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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 6707

Mr MELHAM (3:30 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, the Minister representing the Special Minister of State. What steps has the government taken to improve the transparency and accountability of the parliamentary process? Why is it important to maintain public faith in the behaviour of the parliament and its elected representatives?

Mr TANNER (Minister for Finance and Deregulation) —I thank the member for Banks for his question. The government does regard the integrity and transparency of the parliamentary process and the behaviour of elected representatives very seriously, that is why it takes the accusations that were made by the Leader of the Opposition last Friday extremely seriously. The government has taken a number of very important steps to enhance the integrity and transparency of the process of parliament and elected representatives, such as electoral reform, which unfortunately is blocked in the Senate, that would reduce the limit on donations and ban foreign donations, such as the Operation Sunlight set of transparency reforms for budget disclosure and such as the involvement of the Auditor-General in scrutinising government advertising to determine that it is not politically motivated.

Although the government is committed to all of these reforms and others to ensure that we maximise the quality of behaviour and the transparency, accountability and integrity of our parliamentary process and representatives, we unfortunately cannot prevent everything from occurring. Sadly, last Wednesday night at the press gallery ball there was an incident involving the Leader of the Opposition which indicated the limits that are there, whether we like it or not, because of the behaviour of individuals who do not seem to treat the obligations and responsibilities of their offices seriously. I would like to quote from the statement circulated by Mr Andrew Charlton, adviser to the Prime Minister, about this incident. His recollection of the statements by the Leader of the Opposition to him at that event—

Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, I again reluctantly rise on a point of order on relevance. He is drawing an extremely long bow. This matter has been extensively canvassed already in the House today. I think that the minister is really abusing the forms of the House to be going on with it again now.

The SPEAKER —I will listen carefully to the response of the Minister for Finance and Deregulation. He must relate his response to the question.

Mr TANNER —Thanks, Mr Speaker. I quote Mr Charlton’s recollection of the statements by the Leader of the Opposition:

Let me give you some advice because I think you have a very promising career ahead of you.

Integrity is the most important thing in the career of a young man.

…            …            …

That is why I encourage you, no matter what the circumstances, no matter what the pressure, not to lie.

…            …            …

This whole Ozcar issue will be very damaging for you.

Let me just give you some friendly advice.

You should not lie to protect your boss.

…            …            …

You know and I know there is documentary evidence that you have lied.

Everybody knows what the term ‘friendly advice’ means in that context. It is code for ‘crude threat’—that is what ‘friendly advice’ means in those circumstances.

What we have here is the Leader of the Opposition seeking to intimidate a member of the Prime Minister’s staff by claiming he has documentary evidence that he lied. I had a vague recollection of similar words. I notice that a former staffer to a former member for Wentworth, Mr Peter King, had made similar statements about the conduct of the member for Wentworth some time ago. He was rung at his home by the member for Wentworth—

Mr Hockey interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for North Sydney is warned. If he wants to raise points of order, he can get on his feet, but he cannot do it by interjection.

Ms Julie Bishop —Mr Speaker, on a point of order: this in no way relates to transparency and accountability of the government, and that is what he was asked about. Any answer that goes to matters that may have happened years ago in another context is irrelevant to this question.

The SPEAKER —The minister will relate his answer to the question.

Mr TANNER —The quote that caught my eye was:

You lied, John. You’ve got to tell the truth. People could go to jail. Just tell me the truth. It is just so important to tell the truth.

There is a remarkably familiar ring to the statements that the adviser to the Prime Minister stated had been made by the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, on a point of order: I appreciate that you have admonished the minister, but the minister I fear is neglecting that admonition. He really should relate his answer to transparency and accountability in government, and he is not.

The SPEAKER —I am in the difficult position where I cannot give a critique of the answer. For people to be truthful in public life would restore faith in their elected representatives—

Mr Windsor —Hear, hear!

The SPEAKER —I thank the member for New England. I say to the minister that he must relate his material to the question. If he is unable to do that, he should sum up his answer.

Mr TANNER —I note that the Leader of the Opposition, when this matter was raised with him in public a couple of days ago, stated that he was simply reminding somebody of the ninth commandment, which he seems to do a lot of. There seems to be a pattern of bullying that fits the Crabb profile and the behaviour with respect to the Costigan royal commission. Integrity and behaviour are important in public life. Not only do we have a situation in which the Leader of the Opposition is prepared to allege corruption against the Prime Minister with not a shred of evidence but we have a Leader of the Opposition who has also been engaged, on the basis of what has now been determined to be a fake email, in bullying the Prime Minister’s staff in order to try and force that person to lie. That is the truth of this matter.