DOORSTOP INTERVIEW - PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA - THURSDAY, 11 FEBRUARY 2021

11 February 2021

SENATOR KRISTINA KENEALLY  
DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE  
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS  
SHADOW MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP  
SHADOW MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY  
SENATOR FOR NEW SOUTH WALES 

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT 
DOORSTOP INTERVIEW
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
THURSDAY, 11 FEBRUARY 2021 
   
SUBJECTS: Labor letter to Auditor General regarding Peter Dutton’s Safer Seats Rorts; Peter Dutton’s possible breach of Ministerial Standards; the Liberals treating taxpayer money like it’s Liberal Party money; National Integrity Commission.
  
SENATOR KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS:Today I have written to the Auditor General asking him to consider an examination of Peter Dutton’s Safer Seats Rorts through the Safer Communities Fund. This Safer Communities Fund I spoke about in my National Press Club address earlier this week when I talked about Scott Morrison as Treasurer, and now as Prime Minister, is squirreling away billions of dollars in taxpayer money in grant programs to be delivered, often without any guidelines or oversight or even sometimes an application form, at the complete discretion of Ministers to be given out to Liberal and National Party candidates in election campaigns. This is bordering on an industrial scale. This is Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton treating taxpayer money as if it is Liberal Party money. 

When it comes to the Safer Communities Fund, it seems that Peter Dutton is not interested in making communities safer. He was instead interested in making Government and marginal states safer for the Liberal Party. 

Now these disturbing revelations from the ABC in FOI documents obtained by the ABC. The 730 Report last night revealed that Peter Dutton gave out two grants from the Safer Communities Fund in the Braddon by-election. Even though the guidelines hadn't been established, the application process was an open and later on his Department actually recommended against those grants saying they did not represent value for money.

Yet with Peter Dutton, it didn't stop him, he went down to Tasmania, stood next to the Liberal candidate in the Braddon by-election and announced these grants. The Liberals using taxpayer money as if it is Liberal Party campaign money. 

One of the other disturbing allegations brought forward by ABC’s 730 last night, is that Peter Dutton accepted a political donation from the National Retailers Association directly for his campaign. And then one week later, gave that association a grant completely through his own discretion. Again, no application, no guidelines, no oversight. Peter Dutton gets a donation and a week later gives that same organisation several hundred thousand dollars in a grant. Now, this on the face of it seems worse than the Bridget McKenzie scandal.

You remember sports-rorts of course, Bridget McKenzie, then a Minister was found to have breached ministerial standards. Not for her colour-coded spreadsheets, not for the 136 emails between Bridget McKenzie's office and the Prime Minister's Office. But she was found to have breached ministerial standards because she failed to disclose she had a conflict of interest with one of the organisations she gave a grant to. In short, she was a member of an organization, she gave them a grant, she failed to disclose that. That was found that she had reached ministerial standards and she should lose her job.

What we have here is Peter Dutton accepting money, a political donation from an organization, and then one week later, giving them a discretionary grant with almost a million dollars. On the face of it, this seems far worse than the Bridget McKenzie scandal.

So, Peter Dutton has some serious questions to answer here and so does Scott Morrison. Did Peter Dutton disclose that conflict of interest? Did Scott Morrison know about that conflict of interest? And, what is Scott Morrison going to do?

Because we know that Scott Morrison avoids scrutiny like the plague. Scott Morrison promised a National Integrity Commission two years ago, he has not delivered it. Scott Morrison continues to treat taxpayer money as if its Liberal Party money. 

And the people around Australia today with these revelations on top of Sports Rorts will be asking themselves, how can the Government take money from communities that are in danger and at risk? Who need things like CCTV cameras and say: ‘No, we're not going to do that. We're going to give it to the seats that benefit us electorally’ How can the Liberal Party be looking after you when they're so busy looking after themselves? Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: What do you hope that an investigation by the Auditor General will achieve? Even the Prime Minister didn't take action against Bridget McKenzie until after his own Department investigated that matter.

KENEALLY: Well, let's understand that the Prime Minister was forced into action because of the oversight and the scrutiny that was brought to bear by the Auditor-General. The Auditor-General report into the Sports Rorts affair is quite damning and makes clear he has never seen such extensive involvement from a Prime Minister’s office and rewarding grants such as was done in Sports Rorts. What we know from these FOI documents is that over 90% of the grants that Peter Dutton gave out from the Safer Communities Fund went to Government seats or marginal Labor and independent seats.
 
This wasn't about community safety - this was about building safer electorates for the Liberal and National Party. And so the Auditor General has extraordinary powers that can be used to examine the guidelines as such: why they were rejected by the Minister? Now what we have here in these documents is the Minister Peter Dutton, his handwritten notes, writing rejected to communities that were ranked quite highly by the community safety experts in the Department of Home Affairs. 
 
