not to do any of its work.
But, of course, that assumes that you've got a functioning office. In the Industry portfolio, we know that people are flat out even getting an appointment, let alone meeting elementary requirements for the production of documents for this chamber. We know the really basic reason for that is that the AFP takes up so much of this minister's time. We know that this minister has made a great pretence that there's been no fallout from that raid or from her obsession with playing politics with this parliament. But now we know that, over the last 300 days, about all she has done is try to defend her indefensible position, in terms of the fact that there has been such an extraordinary abuse of power by this government in regard to its pursuit of the trade union movement and the Australian Labor Party, and in regard to her behaviour.
Six hundred grand—$600,000, as Senator Cameron makes the point here. We know what the real anxiety is here. It's not doing your job. It's actually trying to protect yourself against the criminal charges that are now in the offing.
This OPD was a very simple proposition: the production of documents in regard to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the great international symbols of the future of the environmental questions that face this country. We have the most extraordinary and unorthodox disbursement of the taxpayers' money in the granting of the $444 million to this private charity, with no regular process and nothing resembling due diligence. We know that within the scientific agencies—the people we rely upon in this country to provide that patient science, that public accountability and that expertise, and who can do so on the basis that they understand that the public is behind them and their expertise in being able to deliver the advice to this nation about how to protect one of our great national assets, and indeed one of the great international assets—people have been talking to one another about the consequences of this government's actions. We also know that this grant—which was announced on 29 April and included in the May budget—was made under the most extraordinary of circumstances. We know what is happening in the CSIRO. We know that the officers there said that this was an amazing level of duplication, of waste and of extraordinary capacity to actually frustrate the work of our scientists. We know that this was an outrageous abuse of proper processes, and I think we're entitled to see what AIMS, the other great public research agency in this country, says.
The Australian Institute of Marine Science, along with James Cook University and various other research agencies in that part of Queensland, have had an amazing reputation for the quality of their work.
To think that funding a private organisation—a private organisation that has beach parties as, essentially, its key function, and an annual beach party as its main level of activity, for which you pay a subscription to network around a helipad—is the basis on which we should now conduct fundamentally important environmental research about such a massively important public asset strikes me as an extraordinary proposition. The lack of transparency involved with this measure highlights the fact that this government essentially panicked. The Prime Minister's mates at the big end of town thought, 'We can get away with this and no-one will really notice'.
We also know what is a pretty simple proposition: this is a government, whether it be under Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull or perhaps someone else now—we don't really know but it's probably Dutton—that has had an appalling attitude towards science, and this minister demonstrates that in spades. We started with the position under Tony Abbott where there was no science minister at all—none whatsoever. Then there was an outcry and Minister Macfarlane came onto the scene. Then there was Minister Pyne. Then there was Minister Hunt. Then there was Minister Sinodinos. Then, of course, the parliamentary secretary, Senator Seselja. We don't know whether he's in or out of the government. We don't know if he's actually sworn a new declaration of allegiance to the Prime Minister or not. But, given he's the numbers man for Mr Dutton, it's unlikely that any commitment he has given at the moment to be thoroughly loyal to the Prime Minister could mean anything, so we don't really know whether he's in or out. He's certainly not a minister for science: he's a parliamentary secretary and assistant minister. We've gone back to the old position of no minister for science. Every nine months or so, we've got a new person in charge of science in this government. We went from Tony Abbott, where the concept of climate change was not to be discussed at all. The word was a bit like 'innovation', it was to be banned. We went to Mr Turnbull who then said, of course: 'The word innovation has to be used in every sentence, irrespective of the context'. We can only imagine what it would be like with Mr Dutton.
What we do know is this is not the way to deal with the big issues with regard to the Great Barrier Reef—handing out half a billion dollars to some rich mates, so they can have a beach party once a year. We have to deal with these questions in a substantive way. When this Senate asks for basic documents, we're entitled to see them. Or, the minister should come in here and give a proper explanation, not hand a letter to the President and say, 'I need more time', and think that that will be enough. That's essentially what we've got at the moment. This is a minister that, frankly, is not interested in her job. She's not interested in actually fulfilling the functions of a minister, and ought to resign, along with the rest of this government. We ought to be able to go to the Australian people and let them decide. Let them decide about the future of this country, because, clearly, this government is not capable of it.
What a rambling, pathetic, nonsensical speech—not a speech, a shouting match from Senator Carr. Perhaps the worst minister that even the Labor Party has produced, he presided over the failure of the car industry in Australia and he did nothing, absolutely nothing, for marine science during the time he was in charge of it. And, more or less, with all his political comments, this is the guy who—I understand—the Labor Party didn't want to endorse. The guy who Mr Shorten removed from his front bench, and he only put him back when there was a bit of a revolt amongst Senator Carr's three or four supporters. This is the guy that couldn't even turn up to the preselection of the former Deputy President—the guy who supported Senator Carr, but Senator Carr couldn't even respond and help his mate out at the time of his preselection.
