Thursday, 18 March 2021
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Birmingham. Yesterday the Prime Minister confirmed that advice was being sought regarding the scope of the Attorney-General's portfolio responsibilities which would be removed from the Attorney-General on his return to work. When was this advice sought and by whom?
Those are details that I do not have to hand. I would have to take those on notice for the senator as to specifically when it was sought and specifically who made the request. As we have outlined to the Senate quite clearly, the government sought that advice out of an abundance of caution. We have, out of a further abundance of caution, acted in a number of interim ways in relation to engagement that the Attorney-General or his office would have on matters as they pertain particularly to the Federal Court and to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, pending the receipt of that advice. I'm not aware of updates to any of those precautions that have or are being taken at present. But of course, as all senators are aware, in the interim, at this point in time, Senator Cash is acting as the Attorney-General and is, therefore, without any risk of conflict, in a position to be able to fulfil all of the normal duties of the Attorney-General.
In relation to any ongoing arrangements that may be necessary when the Attorney-General returns to work, it would be the intention of the government, I'm sure, that the Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Senator Stoker, would undertake those relevant duties, as is appropriate, to ensure that all duties are fully handled. It's not unusual, in relation to any potential for a perceived conflict of interest to exist, for other ministers to be asked to handle matters in relation to such a perceived conflict of interest, but the government is acting cautiously and awaits that advice on this matter.
The advice the government is seeking is exactly of the nature that I have outlined. It relates to appropriately taking precautions in relation to ensuring that there is no real, or potential for perceived, conflict of interest to exist whilst the Attorney-General undertakes the defamation proceedings that he has publicly announced.
The Attorney-General, like any member of parliament, like any Australian, has a right to use existing laws of the land to be able to pursue a defamation allegation, and, in doing so, an independent judicial process will no doubt have an opportunity to hear the claims that are made and to ensure that, through that process, the matters are properly, independently— (Time expired)
As I said, if the senator had listened to the primary answer, it is not unusual with ministers—and there would be many precedents on all sides of politics—that, if there is any chance of a potential for a conflict of interest to exist, there be acting arrangements put in place in relation to those particular responsibilities and duties.
I have no doubt that when the Attorney-General and Minister for Workplace Relations returns to work he will continue to pursue the type of work that the government has seen indeed only today, with the passage of legislation through this chamber that's ensuring greater certainty for casual employees and greater certainty for small businesses, and avoiding the risk of some $39 billion of potential liabilities that many business organisations and representatives said could have pushed many businesses over the edge. (Time expired)