Doorstop - Parliament House (1)

11 February 2016


SUBJECT/S: Stuart Robert and ministerial standards; Liberals’ chaos and disarray

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES AND SUPERANNUATION: Malcolm Turnbull's Ministry is falling down all around him. His Ministry is not even twenty-one weeks old and already it's descended into a smoking ruin. This is an election year and Malcolm Turnbull can't tell the Australian people who the Deputy Prime Minister will be, who will be the minister in key portfolios like infrastructure, trade, investment, cities, defence procurement, veterans affairs, and human services at a time when they want to privatise the provision of Medicare in this country.

This is a Prime Minister who says one thing and does another. He said he'd provide leadership; he's provided chaos. He said he'd provide economic direction, instead he's provided confusion. He can't tell us whether the GST is on the table, or whether it's fallen off the table. He's hiding behind a bureaucratic process when it comes to Stuart Robert.

Any outcome today that doesn't end in the sacking of Stuart Robert is a complete farce. The message that Malcolm Turnbull would be sending to the Australian people about ministerial standards is that it's okay to use your public office for private gain. That's the message that Malcolm Turnbull would be sending the Australian people if Stuart Robert is still the Minister at the end of today. He's hiding behind a bureaucratic process when it's leadership that we need. 

Now, while the Prime Minister dithers, while his economic credibility drains away and while his Ministry self-destructs, Labor is providing the policy direction in this country. Already, more detail on tax policy and other key policies on the table, fully costed, there for the Australian people to consider. At the same time, we've got a Turnbull Government which is characterised by chaos and confusion, a Prime Minister who is dithering and delaying, and a ministry which is self-destructing.

This country needs economic leadership and Malcolm Turnbull has been unable to provide it. A Ministry that is not even 21 weeks old is self-destructing before our very eyes, he can't tell us who will fill those key positions, and he's hiding behind a bureaucratic process to protect a minister who has breached ministerial standards, who has used public office for private gain on behalf of a donor to the Liberal Party to the tune of $2 million and the company that the Minister himself owns shares in.

JOURNALIST: Labor has actually announced a lot of policies in the last year, but would you agree that they haven't actually got much traction because Bill Shorten isn't a good salesman?

CHALMERS: I wouldn't agree with that. I think it's well-known that Labor has had its shoulder to the wheel when it comes to policy development. We've all collectively - not just Bill but the whole team - got a job to do to explain to the Australian people what our policies are, why they are fairer than the alternative, why they're clearer, fully-costed, more responsible than any alternative that Scott Morrison or Malcolm Turnbull might put on the table. In the period between now and the next election, Australians will be under no doubt whatsoever what our plans are for this country, how we plan to take the country forward by putting people at the centre of our policy suite while the Government at the same time can't tell us whether the GST is on the table or fallen off. They can't tell us about other key policies. They can't tell us about other key personnel, including the Deputy Prime Minister of this country or the Trade Minister.

JOURNALIST: Is he the best salesperson though, for the Labor Party, Bill Shorten?

CHALMERS: Absolutely.

JOURNALIST: Why? Why is he the best person? What evidence have you got?

CHALMERS: Bill's done a terrific job. Under Bill's leadership, we have more detailed, fully-costed policies on the table for the whole team to sell than any time since I've been involved in politics. I think the Australian people, when they come to understand the policies that we intend to implement in Government, they'll find common ground with Labor. Already, there's an indication that they don't want the Liberals' 15 per cent GST. They support fairer tax measures - the types of things that Wayne [Swan] was talking about just before. The types of things that Chris Bowen has been talking about for some time: fairer superannuation tax, fairer tax as it applies to multinational companies, a whole range of policies that are more consistent, more in-line with the aspirations and ambitions of middle Australia than anything that Malcolm Turnbull or Scott Morrison have been able to put on the table.

JOURNALIST: Just on Stuart Robert, that broke on the start of the week. It's Thursday, the indications are that the report is out today. That's not a long time - they're hardly dragging their feet are they?

CHALMERS: This is the sort of cynical politics that Malcolm Turnbull used to bag Tony Abbott for - clinging on to a minister until the end of a Parliamentary sitting week is such cynical behaviour. They've been whispering to journalists in the last twenty-four hours - as you would know - that it may be that Stuart Robert might survive. Any outcome today that doesn't end in the sacking of Stuart Robert is a complete farce. It's not just about Stuart Robert any more, it's about the Prime Minister's judgement, the Prime Minister's standards. He would be saying to you and to everyone that it's okay for a minister in the Turnbull Government to use a public office for private gain, to benefit a huge Liberal Party donor and a company that the Minister himself has shares in. There's not an objective Australian who thinks that is acceptable behaviour for a Minister of the Crown. Malcolm Turnbull needs to show leadership. He said that he would. Instead he's delivered this sort of dithering chaos and confusion when it comes to Stuart Robert, the GST, all aspects of Government and key personnel.

JOURNALIST: They're looking into this review though. It's at arm’s-length. I mean if they put it out on the first afternoon, you'd probably call it a rush job.

CHALMERS: I don't think you can describe this process as being at arm’s-length. I think the facts have been on the table now for some time. The Minister himself is unable to defend himself in the Parliament which is the appropriate forum for him to be able to explain himself. He's been unable to do that. The Prime Minister has been unable to do that. The Prime Minister's job is to enforce his own ministerial standards. They're there in black and white. You can't use a public office for private gain. It's beyond any doubt that this Minister has done this to benefit a company he has shares in and to benefit a Liberal Party donor who gave $2 million to the Liberal Party over the last two years. There's not an objective Australian who agrees with Malcolm Turnbull if Malcolm Turnbull says that's okay.

JOURNALIST: How long was Peter Slipper stood aside for while Labor needed to shore up the numbers? How many weeks was that?

CHALMERS: Well that's on the public record, you're welcome to check that.

JOURNALIST: That was dragging the feet though, wasn't it?

CHALMERS: You're welcome to ask Mr Google how long that process dragged on.

JOURNALIST: That's a case of dragging the feet though, isn't it? Compared to this, this will be all over in a week.

CHALMERS: I'm not here to defend something that happened in years gone by when I wasn't a Member of Parliament. I'm here to talk about ministerial standards that should be upheld. I'd be very surprised if you didn't agree that ministerial standards should be upheld in this case. The facts have been on the table - some terrific work by journalists in this building has uncovered what is an egregious breach of ministerial standards.

JOURNALIST: Just one point - I think he has shares in another company that the head of Nimrod Resources is linked to. But are you saying that Malcolm Turnbull should have made this decision on Monday? That he didn't need this review?

CHALMERS: Malcolm Turnbull should have made this decision by now. He's hiding behind a bureaucratic process. For a guy who likes to style himself as some sort of decisive leader, he's proven himself to be anything but in this case. The facts have been on the table for some time. The Prime Minister could have called the Minister in, asked him to explain. The explanation is so obviously inadequate. The breach of ministerial standards is just so obviously bad and extreme that for Malcolm Turnbull to have not exercised leadership already is a black mark against him. He will be telling the Australian people if Stuart Robert survives, that it's okay to fly to China as a minister for the benefit of a man who donates $2 million to the Liberal Party and who - as you say - the Minister has shares in one of his companies.