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Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Page: 3141

Day, Mr Bob, AO

Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongLeader of the Opposition) (14:59): My question is to the Prime Minister. Yesterday and today during question time the Prime Minister has claimed that he was not personally aware there was a potential issue under section 44 of the Constitution in relation to former Senator Day until around mid-August this year. If this was the case, did the Prime Minister or his office seek advice from his department or other sources about whether and when to make this information public? If not, why not? How could the Prime Minister keep something like this secret?

Mr TURNBULL (WentworthPrime Minister) (14:59): The facts relating to this matter have been set out comprehensively by Senators Ryan and Cormann in the Senate. When Senator Ryan became aware of this issue—it was raised with him by Senator Day, as I recall; and, again, I refer honourable members to his detailed statement—he then proceeded to investigate it and find out what the facts were. As I have referred to earlier, he alerted my office to the fact that there was an issue, for the purpose—so Senator Ryan says—of ensuring that, if Senator Day sought to contact me or my office, he would be referred to Senator Ryan. That was a prudent and proper thing to do.

Senator Ryan then went in a diligent way to ascertain what the facts were. He sought advice. He received advice from the Australian Government Solicitor. He saw me on 4 October and acquainted me with a time line and detail. There was considerable detail about the matter. Subsequently, he sought advice—through the Attorney-General—from senior counsel. Once that advice was received, he passed it on to the President of the Senate.

Honourable members would understand that in a matter of this kind it is very important that the Special Minister of State proceeds deliberately, diligently and carefully, and does not rush out and make statements which may be based on incorrect facts or may be based on an incorrect or ill-considered appreciation of the law. So what Senator Ryan did was establish the facts, including a lot of to and fro with Senator Day, as we have seen in his account of affairs to the Senate. He sought advice from the Australian Government Solicitor, and he got advice from that agency. He then sought advice from David Jackson, one of the leaders of the Constitutional bar in Australia, and he then presented that advice to Senator Parry.

The fact is that at the same time that the Leader of the Opposition was in Brisbane accusing my government and me of relying on Senator Day's vote—as he spoke—as he well knows, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate had been made privy to this advice given to Senator Parry. So the fact is that the government proceeded diligently and carefully on a complex matter and sought advice. When that advice was received, we gave it to the President of the Senate. As a consequence, the matter has been referred to the High Court.