SUBJECT/S: Ministerial standards, Coalition agreement, Coalition infighting.
THE HON. MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC RN DRIVE
MONDAY, 26 FEBRUARY 2018
SUBJECT/S: Ministerial standards, Coalition agreement, Coalition infighting.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Welcome Mark Dreyfus.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good to be with you Patricia.
KARVELAS: Dr Martin Parkinson says that in light of Mr Joyce’s decision to stand down from the ministry, there is little to gain from continuing the investigation. Do you accept that logic?
DREYFUS: No, and what’s been revealed today in the Senate Estimates process is that last Wednesday the Prime Minister asked the Secretary of his department to commence an investigation into the breach of ministerial standards by Barnaby Joyce. It’s something he should have done much, much earlier, and it remains an important matter that there was what seems to us to be a very clear breach of ministerial standards, but instead we’ve got this inept and weak Prime Minister simply shutting down the investigation.
He didn’t have the strength to enforce the ministerial standards and he doesn’t have the guts to go on and have Martin Parkinson complete the investigation. It shows that he doesn’t actually care about the ministerial standards, which are his to enforce. It’s a problem that he has simply allowed this to be shut down.
KARVELAS: Usually when there’s a breach of the ministerial code, a minister resigns. And that’s what we’ve seen here. Barnaby Joyce has resigned. How could the outcome be different?
DREYFUS: He was forced out of office by his own party.
KARVELAS: He resigned either way. He’s gone.
DREYFUS: He’s gone, I’ll accept that, but not because the Prime Minister had the strength to sack him, which is what should have occurred.
KARVELAS: He didn’t have to sack him because he’s gone.
DREYFUS: But he should have sacked him weeks back because it’s quite clear that there were these breaches of the ministerial standards. There was the use of taxpayers’ money to provide a job. There was the failure to properly disclose the gift of the free accommodation in Armidale. And there was the seeking of the free accommodation in the first place. All of them clear breaches of the ministerial standards.
KARVELAS: What would PM&C continuing the investigation achieve?
DREYFUS: It would show that this is a Prime Minister who is neither inept nor weak, but instead cared about the breach of the standards that he wrote.
KARVELAS: So you want to continue it for political reasons, to expose the Prime Minister?
DREYFUS: We want to continue it because we actually think that these standards matter. There’s a reason that we have ministerial standards, it’s so people can see that they’re well government. And it’s the same reason that we should be seeing the secret Coalition agreement, which I heard Mr Littleproud on a moment ago try to dismiss it as a private agreement around the operation of two parties.
What an extraordinary thing to say. This is an agreement that goes to the heart of how Australia is governed. It’s an agreement that goes to who is to be Deputy Prime Minister, apparently who is to have the water portfolio and also apparently whether or not we see real action on climate change. All of those are matters of deep concern to Australians.
If it’s good enough for Angela Merkel to reveal her coalition agreement, or Theresa May, the Prime Minister of Britain, to reveal her agreement that keeps her in government, then it’s good enough for the Liberal Prime Minister of Australia to reveal his agreement with the Nats that keeps him in office.
KARVELAS: If you’re just tuning in, this is RN Drive, I’m Patricia Karvelas and my guest is Mark Dreyfus. He’s the Shadow Attorney-General.
The Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority will continue with an audit of Barnaby Joyce and Vikki Campion’s travel spending. You’d be happy that that’s still ongoing wouldn’t you? Because clearly there’s an investigation about taxpayer money and travel.
DREYFUS: Labor worked to establish this Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority and it’s doing its job in the way that we envisaged it would. I’m not going to pre-empt the outcome of that investigation though. That’s why we have this independent authority doing it. It’s not there for political reasons, it’s there to give confidence to the people of Australia that they are properly governed and that their money, taxpayers’ money, is being properly spent.
KARVELAS: I think that’s right. People expect that these bodies should investigate. But what is the consequence? I’m not sure if you heard, but I put that to David Littleproud and he said that if there’s a breach there should be consequences. He conceded and I thought that was quite interesting, he just didn’t know what the consequences should be or are. What should they be? If there are a few thousand dollars out of place, should Barnaby Joyce pay it back? Would that settle the matter?
DREYFUS: If it’s been paid wrongly, then certainly the money should be repaid. That’s just the starting point. As Mr Littleproud said, there ought to be a penalty. Clearly, there’s be a political penalty at the very least. If money has been wrongly paid, it should be re-paid.
KARVELAS: But the political penalty has already been paid, hasn’t it?
DREYFUS: One political penalty, but there might be others. The political penalty that has been paid, that is Barnaby Joyce ceasing to be Deputy Prime Minister and ceasing to be Minister for Infrastructure, that’s a price that’s been paid because of a combination of circumstances, none of them going to any misuse of parliamentary expenses, because that matter is still being investigated. We were pursuing his misuse of his public office. They were the matters that had come to light about the breach of ministerial standards.
KARVELAS: There’s been a report this afternoon that a staffer in Nola Marino’s office has been sacked for sending out an inappropriate picture with a joke about Barnaby Joyce and Tony Abbott sitting together. People can look it up. It’s a sort of a silly joke, but you wouldn’t expect it to come from the government side. Should staffers be sacked for that kind of behaviour?
DREYFUS: As I understand it the sending out was immediately withdrawn, but I think it’s an indication of the way in which the Coalition is tearing itself apart that an event like this, which as I understand it the staffer regretted it immediately and withdrew, should amount to a sacking offence. Simply for apparently making a bit of fun of two people in the Coalition side. So, I’d take it as reflective of the immense turmoil inside the Coalition.
These are people who are at each other’s throats. You’ve got the person who was Deputy Prime Minister a week ago saying that the Prime Minister is inept. The Prime Minister standing in his courtyard railing against the Deputy Prime Minister, and it’s going to take a long time for these two parties to be able to work together.
KARVELAS: Is it unfair dismissal?
DREYFUS: I’d have to look at the full circumstance of it before I give you legal opinion, which I’m not about to do on air Patricia.
KARVELAS: I was just wondering. You don’t sound like you support the sacking of this staff member.
DREYFUS: Well I doubt that in those circumstance that a Labor staffer would have been sacked.
DREYFUS: If the Labor staffer was repentant there would have been a bit of give and take, but again, this is just the Coalition consuming itself, preventing Australian politics from getting on and talking about the issues that matter to ordinary Australians.
It’s not true as Mr Littleproud asserted just a moment ago that Labor in Question Time didn’t raise a whole lot of policy issues. We want to know why the government is pursuing its $65 billion tax cut for big business. We want to know why the government is pursuing this anti-charities bill that is in the parliament. In fact a couple of bills that are in the parliament, and we didn’t get satisfactory answers to those questions in Question Time at all.
KARVELAS: Mr Dreyfus, thank you so much for your time.
DREYFUS: Thanks very much Patricia.