Press Conference – Melbourne

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Transcripts

Kelly O’Dwyer MP

Minister for Revenue and Financial Services

Acting Special Minister of State

Press Conference Transcript

 

Subjects: Parliamentary expense system

 

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

As most of you know, my name is Kelly O’Dwyer and I am the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services. Today I am Acting Special Minister of State and I will make a few statements and then throw it open to questions.

Australians work hard for their money and when they pay their taxes, they rightly expect that the Australian Government will spend their money wisely and respect it in the same way that they respect every dollar that they earn. The Parliamentary expense system needs to change and the Government is implementing changes, as recommended by the Independent Review into Parliamentarians’ Work Expenses. The Government welcomes the support of the crossbenchers in making changes to the current system and the Government has as its priority, changes so that we can have a clear and transparent expense system that gives the Australian people confidence in it. These changes will be made in the first half of 2017 and I welcome your questions.

JOURNALIST:

What changes will be made?

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

As I said, the Government needs to streamline the current system for parliamentarian work expenses. There has already been an independent review into workplace expenses. The Government has accepted in principle all 36 of those recommendations and the Government is already working on the implementation of those recommendations.

JOURNALIST:

Do you that think Sussan Ley should be sacked?

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

There is currently an investigation in relation to the claims and expenses made by the Minister. She has given a detailed statement in relation to that and the Prime Minister has made it clear that there needs to be and is having conducted a full independent investigation by the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. I’m not going to speculate on the findings of that investigation. It’s appropriate that investigation run its course, which I expect will be done very expeditiously.

JOURNALIST:

Could you be specific about what the [inaudible] recommendations are?

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

As I said to you before, there have been 36 recommendations, probably the most significant of which is looking at what is parliamentary official business. A clear definition of what official business is, is obviously at the centre of the changes that need to be made and will be made by the Government in order to give the Australian people confidence that their hard-earned taxpayer dollars are respected and that they can have confidence in the system.

JOURNALIST:

What sort of a definition will you be looking at?

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

This will continue to be worked on by the Special Minister of State. Already work has been conducted along with the Department of Finance, along with the Remuneration Tribunal, streamlining the system as many people understand is a combination of not only changes to the law but some determinations that have already been made by the Remuneration Tribunal and also executive orders. So all of these things need to be changed in order for us to have a very clear and simple system that people can have confidence in.

JOURNALIST:

Is this a recognition that the travels and expenses by politicians doesn’t meet the standards of the Australian people?

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

The standards set by the Australian public need to be strictly adhered to by parliamentarians. Quite rightly, the Australian people expect that parliamentarians adhere to very high standards when it comes to claiming of work expenses. That is entirely appropriate because at the end of the day, it is their money and their money needs to be properly respected.

The Government does respect the Australian people, which is why we are the Government that is actually taking action in relation to changing and cleaning up this system. There are many governments before that have ducked this issue. The Turnbull Government is dealing with it.

JOURNALIST:

Under the guidelines being considered, would you anticipate the sort of travel that Ms Ley went on would not be allowed?

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

I am not going to speculate on the specific expense claims made by the Minister. As I have said to you before, there is an independent investigation that’s being conducted by the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. It’s not appropriate for me to speculate on what it is that he may find. I know that that investigation is being conducted very expeditiously and I expect that, in the not-too-distant future, there will be findings made in relation to that.

JOURNALIST:

Did you attend the New Year’s Eve event hosted by the Prime Minister at Kirribilli House?

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

This is the 2015 event?

JOURNALIST:

Yes 2015.

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

2015 no, I didn’t attend the New Year’s Eve event in 2015. I was on holiday in Tasmania with my family on that date.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think it was appropriate that some of your colleagues claimed expenses for that event?

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

Look as I said to you before, it is very clear that the Australian people have high expectations in relation to parliamentary claims for work expenses and that is appropriate. The Government is implementing changes as recommended by the independent review that has looked into parliamentary expenses. That is appropriate. We welcome the fact that the crossbenchers have said that they will support those changes and the clean-up of the parliamentary entitlements system. We respect taxpayer dollars and we believe it is very important that the Australian people has confidence in the system that is in place.

