Doorstop Interview, Parliament House

Subjects: Stuart Robert; Closing the Gap

THE HON. MARK DREYFUS QC, MP
SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL
MEMBER FOR ISAACS

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
DOORSTOP INTERVIEW
CANBERRA
WEDNESDAY, 10 FEBRUARY 2016

 

SUBJECT/S: Stuart Robert; Closing the Gap

 

SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: Good morning. Malcolm Turnbull should immediately sack the Minister for Human Services Stuart Robert. He is now completely discredited and it’s entirely clear that he has breached the ministerial standards that are meant to apply to the conduct of ministers in the Turnbull Government. If Mr Turnbull doesn’t show some leadership and sack Mr Robert today, then all Australians will know the government that Mr Turnbull is leading is the kind of government where $2 million from a wealthy donor to the Liberal Party will buy you the services of a minister in the Australian Government.

 

This wasn’t a private trip. This was something where although Mr Robert would like to say he was there for private purposes, he was there to assist the company belonging to his wealthy mate Mr Paul Marks and if it wasn’t enough to see the photographs that were published in the media on Monday, which were photographs showing Mr Robert presenting a certificate, Mr Robert standing in his suit behind an Australian flag, Mr Robert sitting in the traditional ‘two big chairs’ position that visiting dignitaries to China are usually given to speak with a senior Communist party official. If those photographs weren’t enough, yesterday we had further revelations that on the day after the signing ceremony for Mr Marks’ company, Mr Robert attended a meeting between himself and the Chinese Vice-Minister for Land and Resources Mr Wang Min.

 

And if that wasn’t enough, we now know also from a translation from the Chinese government website, the Chinese-language Chinese government website, what Mr Robert said at this minister with the Chinese Vice-Minister for Land and Resources. We know that he took the representatives of Mr Marks’ company with him and we know he spoke in a way which suggested that he was there as a minister in the Australian government. I’ll say again, it’s time for Mr Turnbull to show some leadership and sack this Minister for Human Services Stuart Robert, who has absolutely clearly breached the standards of ministerial conduct.

 

He was given the opportunity in the House yesterday to explain himself, to make a statement to the House. The Liberal Party, the Liberal government declined that opportunity. He was given the opportunity to answer questions about aspects of his trip to China and he declined that opportunity as well. It’s not enough for Mr Turnbull to hope that this will go away by setting up some kind of inquiry with his departmental head, he’s clearly hoping that perhaps the heat will die down, or that people will forget about this because it’s the subject of an inquiry. Mr Turnbull already knows all that he needs to know to sack Stuart Robert today. That’s what he should do and that’s what Labor is calling on him to do.

 

REPORTER: Mark Dreyfus you referred to an investigation underway by Martin Parkinson, the head of PM&C, and that’s still ongoing. If Mr Turnbull was to sack Mr Robert before that investigation was completed, aren’t you concerned this will just be a trial by media situation for Mr Robert?

 

DREYFUS: On the contrary. This is not a situation where there is some fine detail James that needs to be explored. This is not a situation as with Mr Briggs where the interests of a public servant need to be protected, it’s not that complicated a process. Here, all that needs to be known is already known. On Mr Robert’s own admission, he went on some private trip to assist the wealthy Liberal party donor Mr Paul Marks, his mate, with the company [inaudible]. You don’t need to know any more, all the rest is detail. The quote from Mr Turnbull himself, I think he said this back in 2005, “what’s important here is outcomes, not process”, and Mr Turnbull shouldn’t be seeking to hide behind process when it’s clear for every Australian to see that Mr Robert has breached the ministerial code of conduct, he’s done something no Australian could approve of, he’s used his public office for the private profit of his mate.

 

REPORTER: Is Labor curious as to who paid for Mr Robert’s trip to China?

 

DREYFUS: Of course, that’s one of the many questions we asked as soon as this came to light. But bear in mind that the Liberal Government has known about this trip for many many months – the Liberal Government’s known about this trip, it was well known by other ministers, and Mr Robert has no doubt of course spoken of it, but they’ve not thought to enquire at all, because apparently for this Liberal Government there is nothing wrong with what Mr Robert has done. It’s not only the questions of who paid for his trip, it’s a question of who paid for his accommodation when he was in China, who paid for the translators, what were the arrangements, what were the connections that he made? We’ve had a story today in the media that said that he used public money to fly to Sydney before flying off to China, but none of those details matter right now.

 

All of those details can be looked into later, because the actual breach of the code of ministerial standards, the actual breach is using his public office, his office as then-Assistant Minister for Defence, in the Australian government for private profit of a wealthy Liberal party donor. That’s the breach of ministerial standards. He’s done other things, like breach the entitlements requirements for any of the details that have been enquired about, but no answer is forthcoming. If he has not taken appropriate precautions with his defence phone or other communications equipment given to him by the Department of Defence that’s another matter, if there were arrangements made or knowledge of the embassy in Beijing that’s another question. And then there’s the whole question of did the Department of Defence know what their minister was doing in Beijing? There’s a long list of questions but those questions should not delay Malcolm Turnbull from sacking Stuart Robert today.

 

REPORTER: You’ve referred to a number of those questions – aren’t you concerned that if Malcolm Turnbull sacks Stuart Robert before a PM&C investigation is completed, some of those bigger questions, which may be a greater indiscretion than the prima facie breach of the ministerial code of conduct, won’t be answered?

 

DREYFUS: If there are additional breaches, additional misconduct by Mr Robert, they should all definitely be investigated but I say again, Malcolm Turnbull knows all that he needs to know to sack Stuart Robert today. It’s the clearest possible breach of the ministerial standards, and if there is other misconduct that Mr Robert has committed, that should also be investigated.

 

REPORTER: Mr Dreyfus, the Prime Minister is launching the latest Closing the Gap report today. Do you think there should be a target around [inaudible] reducing the number of indigenous Australians in our prisons?

 

DREYFUS: Labor has committed previously to, we went to the last election, with a commitment to justice targets. Clearly we’re facing a crisis in imprisonment of indigenous people across Australia, particularly young Indigenous people, and much more needs to be done. One of the ways in which dealing with that crisis in steeply rising numbers of incarceration of Aboriginal people is to establish in addition to the health base and education base targets that we already have in Closing the Gap, a justice target. Exactly what form that justice target takes, because it’s a complicated matter and something we are still consulting on, my colleague Mr Neumann has put a great deal of work into this, but we think that’s a good idea, it’s something that I and Jenny Macklin took to the last election as a commitment and it’s still something that Labor is committed to.

 

END