It is clear from the first sentence of the Chair’s report that this inquiry has amounted to little more than a partisan exercise. The committee’s time and resources could have been more usefully devoted to an objective and serious policy discussion of ministerial standards and the public expectations they are designed to satisfy. Adherence to ministerial standards has been a subject of commentary for both parties of government historically and likely will be for future governments of both persuasions. Instead, the majority report has made repeated and transparently partisan comments about the government and the Prime Minister, and fails to put forward any robust recommendations on how compliance with the ministerial standards could be improved. This demonstrates that the committee report can only be viewed as serving a partisan purpose.
In conducting this inquiry, the committee failed to unearth any evidence of wrongdoing or to make a coherent case as to how the ministerial standards have been breached. Furthermore, the report fails to assess the evidence produced by the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Dr Martin Parkinson AC PSM—first provided to the Prime Minister and then submitted to this committee—with respect to the distinction between the experience gained by former ministers by virtue of their ministerial and parliamentary service, and the divulging of specific information that is not publicly available for the purposes of personal advantage. The relevant evidence by Dr Parkinson states the following:
Ministers gain experience, knowledge and information about a variety of subject matters in the course of their duties and through the normal decision-making processes of government.
It is not reasonable to think that former Ministers can or will 'forget' all information or knowledge gained by them in the course of their ministerial roles. Nor, in my view, can the experience a Minister gains from fulfilling that role be extinguished when they undertake a role after leaving the Parliament.
In this regard, a distinction should be drawn between experience a person gains through being a Minister and specific knowledge they acquire through performing the role. It is the latter which is pertinent to the [Ministerial] Standards.
No evidence provided by Mr Pyne and Ms Bishop and their employers substantiates any claims that either former minister has breached either limb of clause 2.25 of the ministerial standards.
A truly non-partisan discussion would have inquired into whether former ministers of previous governments on both sides of politics may have breached the standards. For example, the Hon. Martin Ferguson, who served as minister for resources and energy during the Rudd and Gillard governments, attracted scrutiny for taking on a role as chairman of the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association Advisory Board, and also as head of natural resources for Seven Group Holdings. Mr Ferguson took on these roles despite the obviously close nexus between his post-ministerial employment and his ministerial duties. A 2018 Grattan Institute report discussed the circumstances of former small business minister, the Hon. Mark Arbib, who took on a role with Consolidated Press Holdings; and former communications minister, the Hon. Stephen Conroy, who took on a role with Responsible Wagering Australia, as examples of conduct that may fall short of public expectations.
An objective inquiry could have looked into the circumstances of these former ministers in conjunction with more recent office holders and whether their post-ministerial employment breached the ministerial standards, and subsequently evaluate whether the current ministerial standards should be retained or modified in some way.
Government senators support the Statement of Ministerial Standards (ministerial standards) as an appropriate mechanism to ensure that all ministers and former ministers live up to the high standards expected of them by the Australian people at all times.
The ministerial standards were first established by former Prime Minister the Hon. John Howard in 1996 and has been maintained by governments of both political persuasions since that time. The ministerial standards outline the standards expected of ministers by the incumbent Prime Minister. Where ministers have not conducted themselves in a manner that meets this benchmark, they have been counselled or demoted. This process has worked for both sides of politics since 1996.
This inquiry has focused on whether two former ministers—Mr Pyne and the Ms Bishop—in accepting employment have contravened the post-ministerial employment provisions of the ministerial standards.
An independent inquiry undertaken by Dr Parkinson, at the direction of the Prime Minister, did not find any evidence that the former ministers have failed to comply with the ministerial standards. Both Mr Pyne and Ms Bishop have since publicly expressed their understanding of the obligations imposed upon them by the standards, and their unequivocal intention to abide by those standards.
The facts about Christopher Pyne
Mr Pyne's appointment as a Minister ceased on 29 May 2019. Mr Pyne accepted employment with EY in April 2019 but did not commence work with the firm until 7 June 2019. EY has set out a timeline of its dealings with Mr Pyne from 1 March 2019 to the date that Mr Pyne's employment commenced.
