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Stuart Robert's trip to China: breach of ministerial standards? -

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LOUISE YAXLEY: Pressure is building on the Human Services Minister Stuart Robert over his trip to China in 2014.

While on the trip he spoke at the signing of a mining exploration deal between a Chinese company and the head of an Australian company who is also a major Liberal Party donor.

Mr Robert has insisted the Australian involved is a friend and it was a personal trip.

But a Chinese website reports that Mr Robert also met China's Vice Minister of Land and Resources during the visit.

Political correspondent Louise Yaxley has the latest:

LOUISE YAXLEY: Mr Robert's trip to Beijing in August 2014, when he was assistant defence minister, is now under investigation by the head of the Prime Minister's Department to determine if there's any breach of ministerial standards.

Mr Robert attended a signing ceremony for a mining exploration deal between the Australian group Nimrod Resources and Minmetals, which is owned by the Chinese government.

The Chinese company's website shows Mr Robert speaking on behalf of the Defence Department, but his spokesman says the Minister was on leave and he rejects the company's assertion that Mr Robert spoke on the department's behalf.

The shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus is demanding a full explanation.

MARK DREYFUS: It seems absolutely clear that he has breached the ministerial standards, not once, but twice: the part of the ministerial standards which talks about not using public office for private gain in any way, and the part of the ministerial standards which makes it an absolute prohibition on a minister engaging in any activity, be it as a consultant, be it as paid employment, or be it on a supposed voluntary basis to assist a private corporation.

LOUISE YAXLEY: Mark Dreyfus says a report today that says Mr Robert met the next day with a Chinese government minister must also be explained because it's absolutely at odds with his claim that it was not an official trip.

MARK DREYFUS: And on this same visit he has met with the vice minister in the Chinese government, Wang Min, who is the vice minister for land and resources.

That's what the story in the Financial Review says. The source is a Chinese language, Chinese government website.

So let's see, again, what it is Mr Robert has got to say about that.

LOUISE YAXLEY: The ABC has confirmed the translation is broadly accurate and it is an official Chinese government site.

Mr Robert hasn't responded to questions today.

The Defence Minister Marise Payne stands by Mr Robert, while noting there is an investigation.


MARISE PAYNE: I have complete confidence in the Minister and of course the matter has been referred to the secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

LOUISE YAXLEY: The Labor leader Bill Shorten calls it a test for the Prime Minister.

BILL SHORTEN: The Stuart Robert scandal is going to become a test of Malcolm Turnbull's judgement - the writing is on the wall about Stuart Robert.

LOUISE YAXLEY: The cloud over Mr Robert's future comes as the ministerial line-up is already messy.

Former minister Jamie Briggs is now on the backbench, Mal Brough has stood aside because of a police investigation and the Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss is expected to retire.

This morning the Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg dodged a question about whether it's time for a reshuffle.

JOSH FRYDENBERG: That's beyond my pay grade and they're questions both in terms of the nature and the timing for the Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST: He's done anything wrong?

JOSH FRYDENBERG: Look, Stuart Robert went on a personal trip, he's given an explanation, the Prime Minister has obviously referred it to the head of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and I'll leave it at that.

LOUISE YAXLEY: Mr Turnbull has emphasised that when he does reshuffle it would be focussing on renewal - but he's also suggested former frontbencher Bruce Billson should reconsider his decision to retire.

He dumped Mr Billson from Cabinet last year but then spoke to him after Christmas, urging him not to leave Parliament and leaving open the chance of a ministerial return.

Mr Turnbull noted his own example of reversing a decision to quit politics and indicated that at 50 Mr Billson has time to work his way back to Cabinet.

But Mr Billson isn't changing his mind and says he's voted for his family.

ELEANOR HALL: Louise Yaxley reporting.