Thursday, 8 September 2022
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Wong. I refer to the government's Code of Conduct for Ministers. Clause 3.11, under Shareholdings, states:
In recognition of the collective responsibility that Ministers bear in relation to Cabinet decisions, this Code requires that Ministers divest themselves of investments and other interests in any public or private company or business, other than public superannuation funds or publicly listed managed funds or trust arrangements where:
… … …
(ii) the fund or trust does not invest to any significant extent in a business sector that could give rise to a conflict of interest with the minister's public duty.
What is the definition of 'significant extent'?
Obviously any legal phrase can be subject to interpretation, but I think the intent is very clear. This is because, unlike those opposite, we recognise the potential and, frankly, at times the inherent conflict of interest in ministers in a cabinet making decisions whilst owning shares. So we have set a higher standard, and I appreciate that the opposition want to probe the merits of that. We do think it's appropriate. It's in recognition of the collective responsibility that members of cabinet or members of the executive bear in relation to decisions.
Unlike what has gone before for the last decade, it was the Prime Minister's view, shared by his cabinet, that it is important that divestment is the way in which these matters are ultimately resolved. As you would have seen in the media, and I know the opposition have asked questions about this, that is what is taking place.
We'll add that to net zero. In question time yesterday in response to a question from Senator Hume, Senator Wong said:
It is the Prime Minister's expectation that ministers do comply with the code. He's made that clear both privately and publicly.
On what occasions has the Prime Minister privately made his expectations clear to each of Ministers Shorten and McBain and Assistant Ministers Ayres and Kearney?
I'm certainly not going to go into every discussion the Prime Minister has, and nor would you expect me to. My remarks went to the standard that is expected. I would say to you that questions have been asked, in relation to a number of the ministers to which you refer, in the House this week. They have been appropriately answered. I know that doesn't satisfy your thirst for some political hits, but they have been appropriately answered in the House.
I again say that Australians will look at you asking these questions, recognising that you never set such a standard for yourselves. We saw, over the nine years in your government, the number of ministers who did have shares in companies which may have been affected by decisions of the federal cabinet.
I think it is more pertinent to ask whether or not it satisfied the code of conduct, as opposed to me. Minister, has the Prime Minister requested you, or had any discussions with you, about ministers or assistant ministers who have breached or may be in breach of the ministerial code of conduct?