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. I refer to the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction's use of doctored travel costs in official ministerial correspondence to the Sydney lord mayor, Clover Moore. Minister Taylor himself has admitted to using incorrect figures in official ministerial correspondence, forcing him to 'apologise unreservedly' to the Sydney lord mayor. Does the minister endorse Minister Taylor's use of doctored travel costs from a false document in official ministerial correspondence?
Firstly, Minister Taylor does not endorse it. He was obviously not aware when he used that document. That is, of course, why he apologised once he did become aware. No-one should ever use doctored documents—of course not.
Minister Taylor has told the parliament that the document containing incorrect figures 'was drawn directly from the City of Sydney's website. It was publicly available.' But the City of Sydney has provided metadata demonstrating that only the correct version of the document was ever made available on its website. Is the minister aware of any evidence supporting Minister Taylor's version of events?
Let me just say again: nobody should ever—and Minister Taylor 100 per cent agrees with this—knowingly use documents that are not accurate. Nobody should knowingly use documents that are fabricated. In relation to the ins and outs of the matters that Senator Keneally just raised, I refer you to the statements made by Minister Taylor.
Obviously, both the Prime Minister and Minister Taylor have made statements in relation to these matters, and I refer you to those. Furthermore, we now have this letter from the serial letter writer, Mr Dreyfus, which has gone to the New South Wales police. The New South Wales police, as a result of Labor's partisan, politically motivated actions, will now do their work, and that work should be allowed to take its course without interference from the Labor Party, whether here in the Senate or anywhere.
Before I come to the next question, I'd just like to clarify my point earlier with regard to the term 'abuse of office', reflecting on the standing orders in front of me. It is my view that someone referring to a member in the other place as an 'abuser of office' would be a personal reflection on a member of the other place under standing order 193(3). The phrase 'abuse of office', however, is an action and not a personal reflection, and I think it would be very dependent upon the context in which it is used, like all language in this place. I thought I should clarify that, reflecting upon it at the time.
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Cormann. After scandals surrounding Minister Taylor about water, about grasslands and about incorrect figures in correspondence, how long will the Prime Minister let the embattled Minister Taylor remain a minister of this government?
I thank Senator Waters for that question. The reason why Labor and the Greens attack Minister Taylor so mercilessly is that he's such a good minister. He is so effective at bringing down the cost of electricity, he's so effective at bringing emissions down, and the Labor Party and the Greens don't like it. Minister Taylor has introduced the default market offer, the price caps; he's setting up the $1 billion Grid Reliability Fund; he delivered a $370 million investment in hydrogen and announced the National Hydrogen Strategy; he put an end to dodgy discounts and late payment fees; he implemented the Retailer Reliability Obligation; he's been successful in getting the big-stick legislation passed through the parliament; he delivered the Business Energy Advice Program; he advanced our Gas Market Reform Package; he established the Liddell Taskforce; he invested in four hydrogen projects and one bio energy project; he agreed to underwrite the Queensland-New South Wales Interconnector; he invested in two electric vehicle development projects; he opened formal negotiations with the US around access to strategic petroleum reserves; and there is more. Minister Taylor is a hardworking, highly effective minister. The Labor Party and the Greens don't like him because of how effective he is. They're just pursuing one political smear after the other to try and bring down somebody who is making a fine contribution to our country.
The Prime Minister's ministerial standards expect 'the highest possible standards of probity', and yet the Prime Minister has not taken any action against Minister Taylor for any of those recent or previous scandals. Clearly those standards are either too weak or not being enforced. How long until we get a federal anticorruption body which covers federal politicians?
Firstly I reject the premise of the question. Minister Taylor is a very good minister. Let me tell you: everyone in the parties of government in this chamber should be very concerned about the proposition that a letter from your political opponents to police—in particular, from a serial, unsuccessful letter-writer like Mr Dreyfus—should be the basis for a minister to be stood aside. Everyone on both sides of this chamber who might have the opportunity in the future to serve as a minister should be very concerned about that proposition.
