Thursday, 20 September 2018
Answers to Questions on Notice
Question Nos 900 to
Under standing order 74(5)(a), I seek an explanation from the Minister representing the Prime Minister and the Minister representing the Treasurer, Senator Cormann, as to why questions numbered 900 to 912 and questions numbered 914 to 922, which I placed on notice on 31 July 2018, remain unanswered.
I thank Senator Cameron for some notice of his intention to raise this. I can inform him and the Senate that the answers to the questions addressed to the Prime Minister have now been tabled, and to assist the chamber I table them here again. I am advised that the answers to the questions addressed to the Treasurer will be tabled today.
Under standing order 74(5)(b), I move:
That the Senate take note of the explanation.
In this country there has been a long tradition of a professional public service. There's been a long tradition of an impartial and accountable public service. Under the coalition, this impartiality has been attacked. It has resulted in this government appointing their mates, their advisers and their people who will do their bidding in the public service to senior public service positions. The Liberal Party commenced this approach when former Prime Minister Tony Abbott sacked Martin Parkinson, an independent, well-respected secretary.
This is the problem we have here. Senator Macdonald interjects that he was left-wing. I don't think anyone that looks at the service that Martin Parkinson has given to this country would say he's left-wing. The only reason Senator Macdonald would interject in such a way is that Martin Parkinson was dealing with the issue of climate change under the previous government. That's what you get from this bunch of muppets—that's how their own Prime Minister describes them; a government full of muppets—and we just heard from one of the muppets how they feel contempt for professional, well-accomplished public servants.
It is not only my view, Senator Macdonald; it's the view of people that have worked with Mr Parkinson. Mr Parkinson was seen to be so effective that he was appointed secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Let's get a bit of reality here. It's no wonder the Prime Minister calls this lot 'muppets'. These are the extremists in the coalition. They deny climate change, and they went out and knifed their last Prime Minister on the basis that they didn't think that he should have even been mentioning the words 'climate change'. This is an appalling situation. Senator Macdonald epitomises the nonsense that goes on in this divided government that is on its last legs and cannot focus on the real issues for working people in this country. It's an absolute disgrace.
We had the current Prime Minister, when he was Treasurer, commission and selectively release Treasury work that purported to attack Labor's economic and tax policies. A number of examples of that have been seen over the last year. This is an example of the politicisation of the public sector.
It is just unacceptable that we have to wait this length of time to get answers from the government to reasonable questions. I know why they couldn't give the answers—they were too busy knifing each other. They were too busy putting the numbers together to try and get rid of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. But, when they got the numbers together, the Leader of the Government in the Senate couldn't even count and his preferred candidate couldn't get up. This is the nonsense we have here.
A public service should be professional. A public service should be impartial and accountable. When you put your mates in there, when you put an ex-adviser like Mr Gaetjens in as Treasury secretary, then you know there is a problem. How can Mr Gaetjens be impartial and accountable? He can't do it. Scott Morrison appointed his chief of staff as Treasury secretary. What a joke. How can Labor and other parties in the parliament have confidence in a Treasury secretary who spent the last few years attacking the opposition's policies? The main attack dog on Labor policies has now been appointed as secretary of the Treasury. It's an absolute disgrace.
Treasury is supposed to put together a blue book for an incoming government. If we are fortunate enough to win the next election then Mr Gaetjens, the person put in there to basically run the government's agenda in Treasury, will be putting together the advice to the Labor opposition. How can we accept advice from a partisan player? How can we accept advice from someone who has—and I use the word loosely here—the pedigree of being the adviser to the worst Treasurer this country has ever had, former Treasurer Peter Costello? How can we have any confidence in this Treasury secretary? He's supposed to provide frank and fearless advice. He's supposed to be frank and fearless in what he does for government. We can have no confidence in that. This is a partisan political player. This is typical of this government.
The Public Service is supposed to be ethical. It's supposed to be values driven and it's supposed to act in the public interest. Mr Gaetjens cannot operate in a non-partisan way. It's clear that he has been the behind-the-scenes attack dog on Labor's policy. The culture of this government is to politicise the Public Service. It is just unacceptable. I'll look with interest at the responses that we have from Senator Cormann in relation to the questions that we asked. We did ask a whole range of questions that went unanswered, so Senator Cormann's responses will make interesting reading. And I must say I think they will point to the problems that we have with this government. Not only did it sack one of the most prestigious public servants in Martin Parkinson; it has also given us Senator Cash, this disgraced minister who misled the Senate on at least five occasions, who will not cooperate with the Australian Federal Police and who has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to cover up her involvement in the raid on the AWU offices and the use of the Registered Organisations Commission to attack her political opponents and the union movement. How can we trust this government when it gets down to that level?
