Tuesday, 11 May 2021
Questions without Notice
Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations
My question is to the Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations, Senator Cash. Within weeks of being appointed to the new portfolios of Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations, the minister appointed Ms Alana Matheson, a former Liberal Party deputy mayor of Campbelltown, to a 26-year long, $10 million post to the Fair Work Commission. Can the minister confirm that Ms Matheson is one of 13 former Liberal MPs and political staffers who have been appointed to the plum federal government jobs since the start of this year?
I thank Senator Keneally for the question. Senator Keneally, what I can confirm is this: all appointments made by the Morrison government—in fact, all appointments made by the coalition government since we were elected in 2013—have been based on merit, so I completely, totally and utterly reject the accusations that you are making. Whether it is a Federal Court appointment, whether it is a Fair Work Commission appointment, whether it is an AAT appointment or any other appointment, we carefully and methodically look through candidates to ensure that the most suitable candidate is actually appointed to the role.
Colleagues, you see, this is where the Labor Party want to have their cake and eat it as well. What I am now saying is this: at times we have appointed those from a different political persuasion because our government believed, clearly unlike Labor, that they were the best people for the role. For example, let's hear the comments they have on Anna Burke, the former Labor member and Speaker, who was appointed to the AAT in 2017. Was she not the best person the role? What about Linda Kirk, former Labor senator for South Australia—AAT, 2017? Or John Black, former Labor senator for Queensland—AAT, 2017? Or David Cox, former Labor member for Kingston, appointed to the AAT in 2019? All because we just don't appoint like you opposite do. John Rau, Amanda Mendes Da Costa—I bet you used to work with this next gentleman—Philip Dalidakis, Gary Gray. On any analysis, Gary Gray was an outstanding representative, and that is why we appointed him as the ambassador to Ireland and the Holy See. We thought he was the best person for the role.
As the deputy director of workplace relations at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Ms Matheson opposed domestic violence leave, arguing that victims-survivors get enough support already. Was this position one of the reasons the minister appointed Ms Matheson to the commission—to help prevent the expansion of support for victims and survivors of domestic violence?
Again, I could continue with the list of former Labor members. But we on this side of the chamber have appointed, whether it be to the AAT et cetera or the Fair Work Commission or as ambassador for Ireland—
On relevance: the question was specifically about Ms Matheson's views on domestic violence and whether or not the minister supported them and that was why she appointed her.
Those on the other side don't understand that the employment relationship includes both employers and employees, and that is why you need to ensure that employers are represented on the Fair Work Commission, as well as employees. In relation to Alana Matheson, she is qualified for this role.
Mr President, I possibly should have jumped when you gave as wide a ruling as you did in response to my colleague, where you said, 'I think that anything related to the appointment is relevant to the supplementary.' With respect, I ask you to reconsider that. I don't believe that's consistent with the standing orders nor your previous rulings. This question relates to Ms Matheson's views on domestic violence leave, and I ask that the minister respond and be directly relevant to that point.
I take the point, Senator Wong. I could have worded what I said more carefully. However, I will say that the final part of the question, my notes reflect, is: 'Was this position one of the reasons that referred to the appointment?' I think, in answering that question, the minister is allowed to talk about the specific appointment without necessarily specifically outlining a particular issue. That may be debated after question time. Senator Cash.
In terms of Ms Matheson, she is well and truly appointed on merit. She has 15 years experience in workplace relations, including recent roles as director of workplace relations advisory at KPMG Australia, and deputy director of workplace relations at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. She has also played a prominent role on the international stage, at the International Labour Organization— (Time expired)
How can Australians have faith in this minister's judgement and integrity when she refused to cooperate fully with the AFP in its investigation into possible criminal conduct by her own staff but she prioritises appointing yet another Liberal mate for life?
I completely reject what Senator Keneally has said, and Senator Keneally would know that that is not what is certainly outlined in the evidence. Again, what I would say is this: in relation to the appointments that this government makes, appointments are made on merit. As I've said, we have also appointed, over a period of time, a number of persons of a different political persuasion—in other words, from the Labor Party—because we believed they were the best person for the role. In particular, I go back to Mr Gary Gray. He was an outstanding member for Brand back in Western Australia. When he left the parliament, I think those from Western Australia would say we worked incredibly well with Mr Gray in relation to representing our great state. And, as a result of that, the government appointed him as the Australian Ambassador to Ireland. I confirm he was not a member of the Liberal Party.