Those who listened to that rambling tirade—that shouting match, that irrelevant speech—mightn't have bothered, because Senator Carr has little credibility in this place and within his own party. I enter this debate only because of some of the outrageous smears that Senator Carr indulged himself in—which should have been addressed by the chair, I might say. The comment that Senator Cash is facing criminal charges is just an outright lie. As has been said in this chamber so many times, Senator Cash is not under investigation. If there is anyone under investigation, it could be a former member of Senator Cash's staff. Whilst the Labor Party rail on about that, we forget what that raid was all about. It was all about Mr Bill Shorten, as the leader of the AWU some years ago, wrongly appropriating some funds to his own benefit. The police investigation is not about Senator Cash but about misconduct by Mr Bill Shorten before he entered this parliament—or perhaps as he was entering this parliament, because he is alleged to have misappropriated money to himself from other sources for his election campaign.
Madam Deputy President, you and members of the Labor Party may not like these comments—which, as you know, are accurate—but when Senator Carr gets up and makes the outlandish, untrue, lying accusations he did then they have to be responded to. I know the Labor Party are fixated with police investigations, because Senator Keneally is in this place now, and two of the ministers from her government are now serving jail terms for real criminal offences. Senator Keneally put these ministers into her cabinet when she was the Premier of New South Wales. These two men were great friends with Senator Doug Cameron. I don't like raising these matters, but when the Labor Party is continually carrying on in a lying way about Senator Cash and others then I have to respond in kind. To paraphrase what that former great Labor leader Mark Latham once said about Graham Richardson, 'If Senator Cameron wanted to go and meet his mates for a reunion party, he'd have to do it in jail,' because that's where the guys who protected Senator Cameron, and whom he subsequently protected, are now.
I could spend an hour speaking in this chamber about Labor members of parliament who are now in jail. Remember that Orkopoulos fellow, a minister from New South Wales who ended up in jail on paedophilia charges? Remember Gordon Nuttall from my state of Queensland, a minister in a Labor government, who ended up in jail for accepting bribes—proved and convicted in court? I don't like raising these things, but when the likes of Senator Cameron and Senator Carr continually raise lying comments about Senator Cash and others then they can expect this sort of response from me. I could go on with any number of Labor Party people. Remember Keith Wright, the leader of the Labor Party in Queensland, then a member down here, in jail for indecent dealings with children? Remember Bill D'Arcy, a member of the Queensland Labor government, in jail for similar offences? If you go through the annals of New South Wales Labor politicians, you'll find many of them in jail. You know why my namesake—
A point of order, Madam Deputy President: Senator Macdonald accused members on this side of continuing to lie, and accusing people of lying is against the standing orders.
As I've said before, some of the allegations made by the likes of Senator Cameron and Senator Carr, they know are not true. They know they are lies. Yet they continue to make them. Senator Pratt, for as long as people on your side will continue to tell lies about Senator Cash and others, then you will get this response from me. I'll come next time with real details of members of the Labor Party, parliamentarians from the Labor Party, who are now currently in jail and have been in jail.
You clearly weren't listening, Senator Pratt. Again I'll take your interjection. As Senator Cash and everyone has known—and you know; you've been in the estimates committee with me when these outrageous allegations have been raised—Senator Cash is not under investigation. If anyone is, it is a former member of her staff, but related to what? It is related to a criminal investigation into whether Mr Bill Shorten, the current Leader of the Australian Labor Party, when he was trying to get into parliament, misused $40,000 of other people's money to fund his election campaign. That's what this is all about. That's what the police investigation is about; it is not into Senator Cash, not into Senator Cash's staff but into Mr Bill Shorten and the AWU. As I said, for as long as this continues to be raised by the likes of Senator Carr and Senator Cameron, you'll get the truth back from me about criminal activity—actual criminal activity, proven criminal activity—of Senator Cameron's mates.
Senator Cameron's mate Mr Eddie Obeid—why is he in jail? I don't have the exact details, but it was something like this, according to the media: he arranged with Mr Ian Macdonald—regrettably my name, but, as I always hasten to add, this was a member of the Labor Party in the upper house of the New South Wales parliament—the bad Ian Macdonald, to give some money to a union guy who could then get a preferential allocation of a coal licence which was worth millions and millions of dollars. It was all arranged by Mr Obeid and the bad Ian Macdonald, one of Senator Cameron's mates. You can understand why the Labor Party, Senator Cameron and Senator Carr particularly, are fixated with police inquiries, because there are so many police inquiries into members of the Labor Party that they obviously dream and sleep it every night.
The attack on the Great Barrier Reef Foundation that I think contained part of Senator Carr's allegation is, again, clearly as unsustainable as almost everything else that he said. The truth of the matter is that this government is determined to look after our marine environment. As I often say, even the conservation groups put out a glossy brochure titled A Big Blue Legacy: The Liberal National Tradition of Marine Conservation. That's not put out by the Liberal Party. It's put out by conservation groups, who go through in detail—and I invite people to have a look at it—all of the serious, actual advancements made in our marine environment by the Liberal and National governments. I've been here a long time and I know the Labor Party have never done anything. The Greens talk about it all the time and do nothing except send their former leader, Bob Brown, in his Sea Shepherd boat up to Cairns harbour and into the centre of the Great Barrier Reef, dropping oil all over Cairns harbour. That's the Greens' contribution to the protection of the Great Barrier Reef!