You've only got to look at Senator Cash's appointments in the past. To the Australian Building and Construction Commission she appointed Nigel Hadgkiss. Nigel Hadgkiss spent years attacking the trade union movement on a massive salary, appointed by this government. This is a supposedly independent public servant who breached his own legal requirements as a commissioner. These are the types of people that this government appoints in senior Public Service positions. He had to resign in disgrace, but not before Senator Cash and this government, with the ABCC, ploughed, again, hundreds of thousands of public dollars into trying to cover up the breaches of the act that this public servant was supposed to be the guardian of. What a joke. What an absolute joke.
Then we had the appointment of the Public Service Commissioner, John Lloyd, who was nothing more than a partisan political player in all of his appointments ever in this parliament. He led the attack on working people in Western Australia through his appointments to the public sector in Western Australia. This is the modus operandi of this government: put your mates and your ideological attack dogs in senior public service positions and ensure that they deliver the government's agenda to attack their political opponents. It's an absolute disgrace. When the Public Service was closing in on him and his actions were being exposed, the Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd resigned in disgrace and resigned in ignominy. These are the types of people that this government appoint to positions.
Then we've got the Registered Organisations Commission itself. The Registered Organisations Commission are supposedly an independent organisation, but now we see quite clearly that they are nothing more than another attack dog for the Liberal Party and the coalition against the trade union movement, workers' rights and workers' capacity to actually bargain effectively. The coalition appointed Mr Mark Bielecki as the head honcho of the Registered Organisations Commission. This guy couldn't even tell me in estimates where the offices of the Registered Organisations Commission were. He is nothing more than a figurehead and a front for the Registered Organisations Commission.
The person who is in there to do this government's bidding is a Mr Chris Enright. Mr Chris Enright is the attack dog in the Registered Organisations Commission to attack working people, to attack their trade unions and to try and make sure that the union movement is on the defensive continually under this government. Mr Chris Enright is the very Chris Enright who put together, while he was a member of the Australian Crime Commission, a secret file on a Labor frontbencher.
These are the types of disgraceful appointments that this government make continually, and what they do is they diminish the Public Service. They mean that Labor and the public generally can have no confidence in what the Public Service does in terms of fearless advice. The ethics of the Public Service get dragged down with these types of appointments. You've just got to look at what some of the press have been saying about these appointments. Bernard Keane says that the appointment of Phil Gaetjens has degraded the Public Service to 'a partisan think tank'. Imagine the Treasury being seen as a partisan think tank—one that, as Bernard Keane says, 'contributes little to the polity and the public life of this country'. Bernard Keane goes on to say:
The many problems of Costello's treasurership -- the short-term and long-term fiscal indiscipline, the corruption of the retirement incomes system, Costello's inability to see anything outside the leadership prism—
were all done when Mr Gaetjens was a senior policy adviser to Mr Costello. What Bernard Keane says is that there were some impeccable candidates.
I've been on the economics committee. I've been on estimates committees. I've seen some of the Treasury officials—highly competent, non-partisan—bring the position that they should have impartiality and accountability—even though it's difficult to get them to be accountable sometimes at estimates! But they do bring the position that the Public Service should bring—impartiality—to the table. When you put someone like Mr Gaetjens in as the Treasury secretary—who has been a political warrior, a political attack dog, a political friend of the coalition—in a senior position, the highest position in economic thinking in this country, then it is a disgrace. That's why we can have no confidence in Mr Gaetjens. We had no confidence in Nigel Hadgkiss, and he ended up resigning in disgrace after being given a golden handshake by the coalition to give him a reward for breaching the legislation that he was supposed to enforce! You can't trust these political attack dogs and you can't trust the muppets across this chamber. You cannot trust them. There is Mr John Lloyd. Instead of the government taking action to make sure that he applied himself in an impartial way, they simply allowed him to resign. They allowed him to resign over his disgraceful behaviour. His partisan behaviour, in handing information to the Institute of Public Affairs, was a disgrace.
