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Wednesday, 12 November 2008
Page: 6726


Senator RONALDSON (2:52 PM) —My question is to the Special Minister of State, Senator Faulkner. Paragraph 7.2 of your government’s so-called Lobbying Code of Conduct quite clearly states:

Persons … employed in the Offices of Ministers or Parliamentary Secretaries … shall not, for a period of 12 months after they cease their employment, engage in lobbying activities relating to any matter that they had official dealings with in their last 12 months of employment.

Given that paragraph 7.2 is a stand-alone section and not subject to the exclusions in paragraph 3, do you acknowledge that the appointment of the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff as executive general manager for government and corporate affairs with a major Australia company is a clear breach of the code?


Senator FAULKNER (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —I do note that the opposition have been busy making inaccurate claims about the Lobbying Code of Conduct and allegations about Mr David Epstein. As usual, they have got this matter completely wrong, and I welcome the opportunity in fact to set out the facts for the Senate. The Lobbying Code of Conduct is now and always has been a code which deals with third-party lobbyists—professional lobbyists who deal with the government on behalf of different clients. I can say in relation to Mr Epstein’s job that it is an in-house position. These positions have never been covered by the code. The fact that the code deals with third-party lobbyists should not be news to anyone. First of all, it is in black and white in the code in paragraph 3. I commend that to Senator Ronaldson. Second of all, it was obvious from the terms of the code when I released an exposure draft of it in May this year, and in fact this issue was widely debated at the time. I explained the code’s application to third-party lobbyists in my ministerial statement in this chamber when I released the code. The scope of the code was an issue discussed by the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration that considered this code in detail. Since the code was introduced, the Australian Public Service Commission has addressed the issue in not one but two circulars which set out the position. I also commend those to the opposition.

Having clarified the application of the code, let me say to the Senate that there is no doubt that a former chief of staff to a Prime Minister is in a unique position. On that basis, regardless of the lobbying code, I have spoken to Mr Epstein about his appointment and he has given me a written assurance that he understands his obligations of confidentiality with respect to government information and the undertakings he has signed regarding his duty not to disclose any official information acquired by him in the course of his employment, and that for the next 12 months he will not be lobbying the government on any policy issue concerning Qantas or the airline industry that he had any official dealing with as chief of staff to the Prime Minister. I commend that approach to the opposition. I can also indicate to the Senate that I said to Mr Epstein that if I was asked about this issue, as I expected to be asked by the opposition, I would report that assurance, as I have done to the Senate. I say to Senator Ronaldson: get your facts right. (Time expired)


Senator RONALDSON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note that the code that has not been breached has now required a very substantial letter which rather begs the question. I also note that paragraph 7.2 relates to former government staffers and is not covered by paragraph 3, if you have a look at your own code. In light of this extraordinary comment that this appointment has not breached the code, will the minister now do with 7.2 as he should have done at the start and remove it from the code because it is both not workable and not enforceable?


Senator FAULKNER (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —I have made absolutely clear how serious this government treats integrity measures, accountability measures and transparency measures, which are things I would again commend to the opposition. Let me say: I know what the opposition—

Opposition senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! When there is silence we will proceed.


Senator FAULKNER —I know what the opposition’s position on this is. It is clear. In the Senate committee report on the Lobbying Code of Conduct, Knock, knock … who’s there?, the opposition minority report recommended:

That post-employment restrictions on MOPS staff be removed from the Code.

The opposition, despite their huffing and puffing on this issue, have always wanted to exempt senior staff from working for third-party lobbyists immediately after leaving their positions. They have never accepted— (Time expired)