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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 418


Senator FAULKNER (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) (11:47 AM) —I thank Senator Bishop for his interesting contribution on the Auditor-General Amendment Bill 2008 [2009], which implements the recommendations of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, following its inquiry into the Auditor-General Act. I certainly commend this legislation to the Senate.

I must say that I was disappointed that Senator Ronaldson, the shadow special minister of state, took the opportunity to use debate on this important, and I think non-controversial, legislation to politicise the Audit Office by raising the audit report that was tabled yesterday into the CMAX issue. This was only done because, when the audit report into the CMAX Communications contract for the 2020 Summit was tabled, Senator Ronaldson did not see fit to come into the chamber, as is ordinarily the case, and debate the report at that time. There was no comment from the opposition. There was no comment, critical or otherwise, from any senator in this chamber. But, having failed in that responsibility, Senator Ronaldson tried to use the second reading debate of this important legislation to raise issues in relation to that report. I think this was a mistake by Senator Ronaldson, and I am about to outline to the chamber why.

It is not the only mistake Senator Ronaldson has made, because he also issued a press release yesterday in relation to the ANAO report, which was headed ‘ANAO report confirms Rudd’s $60,000 CMAX rort.’ I read this press release carefully as one does read a press release from a shadow minister. And, as Senator Ronaldson suggested, I read the report of the ANAO. And when I read Senator Ronaldson’s press release, which quoted the report, I thought to myself, ‘Senator Ronaldson’s had a few memory lapses.’ Let me just go through it for the benefit of the chamber. Let me quote directly from Senator Ronaldson’s press release. It said:

The ANAO report makes it clear: “... an employee of CMAX Communications ... had been recommended to them [PM&C] by a Senior Adviser within the Prime Minister’s office”.

That is the first of three quotes in Senator Ronaldson’s press release. What does paragraph 14 of the report actually say? It actually has words before those words that Senator Ronaldson quotes. It says:

In these circumstances, it was reasonable for PM&C to consider the credentials of an employee of CMAX Communications who had been recommended to them by a Senior Adviser within the Prime Minister’s Office involved with organising the Summit.

That was very misleading from shadow minister Ronaldson. It is very irresponsible of shadow minister Ronaldson not to have given the full sentence for the benefit of our friends in the fourth estate. They may not have had time to go to the report like I have; they may not have read the full sentence that commences paragraph 14 of the Auditor-General’s report. That was the first quote of three from Senator Ronaldson.


Senator Mark Bishop —Are there more?


Senator FAULKNER —There are. You will be interested in them, too, Senator Bishop. The first paragraph of quotes begins ‘The ANAO report makes it clear’ and I have read that out. The second paragraph begins with ‘Moreover’. It reads:

... there was the possibility of an appearance of conflict arising from the Adviser’s [Taubenschlag] continued connection with CMAX Communications after he was employed as a member of Ministerial staff. Subsequent inquiries, and evidence taken under oath by ANAO, supported these conclusions.

Remember: ‘The ANAO report makes it clear’ and ‘Moreover’.

You would think, wouldn’t you, that Senator Ronaldson, in quoting that paragraph, which is 2.35 from the report, would have again quoted the full sentence? I will read it and also the preceding sentence to give context. I will also outline to the Senate for the benefit of Senator Ronaldson and any member of the fourth estate who might be interested that the report referred to is the first report provided to the government staffing committee undertaken by Mr Peter Hamburger. It was not the ANAO report. But Senator Ronaldson does not say that. He just pretends that it is from the ANAO.

This is the context. I will quote from that part of the ANAO report in full directly. I will read the sentence prior to the one that Senator Ronaldson quotes in part and then the full sentence part-quoted by Senator Ronaldson. It is from page 44 of the report, paragraph 2.35. It reads:

The report concluded that there was no actual conflict of interest arising from the Defence Minister’s Adviser’s connection with CMAX Communications and his employment as a member of ministerial staff.

It goes on to say:

Nevertheless, the report noted that—

and on we go with Senator Ronaldson’s words—

there was the possibility of an appearance of conflict of interest arising from the Adviser’s continued connection with CMAX Communications after he was employed as a member of Ministerial staff.

It goes on:

Subsequent inquiries, and evidence taken under oath by ANAO, supported this assessment.

Do not tell part of the story. Do not give us half the information. Do not put a few little dots in front of one sentence and fail to include the previous sentence. Let us have all the facts and all the information. Let us have the full report on the table. Let us have a fair dinkum debate about these issues. That was the second quote from shadow minister Ronaldson, the shadow special minister of state, about the ANAO report on the CMAX contract.