This government, in April this year, announced an additional $500 million investment to secure the future of the reef. That included $443 million to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. If you listened to Senator Carr, you would think the foundation—what he calls 'Malcolm Turnbull's rich mates'; this is how Senator Carr described them—put $444 million in their pockets and went out and bought a yacht, ran a big party, upgraded their house perhaps. That's what you'd think, if anyone believed Senator Carr. But I don't think there would be many people in Australia who would believe anything he said, let alone that accusation. This money went to a foundation with a track record in gaining other money from the private sector to contribute to the Great Barrier Reef. This foundation received that money. It all went through the proper processes and has been ticked off by all the relevant authorities.
The funding agreement is a robust one, and it sets out the terms of the partnership. That agreement is readily available for Senator Carr to read, if he could be bothered to do that. But, of course, he doesn't want to do that because then he would know the truth of the matter and would know that everything he says is an absolute and outright misrepresentation. The agreement requires the foundation to implement a strong governance framework, including safeguards to provide assurance over the funds, including against fraud, unlawful activities and other inappropriate conduct. It's all there in the agreement. The department undertook a thorough risk assessment of the grant proposal. The agreement requires a detailed planning and design process in the early stages to address the identified risks and successfully deliver this new investment into the Great Barrier Reef.
What the government was looking for was a partner who could leverage off government funding, and the foundation has a proven track record on this. It attracts substantial funding from the private sector. It's raised more than $90 million for the reef and, of this, about $87 million has come from corporate, philanthropic and other non-government sources. It's demonstrated its ability to deliver benefits to the reef and deliver government funding appropriately. An example of that is the Raine Island Recovery Project, which it did in partnership with BHP Billiton. The foundation engages some of Australia's leading philanthropists as well as scientists from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, CSIRO, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and universities. The foundation will deliver funds to a range of partners experienced in delivering reef protection action, and it will drive a new capacity and partnership for the reef.
I suspect that Senator Carr, even when he was the minister responsible for science, has rarely been to the Great Barrier Reef. As I have said often in this chamber, I am one of the few senators, perhaps the only senator, who actually lives adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. I know the Great Barrier Reef. I've been there often. I interact with people in my home town of Ayr, in Townsville where my office is, and in Cairns, representing the people there. I know what happens on the Great Barrier Reef. Senator Carr has no knowledge of or interest in the Great Barrier Reef. All he does is get up in this chamber and make unfounded accusations against hardworking, honest and forward-thinking ministers in this government.
The money that the Turnbull government is putting into the Great Barrier Reef is for many, many purposes, one of which is the crown-of-thorns starfish. The Greens would have you believe that the crown-of-thorns starfish is simply a result of climate change in the last few years. Of course, the issue of the crown-of-thorns starfish has been going for, I think, about 100 years, but certainly for 50 or 60 years. I remember as a small child hearing about Ben Cropp and his first work to try and address the crown-of-thorns starfish. Part of the money that is being provided for the reef will be to increase the number of boats and the number of divers who go out and pick up the starfish. I'm not a scientist, but that seems to me to be not a terribly effective way of addressing the crown-of-thorns starfish. I have raised it with people from AIMS, the universities and GBRMPA. I've said, 'Is that an effective way to do it?' and they've told me it is. We are going to increase the number of boats that go out and the number of divers who go out and pick up the crown-of-thorns starfish.
In so many ways, this government and our predecessor government are the ones that look after the Great Barrier Reef. I remember when I was fisheries minister that it wasn't much welcomed in the fishing community—although they eventually did accept the sense of this—when a coalition government set up the green zones in the Barrier Reef. Yet you never get a word of thanks from the Greens political party about the real work that has been done to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
I have responded to Senator Carr's untruthful accusations and I will do so every time they are raised. I know that the Senate wants to get on with other matters. There is an agenda before us, which the Labor Party often disrupt with these questions about answers taken on notice and documents that have been asked to be produced not being produced. Senator Cash gave a very reasonable explanation of why it has not been possible to give the answers that are required at this time. As I understood Senator Cash, the answers are being sought but they do require a lot of work by a lot of different agencies. She was asked why they weren't. She gave a very clear, reasonable and short explanation of it. That was followed by a 15-minute tirade from Senator Carr about nothing—about nothing that was relevant to the question before the chamber.
For as long as the Labor Party think they can get up and make these sorts of unfounded accusations, besmirching the good character of the ministers of this government, they'll get me responding for 20 minutes to explain the truth of the matter. So, I would hope that they don't continue to waste the time of the Senate with these unfounded accusations and these political tirades being shouted at those of us who have the misfortune to stay in the chamber. But, for as long as they do, they will have me responding to them, because I'm not going to let—I won't use the description I would like to—some senators of Senator Carr's standing besmirch honest, hardworking ministers in the way he often chooses to do.
Question agreed to.