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Thursday, 3 December 2015
Page: 14721

Mr DREYFUS (IsaacsDeputy Manager of Opposition Business) (15:29): Why is the Prime Minister still defending this discredited minister? He has let this go on for far too long. It is not just about the member for Fisher anymore; it is about the Prime Minister. It is about the integrity of his entire government. How can anyone trust this Prime Minister's judgement while the member for Fisher remains a member of this Liberal government? It is now beyond clear that he should have been dismissed from the ministry.

The Special Minister of State and the Prime Minister must take us all for mugs. They must take the Australian people for mugs if they think they can weasel their way out of the scandal that is engulfing the Special Minister of State, the member for Fisher. They seem to think that if they can just make it through these last two weeks of parliament—if they can hold on, white knuckled, through these last question times—then it will all go away. They seem to think that if they can make it to the summer recess, we will all forget that this minister was raided by the Federal Police. Just think about this: this is a Commonwealth minister who was raided by the Federal Police and is under investigation for the suspected commission of serious criminal offences.

They seem to think that we will forget the disgraceful way in which the member for Fisher sought to defend himself in this place when this came to light, the way that he has dissembled, the way that he has blamed everybody but himself—the way, shamefully, that he has misled this parliament not once, not twice, but five times. I bet the Prime Minister wishes we would all just forget that he had ever appointed the member for Fisher to the ministry. Well, that is not going to happen. We are not going to forget. We are not going to forget this week and we are not going to forget over the summer. We are not going to forget, because this scandal is not just about the member for Fisher; it is about this Prime Minister. It is no longer just about the member for Fisher; it is about the type of leader this Prime Minister is; it is about the type of government that he runs; it is about his integrity.

Let's remember what the member for Fisher has done. In 2014, in an interview on 60 Minutes, journalist Liz Hayes of Channel 9 asked him, 'Did you ask James Ashby to procure copies of Peter Slipper's diary for you', and the member for Fisher said, 'Yes I did.' Think about that. It was an admission that has been corroborated by Mr James Ashby, who was quoted this week in The Australian as saying:

I met with Mal—

That is, Mr Brough—

and he said at one stage that he was interested in Slipper’s use of taxpayer entitlements and about a few trips he had taken to New Zealand and I said I had a copy of his diary and would check it out.

Ashby went on:

So I went home and pulled the copy of the diary out of my cupboard, took some pictures of the relevant dates and sent them to Mal.

That is, the member for Fisher—

He couldn’t read them and texted me and asked if I could send them again…

We have seen these text messages. They are publicly available. Not surprisingly, the authorities took an interest in the member for Fisher's admission. They decided to investigate whether he had committed a criminal offence.

On 17 November, after he had been appointed to the ministry—this is one of the new matters—the Australian Federal Police raided the home of the member for Fisher in the execution of a search warrant. A copy of the AFP warrant published by The Australian sets out the criminal charges being considered against the member for Fisher, and these are serious matters indeed. It is alleged in that search warrant that the member for Fisher counselled and procured a member of the former Speaker's staff to take parts of the former Speaker's diary. It would be a serious criminal offence: it carries a maximum sentence of over two years jail.

Over the last two weeks I have asked the member for Fisher a series of simple questions about his involvement in the grubby Ashby affair, questions about how it is that, as a government minister, he came to be raided by the Australian Federal Police and about the standards of integrity that this government holds itself to, which—and this is the incredible thing—as Special Minister of State, the member for Fisher himself is responsible for maintaining. These are simple questions, and the member for Fisher owes it to this House and owes it to the Australian people to give a full and frank explanation for his conduct. He ought to be able to explain why he should be permitted to continue as a minister, especially given that he is the minister responsible for government integrity. He ought to be able to explain what disclosure, if any, he made to the new Prime Minister before he was appointed to the ministry. But he is not up to that, is he?

The Special Minister of State is not even up to the most basic standards of integrity owed by a minister in the Commonwealth government, the most basic of his obligations of candour and honesty in this House and the most basic of his obligations to explain himself to the Australian people. No—the member for Fisher has writhed, slipped and slithered around, inventing excuse after excuse. He would say anything—do anything—to get back into this parliament. He wanted to destroy his rival, the former member for Fisher, by any means possible—whatever it takes. He would say anything—do anything—to get back into the ministry. This minister loves a good plot. He was up to his eyeballs in the plot to take down the member for Warringah as Prime Minister of Australia.

Now it is clear that he will say anything—do anything—to stay in his job. He refuses to answer questions in this place. He shows contempt for this parliament and contempt for the people we represent in this parliament. He tries to blame others for his own misfortune. Wildly clutching at straws, he claimed he had been fitted up by Channel 9—an incredible allegation, and an allegation that was quickly proven to be untrue. He will even go so far as to mislead this parliament not once, not twice—but, after today, this minister has misled the parliament five times.

In all of this he has failed to meet the standards this Prime Minister says that he expects of his ministers. In this Prime Minister's Statement of Ministerial Standards, he has said that when there is a prima facie case of wrongdoing a minister must stand aside until any investigation is complete—that is, when there is a real case, when there is an obvious case, not a concluded case, the minister must stand aside. You do not have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out the case against the member for Fisher. He went on national television and admitted what he had done. The police were tipped off because, apparently, the suspect went on TV and bragged about it! If that is not a prima face case, I do not know what is.

We all know what the Prime Minister says he thinks about ministers who mislead this parliament, as the member for Fisher has done five times to date this week.

An opposition member: Sounds like prima facie to me.

Mr DREYFUS: Sounds like prima facie.

When the Prime Minister was opposition leader, in June 2009—and members may remember this event—he used to pontificate about this matter. I am referring to utegate. I am referring to this Prime Minister, when he was the opposition leader, putting his trust in Godwin Grech. On that occasion in June 2009, this Prime Minister said about misleading the House:

That is an offence that should result in the dismissal or resignation of a minister. It is perfectly clear.

Well, that was then, for this Prime Minister, and this is now. Because now applying that standard could cost the Prime Minister something. Now the Prime Minister would have to sack one of his own numbers men, and now the Prime Minister would have to admit that his appointment of this minister was an error of judgement from the very beginning—from the day that he was appointed. Now, apparently, this Prime Minister is a whole lot more flexible about standards of integrity. That is why I say that this no longer just about the member for Fisher.

In his handling of this matter, the Prime Minister has shown his true colours. He has shown us what type of leader he is. He has shown us the type of people that he considers fit for public office. That is something that no-one is going to forget over the summer. We are not going to forget the charade. We are not going to forget the ducking and weaving from the member for Fisher over the course of the last two weeks. In particular, we are not going to forget the way in which no-one on the government side has been prepared to defend the member for Fisher. We are not going to forget that this Prime Minister has refused to dismiss the member for Fisher when it is crystal clear by the standards set in this Prime Minister's own Statement of ministerial standardsthat the member for Fisher has to go. The Prime Minister is failing the people of Australia.

Honourable members interjecting