Thursday, 5 December 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Cormann. In 2019 Prime Minister Morrison has failed to tell the full story relating to (1) his inappropriate contact with the New South Wales police commissioner regarding a criminal investigation into a member of his cabinet; (2) his invitation of the head of the Hillsong Church, Brian Houston, to a state dinner in Washington DC; and (3) his refusal to require Gladys Liu MP to make a statement to the parliament. Why does the Prime Minister think Australians don't deserve to know the truth about his government?
The Australian people not only deserve the truth; they are getting the truth. The Australian people saw right through what they were getting from the Labor Party at the last election, which is why they re-elected the Liberal-National government, which they know is delivering for them. They knew that the alternative was going to be a real disaster for them. I'm being asked about Washington and things over the last year—the Australian people clearly knew that a future Prime Minister Shorten had a secret plan to make Senator Keneally the ambassador to the United States.
Direct relevance: I know that Senator Cormann knows a lot about secret plans—we saw that this week—but he seems to be obsessed with Senator Keneally. That's a matter for him—dear me, I probably shouldn't have said that! The question actually relates to his government and his Prime Minister's failures.
On the point of order: I actually answered the question up-front. I'm now providing further context to the question that was asked. I was asked about why we're not revealing the truth. I think truth telling is something that we need from all around the chamber, including from the Labor Party, because we now know that Senator Keneally doesn't really want to be in the Senate.
Senator Cormann, I grant a lot of discretion to leaders at the table. I take that as a point of order. It did cross into debating the matter. I remind ministers answering questions that all the material in an answer must be directly relevant.
Senator Wong interjecting—
I'm trying to provide a ruling, Senator Wong. I remind ministers that all material in an answer must be directly relevant, but I do remind those asking questions that, with a question like this that covers a great deal of material and has a great deal of what I might call loaded rhetoric in it, the minister has a great deal of discretion in answering it as well.
On the point of order, Mr President: I would like to invite you to reflect on that ruling and perhaps come back to the chamber at an appropriate time. I believe that presidents in the past have ruled that, when there are politically framed and politically charged questions, the way this one was, there is quite a level of discretion around the definition of directly relevant. I do submit to you that, in the context of the question and the way it was framed, my answer was absolutely directly relevant. I would like you to reflect on that.
Given the submission the Leader of the Government in the Senate has made, I also make a submission. My submission, when you consider this, Mr President, is that what this matter goes to is the Prime Minister's failure to answer a question about Brian Houston; the Prime Minister's inappropriate contact with the police commissioner; and the Prime Minister's refusal to make the member for Chisholm, with all the public allegations against her, make a statement to the parliament. Those are not political questions; they are questions of accountability, transparency and government.
I might say, Senator Wong, you did raise those points, but the end of the question was what I would call highly politically charged and loaded, and the minister is granted a great deal—
Senator Wong interjecting—
I will wait until there's silence before I continue talking. I'm more than happy to, as I always do when people ask me to reflect on rulings. My view is that 'directly relevant', as I said the other day, is a much tighter test than the old test, which basically said that you could talk about the same subject matter. I'm more than happy to reflect on that. I don't know if I'll be back this afternoon, but I'll make sure I do before the next question time. I call Senator Cormann to continue his answer. He has concluded his answer. Senator Kitching, a supplementary question?
Prime Minister Morrison has refused to stand Minister Taylor aside despite Minister Taylor and Minister Frydenberg's involvement in the grasslands affair and Minister Taylor's use of doctored travel costs in official ministerial correspondence, which has led to a criminal investigation by the New South Wales police. Why does Prime Minister Morrison refuse to ensure his ministers meet the standards he has set them?
I reject the premise of the question. The Prime Minister absolutely insists on his ministerial standards being complied with. The question is: why is Senator Keneally still on the frontbench of the Labor Party when she actually wants to be in Washington? Why did she take Senator Farrell's job as deputy leader when she actually doesn't want to be here? That is the question that Mr Albanese must answer.
In October, Australian media outlets launched their Right to Know campaign in response to the Morrison government's culture of secrecy, and yesterday the Morrison government refused to make public the deal they did with Senator Lambie in order to repeal medevac. Why doesn't Prime Minister Morrison think Australians have a right to know?
All Australians absolutely have a right to know, and you know what the Australian people know? That we fixed up Labor's mess at our borders. The Australian people know how many boats arrived here illegally and how many people drowned under your watch, and they know that we fixed it. They also know that your weak medevac laws, which you passed about 12 months ago, weakened our national security arrangements and that the Senate this week voted to strengthen our national security arrangements. That is what the Australian people know. The Australian people also know that there is no secret deal, as the Labor Party tries to allege.
Let me say it very slowly for Senator Wong again: there is no secret deal, only an explanation of good public policy, and we will ensure that Australia's border remains secure and we will continue to deal with the legacy case load that you left behind after six years of disastrous government.