MONDAY, 2 DECEMBER 2019
MARK BUTLER: Angus Taylor has become a wrecking ball smashing through the integrity of this Government and embroiling a growing list of senior Ministers. First of all we had earlier this year Barnaby Joyce involved in a scandal around $80 million paid for water buybacks to a company that Angus Taylor established in the Cayman Islands; money paid for water of highly dubious value. Josh Frydenberg was then embroiled around a scandal of poisoning endangered grasslands on a property owned by Jam Lands, a company in which Angus Taylor has long held an interest but has failed to declare on the register of interests in the House of Representatives. We now have the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General embroiled in the “dodgy documents” scandal, following their incredibly unwise and inappropriate decision to make a call to the New South Wales Police Commissioner about the launch of a criminal investigation by strike force Garrad into Angus Taylor’s involvement in this affair.
Today I revealed that Angus Taylor has again failed to declare another interest in accordance with the rules of the House and the Ministerial Standards. This time his indirect ownership of shares in a company, GFA F1 Pty Ltd, an interest his Partnership has held for more than five years.
Now any one of these scandals in and of itself is grounds for this Minister to be stood aside or even sacked. But taken together, if the Prime Minister now does not act against Angus Taylor, then his Ministerial Standards are frankly not worth the paper they are written on.
JOURNALIST: What’s the entirety of the allegation around GFA?
BUTLER: The simple fact of the matter is the rules are clear. The rules of the House are clear and the Ministerial Standards are clear. He is under an obligation to declare to the House and the Prime Minister all interests in which he holds a direct or indirect interest. GFA F1 Pty Ltd, as we’ve shown, has 55,000 or there about shares owned by Farms Partnerships Australia, a partnership in which Angus Taylor previously acknowledged he holds an interest.
The rules are clear. The failure to comply with those rules is also clear. It is a “serious contempt” of the House, as it is described in the House of Representatives practice. This is just another example of Angus Taylor thinking the rules don’t apply to him. That he is somehow above the rules of misleading Parliament or declaring to the House all of the interests he has in companies like GFA F1 Pty Ltd.
JOURNALIST: What do these allegations say about the need for a federal anti-corruption commission?
BUTLER: You don’t need a federal anti-corruption commission to deal with rules that have been established for many, many decades. It has long been the case that Ministers have two key obligations.
The first is not to mislead the House. Angus Taylor has deliberately misled the House, particularly about the origin of these dodgy documents on a number of occasions including twice last week.
The second obligation is to report very clearly to the House interests in which you have a direct or indirect interest and he has failed to do that on a number of occasions. As I said, Jam Land which is the company that owned the property which was the subject of the apparently illegal poisoning of endangered grasslands, the subject of a compliance action now by his own Department.
Again today it was revealed that he has failed to disclose an interest he has held for more than five years in this other company, GFAF F1 Pty Ltd.
The rules are clear. They couldn’t be clearer. The practice is also clear about the consequence of failing to comply with those rules. They are both sacking offences yet this Prime Minister stands up and gives a full-throated defence of this extraordinarily scandal prone Minister who is roping in a growing list of senior Ministers into his scandals.
JOURNALIST: To what extent do you expect Ministers to track down the shareholdings of every company they have an interest in? Is there a point there at which the line is too many lines along or the shareholding is too small for someone to be expected to go and track it all down?
BUTLER: No the practice has never said if it is a bit difficult for you or a bit inconvenient for you to track down all of the various shareholdings you have, then just give us a selection of them. The practice doesn’t say that. The practice is very clear any interest, 55,000 shares that he has held in this company for more than five years. The rules are crystal clear. Now if that is difficult for him to track all of that down, that is just bad luck. If he wants to be Minister and own these interests the rules are clear. His failure to comply with the rules have very clear consequences.
JOURNALIST: I didn’t probably explain that really well. But we can all, for example, invest in a managed fund and it is very difficult to know, I’m not sure we can find out where our money is going there. There must be a point there which you wouldn’t require that level of detail?
BUTLER: Sure, the rules of the House of Representatives are particularly clear about the type of interest which is required to be disclosed. For example, if it’s held through a Superannuation fund in which you don’t have any control about voting or disposing of shares, that’s one matter.
But Angus Taylor has earlier this year conceded that he had an obligation to disclose interests in Farm Partnerships Australia, his Partnership, because that ownership does give him the right to dispose of shares or determine the way in which they appear. The rules are very clear about the types of shares owned by a Minister that are required to be declared or indeed by any other Member of the House, but particularly a Minister given these issues are also covered by Ministerial Standards.
JOURNALIST: Is there anything nefarious about GFA or is this just a simple matter of updating the register?
BUTLER: It’s five years on. When we last raised his failure to disclose, which was around Jam Land, which was directly involved in a compliance action that he sought to involve himself in by asking Minister Frydenberg, who was then the Environment Minister to organise a meeting which included compliance officers he has simply failed to correct the record. He has stubbornly dug in and said, flying in the face of all of the clear practice around the obligation to disclose, that he is not going to disclose something that we all know about now because it has been involved in a compliance action.
Now it is just because there has been good research that people happen to have discovered that his Partnership also owns 55,000 shares in this other company. It doesn’t really matter what the company does, whether it is nefarious or not. There is no reason to suggest it is, but that doesn’t change his clear obligation to disclose. Angus Taylor’s problem is he thinks he is above the rules.
JOURNALIST: Do you know anything about what GFA F1 does?
BUTLER: No we don’t. All we know is there is a clear register of shareholders’ interests. It shows that for more than five years his Partnership or the Partnership of which Angus Taylor is a partner, has owned a substantial number of shares and that has never appeared on his register of interests.
JOURNALIST: Regarding GFA what are you calling him to do now?
BUTLER: Comply with the rules would be a good start. He didn’t do that with Jam Land. It just goes to show again that the standards of integrity in this Government are slipping on a daily basis, mostly in regards to the growing list of scandals in which the Minister is embroiled and roping in people like Barnaby Joyce, Josh Frydneberg, the Prime Minister himself and now Christian Porter whom we’ve learned decided very unwisely, without taking any advice from his Department, to involve himself in a call to the New South Wales Police Commission into the nature and substance of a criminal investigation into one of his Ministerial colleague.
JOURNALIST: Angus Taylor’s office says he didn’t declare because he doesn’t need to because he doesn’t have a controlling shareholding. What do you make of that?
BUTLER: That is clearly not the case and he has conceded earlier this year that interests owned by Farm Partnerships Australian are declared. This again is Angus Taylor choosing when it is convenient for him to abide by the rules and when he just doesn’t want to. That is frankly not good enough.