Wednesday, 12 February 2020
Questions without Notice
Liberal Party of Australia
My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Reynolds. Yesterday, the minister suggested that footage contained in a Liberal Party advertisement had been obtained from:
… a gallery of photos available on the website for people to download and use.
The Department of Defence's website clearly states that materials provided can only be reproduced in an 'unaltered' form. Why did the Liberal Party's advertisement contain footage in breach of the Department of Defence's policy?
I sincerely thank Senator Kitching for that question. That is for two reasons: one is because it allows me to answer your question that I took on notice yesterday and the other is also to add some more information in terms of your question today.
Coming to the question from yesterday: as you know, an authorisation line is required on material produced by a member or senator under Australian law. Any multimedia material created with reference to ADF assistance to the bushfire response was designed to inform the community about what the Commonwealth government was doing. The purpose of the material was also to communicate as simply and as helpfully as we possibly could—
It's on relevance. I don't know if we're in a time machine, but this was yesterday's question. We'd actually like an answer to today's question—a completely different question.
Honourable senators interjecting—
On the point of order, Mr President. The senator actually directly referenced the question that was asked yesterday in her question today. I would have thought that the way the minister is answering is absolutely directly relevant to the question as asked.
So, on the point of order: the question did reference yesterday's question. The minister is about to be directly relevant by referencing yesterday's question. However, there is a more appropriate time to explicitly add to answers in yesterday's question time, which is usually at the conclusion of question time. I am listening carefully to the minister's answer and I call upon her to continue. She has 1½ minutes remaining.
Further to your question yesterday, as we've just discussed, and also directly relevant to this question today, Defence was not tasked to provide any imagery or footage for the material. There is a significant amount of footage of ADF activity in the public domain.
Conveniently, when I was researching this issue yesterday I found some social media from the Australian Labor Party, authorised by Mr Wright. And, guess what? It shows ADF troops. So answer me the question about where you got this material from?
Order! Order, everywhere! I don't spontaneously draw ministers to the standing orders, so I call upon a point of order rather than assuming—yes. On this question, it is relevant for the minister to talk about footage and the footage used in the advertisement referred to. I don't believe it is directly relevant to refer to something of another party that may or may not have been at a very different time. There are opportunities to debate the merits of questions and answers after question time, and there are other opportunities to bring such matters to the attention of the Senate. Senator Reynolds.
It's on direct relevance. Senator Kitching's question went to the question of why the Liberal Party's footage breached the defence department's policy. It was not a question about whether the defence department tasked the footage, which is the way the minister construed the question.
Minister Reynolds is able to answer questions in relation to her portfolio. Minister Reynolds is not in a position to answer questions on behalf of the Liberal Party.
Opposition senators interjecting—
Order! I will rule on the point of order. With respect, Senator Wong, for that last part of the question, you did accurately reflect what Senator Kitching said. However, I do believe that if the minister is directly addressing issues around the footage or how it was obtained, I do, with respect, think that is a matter that is directly relevant. I can't instruct her how to answer the question. I remind senators that there is an opportunity to debate the merit of answers afterwards.
Just for total clarity, Mr President, I did directly answer the question when I said that Defence was not tasked to provide any imagery or footage of the material, and there is a significant amount of footage of ADF activity in the public domain, which I pointed out that the Labor Party has also accessed over the years. So I could not be clearer.
Firstly, Mr President, a point of order on relevance to the question I asked. Am I getting today's answer tomorrow? Is that what's going to happen?
The department's website also clearly states that material cannot be used 'without specific written authorisation from the Department of Defence'. When and from whom was permission obtained by the Liberal Party?
On the point of order: the minister was being directly relevant to her portfolio responsibilities. She made very clear what the matters relevant to Defence were. The minister does not represent the Liberal Party in this chamber; she represents the Defence portfolio.
On the point of order, two matters. Firstly, the minister had been speaking for eight seconds. I find it hard to believe that, unless there is an egregious breach, I can call the minister to a point of direct relevance after eight seconds. I need to allow the minister to complete a sentence or two. With respect, to my memory, in the statement immediately prior to the point of order being raised, the minister made an observation referencing a comment earlier by the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I believe that making that observation can still be directly relevant. The point of order goes to the merits of an answer, which is not in the capacity of the chair, nor is it the capacity of the chair to direct the minister how to answer a question as long as they're directly relevant. I'll call the minister to continue, noting she has 52 seconds remaining.
Just to be extremely clear, I will say it again: I am the Minister for Defence and I'm answering the Defence aspects of this. Yes, there is a policy on the website. Defence was asked not to provide any imagery or footage of the material. There is a significant amount of footage in the public domain which is regularly accessed by many. I will also point out that the question yesterday related to the social media of the Prime Minister—the question would be best directed to the Prime Minister's representative. You're talking about the Liberal Party, and I have answered the question fully in relation to—
Point of order: the question is about the application of a policy of the Department of Defence. The only person who can answer that question is the Minister for Defence. She should be able to answer this.
Senator Watt, you make an observation, but it is not in the capacity of the chair to direct the minister how to answer a question as long as the minister is being directly relevant, and I believe she was being directly relevant. Even if some people don't like the answer, there are opportunities to debate that, but it is not for me to judge. Senator Reynolds, have you concluded your answer?
Lucky we have estimates coming up! The department's website unambiguously states:
This material can not be used for political purposes or in a way contrary to Defence's apolitical standing.
As Minister for Defence, what action are you taking as a result of the breach of Department of Defence policy by the Liberal Party?
I totally and utterly reject the premise of your question. You are saying there has been a breach. I have seen no evidence of a breach. You have demonstrated no evidence of a breach. I have told you what the Defence policy—
On relevance: this whole series of questions is predicated on an answer that the minister gave yesterday, in which she said that this footage was obtained from the defence department's website, to which policies apply. That's the breach.
Senator Watt, you are attempting to make a point about the content of an answer. The minister was directly addressing an assertion contained in the question. She is directly relevant if she is doing that. In this case, the minister was entirely directly relevant using, in fact, the same words contained in the question. I remind senators that there's an opportunity to debate the merits of answers at another time.
As I said at the beginning of my first answer, the question I took on notice yesterday was relevant and I took it on notice to get further information. I have provided further information as the Minister for Defence, and as the Minister for Defence it is very clear what the answer is.