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Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Page: 2119

Day, Mr Bob, AO

Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (14:09): My question is to the Minister for Finance, Senator Cormann. My question goes to matters not covered by his so-called very comprehensive statement to the Senate yesterday. I refer to the letter from the minister to Senator Day dated 7 January 2016 in which he agreed to provide an additional six months' rent for the office at 77 Fullarton Road. Why did the minister agree to pay rent from 1 July 2015, outside the terms of the lease signed less than six weeks earlier, which included a rent-free payment to 14 August 2016?

Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:09): Senator Gallacher has actually misled the Senate. The question that he asked is precisely dealt with in my note, and I encourage him to read the five paragraphs following on from 'in terms of my approach from that time', which directly answer that question.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Gallacher, a supplementary question.

Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (14:10): Given that former Senator Day was seeking payment for rent outside the terms of the lease, and the senator was personally pursuing the payment of rent, how can the minister expect the Senate to believe the minister did not consider former Senator Day to have a financial interest?

Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:10): Again, these matters were dealt with in detail in my comprehensive note. Firstly, when I came into the position on 29 December 2015, a lease was in place with a commencement date of 1 July 2015. I made the judgement based on the paragraphs that I have already referred the senator to: that subject to satisfactory evidence that rental payments had been made by then Senator Day, as he claimed in his letter to me he had been making, I was prepared to provide these rental payments. But of course no rental payments were made because no evidence was provided. You have to bear in mind the Commonwealth does have a responsibility to provide elected senators with an electorate office by 1 July 2015. Then Senator Day had been in office for a year. He had not taken up the offices of then former Senator Farrell a year earlier, so it was my view that if he had— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Gallacher, a final supplementary question.

Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (14:11): For my final supplementary question, I refer the minister to question time yesterday, where he revealed he became aware of former Senator Day's vendor financing arrangement with Fullarton Investments in February 2016. Given the minister failed to take appropriate action prior to the 2 July election, isn't it clear the government was doing all it could to keep its most reliable crossbencher happy?

Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:12): The answer to that question is no. Again, I would encourage the senator to read my comprehensive note to the Senate yesterday in more detail. Even after that information had been made available to the department, the department advised me explicitly that it was open to me to pay rent in relation to that particular office. At no point, at that stage or subsequently, did I have advice, in the context of the information about vendor financing arrangements, that rent could not be paid. Of course ultimately, when further information came to light—and some of it has been raised by Labor senators over the last two days—we made a conscious and deliberate decision not to pay rent, which in our judgement meant that we avoided any conflict with section 44 of the Constitution. Of course, that is a question that will now have to be settled by the High Court, because eminent legal opinion received on 27 October suggests otherwise.