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Australian politics live: Victoria reports five new Covid cases as Melbourne goes on high alert Australia Post CEO stood aside over Cartier watches, and Victoria reports five new coronavirus cases – live
(32 minutes later)
A school student in Melbourne’s north tested positive to coronavirus, putting the suburbs of Dallas, Roxburgh Park, Broadmeadows, Preston and West Heidelberg on high alert. Follow live A school student in Melbourne’s north tested positive to coronavirus. Follow live
Asked again about the delay in the federal integrity commission - based on the law firm used to review the branch stacking allegations, that Murph has been reporting on, Christian Porter says the government was too busy focussing on the pandemic.
I am just going to leave these words from Murph, here, in answer to that - the government managed to do plenty not related to Covid.
We’re expecting a written statement from Australia Post shortly. We’ll bring it to you when it arrives
Christian Porter is asked about the federal national integrity commission.
Anthony Albanese:
In the Budget, the government established or announced extra money for more than 30 different grants and fun programs with at least $5.7 billion. Given the writing that occurred with sports rorts, community development grants in the building better regions fund, in the absence of a national integrity commission, what guarantee is there that decisions will be made on merit instead of colour-coded spreadsheets designed to target marginal seats?
Porter answers by pointing to what Mark Dreyfus said about Labor’s proposed integrity commission, ahead of the election - that it would need a year.
The government proposed its integrity commission two years ago.
Who has an Australian record...
Tony Smith:
Porter:
He is sat down.
Scott Morrison is taking credit for the Australia Post investigation.
Anthony Albanese to Morrison:
How is it that on his watch, in the middle of the worst recession in almost a century, with 1 million Australians unemployed, businesses collapsing in $1 trillion of Liberal debt, this government is taking action against the Liberal appointed Australia Post board, which spent $12,000, taxpayers money, on Cartier watchers.
A very cranky Morrison:
Back in estimates, Finance officials confirm that two contracts worth $25,000 were let to the law firm Ashurst to conduct the investigations into Michael Sukkar and Kevin Andrews.
Don Farrell wants to know why the investigations were outsourced?
Rosemary Huxtable says the department was keen the reviews happen “expeditiously”.
The secretary notes the Victorian branch-stacking controversy was in the public domain and it was viewed as helpful to conduct an independent investigation.
Farrell notes that Sukkar was “previously employed by Ashurst”.
Huxtable corrects that Sukkar was previously employed by Blake Dawson Waldron.
Farrell points out that the firm is now Ashurst. Huxtable says she’s not across the intricacies of that, but concurs that’s likely right.
Farrell asked why Sukkar’s previous employer was engaged to conduct the review?
David Da Silva says proper processes were followed.
Huxtable says Ashurst has addressed any conflict of interest or bias claims in a public statement.
Farrell persists: Did the department know that the law firm it engaged to conduct the review was “Mr Sukkar’s own law firm”?
Farrell notes this is a simple question. Da Silva says it’s up to Ashurst to manage any conflict of interest.
Farrell escalates, declaring Sukkar “used his own law firm” to investigate. Outrage ensues. Mathias Cormann says this is “false”.
“[Sukkar] didn’t make any decisions on who was conducting that independent review and I approached this with a completely straight bat,” Cormann says.
Outrage is continuing. Farrell says he didn’t mean Sukkar personally engaged the law firm, but he says this is a simple question requiring an answer: did Finance know Sukkar had worked at Ashurst previously?
Huxtable wants to take that question on notice.
Da Silva volunteers that he was part of the decision to appoint Ashurst, with the legal and assurance branch.
Farrell asks how many law firms were on the panel that could have conducted the inquiry instead of the law firm that was chosen.
Huxtable says she’ll take the question on notice.
The secretary says Ashurst had the skills to conduct the inquiry.
Labor’s Kim Carr has been asking race discrimination commissioner Chin Tan about whether there has been an increase in racism and rightwing extremism during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Chin Tan said there had been a “substantial rise in race activities, particularly directed at some communities including Asian communities”. He said both racism and rightwing extremism had increased, and the two are “entwined”.
AHRC president Rosalind Croucher said the commission had “opened up a conversation around a national anti-racism framework” and the discussion was “ongoing”.
Attorney general department secretary Chris Moraitis said he had expressed “full support” for “working out the parameters of that”.
This is significant – because Labor has called for an anti-racism strategy. And whether you call it a strategy or a framework, it sounds like the wheels are in motion.
Liberal chair Amanda Stoker quotes previous years’ statistics to suggest there hasn’t been a large increase in race complaints. Chin Tan said the number “varies” but there has been an increase during Covid-19.
Paul Fletcher was also the cities minister when the Leppington triangle sale was made – the $30m purchase of land valued at $3m, 30 years before it was needed – and said he received a deficient brief from his department, and learnt only learnt key details of the sale in the auditor-general’s reports.
Anthony Albanese asks Paul Fletcher when he asked about the watches.
Fletcher says he only found out during the estimates hearing.
