Thursday, 14 May 2020
Questions without Notice
National COVID-19 Coordination Commission
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Cormann. Minister, are you confident that the COVID-19 commission is free of conflicts of interests when it comes to proposals on energy investments? Isn't it true that donations from the fossil fuel industry to the major parties have more than doubled in the last four years, that the commission is jam-packed full of fossil fuel boosters, that there are no binding rules to address conflicts of interest and that advice from the commission to government will be kept secret? Where is the transparency?
I say again today what I said yesterday. The COVID-19 Coordination Commission is made up of a number of distinguished Australians who know how to manage conflicts, and I have every confidence that they will continue to manage conflicts as appropriate.
Given your government's spruiking of toxic methane gas and your COVID commission's obvious bias, are we at risk of a gas rush that will fuel the climate crisis and put Australians at risk? Why are you willing to listen to the health experts on the COVID crisis but not to the climate experts on the climate emergency?
I'm trying to find a way to translate that question—at least, I think there was a question mark at the end. If you're asking me whether I hope that we will boost the exploration and production of gas so that our businesses, particularly our manufacturing businesses, around Australia can have reliable access to more affordable and more competitively priced supplies of gas, then the answer is a resounding yes, of course. I hope that will be the case. If the COVID-19 Coordination Commission can help to bring that about, that will be good for the economy and it will be good for working families around Australia because it will help us to be more successful in competing with exporting businesses from other parts of the world. I hope that that is what you were asking and that I've answered the right question.
Last night the government was forced into an embarrassing clarification that the chair of the COVID commission is being paid not half a million dollars but a quarter of a million dollars for the six months. Is the government embarrassed that it is paying these obscenely high amounts to an unelected body stacked with fossil fuel mates, while it excludes half a million young people from JobKeeper and it is intending to drop jobseeker back below the poverty line in September?
Firstly, let me correct Senator Waters. The chair of the COVID commission is not getting a salary. Following the announcement of the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet undertook work to establish an arrangement to cover the assessed likely expenses of the chair and a suitable per diem for the commissioners. Neither the Prime Minister nor his office was involved in the establishment of these arrangements—and, as you have indicated, the department has provided a further statement, following the Senate committee hearing that you reference. Mr Power's flights, accommodation and other incidental travel costs are being covered, in his role as NCCC chair. However, he is not receiving a salary. In developing and executing Mr Power's contract, Prime Minister and Cabinet has estimated travel costs to and from Canberra, and he does come from Perth. We are a big continent, and people from Western Australia should also be allowed to participate— (Time expired)