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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 1952

Senator DUNIAM (Tasmania) (15:09): I must thank Senator Farrell for the insightful outline of public transport in Adelaide. I did not realise they had such an extensive network.

But, as to the matters that were raised in question time today by opposition senators about the matter of Senator Day's electorate office and the matters around the lease and the like, earlier this afternoon we spent an extensive amount of time in dealing with this specific issue, by way of a motion to begin with. That has been debated and a motion was passed that the broader matters relating to this be referred to the High Court. It was supported, as far as I can tell, by all sides of this chamber. So I think it is important to reflect on the fact that that has happened.

But in that debate a number of points were made, and I have had a look at the contributions that were provided by Senator Cormann and Senator Ryan, who spoke on behalf of the government as ministers involved in this issue. So I have looked at Senator Cormann's contribution. Some of the questions I think were trying to paint a picture of a government that did not want to take a particular course of action in case it might upset a senator. But it is quite clear from reading through what Senator Cormann said with regard to his involvement in the processes—and I refer to his contributions—that he made the point that it is important to note that, at the time of executing either the heads of agreement in February 2015 or the lease on 1 December 2015, the Department of Finance was not concerned that Senator Day still had any interest in the 77 Fullarton Road property. Specifically, former Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson had agreed to enter into the heads of agreement and the lease on the express basis that he had satisfied himself firstly that then Senator Day no longer had any interest in the property—and this was expressly confirmed by Senator Day, and also confirmed by the department, which did research in the form of title searches at the time—and secondly that there would be no net cost to the Commonwealth entering into the heads of agreement and the lease, compared to the scenario where Senator Day had accepted the earlier request of the department to move into then former Senator Farrell's office. So measures were put in place to ensure that what is being alleged here was not going to happen.

Earlier on today in the debate on the motion, they did go into some of the steps that were taken when new information came to light throughout the course of the lease and the communications from Senator Day about rent on the office. The key point is that the government was very transparent in providing all of this information about what happened there. And, as soon as new information came to light, the government responded in the most prudent way, through the Department of Finance, in making sure that everything was done in line with the rules that apply to entitlements and with the application of the Constitution, as has been outlined earlier on today.

Senator Cormann, a little later on in his contribution, highlighted the point in time after the complaint had been made that rent had not been paid, the steps that he took in trying to protect the government and the Department of Finance from any exposure to any problems in the arrangements, and that, when the concerns were raised by the department, Senator Day's subsequent information raised further questions, and so that is why measures were put in place with regard to the lease arrangements and the vendor financing arrangements. So I think that to suggest that there was anything other than a prudent approach taken by government in dealing with this issue is just wrong. And, as discussed, we have already debated a motion to refer to the High Court the matters relating to the qualification of a senator to sit in this place, and all sides of this chamber agreed that that body is the best one to deal with the question before the Senate. These issues are inextricably linked to that question. The questions today absolutely highlight that.

I would encourage opposition senators to reread Senator Cormann's and Senator Ryan's contributions to the chamber today on this issue, because they do outline, in very detailed form, exactly what they did, when they did it, what they were thinking when they did it and why they took those steps. I think it speaks volumes for the transparency the government has in relation to— (Time expired)