Labor interjects – Fletcher says he has concluded his answer.
Just a reminder, as Daniel Hurst reported, this was part of the exchange between Christine Holgate, who has been asked to stand aside while an investigation is carried out, and Labor senator Kimberely Kitching over the $12,000 for four designer watches for executive staff issue:
Kitching: Do you consider it appropriate to use taxpayer’s money to buy Cartier watches for already highly remunerated Australia Post executives?
Then Paul Fletcher gets to this:
Michelle Rowland to Paul Fletcher:
Fletcher:
Angus Taylor is doing his impression of a minister in response to this dixer.
Asked again about his comment, which is in Hansard – “On this side of the House, if you’re good at your job, you’ll get a job. That’s how it works” – Scott Morrison turns it into an answer on how Labor doesn’t understand the unemployed.
Morrison:
In the fortnight the government cut the wage subsidy kobkeeper rate, payroll dropped, and so did retail spending. The unemployment benefit, jobseeker has been cut, with no word on whether what is left of the Covid supplement will remain beyond 31 December.
MeanwhileMeanwhile
Back in estimates, Finance officials have confirmed that a would-be informant approached the department concerning the Sukkar/Andrews investigations.Back in estimates, Finance officials have confirmed that a would-be informant approached the department concerning the Sukkar/Andrews investigations.
The department supplied an email address to that person. Officials say no further information was ever provided to that address.The department supplied an email address to that person. Officials say no further information was ever provided to that address.
Don Farrell wonders if crucial information ended up not reaching the investigation. The officials repeat that they provided a point of contact and no information was ultimately forthcoming.Don Farrell wonders if crucial information ended up not reaching the investigation. The officials repeat that they provided a point of contact and no information was ultimately forthcoming.
The officials won’t say who the would-be informant was – whether he was a member of staff. Finance again won’t go into detail, given information in these investigations is provided on a voluntary basis.The officials won’t say who the would-be informant was – whether he was a member of staff. Finance again won’t go into detail, given information in these investigations is provided on a voluntary basis.
The finance minister Mathias Cormann notes this is an important convention.The finance minister Mathias Cormann notes this is an important convention.
Scott Morrison is asked about this comment he made yesterday during question time, in defence of John Howard and Josh Frydenberg assosicate Peter Crone being given a contract with the Bushfire Recovery Agency (which apparently was news to the head of that agency, Andrew Colvin) Scott Morrison is asked about this comment he made yesterday during question time, in defence of John Howard and Josh Frydenberg associate Peter Crone being given a contract with the Bushfire Recovery Agency (which apparently was news to the head of that agency, Andrew Colvin).
Morrison is asked why he said that, given there are people who are about to lose their homes if they don’t get a job - is he saying Australia’s unemployed haven’t been able to find a job because they are not good enough? Morrison is asked why he said that, given there are people who are about to lose their homes if they don’t get a job is he saying Australia’s unemployed haven’t been able to find a job because they are not good enough?
Morrison:Morrison:
Just visited the void for a few minutes as Michael McCormack took a dixer.Just visited the void for a few minutes as Michael McCormack took a dixer.
Moving on.Moving on.
Once again, the Coalition has been in power in Australia for the past seven years.Once again, the Coalition has been in power in Australia for the past seven years.
It has been in power for 15 of the last 20 years.It has been in power for 15 of the last 20 years.
Aged care is a federal responsibility.Aged care is a federal responsibility.
When the royal commission reports about failures of “successive governments” it is absolutely right – but those governments have been largely led by the Coalition – and the last decade has been largely led by the people who are sitting in the house, on the right of the Speaker, today: the Coalition.When the royal commission reports about failures of “successive governments” it is absolutely right – but those governments have been largely led by the Coalition – and the last decade has been largely led by the people who are sitting in the house, on the right of the Speaker, today: the Coalition.
Anthony Albanese to Scott Morrison:
My question is to the prime minister: why has a government senator claimed that 668 deaths in aged care are not relevant on the same day the royal commission heard that one in five Australians in residential aged care have received substandard care and levels of abuse are, quote, “a national shame”. Why has the prime minister racked up $1tn of debt, $100bn of new spending in the budget but not fixed his broken aged care system, characterised by, according to the royal commission, neglect.
Morrison:
Julie Collins to Scott Morrison:
This morning at Senate estimates, Liberal senator Amanda Stoker repeatedly shut down questions about more than 680 deaths in aged care.
She made more time for tweets but that aged care deaths were not relevant. How on earth can the government claim that 680 deaths in aged care are not relevant but Twitter is?
Morrison:
The person in question is the media director for the royal commission – not a commissioner – and has impact on the evidence.
Over in Senate estimates, the Labor senator Don Farrell is exploring the recent investigations the Department of Finance undertook in relation to the conduct of Liberals Michael Sukkar and Kevin Andrews.
You can read the background to those investigations here. An official from the department says Finance has relevant records but doesn’t have statutory information gathering powers.
