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Thursday, 16 October 2008
Page: 6214

Senator CASH (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Special Minister of State, Senator Faulkner. Does the Rudd government require the staff of its ministers and parliamentary secretaries to provide a statement of private interests to their employing ministers or parliamentary secretaries, and is the minister or parliamentary secretary required to countersign the statement? If so, was this procedure followed by Parliamentary Secretary McKew and her staff member Ms Kathleen Forrester?

Senator FAULKNER (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —The answer to the first question that was asked by Senator Cash is yes. The answer to the second question that was asked by Senator Cash is yes. Now let me turn to the specifics of the particular case that Senator Cash raises. For the information of the Senate, I can confirm that a Ms Kathleen Forrester is an adviser to the Parliamentary Secretary for Early Childhood Education and Child Care, Ms McKew. I can confirm that Ms Forrester joined Ms McKew’s staff on 12 May this year.

Prior to her appointment, Ms Forrester had been an employee of the Allen Consulting Group, which is a private company. She resigned before taking up her ministerial staff appointment. As an employee of the Allen Consulting Group, Ms Forrester, like other employees, received shares in the company under an employee share plan. On 23 April 2008, before she commenced at Ms McKew’s office, Ms Forrester told the company she wished to divest her shares to avoid any potential conflict of interest. In fact, she wrote to the company and told them she wanted to dispose of her holding quickly because she was keen to avoid even the vaguest notion of potential conflict of interest. In turn, the company told her that it would put in train a divestment process.

I note, and I think it is important to note, that we are dealing here with shares in a private company that cannot be simply traded on the stock market. Before even commencing her position in Ms McKew’s office on 12 May, Ms Forrester declared her shareholding in the Allen Consulting Group in her statement of private interests that was provided to Ms McKew.

You also asked me, Senator Cash, whether that statement was signed. I confirm, for your information and for the information of the Senate, that that statement was signed by Ms Forrester and Ms McKew before the start of Ms Forrester’s employment on 12 May 2008.

I note that I have perhaps provided some additional information to that which Senator Cash has requested, but I thought it appropriate to do so to enable Senator Cash to understand the context of the signing of the declaration form, and also, of course—as is the hallmark of this government—in the interests of full transparency.