TUESDAY, 3 DECEMBER 2019
MARK BUTLER: Thanks everyone for standing out here after that very long press conference. Yesterday, I asked in the House of Representatives about Angus Taylor’s failure to disclose an interest that he has held through his partnership for more than five years, 55,000 shares in a company that has never appeared on his register of interest.
Now Angus Taylor’s office has indicated that he doesn’t think he is required to disclose anything other than direct and controlling interests in shares. Now “controlling interest” is a term of art, it is defined in the Corporations Act and it means that you have a number of shares that allows you to control a company entirely. That is what it means.
So the corollary of what Angus Taylor is saying is that a Resources Minister, for example, would only have to disclose ownership of BHP shares in the resources industry if he or she owned enough shares to control the company entirely. The Treasurer would only have to disclose ownership in the National Australia Bank or the Commonwealth Bank if he or she owned enough shares to control that company entirely. It is an utterly ridiculous proposition that would make a mockery of the House of Representatives rules and the Ministerial Standards.
Now Christian Porter gave an answer in relation to Ministerial Standards that was even more bizarre. Either the Attorney-General hasn’t read the rules or he doesn’t understand what a controlling interest is, or both, and I suspect that it is both. I do say that if Angus Taylor and Christian Porter are right, then these Ministerial Standards of Prime Minister Scott Morrison are not worth the paper that they are written on – they will mean absolutely nothing. If they are right, then Ministers would easily be able to arrange their affairs in such a way that they would not have to disclose any of the interests they owned in companies which would be utterly contrary to the public interest. We still maintain that Angus Taylor, in this case and in previous cases like Jam Land where he has an interest in a company that owns land that is subject to a compliance action around alleged illegal poisoning of endangered grasslands, Angus Taylor has failed to comply with the rules of the House of Representatives. And the Ministerial Standards make it clear a failure to disclose interest in accordance with the rules is a breach of Ministerial Standards and therefore a sacking offence.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What do you think of the Government’s decision to review the Murray Darling Basin Plan?
BUTLER: Well this has only just been announced and obviously we’ll want to absorb the details of the announcement just made by the Government.
As a South Australian I’m particularly committed to the implementation of the Murray Darling Basin Plan. It took us about a century to get some sensible arrangements between the Basin states about the fair allocation of water between the states and ensuring the river system was environmentally sustainable, because without an environmentally sustainable river system you don’t have food and fibre production and you don’t have sustainable communities. So we’re committed to the implementation of the plan in full, which also means the additional 450GL of water that South Australia was able to negotiate through the implementation of that plan. As to the announcement that has been made over the last hour or so, as I understand, it obviously Shadow Ministers will absorb that detail and make appropriate comment in due course.
JOURNALIST: Just back on Angus Taylor is the Opposition risking looking a little silly here? Particularly with the referral to the police? There has been so much from Christian Porter now about the number of referrals being knocked over and this could be another one.
BUTLER: It has been extraordinary that the first law officer of the land has so casually dismissed a referral to the New South Wales Police about the possible commission of three separate criminal offences under the New South Wales Crimes Act, which carries prison terms of up to 10 years. All of the evidence suggests that someone has forged this document, now we don’t know who, that is a matter for the New South Wales Police. Someone has forged this document. Someone has use this document and there has been a failure to report its existence to the New South Wales Police. So I’m happy to let the New South Wales Police do their work, but what I find extraordinary is the first law officer of the land is able so casually to dismiss a referral to the legal authorities and seek to downplay the importance of this investigation. Whatever happens in this investigation it is clear that Angus Taylor has deliberately misled this House on a number of occasions about where he got these figures. He did not get these dodgy figures from the City of Sydney Council website. The metadata makes that clear, the publicly available internet archives including the one maintained by the National Library of Australia also makes that clear.