Doorstop – Parliament House 2 April

Minister for Finance, Minister for Women, Minister for the Public Service

JOURNALIST: So, the Parliament is looking to bring in some new standards, potentially looking at docking politicians’ pay for misbehaviour. Why is something like that needed?

SENATOR THE HON KATY GALLAGHER, MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Well, this was a recommendation out of the Set the Standard report, that there be new bodies established to basically provide a facility where people could make complaints, where workplace issues could be resolved. So, we’ve done the first part of that, which was the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service. That’s up and running. And once we got that up and running, we moved to starting to draft the laws around the Independent Standards – Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission, or the IPSC. That’s the body that would look at serious complaints, you know, Code of Conduct breaches, behaviour breaches. Those kinds of issues would go to this body and that body would be established essentially to provide findings, recommendations and, if appropriate, sanctions against complaints that were brought to it.

JOURNALIST: It sounds like that would actually have to pass Parliament to be established. Do you think that politicians are going to support something that opens them up to more criticism and more punishments?

GALLAGHER: Well, we’ve all agreed to the recommendations in Set the Standard. This was one of those recommendations. We’ve agreed to Codes of Conduct that have been adopted by both chambers. We’ve agreed to the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service. That was established by legislation, this will be the same. I’m very confident that we will have parliamentary agreement to it. What the final form of that looks like is still to be determined, but I’m working across the Parliament with Independents, the Greens, the Opposition, to make sure that we get this landed. Hopefully we get it landed without the need for a parliamentary inquiry into it, and then we can get it up and running around 1 October.

JOURNALIST: Are there any examples of this that you think it might apply to? Perhaps like Linda Reynolds dealing with Brittany Higgins or Michaelia Cash thing with a similar scenario. Anything, you know, people might be able to recognise that these kind of standards could be applied to?

GALLAGHER: Well, it sort of gets into hypotheticals there. We haven’t finalised the legislation. But it’s there to be, you know – and they exist in other parliaments as well, as a mechanism for people to raise serious complaints, to have those complaints independently assessed and then have sanctions provided if that is the outcome of that investigation. But it would of course cover MPs and senators, it would cover their behaviours, you know, their conduct. It would also cover staff in the building as well. And that was one of the key findings of Set the Standard. It’s all about raising the culture and improving the culture in this place. I think that has happened in the last 18 months or so. I think there has been a big change in the way this building operates as a workplace, and this is the final kind of piece of the puzzle in making sure that we’ve got all the systems in place to make sure that people are held to account for their behaviour.

JOURNALIST: 95 per cent of a politician’s salary is still a significant amount of money though. Do you think a 5 per cent docking is actually a harsh punishment? Or is it the embarrassment of it?

GALLAGHER: Well, I think that publication around it – and there is the, you know, in the Exposure Draft – and this is very early days, I would say. It wasn’t our intention to have it out being publicly ventilated, but that’s, you know, what’s happened now. So, we sort of put a proposition on the table, we’ll get feedback about that. Obviously, the rate of sanctions, whether there are financial penalties, what is the publication of complaints if complaints are substantiated – they are all, I guess, mechanisms that could be used to make sure that people are held to account for their behaviour in this place. But financial penalties were one of the recommendations through the Set the Standard report, that sanctions that looked at financial penalties, so that’s why they’re on the table and we’ll continue to work across the Parliament to see where we get to with that. Whether we have a limit on it, how that might operate. And we’re taking some legal advice on it as well.

JOURNALIST: In his first year as Prime Minister, he received some criticism – fairly or otherwise – about being a jet-setting Prime Minister. Now, obviously, we’re seeing what’s happened with the Liddell announcement yesterday on Thursday, especially with the Climate Change Minister. Are you worried that’s a criticism that might stick leading into an election year?

GALLAGHER: Look, I think parliamentarians will always have to be accountable for how they do their business. But I don’t think it is anything unusual that you would have people using planes to get to a place like the Hunter or through to the Liddell to make an important announcement at the end of a sitting week. This has been the way the Parliament has operated and governments have operated for as long as I can remember. There is nothing unusual about it. PMs have to travel. They have to go to international meetings, they have to travel around the country. It’s part of the job. And I think what people will remember is they’ll remember they’ve got a very hardworking Prime Minister who’s out there every day looking to expand economic opportunities in the case of Thursday’s announcement, some great job opportunities on the site of a former coal fired power station. Which is really good news for that community. So, I think that’s what they’ll remember. But you know, obviously people want to play politics. The Opposition want to play politics now they’re in opposition. This wasn’t one of their priorities when they were in government.