So here we are. Those are the types of people that this government is putting in key positions in the Australian Public Service. This has diminished the Australian Public Service. It's good to know that the shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen, has said that one of the key things that he has to do is restore the independence and non-partisan nature of this most important body: the Treasury. It is a disgrace that the coalition would plant political partisan appointments in key positions in the Australian Public Service to actually push their agenda and attack their political opponents.
No, Senator Cameron has not finished. I'm not surprised that Senator Macdonald can't concentrate long enough to even know what's happening in the Senate. It's no wonder that the people who appoint and support the senators in Queensland don't think there is enough confidence in him to continue for another term in the Senate. If you can't even keep your mind on what's happening, I suppose that might have been one of the reasons that you got the punt by coalition members, the LNP in Queensland.
I'll go back to what I was saying. The shadow Treasury spokesperson, Chris Bowen, has said that he is about restoring the independence and non-partisan nature of the Treasury. What could be more important than an independent and non-partisan Treasury? Yet this government, which their own PM describes as 'muppets', are in there destroying the independence of the Treasury, destroying the independence of the Public Service. I've only given you some examples. The disgraced Nigel Hadgkiss, the disgraced John Lloyd, the disgraced Chris Enright are in there as partisan political players for the coalition, attacking their political opponents and using government institutions to attack their political opponents. This is a government whose time has long gone, like Senator Macdonald—his time has come and he is going. He couldn't even go on his own terms. He had to be chipped out, thrown out by the electorate of the Liberal National Party in Queensland—a disgraceful government; time's up.
What a despicable, gutless speech this chamber has just heard. It's typical of the Labor Party and someone like Senator Cameron, who was a great mate of Eddie Obeid and the Ian Macdonald from the New South Wales Labor Party, who are currently serving time in jail for corruption and who are great mates of Senator Cameron. They're the sort of gutless, despicable comments you can expect from the Labor Party.
That is a clear reflection. It should be withdrawn. ICAC even indicated I was an honest and upstanding witness. I assisted ICAC. I assisted all of the areas that had to be assisted. So that should be withdrawn.
Thank you, Madam Deputy President. It certainly is a debating point, and Senator Cameron is denying he was a mate of Eddie Obeid's and the bad Ian Macdonald, the Labor Party minister from New South Wales. Is Senator Cameron denying that? What a gutless, despicable speech from Senator Cameron. He's a bit like former Senator Conroy, attacking public servants who have no way of responding. And Senator Cameron is typical of the Labor Party. Public servants aren't in this chamber and they cannot get up and defend themselves as I can. Senator Cameron won't stay to hear my responses to his despicable attacks.
Public servants are there to do a job. They are not part of the political process. Senator Cameron, Senator Conroy before him, and most Labor politicians and senators at estimates will attack public servants personally, knowing that they cannot respond to these vicious, personal and deliberate attacks by members of the Australian Labor Party. They are disgusting in the way they do that. I remember how Senator Conroy made an accusation to General Campbell, who everybody knew was an honest, reliable, first-class soldier, currently Chief of the Defence Force but in those days doing the job that his government had given him to do. He was subject to the sort of despicable comment you've just heard from Senator Cameron on public servants.
He speaks about a number of other public servants who are simply not in a position to defend themselves, although one of those he named—I can't be more specific than this—has sought to respond in the rules of the Senate to some of the despicable, personal and untrue allegations that were made by members of the Australian Labor Party.
And for Senator Cameron to talk about others making political appointments to the Public Service is just laughable. We have no better example than one who has just walked into the room—my good friend Senator Watt—who was a failed Labor member of parliament in the Queensland parliament and appointed then into the Queensland Public Service. I mean, if Senator Cameron wants to talk about examples like this, he only has to look over his shoulder and see that the Labor Party is full of this.
I've been in this chamber for a long time and, regrettably, I've lived through 12 years of Labor governments. They continually politicise the Public Service. Not often were they ever criticised by our side of parliament, because these political appointees, having been appointed, are public servants, and it's not our wont to actually politicise them. But the Labor Party know no bounds. I don't know all the other public servants that were mentioned by Senator Cameron, but I know Mr Hadgkiss did a wonderful job as an Australian bringing law and order to a very disorderly part of our economy—disorder that was promoted by the union movement, who put Senator Cameron in this chamber here. Mr Hadgkiss did a wonderful job in bringing law and order to an industry that had been unlawful.