In public comments on Twitter shortly after his new position was made public, Mr Pyne explained how he was able to accept employment with EY and continue to meet his obligations under the ministerial standards:
I know my responsibilities under the [Ministerial standards] and I will abide by them. No one has been able to point to any instance of a breach of the [Ministerial standards]. Asserting something does not make it fact.
Mr Pyne put forward his view on the ministerial standards, specifically in relation to post-ministerial employment:
The clause has two elements—a commitment not to lobby or have business meetings with members of the government, public service or defence force on defence matters with which a Minister has had official dealings in the last eighteen months and to not take personal advantage of information to which the Minister has had access, but is otherwise not generally available to the public.
Mr Pyne outlined how he is compliant with the ministerial standards:
I have not taken personal advantage of information I received as a Minister in the Defence portfolio that is not otherwise publicly available. I have not lobbied or had business meetings with any members of the government, public service or defence force on any matters I have had official dealings as a Minister in the last eighteen months.
Mr Pyne stated that providing consultancy services to a private company does not automatically place a person in breach of the ministerial standards:
The providing of occasional high-level strategic advice does not require lobbying, advocating or undertaking any activity back into government nor providing or using any information a former Minister may have learnt as a Minister that is not generally available to the public.
Mr Pyne continued noting that major policy decisions of the government are 'freely available to the public' and that 'giving advice about those policies does not require using information that a former Minister has learnt that is not generally available to the public'. Mr Pyne explained what he would bring to his new role with EY and how he would prevent breaches of the ministerial standards:
Of course, I have twenty six years of experience of the Parliament and politics, experience in the Health, Ageing, Education, Industry Innovation and Science portfolios and as Leader of the House that gives me knowledge of government and politics and how it works that is valuable in the post political world. Having that knowledge does not breach the [ministerial standards].
I intend to ensure that anyone I provide advice to has rigorous processes and procedures in place to ensure I am not put in a position where the Ministerial Code of Conduct might be breached.
In its submission to the subsequent committee inquiry, EY outlined that Mr Pyne was engaged in order 'to provide EY with consulting services for two days a month for a period of 6 months, with an option to extend'.
In his evidence to the committee at its public hearing, Mr Mark Stewart of EY provided an explanation of Mr Pyne's role and affirmed both Mr Pyne's and EY's commitment to Mr Pyne's compliance with the ministerial standards:
What Mr Pyne has been engaged to do is to assist us in interpreting and understanding the myriad public defence policy documents, such as the defence white paper, and attend meetings with myself and my defence industry colleagues. Neither of these roles would put Mr Pyne in a position where he would breach the Statement of Ministerial Standards.
Both Mr Pyne and myself have made it clear that EY has rigorous processes and procedures in place to assist Mr Pyne in adhering to the Statement of Ministerial Standards—for example, this includes a direct line of reporting to me. It includes a contractual agreement with Mr Pyne. It includes our and his adherence to a global code of conduct which reinforces EY's culture of objectivity and independence.
In his evidence to the committee, Mr Pyne reiterated his understanding of the obligations imposed upon him by the ministerial standards, as well as his intention to comply with the standards.
The facts about Julie Bishop
Palladium has provided a timeline in its supplementary submission which sets out its interactions with Ms Bishop up to her appointment as a non-executive director on the board of that company.
Ms Bishop resigned as a Minister of the Government on 26 August 2018. Following a series of discussions with Palladium, starting in 5 June 2019, on 29 June 2019 Palladium issued a letter of appointment as a non-executive director to Ms Bishop. Ms Bishop signed this letter of appointment on 30 June 2019 and subsequently signed the Directors consent and disclosure document on 4 July 2019.
In its submission, Palladium emphasised that Ms Bishop is not an employee. To further explain Ms Bishop's role, Palladium has set out the issues that Ms Bishop will engage with as a non-executive director, which includes:
providing leadership and guidance on the strategic objectives of Palladium, as well as overseeing management’s implementation of strategic objectives.
approving business plans and operating budgets.
monitoring the financial performance of the Company and approving major capital expenditure.
