Tuesday, 11 September 2018
Questions without Notice
Minister for Home Affairs
My question is to the minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Cormann. Minister, I note with alarm revelations in today's Fairfax papers that the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, helped get at least one of his former mates from Queensland Police Service a job at the Australian Border Force. It also emerged overnight that the same person ended up working as a departmental liaison officer in Mr Dutton's office and became the conduit by which another mate of Mr Dutton's from Queensland Police got Mr Dutton to arrange for an au pair to come into Australia. Seriously, you couldn't make this stuff up and be believed, could you? Minister, given the compelling evidence of Minister Dutton's rampant abuse of his power, why will the Prime Minister not do the right thing and sack Mr Dutton?
Claims that the Minister for Home Affairs influenced the recruitment process within the Australian Border Force are wrong and vexatious. The procedures undertaken in the matter raised in the media were normal Public Service recruitment processes managed by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. I'm advised that the procedures involved an external recruitment agency and a selection panel process to short list the best available candidates. I'm also advised that neither the minister nor his office had any involvement. Even the source of these claims, former Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg, denies involvement in the interviewing, short-listing or selection process, which of course begs the question of how he then can suggest that anyone else could have influenced the process, notwithstanding that this is a disenfranchised and now discredited former commissioner involving himself in muckraking to aid in a smear campaign pursued by Labor, the Greens and others. Questions regarding the recruitment process should be directed to the department through the proper process.
Minister, the Statement of Ministerial Standards requires ministers to 'act with due regard for integrity, fairness, accountability, responsibility, and the public interest'. What steps has the Prime Minister taken to assure himself that Mr Dutton has done that, particularly with regard to the overnight revelations in the Fairfax media?
I note that the minister refused to detail what steps the Prime Minister had taken. Minister, what is the government's position on the corruption of the Joh Bjelke-Petersen government? Do you condemn it, or are you happy to see it revived?
Senator McKim, that wasn't even close to being a supplementary question and relating to material in the first question or material provided by the answer given by Senator Cormann. I'll invite Senator Cormann to respond, if he wishes, to any issue relevant to the portfolio.
The final supplementary asked by Senator McKim reflects very poorly on him. As I indicated in my first two answers, we completely reject the assertions that have been made. The assertions that have been made are vexatious and wrong, and clearly Senator McKim didn't listen in any way, shape or form to the primary answer.
I wonder whether you could clarify for me: if you've ruled a supplementary question to be out of order, then it has to be out of order to invite the minister to respond to something that is not part of the parliamentary process.
I appreciate the position that Senator Bernardi is advocating but, on the point of order, it has been the practice, where there is disputation about the parameters of a question, for a President to invite the minister to answer to the extent that the question is within order and falls within the portfolio, and I think that is a sensible practice.
On the point of order, I do think—I'm always happy to answer questions, of course—
Opposition senators interjecting—
No, this is a serious point. I think we ought to reflect that, if there's no sanction and no consequence to asking questions that are in breach of standing orders, what will prevent people from raising issues in a way that is in breach of the standing orders, in the future, as part of making a political point?
As a general point, on this, when questions are asked that might be outside ministerial responsibility, it has long been the practice of successive presidents to invite ministers to answer that part of a question which relates to their ministerial responsibilities in cases where it is not clear a question entirely falls within the parameters of the standing orders. I took a similar approach with respect to this particular question to provide the minister with the opportunity. Any place for sanctions is not really a place for this chair, the President, but they are matters for the Senate. What I will, again, remind senators of is the standing orders and what is allowed and not allowed to be in questions. That includes limitations around epithets and imputations. I will strictly apply these because there has been some slippage, in my time in this chamber over the last decade.
I invited the minister to answer or to respond, even though I do not consider that to be a supplementary question, because I think it is fair and reasonable to give the minister an opportunity to respond to the assertion contained within it. Senator Bernardi.
Just in respect to that ruling, I'd ask you to, perhaps, reflect on it. I understand exactly where Senator Wong is coming from and the custom, but you were very explicit. You said, 'This supplementary question comes nowhere near to being appropriate as a supplementary question.' It wasn't relevant at all to the primary or the secondary question, notwithstanding the dispute there, but that was your ruling. So I would consider that, in the light of that ruling, there shouldn't be an opportunity for any response whatsoever. This is just a point of practice.
I'm happy to reflect upon it, and any senator who wants to make a submission to me please feel free to do so over the course of the day. I take the starting point that people should be given an opportunity to respond or to answer, as we've generally taken with response to questions that might not be technically in order, but I will reflect upon it as you request and I will come back to the chamber.