I think Senator Cameron mentioned Mr Mark Bielecki. I believe he is from the commission that is looking into union rorts! More union rorts, and more Labor Party rorts—
Well, it will be a full-time job, you're right, Senator Williams. But that is typical of the Labor Party. When decent, honest, God-fearing officials—be they police, public servants, people with a specific role—look into the rorts, corruption and illegality of the union movement—
Senator O'Neill interjecting—
Senator O'Neill, no doubt, is supported by the CFMEU, who are continually fined by the courts of the land for illegal activity. The CFMEU are defended by the likes of Senator O'Neill and Senator Cameron. That's the sort of despicable conduct you get from Labor Party senators who support and promote these law-breakers—these people who say they don't have to bother following the laws of the land. That's what the union movement say.
Senator O'Neill interjecting—
This is not a subject I particularly want to raise, but Senator Cameron keeps on and on about my position in this parliament. Well, Senator Cameron—as with everything else—gets it completely wrong. I am on the ticket for the next election. He is not. He didn't even have the guts to face preselection with the Labor Party in New South Wales, because the union had tapped him on the shoulder and said: 'Sorry, mate, you're so useless, you're so ineffective, you get the boot. Off you go to Tasmania. We don't even want you back in New South Wales.' That's the sort of person who makes these sorts of accusations against me.
Senator Cameron interjecting—
Senator Cameron miscategorises the preselection panel of the Liberal National Party in Queensland. I wasn't thrown aside by the Liberal National Party. Of the 14,000-odd members of the Liberal National Party, there was a preselection panel of 253—200 of whom came from Brisbane, I might say—and they didn't select me in that No. 1 position.
Deputy President, on a point of order: I'm sure that the senator appreciates the opportunity to tell his personal story, but I thought we were debating the government's abuse of its authority in putting partisan people into senior roles in the Public Service. He should speak to the issue.
Thanks, Deputy President. I would just say on that spurious interjection and interruption by Senator O'Neill that I was actually responding to comments that her colleague Senator Cameron had made in this debate—and the debate is not on government principles; it is a debate to take note of something that Senator Cormann did.
I can assure members of the Labor Party that I'll be back after the next election. I will be back, and I will be doing that in the same way as your colleague Senator Singh did on one occasion—and I suspect will do again. I know that there is a lot of disloyalty, disruption, backbiting and division within the Labor Party, but I think Senator Singh will be back—and I'll be glad. She is a senator who shows the strength of her convictions. She is prepared to buck the machine, and good on her. It just shows the absolute division within the Labor Party. If you want to speak more about the division in the Australian Labor Party, let's have a look at their position on trade matters. Half of them are on one side and half of them are on the other side. They don't know where they are at. And, of course, Mr Albanese is there pushing on all this disunity because Mr Albanese sees that his time as Leader of the Opposition is fast approaching.
That brings me to a point that Senator Cameron always makes in attacking a female minister, one of the best ministers, who just so happens to be a female minister. You don't see Senator Cameron attacking too many male ministers in this place. In attacking Senator Cash, one of the best ministers we have had, Senator Cameron told mistruths about her, saying that she was disgraced and that she had misled the parliament. She is certainly not disgraced. I don't know if Senator Cameron thinks that if he says the word 'disgraced' often enough someone will eventually believe him. She is a brilliant minister. She is not at all disgraced; in fact, she is revered. She is looked up to by most Australians, because she did such a wonderful job in exposing the union movement for all of the rorts, dishonesty and illegality that it is involved in. Senator Cash did that, and because of that she has paid the ultimate price. The union movement, with their pockets of gold, are determined to get rid of her—and Mr Dutton, another very effective minister who stands up for what is right. The union movement, with their pockets of gold, will do everything they can to destroy Senator Cash and Mr Dutton—but it won't work in either case.
The unions will continue to attack Senator Cash. Why? Senator Cameron often talks about a raid on a union office. He seems to think that that is a problem. The police got a warrant to go and raid, to investigate criminal activity. And what was the criminal activity that they were investigating? It was whether or not Mr Bill Shorten, then a leading unionist, had misappropriated funds that had been given to the union movement into his campaign account for his tilt at being elected to parliament.
Senator O'Neill interjecting—
I don't know whether that's true or not, Senator O'Neill, but we do know, on the record, what that was all about. It was a police investigation—properly done with warrants—into a parliamentarian's office to see whether there had been criminality in the transfer of funds from the union movement to Mr Shorten's campaign account prior to his election here.