Undertaking governance activities such as the appointment and assessment of senior officeholders, approving governance documents, and overseeing external audits.
identifying significant risks to the Company and ensuring those risks are minimised or mitigated.
ensuring proper reporting to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and any other relevant statutory bodies.
In her submission to the committee, Ms Bishop stated that she was in compliance with the ministerial standards, specifically with the sections relating to post-ministerial employment:
I remain in compliance with both [post-ministerial employment] items in that I have not sought nor do I intend (within 18 months of my Ministerial resignation) to lobby, advocate or have business meetings with members of the government, parliament, public service or defence force on any matter for which I held Ministerial responsibility.
Further, I have given an undertaking that I will not take personal advantage of information to which I had access as a Minister, where that information is not generally available to the public.
My personal conduct since retiring from the Cabinet and the Parliament meets the requirement to be consistent with the dignity, reputation and integrity of the Parliament.
Furthermore, Ms Bishop placed her statements into context:
I resigned as Minister for Foreign Affairs on 26 August 2018.
I have not served in nor have I attended any meetings of the Morrison Government Cabinet.
A new Budget was handed down on 2 April 2019.
In her evidence to the committee, Ms Bishop reiterated her understanding of and commitment to the ministerial standards:
I do understand the obligations, and I have stated on numerous occasions that I will comply with these standards for the 18 months from my ministerial resignation on 26 August 2018. I'm aware that those standards mean I'm unable to lobby or hold business meetings with any minister or government official on matters for which I held ministerial responsibility. I've given the undertaking required to not take personal advantage of information not readily available to the public.
Ms Bishop also informed the committee of her belief that her 'personal conduct since retiring from the cabinet and the parliament meets the requirement to be consistent with the dignity, reputation and integrity of the parliament', and expressed her intention to 'abide by the standards under the statement'.
Dr Parkinson's investigation
At all times, the government through the Prime Minister, has sought to be transparent about questions of former ministers’ compliance with the ministerial standards. In his letter to the President of the Senate, the Prime Minister explained that upon becoming aware of the circumstances surrounding the former ministers' employment, he sought guidance from the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. On receipt of Dr Parkinson's advice, the Prime Minister made this available to the Senate and by extension the Australian public.
Prior to responding to the Prime Minister, Dr Parkinson conducted a thorough investigation including interviews with both Mr Pyne and Ms Bishop. Dr Parkinson was clear in his findings:
On the basis of information available at this time, I have no grounds to believe that either Mr Pyne or Ms Bishop have breached the Standards.
Government senators disagree with the findings of the majority report. Having accepted Dr Parkinson's advice and in the absence of any new evidence to the contrary, government senators believe that neither Mr Pyne nor Ms Bishop have breached the ministerial standards. The absence of any evidence of non‑compliance put forward in the majority report demonstrates the partisan nature of its findings. The strongest recommendation made is for a third inquiry into the matter, following the committee’s work and Dr Parkinson’s report. It is difficult to imagine what a third inquiry would uncover that the first two have failed to.
Government senators note that the information provided by the Prime Minister was the most detailed in relation to any independent investigation into compliance with ministerial standards. Furthermore, Dr Parkinson, who conducted the investigation, made a submission to the inquiry and appeared before the committee to answer questions. These actions are consistent with a government committed to transparency and upholding the high benchmarks appropriately required by the Prime Minister of ministers and former ministers.
Government senators note it was appropriate that Mr Pyne and Ms Bishop made themselves available to demonstrate to the committee that they are aware of their post-ministerial obligations and to explain how their actions meet the expectations of the Prime Minister and the Australian public. Government senators believe that former ministers should meet the ministerial standards whilst they seek post-parliamentary employment and in their conduct in that employment.
Senator James Paterson
Liberal Senator for Victoria
Senator Paul Scarr
Liberal Senator for Queensland