JOURNALIST: On detainees, what does it say to you that even three of your own Labor senators are willing to sign on to a report that says the detainee crackdown was too rushed and too broad?

GALLAGHER: Well, the scrutiny of bills committee, if you go back and have a look at all the scrutiny of bills committee in the Senate, you know, it’s a particular type of committee. It’s a committee that sort of looks at drafting and technicalities and sort of how powers are used and things like that. You know, it operates slightly differently to references and legislation committees. So, I don’t think it’s any surprise the scrutiny of bills committee has come up with recommendations –

JOURNALIST: They said it’s too rushed and too broad, three of your own senators –

GALLAGHER: – you know, we’ll deal with that. We want – our advice. It is not unusual to have senate committee reports that might differ from how the government tries to get legislation through the parliament. That is not unusual. Our advice was we had a gap identified in our migration laws. That gap meant they weren’t as strong as they should be. The advice to government was very clear. Now this gap has been identified, let’s close it off. We went to move and close it off quickly. You know, the Senate had a different view to that, the Opposition played politics and here we are. We’ll try to get it done as soon as possible.

JOURNALIST: Just on religious discrimination, David Pocock’s been critical of the government for sharing legislation with the Opposition but not Crossbenchers. You deal with Senate Crossbenchers all the time, why not work with them on this bill as opposed to so many other bills?

GALLAGHER: Well, again, our intention and our hope was the work with the Opposition on this noting the long and tortured history of this legislation that started in 2016 or 2017 and has not been able to progress through the Parliament. The hope of the Prime Minister, the way he works is to bring people together, not divide them. He wanted to sort of pass this through the Parliament with the major parties locked in and therefore some of those campaigns that had operated in the past, when this legislation comes forward, could be minimised. And that’s from both sides on the religious discrimination side and on the issues affecting LGBTIQ people. And so, that was the hope. We wanted to work that way. We’ll see what happens. But obviously, we will work with the Crossbench as well when the time is right. And again, that is not unusual.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly on the PM’s defence announcement today, a pretty big investment in defence manufacturing onshore in Australia. Why do you think it’s important that we’re boosting that particular industry?

GALLAGHER: Well, you’ll see – and you’ll see in the Budget – that focus on a Future Made in Australia. Increasingly, we want to be making things here and keeping jobs here where it makes sense to do so. There are opportunities, obviously, with the huge spend that’s going to be made in the defence industry. There’s a lot of local businesses, a lot of local knowledge and capacity here. And we want to make sure that the government’s supporting that where it makes sense to do so. We want to grow the opportunity for local jobs, we want to build sovereign capability. All of that works into not just defence, but in a whole range of areas across government. And I think you’ll see this as an increasing theme in the lead up to the Budget.

JOURNALIST: Just back on migration, you said there was a gap. Do you concede though that the legislation was rushed?

GALLAGHER: Look, in my time in the Parliament, where the advice is to get legislation done quickly – and you’ll see this in a range of areas including in migration – government has to act quickly. And that was the advice on this one, that where a gap is identified to deal with that gap you need to move quickly. There is a lot of – I look in my own area where we moved in superannuation. You know, sometimes you have to do it. It’s not your preferred way of operating. Usually legislation goes through Senate committees and it has months before the Parliament, but there are times on occasion where legislation is urgent. And at those times we often need the support of the Opposition to get that job done, the Opposition decided not to do that last week. And that means that our migration system has that gap and that gap will remain until the Parliament passes those laws.

JOURNALIST: Is it urgent this time because of a High Court case?

GALLAGHER: Well, there are a number of cases before courts in this space. And it’s not, you know – ministers don’t comment on matters that are before the court. This gap has been identified. The advice from our agencies was to deal with this, to deal with it quickly. That was last week. The Opposition chose to play politics. We didn’t get it done. It means that that gap is identified and the Opposition has to respond to that. You know, it’s their decision that they took to refer this off to a committee to delay it by six weeks. Our advice was to get it done and to get it done last week. That wasn’t possible and the Opposition chose the path that they chose.

JOURNALIST: On the religious discrimination bill, when will the time be right, when will the Crossbench be able to see that?

GALLAGHER: Well, those discussions are being had across – between the government and the Opposition. Our ideal pathway on this legislation was to reach majority party agreement on it. And that continues to be the case. Obviously, if the legislation proceeds to the Parliament, we would share that with all members and senators.

JOURNALIST: Will it proceed to the Parliament without –

GALLAGHER: That’s still to be determined.

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