What about the third one, which is headed ‘finally’? I will read it. This is Senator Ronaldson allegedly quoting the ANAO report:

The basis on which the PM&C delegate made the decision that engaging CMAX Communications represented value for money was not clear ... given the sensitivities which attest to suggestions of this kind from Minister’s offices, it will be in an agency’s interests to have made its own inquiries, explicitly consider more than one option and accurately document its decision-making process.

What are we to make of this third and final quote from Senator Ronaldson? As invited by Senator Ronaldson, I have read the report. I can identify where the first part of Senator Ronaldson’s third quote comes from. It comes from page 14 of the report, paragraph 17. The first part of Senator Ronaldson’s quote was from this part of the ANAO report, which reads:

The basis on which the PM&C delegate made the decision that engaging CMAX Communications represented value for money was not clear …

The report goes on to say:

… from the departmental record that had been made.

That is in paragraph 17 on page 14 of the report. What Senator Ronaldson did not say, again, is that the report went on to say:

In particular, PM&C’s documentation did not accurately record the way in which CMAX Communications was identified to it as a possible provider, or the inquiries it undertook to satisfy itself that engaging CMAX Communications represented value for money. That said, ANAO analysis indicates that the fee paid by PM&C was comparable to contracts entered into by CMAX Communications with Australian Government agencies prior to the Summit, as well as being reasonable having regard to rates charged by media and communications consultants in other contractual arrangements examined by ANAO in recent years.

So, again, it is part of the picture, part of the sentence, part of the story. But it is even worse than that, because the third quote from Senator Ronaldson—and this is complex and difficult to follow—was:

The basis on which the PM&C delegate made the decision that engaging CMAX Communications represented value for money was not clear … given the sensitivities which attest to suggestions of this kind from Minister’s offices, it will be in an agency’s interests to have made its own inquiries, explicitly consider more than one option and accurately document its decision-making process.

The second part of that quote is not even from the same paragraph as the first part. The first part of his quote is in paragraph 17 on page 14 of the report, and you will find the second part in paragraph 12 on page 13. The first part of the quote misses a critical word and a critical sentence, and the second part is a partial quote from a different paragraph of the report. This is the part of his press release that says:

… given the sensitivities which attest to suggestions of this kind from Ministers’ offices, it will be in an agency’s interests to have made its own inquiries, explicitly consider more than one option and accurately document its decision-making process.

The previous sentence to that, in paragraph 12, was not said. I will quote it in full:

Further, there is no restriction on Ministers’ offices suggesting particular consultants for consideration, providing it is clearly understood that the decision is a matter for the agency (taking into account the requirements of the CPGs). However, given the sensitivities—

and on it goes. It is part of a sentence, without the previous sentence, from the end of paragraph 12 of the report, combined with—as the first part of Senator Ronaldson’s quote—the first part of a sentence but not the second part, from paragraph 17. In Senator Ronaldson’s quote the part from paragraph 17 appears before the part from paragraph 12.

This is not a serious response from Senator Ronaldson to an Auditor-General’s report. This is an attempt to fudge the truth and I say, respectfully, that that is not on. I happen to think, given this tripe was reiterated in the chamber by Senator Ronaldson today, the Senate is owed an apology and the Auditor-General is owed an apology. I happen to think that if any suckers up there in the fourth estate swallowed Senator Ronaldson’s lines hook, line and sinker—and a few did—then they had better think again the next time a press release comes out from Senator Ronaldson about a matter so serious. That press release is a disgrace. It is an absolute disgrace, because the issues involved here are so important.

It is quite extraordinary in a situation where the opposition itself asked the Auditor-General to inquire into this matter. I am old-fashioned: I happen to think that is fair enough. It is fair enough, if they are dissatisfied about a government contract and the way that contract was administered, that the Auditor-General be asked to inquire, which he did and did thoroughly. It was the Liberal Party, Senator Ronaldson and Senator Johnston, who asked the Auditor-General to conduct this audit. Fair enough. I can say and have said in this chamber before that the government gave the Auditor-General its full cooperation, as it should. But, having sought the audit, the opposition should accept the Auditor-General’s findings. I always did in opposition. I believe the current opposition should adopt the same standards.

On this CMAX issue, the Auditor-General has found no improper conduct on the part of the Prime Minister’s office or department. The report in fact found:

… it was reasonable for PM&C to consider the credentials of … CMAX Communications …

There was no pressure on PM&C to appoint CMAX. The decision to appoint CMAX was made by PM&C alone and the fee paid was reasonable. Of course, it also says that there were deficiencies. I acknowledge that. Let us acknowledge that and make sure they are fixed up. PM&C has been frank. It has accepted that there were inadequate procedures and it has taken action, as stated in the report, to remedy them. That is the full truth, not part-truth, so let us hear no more spin from Senator Ronaldson.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.