Farrell says these investigations rely on the subjects volunteering information. The official from Finance, David Da Silva, agrees that’s correct.
The department secretary Rosemary Huxtable notes the investigation ultimately went to an external party, and independent legal firm. Farrell asks what information the department expected to get from Sukkar and Andrews. What did the two Liberals provide?
“They provided information,” Huxtable says. She won’t go into detail. Another Finance official says the two were proactive.
“I can assure you we did a thorough review of our records,” Huxtable says. She says the law firm had further engagements with the two members.
Da Silva said the law firm sought information from the two members and they submitted information. Farrell asks whether the investigators accessed the key document about branch activities that set the first news reports in motion. Huxtable says “all relevant documents were considered by the investigator”.
It’s not clear what all relevant documents mean, and Huxtable is clear she doesn’t want to get into detail because information is furnished on a voluntary basis.
We have moved into the chamber – Richard Marles just did a “go Cats” 90-second statement, wearing a scarf.
Too soon for this Collingwood supporter.
Tony Smith, a Carlton supporter, says he is tempted to remove all the Richmond supporter gear from the chamber.
I do not know what to say about this.
Which party is the ball?
I know they are a favourite of MPs, particularly when they need to look ‘country’ but this may not have been the smoothest move.
As one gift guide says (with thanks to the SMH and the Age’s Eyrk Bagshaw for finding it).
It is not common to give gifts in a business setting as they are generally seen as bribes. However, sometimes after the first meeting, simple gifts are exchanged.
Do not open the gift in front of the other person unless requested.
Appropriate Gifts – fruits, chocolates, sweets, a perfume that is not alcohol based.
Gifts to Avoid – knives, alcohol and personal gifts, and with white wrapping paper, as it symbolises death and mourning.
If giving foodstuffs, remain sensitive to the Muslim avoidance of “non-halal” foods and gelatin.
We are now less than half an hour out from the last question time of the week.
Estimates appears to have given plenty of material today.
The standoff over the delivery of Pauline Hanson-branded stubby holders to public housing residents in north Melbourne was “a very unusual one”, according to Nick Macdonald, Australia Post’s general counsel.
As mentioned earlier on the blog, this is the case in July in which Melbourne City Council intervened to block the delivery of 114 parcels to households of the locked down towers just days after Hanson publicly disparaged the residents.
Nine newspapers published an email in which Macdonald wrote to the council saying Australia Post would consider notifying the police or other relevant authorities if the packages were not delivered.
The independent senator Rex Patrick wanted to know how often Australia Post had written to somebody indicating it would engage the police if they failed to deliver parcels or letters.
While there had been times where mail vans had been broken into, it seems this situation is unprecedented.
Macdonald said it was very unusual for Australia Post to release letters or parcels into the custody or control of a third party – in this case the City of Melbourne which had a role in managing the locked down public housing towers.
The Senate estimates hearing into Australia Post has fired up over bonus payments.
Australia Post told the hearing the total value of incentives awarded last financial year was $97.4m.
The Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Australia Post was “quasi public, quasi private” and she raised concern about bonuses clashing with community expectations during a recession: “I can understand why people are pissed off.”
The Liberal party chair of the communications committee, David Fawcett, rebuked Hanson-Young, saying the “last bit of that was not appropriate for a parliamentary committee”.
Australia Post said the $97.4m in incentives was a total of several different parts, including $21.6m in “thank you” payments to frontline workers. The hearing was told the payment was made to 34,500 people such as posties, processing centres and drivers who had delivered through Covid’s “unprecedented times”. It was pegged at 1% of average earnings, so a postie might typically get $600.
Contractors and licensees were also given gift cards totalling $2.6m in thank you payments, because they were not direct employees.
Hanson-Young said her concern was not the thank you payments but those at the higher end.
The hearing was told the second part of the incentives was a total of $60.5m to 2,500 participants in the Australia Post corporate incentive plan. These ranged from general managers to heads of departments to senior managers.
Rosalind Croucher, the Australian Human Rights Commission president, has delivered a scorching opening statement warning about executive overreach in Australia’s Covid-19 response.
Croucher noted that many emergency measures were enacted through non-disallowable legislative instruments that don’t receive as much scrutiny as legislation. Scrutiny, if it comes, comes after the fact.
She noted “extraordinary measures” including Henry the 8th clauses whereby regulations made by ministers can change the meaning of legislation agreed by parliament.
Croucher said that checks and balances on executive power are “integral to our democracy” but Australians have been “exposed to potentially unnecessary infringement” on their rights.
Croucher said:
For example, she cites repatriation of Australians overseas – which appears to be a federal responsibility requiring consular assistance, but the states determine how many people can arrive through hotel quarantine in each jurisdiction.
She warned Australia may not be meeting its responsibility in article 10 on the rights of the child – because caps on hotel quarantine prevent speedy reunification of families.
Croucher said Australia needs to embed a human rights approach into its emergency response to consider if measures are justified “at the time they are considered, not afterwards”.