November 12, 2018









Senator CHISHOLM (Queensland) (15:25): I wanted to talk about why this issue is important. Unlike Senator Williams over there, I can't just dismiss this because it was a period of time ago. This is an important and substantial story. This is the last substantial job that the current Prime Minister did before he entered parliament, so it's absolutely legitimate that he is held accountable for the role that he played in that.

The other aspect of this is that his appointment to that job was highly political. The last job he did before he was appointed as the Managing Director of Tourism Australia was State Director of the New South Wales Liberal Party. He had that role when they won re-election in 2004, and former Prime Minister Howard is on the record saying how grateful he was for the role that the current Prime Minister played during that 2004 campaign.

How was he appointed to be the Managing Director of Tourism Australia? The key recruitment agency that conducted the search was Korn Ferry. On this side of the chamber, we know that when the conservatives, when the LNP, want to get their preferred outcome in terms of recruitment, that's who they go to. We saw that evidence during Senate estimates when we were talking about the recent troubles at the ABC. And who have the government appointed to head the recruitment for the new board positions? None other than Korn Ferry. So we know that they have form. When they want their preferred outcome, this is who they go to.

These issues are substantial, they are important, and it is important that the current Prime Minister answer the questions that have been raised as part of the reporting. These aren't allegations by the Labor Party. This is as a result of a National Audit Office report. They are substantial allegations and they were reached independently of us as the opposition and, indeed, independently of the Public Service. They also go to the judgement of the Prime Minister, his record before he got into parliament and his capacity. It also goes to transparency, because taxpayer funds were involved in that organisation that he was responsible for. What payout did he receive that had confidentiality agreements around it? This is public money at the end of the day we're talking about.

So there are a number of aspects of this that go to his record now and also his record previously. How can we not use this to question his judgement as a result? In the short time he has been Prime Minister we have had the opportunity on numerous occasions to question his judgement. We saw that in the week before the Wentworth by-election when there was a series of rolling blunders by this Prime Minister, including what was nothing short of a diplomatic incident with regard to the relationship with Indonesia. In the last week of the by-election campaign, the Prime Minister floated the idea of moving the embassy in Israel, which put at risk the signing of a free trade agreement with our important neighbours in Indonesia.

It is, therefore, easy for us to conclude that we need to look at his decision-making, and to look at, when the current Prime Minister has been in positions of authority, how he has used that. When you look at his role at Tourism Australia, it was a very short-lived affair. It was a unanimous board decision—this is the same board that appointed him to that role 18 months earlier—to remove him, and this included a former National Party deputy leader as part of that, and there was a really obvious falling-out relationship with the minister at the time. The length of time he was in that role also leads us to conclude that there were judgement issues at play.

I think when you look at the LNP, they obviously—and we saw this in question time today—have problems detailing and explaining dismissals. We saw that with the former Prime Minister. They still can't tell us why Prime Minister Turnbull was dismissed, and it seems like we can't find out why the current Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was dismissed from Tourism Australia. So there are some fundamental issues that need to be highlighted within the public domain.

In question time today, the Senate leader, Senator Cormann, didn't take that opportunity to explain these decisions. So we will absolutely continue to highlight why it is so important for us to question the government and question the Prime Minister on this role at Tourism Australia and get to the bottom of why these decisions were made. We know he went from being the New South Wales state Liberal director straight to the position of managing director of Tourism Australia and then 18 months later he was out of that role. The Australian people deserve answers and the ANAO report is a good place for us to start. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.