In relation to the last part of the question, it is well known that the government is committed to bringing forward legislation to establish a Commonwealth integrity commission, and, of course, that will build on the very substantial framework and architecture that we already have in place to fight corruption here in Australia, which is highly effective.
When will this government act in the public interest and not its own private interest or the vested interests of its corporate donors? When will you act to clean up the stench of corruption, end the influence of dirty corporate donations and clean up democracy?
Firstly I completely reject the premise of the question. Governance in Australia is actually at one of the highest standards all around the world, so that proposition and smear that Senator Waters puts forward against Australia and governance in Australia is quite disgraceful. Then she talks about political donations. I seem to recall that one of the biggest ever political donations from a corporate donor was given to the Greens—$1.6 million in a single donation to the Australian Greens. Who was that from? I'm just trying to remember. The way you come into this chamber is so hypocritical.
My question is to the minister representing the minister for emissions reduction, Senator Birmingham. I refer to minister for emissions reduction's use of doctored travel costs in official ministerial correspondence to the Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore. When Minister Birmingham was asked in question time whether he stood by his statement on the ABC on Tuesday that, 'The information was sourced from the City of Sydney website,' Mr Birmingham said, 'That is the advice of Minister Taylor.' Has the minister discussed this matter directly with Minister Taylor?
As Senator Wong, if she can remember back to when she was a minister, would recall, ministers receive briefings from the ministers they represent and their offices in advance of estimates and in advance of question time. Those briefings are common practice, and we're going to go through letter, chapter and verse of every element of those briefings, where it has been very clear and consistent all along in terms of the statement that Mr Taylor gave to the House of Representatives, making clear, as he also issued publicly, that the document was sourced from the City of Sydney website. That is what he has made clear consistently and that is what I have informed this chamber consistently. The opposition can continue to ask the same question again and they're going to get the same answer again. That is what happens when you ask the same question: you get the same answer.
We on this side want to get on with talking about issues that impact on real Australians. But you seem to be happy to continue to spend all of your time desperately going down political witch-hunts, dirt-digging and smearing—undertaking those activities. We will make sure that we spend our time getting on with dealing with electricity prices, dealing with energy security and dealing with creating more job opportunities for Australians. These are the things that matter. That's what we are going to continue to focus on.
I completely reject the premise of the question, because the question seeks to rewrite the answer to the previous question. If Senator Wong had listened to my answer to the primary question, where I reinforced yet again Mr Taylor's statements, issued publicly and to the House of Representatives, she would have heard that the document was taken from the City of Sydney website. Mr Taylor has acknowledged that there was in the end an error in relation to the document that was used, and that's why he has apologised to the Lord Mayor of Sydney. That's why he issued the apology. But he has been consistent all along: the document came from the City of Sydney website.
A point of order on direct relevance: I have given the minister very many seconds to answer this. We didn't ask about the history of the document. I asked one question only, and this minister confirmed that he has spoken to Mr Taylor about this issue. I asked if Mr Taylor had told this minister who doctored the document. That's the only question I asked.
I've let you restate the question, Senator Wong. I am listening carefully, and I do consider the minister to be directly relevant if he is talking about the document. The minister, to my way of listening, has been talking about the document. I don't believe he has to accept the premise of the question, but talking about the document is directly relevant.
As I made clear right at the very outset, if Senator Wong had listened to the answer to the primary question, the answer was: Mr Taylor has made clear that the document was downloaded from the City of Sydney website. That means that your supplementary question is invalid, Senator Wong.
If Senator Wong did not spend as much time interjecting, which is disorderly, and if she actually listened to the answer that the minister was giving, she would have heard that that he was actually making the very explicit, directly relevant point that he could not possibly be able to answer that question, because, as has been stated in the past, it was a document that was downloaded from a website. So the minister was directly relevant and directly answering the question.
Mr President, let me be very clear for Senator Wong's understanding: the document, according to Mr Taylor, was downloaded from the City of Sydney website, and, Senator Wong, I do not know who runs the City of Sydney website, aside from the City of Sydney.