Peter Dutton, handwritten notes, rejecting them, and re-numbering the projects, according to the electorates that he wanted to fund. And, if you look at these documents that show he actually groups them, it seems quite random at first, but he actually groups these by electorate. He had electoral considerations, not community safety considerations in mind when he made those decisions. That's what these documents suggest. The Auditor-General can get to the bottom of what was if anything, the Minister's criteria in assessing these grants.

JOURNALIST: You’ve said on the face of it, this is worse than Sports Rorts. But given as you pointed out, even after the Auditor-General, Bridget McKenzie was really just removed on a technicality. What confidence do you have then, if what you're saying is true, that action will be taken against the Minister for Home Affairs?
 
KENEALLY: My job is Shadow Minister for Home Affairs, but is also Shadow Minister for Government Accountability. And Labor will, as we have done with sport sports, continue to put the pressure and the scrutiny on this Government. This Liberal Government after eight years continues to treat taxpayer money as if it’s Liberal Party money. The Australian people, particularly now that we coming out of the worst recession in a century, deserve a government that is on their side. Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton are not on the side of communities that need things like CCTV, cameras or fencing. They are on the side of themselves and their own electoral interests.
 
So make no mistake, Bridget McKenzie had to resign. Scott Morrison found a fig leaf of an excuse so he can preserve his own reputation and integrity. But let's understand this: Scott Morrison set up in the Budget these grant schemes. He set up these pockets of money.
 
Take the Community Development grants, I spoke about this in my National Press Club speech, started at $340 million under the Abbott Government in 2013, now it’s been topped up every year by Scott Morrison, first as Treasurer, now as Prime Minister to $2.5 billion. And you know how you get a grant from the Community Development Fund? You have to be invited by the Morrison Government to apply. There aren't any guidelines or oversight.
 
This is what Scott Morrison is doing: building up billions of dollars of taxpayer money in the Budget so that he can give it out and election time to suit his own electoral interests.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly. Are you saying, are you alleging any breach of the law?
 
KENEALLY: What I'm being clear about is that this Government is setting up a secretive budget and setting up grants and funds where they don't have to answer for accountability or transparency. Where things can be done in secret. Where things do not have to be oversighted by pesky auditors, or indeed, things like the National Integrity Commission.
 
But understand this: when you put 90% of all the funds in a Safer Community Fund going to Government held, or marginal Labor or independents seats in the lead up to an election, when you have the Minister rejecting the advice of community safety experts, and deciding to fund projects to suit his electoral interests, rather than the safety interests of communities, you've got a Government that's not on the side of the Australian people.
 
You've got a Government that is not interested in what the Australian people want and need. And, frankly, taxpayer money is not there to be used as Liberal Party money. It is there for the uses of the Australian people. 
 
That's what we need to examine and expose in this rorting – these Safer Seats Rorts - through the Safer Communities Fund.
 
JOURNALIST: The rules don't actually prohibit ministerial discretion. Are you saying a Labor Government would do that for programs like this?

KENEALLY: We are abundantly clear, that when it comes to the use of taxpayer funds, there needs to be accountability, transparency, and oversight. We know that Scott Morrison promised a National Integrity Commission more than two years ago. All he's done is produce a draft bill for a weak commission that would conceal corruption not expose it. Labor is fundamentally clear - crystal clear and different, starkly different from Scott Morrison on this point.

We want a National Integrity Commission that has all the powers of a standing royal commission, that is independent, transparent, and ensures that government acts in the interest of the Australian people. 

Now, of course, of course, there is always some room for discretion in government funding. There are always some projects, once in a while, that don't neatly fit into a particular program. But when you have a government that has set up billions of dollars in funds that have no guidelines, that have no accountability, that don't even sometimes have an application process. $2.5 billion in Community Development Grants - no application process, you simply have to be invited, invited by the Morrison Government. This is an art form that Scott Morrison, as Treasurer and Prime Minister has perfected.

Let us not forget, this is the same eight year old Liberal government that walked into a half hour meeting and gave half a billion dollars to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, when the Foundation didn't even know that they were up for the money. Hadn't even asked for it. There was no application process. There was no transparency there were no guidelines. If a company was run like this, people would be... the Board would be demanding the sacking of the CEO. In politics, the consequences are far more serious because we grow the community trust in government. We cannot [inaudible] democracy - small 'l' liberal democracy - allow the trust [inaudible].

JOURNALIST: While this might be wrong, technically no rules, on the face of it, no rules have been broken?

KENEALLY: So is the argument here that Scott Morrison was okay, because Scott Morrison hasn't broken any rules of a program Scott Morrison set up where there are no rules?

Understand this, Scott Morrison set up grant programs where there are no rules and now their defence is that, well we didn't break any rules. When you have got taxpayer dollars, when the Australian people entrust you with their money, you have to return that trust. You have to show that you are spending it in the best interest of Australian communities. I mean, Sports Rorts was bad. Let's be clear about that.

