Transcript: Doorstop on Senate Estimates 22/10/19
1.45pm | October 22, 2019
SENATOR JENNY MCALLISTER
SHADOW CABINET SECRETARY
SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER TO THE LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE
SENATOR FOR NEW SOUTH WALES
TUESDAY, 22 OCTOBER 2019
JENNY McALLISTER, LABOR SENATOR FOR NSW: Yesterday was the first day of estimates for the new Government. Three years, three terms in how are they going with accountability? Well not very well. We asked a lot of questions yesterday but we didn’t learn very much at all about material facts that we were asking about. This Government doesn’t like answering questions from journalist, it doesn’t like answering questions in the Parliament and now it seems they don’t like answering questions in Senate estimates. Officials who were tempted to answer questions were repeatedly shut down and we learnt very little indeed about basic question. Now, Senate estimates is some of the last key areas for accountability, it’s a very important part of the parliamentary process and it is disgraceful that the Government are trying to shut it down, that they are unwilling to be accountable and transparent.
I’ll tell you about what happened in the estimate session that I was in, the department wouldn’t say and were unwilling to confirm if events in northern Syria provided an opportunity for ISIS to re-group even though the Government has previously expressed that exact same concern on the public record. They said that the department didn’t know anything about a letter from Joe Hockey to the White House agreeing to help with an inquiry into the origins of the FBI’s Russian probe which will look at Alexander Downer’s actions – then, hours later, said it knew about the letter all along. They also said that the department, the Prime Minister’s department didn’t know didn’t know anything about a letter from the chair of the US Senate Judiciary Committee to the Prime Minister about the same inquiry. They wouldn’t tell us if the Prime Minister proposed Brian Houston as a guest at the President Trump’s state dinner and they claimed bizarrely, that this would prejudice Australia’s international relations. They wouldn’t guarantee that journalists from the ABC and News Corp won’t be prosecuted for during their jobs. They took almost all questions about the drought on notice, despite the Prime Minister claiming it’s a priority and the Treasurer falsely claiming it’s the number one call on the Budget They wouldn’t even tell us if the department briefed the Prime Minister on drought measures last week, they took that question on notice. They wouldn’t tell us whether Mr Morrison had sought advice on Angus Taylor’s conflict of interest and they wouldn’t answer questions about the appointment of Liberal and National Party mates to plum diplomatic posts.
These are questions of fact; they are basic questions about the operation of government. These are the kinds of questions that have been routinely answered in senate estimates over and over again. The Morrison Government can’t hide from its responsibilities. In a democratic country a Government needs to be accountable and they need to start taking Senate estimates seriously.
MCALLISTER: I’ll leave comments about the Home Affairs estimates to my colleague Senator Kennelly, I wasn’t, I didn’t hear the answers to that, my remarks today are mostly with regard to Prime Minister and Cabinet.
MCALLISTER: My observation yesterday, was that officials have been encouraged to obfuscate when asked about basic questions of fact and on at least one occasion it was clear that officials had prepped, worked together prior to the estimates hearing to develop a way of answering a question that would avoid providing the necessary information. This is not the tradition of our public servants, our public servants do a good job, and they know that they are required to be accountable at estimates. The problem here is a Government that is determined to stop officials from answering questions.
MCALLISTER: I am very concerned about the terms on which this inquiry is being conducted. Senator Hanson has made a number of public statements, that she does not believe women. It is incredibly important that women who are subjected to violence, who are survivors of violence are able to tell their stories having confidence that fundamentally they will be believed. My concern is that the way in which this inquiry has been established compromises that for those women.
MEDIA CONTACT: LEILA STENNETT 0436 632 388