ABC: 3/12/19

December 03, 2019



MATT DORAN: Mark Butler, thank you for your time.

MARK BUTLER: My pleasure.

DORAN: You’ve made a point in the last day or so picking up on what Labor alleges is another wrongful, an omission, by Angus Taylor on his Register of Members Interests about a company that he has an interest in. Is this a problem with how Angus Taylor has declared his interests or a problem with the rules that allow this sort of… the overarching interest in companies to be declared as the only financial problem there?

BUTLER: Well the rules are the rules, I mean we had much more strict rules about the ownership of shares by Ministers when we were last in Government; Tony Abbott relaxed those, but he did require Ministers to disclose indirect and direct interests in companies in accordance with some very clearly established rules. Now Angus Taylor has been a repeat offender here, there have been a number of companies in which his partnership owns an interest that he’s failed to disclose and the latest one we revealed yesterday is a company in which there’s been an interest for more than five years.

DORAN: More broadly on the issue of this investigation which has been launched by the New South Wales Police into that doctored document – with Labor continuing to press this during Question Time are you effectively pre-judging the outcome of the New South Wales Police investigation?

BUTLER: We want the police investigation to take its usual course. What we’re concerned about though is that the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General have involved themselves in this investigation by having a discussion with the New South Wales Commissioner about, to use their words, or the Prime Minister’s words, the nature and the substance of that investigation. Now that’s just extraordinarily inappropriate and it’s not something any other member of the public could do about a police investigation underway about one of their friends, colleagues, or indeed themselves. So we want to see the investigation take its proper course, we don’t like the suggestion that the Prime Minister or the Attorney-General can somehow get involved in an investigation around one of their own colleagues. But separate from the investigation there is still this very serious question hanging over Angus Taylor’s head, that we say he has deliberately misled the house on a number of occasions about where he got these dodgy figures. And deliberately misleading the House has a very serious and clear consequence for a Minister and that is that they must be sacked.

DORAN: If it’s inappropriate for the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General to have been present in that call with the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister to make that call with the Attorney-General to be present there; are you suggesting that the investigation has been influenced by that call?

BUTLER: No I’m not making that suggestion, I still have very strong confidence in the New South Wales Police, what I am concerned about though is perception, and as Malcolm Turnbull made clear last week, and David Ipp and Geoffrey Watson, very esteemed anti-corruption lawyers, one of them a former Supreme Court Judge, perception is really important here; that the public are confident that a police investigation into a very powerful individual, a Cabinet Minister, is going to be conducted above board and in the same way in which it would be conducted for any other citizen of the nation.

DORAN: So if the police investigation comes back and says that Angus Taylor has, or there’s nothing criminal that Angus Taylor himself has done, makes findings in favour of his office as well, is that the end of the matter, will you accept those findings?

BUTLER:  Well the only way Angus Taylor escapes this scandal is if the police come back and say that, indeed, Angus Taylor did directly download these dodgy figures from the City of Sydney Council website I just can’t see that happening because all of the evidence, whether it’s the Council metadata that they’ve released, or the publicly available internet archives, including the one maintained by the National Library, the Trove Database, all clearly show that the only version of the Annual Report online was the version with the correct figures. So there’s nothing to suggest that any one individual, whether it was Angus Taylor or a member of his staff, committed a crime here, but all of the evidence does indicate that someone has, that someone has forged this document.

DORAN: The Attorney-General Christian Porter was making the point yesterday during Question Time about his counterpart Mark Dreyfus that this is the ninth referral that Mr Dreyfus has made to the police over allegations of misconduct; asked them to investigate. So far eight have been found to have no need to go any further. It’s not a great track record is it?

BUTLER: I thought Christian Porter’s behaviour in the House yesterday was just extraordinary. He behaved like a Parliamentary tactician rather than the first law officer of the land. He dismissed this investigation really when it’s only been running for several days. The New South Wales Police have decided to launch a strike force of detectives focused on this potential series of criminal offences: the making of a forged document, the use of the forged document, the failure to report to the police the existence of a forged document, offences that carry penalties of up to ten years prison time, and the Attorney-General yesterday, the first law officer of the land, simply breezily dismissed it as something that shouldn’t be taking place, as a waste of the New South Wales Police’s time. Now, that might be a good Parliamentary tactic it’s not proper behaviour for the Attorney-General of Australia.

DORAN: How do you think the public reacted to seeing members of the Opposition constantly asking the police to step in and investigate Ministers, is it sour grape?

BUTLER: Well I think members of the public would expect that where we have focused on a particular issue, as we have over the last several weeks, where this document came from, a document that contained figures that on any cursory examination were false, were forged, that where we become aware of information that involves the potential commission of criminal offences under, in this case the New South Wales Crimes Act, that we would refer that to the proper authorities. I mean the idea that we would become aware of that and not refer it I think would be a shocking idea to most members of the public.

DORAN: And Anthony Albanese was asked last week with regards to, and you raised it yourself, the desire for Angus Taylor to either step down or be stood aside by the Prime Minister under those Ministerial standards. Anthony Albanese was asked whether or not those same standards would apply to Shadow Ministers if anyone was embroiled in a scandal or under police investigation and he said that that wasn’t the issue at hand here, that this is to do with Ministers of the Crown. Wouldn’t it be better to say ‘Yeah, I’ll hold my team to the same standard that I expect the Government to be held to’?

BUTLER: Well Ministers occupy a very different position, a very unique position, in our nation. They have extraordinary power, are entrusted with extraordinary power, and are covered by Ministerial Standards. I mean Anthony Albanese also made the point that if he was elected Prime Minister and these circumstances, God forbid, arose with one of his Ministers, that that Minister would be stood aside. These are Ministerial Standards; I mean that’s a terrible distraction. What we’re dealing with here are Ministerial Standards and it is entirely legitimate to ask Anthony Albanese if he was Prime Minister would he in these circumstances stand aside his Minister: he answered that very clearly.

DORAN: And that is the Shadow Energy Minister Mark Butler speaking to me earlier.