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Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Page: 9859

National Security


Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (14:00): My question without notice is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Brandis. I refer to an article published in The Sydney Morning Herald entitled 'Former Liberal trade minister Andrew Robb furious about being linked with Turnbull's foreign interference laws'. Mr Robb famously took up an $880,000-a-year job with the Chinese firm Landbridge Group after retiring as the trade minister. Can the minister advise the Senate whether Mr Robb would be captured by the government's proposed foreign lobbyist registry?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:01): Every former cabinet minister would be captured by the transparency scheme—every former cabinet minister and every former member of parliament. So, everyone in this chamber, Senator Carr, including you and me, will one day be captured by the transparency scheme if we, after parliament, agree to act on behalf of a foreign principal. That is not because there is anything wrong with taking a job to act on behalf of a foreign principal—which could include, by the way, a foreign company—but because, just like the lobbyist register, there is a public interest in the transparency of relationships between a principal, a foreign principal in this case, who gives instructions to an Australian former parliamentarian and the former parliamentarian. I think the public are very glad that the Turnbull government has moved to make more transparent than they currently are arrangements between former members of parliament and foreign principals. Mr Robb is in no different a position than every former minister—I should have qualified that, Senator Carr, by saying that the obligation lasts for three years after the former cabinet minister has left the cabinet or the former member of parliament has left the parliament. It's also, by the way, an obligation that applies to former senior public servants who have left the Public Service. Where they accept a fee or a retainer to act on behalf of a foreign principal—for instance, for lobbying purposes—the public are entitled to know that.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Carr, a supplementary question?



Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (14:03): Has the Attorney-General or any other member of the government discussed the Turnbull government's reforms with Mr Robb?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:03): I haven't, Senator Carr, and I'm not aware of any other colleague who has.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Carr, a final supplementary question?



Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (14:03): When asked in November 2016 about Mr Robb's $880,000-a-year role with Landbridge, the minister urged others not to, 'Besmirch by innuendo an honourable man.' Is Mr Robb correct when he says that attempts to trash his reputation are, 'Now being aided and abetted by the government'?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:04): They are not. If Mr Robb is under that impression, then he is mistaken. I think perhaps the basis of the misapprehension is a failure to appreciate that this obligation applies to every single former cabinet minister for a three-year period after they cease to be a cabinet minister, and every former member of parliament for a period of three years after they cease to be a member of parliament, in the event that they undertake to act on behalf of a foreign principal. As I said to you in response to your primary question, Senator Carr, this government believes that there is a public interest in transparency. And the reason we are introducing this transparency scheme, as part of our package of legislation to protect Australia's democracy, is so that the conduct of lobbyists, which is perfectly legal, legitimate and lawful conduct, should, nevertheless, expose transparently who their principals are.