QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: TAKE NOTE OF ANSWERS - Education Funding, Vocational Education and Training

November 11, 2016




QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: TAKE NOTE OF ANSWERS - Education Funding, Vocational Education and Training







Senator CHISHOLM (Queensland) (15:19): Today we saw more obfuscation and obstruction in relation to this whole sordid Bob Day affair. From what we have seen over the last two days and in media reports leading up to this week, it is quite clear that the Abbott-Turnbull government has let nothing get in the way of securing Bob Day's support for its antiworker agenda. The Leader of the Government in the Senate is not at this stage front and centre of this discussion, but the performances of Senator Cormann and Senator Birmingham in the Senate have been less than satisfactory. In my contribution to the address-in-reply I compared Senator Brandis and some of his efforts in recent times to Donald Trump and what we are seeing in America. At the moment, Senator Brandis is the ball and chain around Malcolm Turnbull. Senator Brandis can no longer carry that on. At some stage, we are going to see the Prime Minister act in regard to Senator Brandis's role in this matter and also to his role in regard to the Solicitor-General matter.

Senator Birmingham, the Minister for Education and Training, clearly has not given satisfactory answers today to the questions that have been asked about his conduct. We have to ask ourselves why that is. It is absolutely clear and well known that Senator Day was the most reliable vote for the coalition on their agenda. We know that those opposite want to bring in changes to the workplace laws, in relation to the ABCC. We get lectures about how important that is. But we still have not seen the legislation. It has still not come before the chamber. Why is that the case? Why were they working so feverishly to keep Bob Day in this chamber?

Serious questions were asked of Senator Birmingham today as to how the government came to fund a training college that Senator Day was the director of, to the tune of $2 million. They were not adequately answered. Senator Birmingham actually toured the North East Vocational College in May 2015, but in estimates last month completely forgot that Senator Day was there with him. That is despite the fact that Senator Day subsequently met with the minister a month later to push his case further. At estimates it was also revealed that the department knew about Senator Day's involvement in the organisation and had told the minister about that involvement. Yet Senator Birmingham still gave the college over $2 million in taxpayers' funds, while Senator Day's businesses were going down the gurgler. Senator Birmingham failed to answer questions about these issues today. He also failed to answer questions regarding the role of Mr Hartsuyker in this matter. It is outrageous that the government has aided and abetted Senator Day over the last couple of months in relation to this issue.

Senator Cormann was, at that stage, Acting Special Minister of State. His so-called comprehensive statement left a lot to be desired in relation to the spelling out of his role in this matter. Again, today, he failed to answer the questions that were put to him. Senator Cormann revealed yesterday that shortly after he had been sworn into the job, on 29 December last year, Senator Day emailed him about whether the Commonwealth would be paying rent for his office. Senator Cormann was ready and willing to make that happen. He wrote back to the senator agreeing to provide an extra six months of rental back payments for the property. That was until, it seems, the Department of Finance put the brakes on the matter, and a simple search found that the bank account details were linked to Senator Day. That was in March, some three months before an election was due, but the government raised no concerns about Senator Day's ability to stand in the election campaign.

What makes matters worse for this government is that it really should have seen this coming. It should not have been blinded by their need to secure Senator Day's vote for its antiworker agenda. The coalition would have known a lot about 77 Fullarton Road. It is the same building that Senator Bernardi's Conservative Leadership Foundation was based in. Maybe Senator Bernardi smelled a rat that Senator Cormann didn't, because he vacated the premises last year. It is beyond ridiculous that the government has let this go this far. Senator Day was even using the email address 'bobday@77fullarton.com.au' in his direct emails to ministers. It is beyond ridiculous that the government could not see this. (Time expired)