But it's it's one thing to say to a community, you're not going to get a change room, this community is. You're not going to get a swimming pool, this community is. It is entirely another thing, when you have communities that are under threat, at risk of safety, who need infrastructure like CCTV cameras or bollards or fencing.

And Peter Dutton says, 'No, I'm rejecting your needs. I'm rejecting the advice of the community safety experts. I'm not following that. Because I want to give money to this electorate. Well, I've got an electoral interest, where the Liberal Party's trying to win that seat. What kinds of government puts its own electoral interests above the community safety of ordinary Australians?

JOURNALIST: If you are saying it's worse than the McKenzie scandal and she resigned, are you calling for Peter Dutton to resign?

KENEALLY: Well, I have said in fact that Peter Dutton and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have serious questions to answer. Did Peter Dutton disclose his conflict of interest with the National Retailers Association?  

He took a direct donation to his campaign. He was at the event. The Association made clear that the donation was delivered directly to the benefit of Peter Dutton's election campaign. And then a week later he gave them a grant. A discretionary grant. No oversight, no application process, no guidelines. He gave them a grant of nearly a million dollars. Did he disclose that just...

Did he disclose that conflict of interest? Did the Prime Minister know about that conflict of interest? And if the Prime Minister didn't, what is he going to do about it?

JOURNALIST: If he didn't disclose it, what you call a conflict, should he resign?

KENEALLY: Well, if Bridget McKenzie has to resign because she was merely a member of a club that she gave a grant to, and she didn't disclose that. Surely, Peter Dutton would have to go, if it is the case that he took a donation, didn't disclose it and turned around and gave a completely discretionary grant to the same organisation.

JOURNALIST: On the issue of industrial relations, can you explain why the speech delivered by Anthony Albanese differs quite significantly from the original? And was that because of the Government's claim that this policy that Labor has announced would cost $20 billion? And if so, did the Opposition Leader jump the gun with an alternative policy?

KENEALLY: I'm not aware of the specifics you mentioned there in terms of different versions.
But let's be clear, Labor's policy is this. When it comes to portable entitlements, we're going to consult the states and territories to work out what can be done for those workers who in casual work, who often work for more than one employer or move around from different employers to be able to have portable entitlements.

This is not a new thing. This is already done in certain industries. Indeed, the Keneally Labor Government in New South Wales delivered portable entitlements for cleaners. The ACT Labor Government here has delivered portable entitlements. Other governments have done this in Victoria and in Queensland.

This is simply a commitment to consult with the states and territories because they need to be fundamental and making it happen. When Christian Porter says that this is going to cost billions of dollars, he's simply lying. He's making things up. He is simply making things up. What he is doing, is creating his own policy or his own version of a Labor policy and putting a cost on it.

Now, when we talk about consulting with the states and territories, that's exactly what we're committing to do but understand this. Understand this. The linchpin of what Anthony spoke about last night, is to ensure that Australians have access to secure jobs with fair pay and conditions, with their pay and conditions protected. And that includes putting job security at the heart of the Fair Work Commission.
And it includes ensuring that people who are hired by labour hire companies, doing the same job right alongside an employee of a company, are getting the same pay. Same job, same pay. That's what Australians expect. Fairness in the workplace.

JOURNALIST: If it is not going to cost employers $20 billion, how much will it cost?

KENEALLY: Well, what we're talking about here is consulting with the states and territories about what legal entitlements for certain industries and are needed.

So, for example, when it came to cleaners in New South Wales, long service leave was something that they very much wanted. Many cleaners had worked for more than a decade in the cleaning industry, but had no long service leave because they've worked for multiple employers. 

So it's about in consulting with unions, states and territories to work out what is feasible and needed in different industries.

JOURNALIST: And would that apply to casuals or not?

KENEALLY: It's possible that it might because much of what we are talking about here is casual work. Some cleaners, aged care workers, retail workers often do work in a casual form of employment.

But understand this, another key plank to what Anthony spoke about last night was in terms of having definitions, clear definitions of what is a casual worker, because the Morison Government wants to essentially through its industrial relations bill legalise wage theft and make it harder, not easier, but harder for casual employees to become permanent employees.

JOURNALIST: So do you think that process then where you will get a better idea of the cost well before the election?

KENEALLY: Sorry?

JOURNALIST: Getting that process of consultation... Getting that cost, do you think that will be before the election?

KENEALLY: We will make clear all of our commitments prior to the next election. We will make that quite clear. Anthony, in fact, in the speech last night, make clear that there is more to come in this space because Labor's primary focus, as we come out of the health crisis, and into what we hope is the economic recovery, is that while we are in Opposition, we hold this government to account. We hold them to account. And that means fighting their industrial relations bill, which means a pay cut - the Morison pay cut for Australian workers. 

But it also means laying out what an Albanese Labor Government will do and that will be to ensure that Australians have access to secure good jobs with fair pay and conditions, that no Australian is left behind, and every Australian has a chance to get ahead. 

Thanks, everyone.

ENDS

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