Parliament House doorstop

SUBJECT/S: Barnaby Joyce, Ministerial Code of Conduct

THE HON. MARK DREYFUS QC MP

SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL

SHADOW MINISTER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY

MEMBER FOR ISAACS

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP

PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

THURSDAY, 15 FEBRUARY 2018

 

SUBJECT/S: Barnaby Joyce, Ministerial Code of Conduct

MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It’s clear that the Prime Minister has lost all confidence in his Deputy Prime Minister, but he is refusing to do the right thing and sack him. This is not about Barnaby Joyce’s private life. It is about his use of public money, of taxpayers’ money, and it’s about his use of his Ministerial Office.

What an extraordinary thing for the Prime Minister of Australia to go out into the Prime Ministerial courtyard and say that his Deputy Prime Minister, who he’s just forced to take leave so that he can avoid him being the Acting Prime Minister of Australia next week, what an extraordinary thing for the Prime Minster to not only make his Deputy take leave, but then sa that he’s committed a shocking error of judgement, and say, further, that Barnaby Joyce should consider his position.

 

It’s absolutely clear that the Prime Minister has lost all confidence, and the only proper thing for him to do now is to sack his Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, who can’t go on in this position after breach after breach of the Ministerial Standards have been established, but apparently to which the Prime Minister wishes to turn a blind eye.      

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Dreyfus, isn’t the real issue here that the Prime Minister is hamstrung as a result of the Coalition agreement with the Nationals.

 

DREYFUS: Well we don’t know what the Coalition agreement between the Nationals and the Liberals says because the Liberals and the Nationals have refused to make it public despite repeated requests by the Labor Party for it to be made public. It’s obvious that that Coalition agreement should be made public because it goes right to the heart of government in Australia. And I don’t know what the answer to your question is. You can perhaps assume that there’s some block in there, but the fact of the matter is, on his own reckoning, and by his own Statement of Ministerial Standards, the Prime Minister should now be sacking the Deputy Prime Minister.

 

JOURNALIST: Will a Shorten Labor Government ban Ministers from having sex with their staff?

 

DREYFUS: Well I’ve said about this previously that sex in the office causes problems, but that there’s a real difficulty in legislating for personal relations.  And until this afternoon that was the position that the Prime Minister had taken.  Until this afternoon, the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Julie Bishop, had said pretty similar things.  But I repeat, this is not - the problems that have come to light in the past few weeks are not about Barnaby Joyce’s private life.  They’re about his use of taxpayers’ money, and about his use of his Ministerial Office.

 

JOURNALIST: If this not legislated, would you be open to changing the Ministerial Code of Conduct?

 

DREYFUS: The Ministerial Code of Conduct is already incredibly clear about the high standards of integrity that Ministers are expected to uphold. It’s absolutely clear, to anyone that cares to read the Statement of Ministerial Conduct, that they are directed at not only obtaining the highest standard of personal conduct of Ministers, they are directed at avoiding conflicts of interest. 

 

I’m not sure why the Prime Minister has found it so difficult to apply the Standards in the state that they currently they are. They’ve got provisions that deal with and prohibit Ministers seeking or encouraging gifts in their personal capacity.  They’ve got provisions which say directly, quite clearly, that someone with whom you are in a relationship should not be found a job in your office. And someone with whom you are in a relationship should not be found a job in the office of another Minister. But that’s what’s happened here.

 

We've got a Deputy Prime Minister who has either sought or encouraged the gift of free accommodation of his home in Armidale. We have got a Deputy Prime Minister that's personally involved himself in the allocation of staff, where he has had a clear conflict of interest. We've got a Deputy Prime Minister who can't even remember that in his role as Minister for Agriculture, he attended a taxpayer funded meeting and party and dinner at the hotel that is owned by his close friend, Greg Maguire in Armidale in 2016 - and it goes on. All of those are clear breaches, all of those are ample basis for Mr Joyce to resign because he should see the breaches that he has committed or, if he won't resign, the Prime Minister of Australia to remove him from his office.

 

JOURNALIST: But is sex between Ministers and their staff appropriate? And if the answer is no, why not agree to this change of the code and we will find the rumours for you?

 

DREYFUS: I don't know whether I should actually respond to your question but the problem here is actually about Mr Joyce's use of taxpayer funds and use of his Ministerial Office. Perhaps later, when the words that the Prime Minister wishes to use move from the status of being a thought-bubble after Question Time to being actual words on a page, we can think about whether or not he has got it right about whether or not he has accommodated the reservations that Julie Bishop had about setting rules in this area - about whether there is exceptions, about whether there's some other rules about who is to police it. None of those things is presently clear, but at the moment, this is just a distraction from the Prime Minister's extraordinary weakness in refusing to sack Barnaby Joyce from his position when it's clear to all Australians that he has not upheld the standards which Australians expect of someone holding the second highest Office in the land.

JOURNALIST: 2016 wasn't the first time that Joyce hosted a function at a property owned by Maguire, he actually also hosted something in 2015 - oh, she's under his portfolio...

DREYFUS: That's news to me, but more investigations are needed as to exactly what relationship the Deputy Prime Minister has had with Mr Maguire. If, as you've just asked me, it's apparent that he's had a previous function the year before, that's simply a further demonstration of I would suggest, given the way in which the Deputy Prime Minister has chosen to describe his relationship with Mr Maguire, I would suggest there's very probably inappropriateness about that use of taxpayer funds as well.

JOURNALIST: Why is it inappropriate though, like, if he's paid market rate for use of that facility, what is inappropriate about that, given that there's you know, in these country towns there's probably not many places that would be appropriate?

DREYFUS: Armidale is a very established country town with a university. There's any number of - I've been to Armidale many times. I can say that there's many choices for accommodation, there's many choices for a function, there's many choices for restaurants, and again, the Statement of Ministerial Standards is directed at not only avoiding actual conflicts of interest, but avoiding the appearance of conflicts of interest. It says that, in terms, and Mr Joyce needed to understand his role as Deputy Prime Minister. He needed to understand that he can't go to his close friend's hotel using the funds of the Department of Agriculture - rather, he's got to say to the Department of Agriculture, choose another hotel.

We don't know what communications there were between the Ministers office, it was after all in his own electorate and the Department of Agriculture involved - what communications there were about the choice of this hotel and function rooms. I'd be interested to know and we'll be asking more questions about this as to what were those communications, but the avoidance of the appearance of a conflict of interest is something that is already a breach of the standards.

JOURNALIST: Do you see any issue with the culture in Canberra that the Prime Minister has suggested turns a blind eye to certain sexual relations? Do you think there needs to be anything done about that?

DREYFUS: Well I don't know that the Prime Minister was talking about that. What the Prime Minister was talking about was the shocking error of judgement - his words - of his own Deputy Prime Minister.

Thanks very much.

ENDS