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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 1953

Senator KETTER (Queensland) (15:14): I rise to make a contribution in respect of the responses given today in relation to what we now know is the offices for votes scandal, as properly described by Senator Farrell in his contribution. Today in question time, we learnt that Senator Cormann was aware at some point prior to the election of this dodgy and rather tricky arrangement that existed in relation to Senator Day and his office. This is something where the government has a lot of questions to answer. Unfortunately, today not a lot of answers were forthcoming for us on this. But what is clear to me is that this is an exercise in favouritism by the government, particularly with respect to Senator Day. I speak from personal experience on this. Like Senator Day, I requested a change of office when I was elected as a senator. I wrote to Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson back in June 2014 and asked if I could have a different office to the one that was intended for me on the departure of Senator Furner. I indicated to Senator Ronaldson that there would be a better location for the office that was being proposed for me.

Of course, in those times we had the pretence of the budget emergency and the government was running around talking about the need to cut government expenditure. So I was told that not only was I not permitted to move; I was told that the current lease on the office that I was going to move into ended on 30 June and there were two options to extend the lease for a further three years each. In his correspondence, former Senator Ronaldson said: 'It is generally expected that a senator or a member will remain in an electorate office for the duration of the lease, including optioned terms.' And he said: 'While I appreciate your desire to establish an office in the other suburb, I am proposing that you remain in the Strathpine office for the lease and option terms given the significant cost associated with establishing a new office.'

It is quite clear to me that, whereas I was obviously not seen as somebody who could deliver votes to the government, other arrangements were made to facilitate Senator Day and to meet his expectations. From my perspective, this is another example of favouritism. Whilst I note Senator Corman indicated that have been occasions when the government has been amenable to moves, the evidence before us at the moment is that it is only where a senator has the potential to vote very frequently with the government that we are seeing such an accommodation being made.

We have also seen that the government has provided favouritism to Senator Day in relation to the $2 million grant that was made by Senator Birmingham to the North Eastern Vocational College in Adelaide. Back then, Senator Day requested that a $1.4 million donation be made to the college. Despite the fact that he asked for $1.4 million, the government upped the ante and provided him with a further $600,000, to make it a $2 million grant to that vocational college. Whilst I do not criticise the funding of vocational education—we certainly support it—there is certainly an issue with relation to the transparency around this.

In closing, alarm bells should have been ringing in the government when we had Senator Day requesting to remain in his office in premises that were previously owned by him. This is something where very serious alarm bells should have been ringing. We are now confronted with the scandal and the unnecessary distraction of this matter being referred to the High Court because of the constitutional implications. This implicates both the Abbott and Turnbull governments, and this is distracting from the main job of getting on with jobs and the economy. (Time expired)