Of course, the last thing Senator Cameron or the Labor Party want to discuss is that particular issue. They are doing everything possible to derail the investigation into that alleged criminality. Senator Cameron will come in here and attack Senator Cash every day of the week. Why? It is because Senator Cash was the minister—she didn't make the decision of course; it was the authorities—who the authorities in her department decided needed to look into those allegations of criminality. But you never hear that from Senator Cameron; it's always, 'Oh, this raid on a member of parliament's office.' That's not the issue; the issue is: was there criminality by Mr Shorten in transferring, without authority, funds from the union movement to his campaign account? That's the question. Suddenly everyone has gone quiet. That's the issue that Labor Party senators don't want to be raised at this time.
All I can say is that Senator Cash has done a wonderful job, as has Mr Dutton in his role as border protection minister. He is the home affairs minister, who keeps Australians safe and keeps our migration policy operating properly. GetUp! and the unions, who fund the Labor Party and the Greens, don't like that, so they'll do everything they can to destroy those people. I see they're even trying to destroy my friend and deputy leader. He has been a wonderful minister in every portfolio that he has touched, whether in government or opposition. He has done a wonderful job. He's being attacked now for being promoted. I can't follow the logic of Senator Wong's attack on Senator Birmingham for his well-deserved promotion in the last reshuffle.
Senator Birmingham interjecting—
Don't thank me, Minister. I only speak the truth on these sorts of things, as I always do.
I return to my real point here. I have been here a long time and I have seen some robust debates in this chamber, but never have I seen these sorts of despicable, gutless attacks you get from members of the Australian Labor Party on public servants, who have no way of answering back. Senator Cameron can and does attempt to bully me, shout me down, accuse me and tell lies about me all the time. I don't mind that. I'm in this business, I have a thick hide and I can defend myself—I have the opportunity to speak. But Senator Cameron's regrettable, gutless and despicable attacks on public servants have happened only in recent years. I think it shows a lack of leadership in the Labor Party that those sorts of personal attacks on public servants are allowed to continue. The Senate and the Australian parliament are worse for that action.
It is one of the unwritten laws or conventions always followed that in this chamber you do not attack people who are not in a position to defend themselves. That is particularly so with public servants, who because of their roles always show—the word is not properly used—deference to parliamentarians because they see that parliamentarians are elected by the people, and they pay respect to them. They won't argue with politicians, because that's not their role or part of their appointment criteria. Politicians who come in and personally attack public servants, who they know have no ability to respond, deserve the contempt of the Australian people and I might say do achieve the contempt of the Australian people.
The previous speaker comes from a branch of the New South Wales Labor Party that has many of its politicians and ministers in jail for corruption and dishonesty. I'm amazed that Senator Cameron ever has the gall to mention this subject. Senator Cameron has never and can never deny that he was a good mate of Eddie Obeid, who is now serving time in jail, and the man who regrettably has my name—Ian Macdonald—and was a Labor minister in a New South Wales government I think of Senator Keneally. Senator Cameron was mates of these people. I understand that they protected his preselection. They helped him knife in the back his colleague George Campbell. I remember Senator George Campbell, a Labor senator here—not a terribly effective one, but he did the job and he did it honestly. Senator Campbell was a nice enough fellow. I understand he thought that Senator Cameron was a friend of his. But we all know from reading the newspapers that Senator Cameron knifed him in the back to get his position here in the parliament. And Senator Cameron well knew that, had he stood for preselection for the next election, he would have been beaten because people have long memories in the New South Wales Labor Party and the knives were out for Senator Cameron. He didn't even have the guts to fight.
Senator O'Neill—well, I don't think you were part of that group—continues to protect those who bring politics generally into disgrace but, more importantly, the New South Wales Labor Party into despair.
Madam Acting Deputy President Lines, this debate is to take note of Senator Cormann tabling some answers on time. Senator Cameron wanted to know where those answers were, and Senator Cormann said, 'Well, here they are.' Yet, we've still had a one-hour debate because Senator Cameron likes to use these sorts of opportunities to smear those who cannot defend themselves. As I say, it's this sort of gutless, despicable activity by some politicians that leads the whole profession to be viewed in a poor state by most Australians.
Question agreed to.