Thursday, 28 November 2019
Questions without Notice
Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Cormann. The former commissioner of the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption, David Ipp, in relation to the Prime Minister's phone call to the New South Wales Commissioner of Police, said:
You can't see that it's information that relates to matters of state interest. It can only relate to matters of party interest. If it relates to matters of party interest then he's using his influence as prime minister to try to obtain the information so that he can make the politically correct decision – that is, whether to keep Taylor or to fire him.
Does the minister concede that the Prime Minister's phone call to the New South Wales police commissioner was inappropriate?
The answer is: no, I do not concede that. What the Prime Minister did was entirely appropriate. He first learned about it in question time, as a result of a question from the Leader of the Opposition in relation to the matter that the senator is referencing. As it turns out, the police investigation was the result of a letter from serial letter-writer Mark Dreyfus, the shadow Attorney-General. In fact, he's not just a serial letter-writer; he's actually a serial pest. He's a serial, partisan, politically motivated pest.
I have two points of order, Mr President. One is: I'd invite you to consider whether your request of me to rephrase my language yesterday—in one of the procedural debates on this, about a member in another place—is apposite here. The second is direct relevance: this is clearly not relevant to the response to the former ICAC head, Mr Ipp, and his comments about the Prime Minister.
On the terminology, I'll check the history of that particular phrase, and if it is I'll come back to the chamber and ask. I'm just not sure whether that's been used in Hansardbefore. But I will ask all senators to keep in mind that it is helpful if they don't use terminology that requires me to check Hansard. On the point of direct relevance, the minister had answered part of the question. I'm listening carefully. I do consider him to be addressing other parts of the question at the moment, but I'll continue to listen carefully.
Let me be more helpful. Again, I reject the proposition that there was anything inappropriate in what the Prime Minister did. It was entirely appropriate. I also disagree with the quote that the senator read out. It wasn't in relation to a party matter. The question that was asked in the House of Representatives was a question that related to government. It was a question that related to the operations of government, to ministerial standards. Indeed, the Prime Minister made an undertaking to the House of Representatives, which he fulfilled. And I say it again: we've got this serial letter-writer Mr Dreyfus, and you know what—he's also a serial loser, because, as far as I can see, every letter, every reference that he has made to police or other authorities asking for investigations, at least into those on our side—not one of them has actually been successful, not one of them.
On a point of order. I leave the first issue to your previous ruling. The second point of order I raised is direct relevance. How is an attack on Mr Mark Dreyfus relevant to questions about the criticism of the Prime Minister by the Independent Commission Against Corruption's former chair, David Ipp? Why don't you respond to his criticism?
I remind ministers that, even if they consider themselves to have directly answered part of the question, the remainder of their answer must also be directly relevant to the question. I ask the minister to keep that in mind as he continues his answer.
I will inform the Senate why it's relevant, and that is because this investigation by New South Wales police is the result of a letter from Mr Dreyfus—a political opponent, politically motivated, partisan. He is somebody who has form. This is part of an established pattern of political smear from the Labor Party.
Senator Wong interjecting—
It is part of an established pattern of political smear, and I've already answered that question, Senator Wong.
This morning, former counsel assisting the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption, Geoffrey Watson QC, said the Prime Minister's phone call to the New South Wales police commissioner 'should never have happened'.
Government senators interjecting—
In relation to what should never have happened, do you know what should never have happened? A partisan, politically motivated letter from the serial letter-writer with zero outcomes who is pursuing one political smear after the other, abusing his shadow ministerial office. That's what should never have happened. Let me tell you why it was appropriate, because the Prime Minister was asked a question in parliament by the Leader of the Opposition in relation to an investigation he had no knowledge of, and he undertook to find out. He undertook to get the information. He sought the information and he reported back to the House of Representatives. That was the Prime Minister fulfilling his public duties.
This morning, former commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, David Ipp QC, said the Prime Minister's phone call to the New South Wales police commissioner was not appropriate, and he said, 'An ordinary citizen would not be able to get that information from the police.' So, what is it about the Prime Minister that entitles him to that information? How was that phone call possibly appropriate?'
Again, we have the Labor Party initiating a partisan, politically motivated smear by sending a letter to the New South Wales police. The New South Wales police commissioner, on the public record, has said that they are looking at it because of the position of the letter writer. I say it again: the shadow Attorney-General abuses his office. He's a serial offender.
The same two points of order. The first is abuse of office that is alleged. I can tell you who is abusing their office, and I'm happy to debate that. The second point is: how is this relevant to a question which relates to criticism of the Prime Minister by the former commissioner of ICAC?
On the first point, I didn't hear that phrase—I did hear the word 'abuser'—but I will check. There was a fair bit of noise as I was trying to call the chamber to order. I would counsel everyone to be careful of using phrases like 'abusing office' because I will consider that to be imputation against a member of another place. On the point of direct evidence, I believe the final phase of the question was, 'How was the phone call appropriate?' I believe that is quite open-ended, and the minister is allowed to address that in the way that he is and be directly relevant.
As I've already indicated to the chamber several times now, the Prime Minister advised the House of Representatives on a number of occasions that, as a result of the question from the Leader of the Opposition, he would seek appropriate information in order to inform his judgement in the context of his responsibilities in the context of ministerial standards. That's precisely what he has done, and he reported back to the House of Representatives accordingly. If the Labor Party was so concerned about it, why didn't you raise this at the time when the Prime Minister first informed the House of Representatives that that was what he was going to do?