JOURNALIST:

Do you believe Sussan Ley when she says she purchased that apartment on the Gold Coast on a whim?

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

I am going to refer you to the Minister’s statement in relation to the detail that she has provided in relation to the purchase of that property. I’m not going to get into commentating in relation to that. As I said to you there is a separate investigation on foot in relation to the work expenses that have been claimed and she has made a detailed statement in relation to her activities.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

Sorry, I had two questions at once.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think Sussan Ley deserves to remain in her frontbench role?

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

Look, as I said to you, again, the Minister has quite rightly stood aside while a full investigation is currently conducted. That’s being conducted by the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

It would be completely wrong of me to pre-empt or speculate on what those findings might be. That will be done in accordance with the facts that are presented to him. I don’t have those facts to hand. I will leave it to the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, who is conducting that independent investigation, to get on with his work.

JOURNALIST:

Would you anticipate family allowances to be tightened? Like are they too generous, do you think, and out of line with community standards?

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

I know that as part of the 36 recommendations that have been made, there have been recommendations made in relation to family allowances and family reunions. As I said, the Government has accepted in principle all of the recommendations that have been made in relation to this independent review that was conducted into parliamentary work entitlements.

JOURNALIST:

You have made a real point of saying the Australian people must have confidence in the way the money is being spent. Clearly Sussan Ley has lost the confidence of the Australian people and she has also admitted making errors of judgement. So why should she deserve to keep her job in the Cabinet.

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

As I said, there is an investigation on foot. I think in order for the full factual situation to be properly investigated, you need to allow that process to continue and be conducted thoroughly. That’s happening now. It will be conducted very expeditiously. Once those findings are made clear, obviously at that particular point in time, decisions will be made and announcements will be made. But I’m not going to speculate on what those findings might be.

JOURNALIST:

Why did it take so long, “choppergate” is nearly a year on.

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

The Government actually announced in March of 2016 the in-principle acceptance of all 36 recommendations made by the independent review. The Special Minister of State has been working very diligently with the Department of Finance and with the Remuneration Tribunal to implement the recommendations. There are a number of quite complex areas in relation to separate pieces of legislation, in relation to independent determinations by the Remuneration Tribunal and also separate executive orders that all need to come together in order to create a new expenses system that is streamlined and that people can have confidence in.

JOURNALIST:

If an MP has admitted wrongdoing though, it is very difficult to regain public confidence.

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

As I said to you, there is an investigation on foot. I refer you to the Minister’s statement and I refer you to the fact that that independent investigation is currently on foot right now and it is not appropriate for me to speculate on what the findings might be of that.

JOURNALIST:

The Prime Minister has already said her conduct doesn’t meet his expectations so why should she deserve to keep her job?

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

Let’s look at what the independent review finds in relation to the claims that have been made when the full factual situation has been laid out. You’ve got to have due process in these things. That is exactly what is occurring in this instance. Once the findings are made, obviously statements will follow.

JOURNALIST:

Sorry but with respect, she has already admitted errors of judgement. The Prime Minister says her standards don’t meet his expectations. She has been forced to step aside, so why shouldn’t she be sacked?

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

Well I refer to the fact that the Prime Minister has acted very swiftly and with great determination. The Minister has stood aside from her ministerial responsibilities. She is not receiving a ministerial salary while a full investigation is being conducted into all of her expenses that have been claimed. Now, that is appropriate. You need all of the facts on the table. You need those findings before a final decision can be made. That is what is happening. It will be done very expeditiously. That is appropriate.

JOURNALIST:

Even if MPs are acting within the current rules, do they need to be mindful of the public, you know, public opinion when they are dealing with taxpayer-funded expenses?

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

I think everybody should be very careful when they use taxpayer money, to respect it. In the same way they respect every dollar they themselves earn. That’s what the Australian people expect and that is what is right and appropriate. It means that there needs to be a high standard that is set. The Australian people work hard for every dollar they earn and they respect every dollar that they earn because they have worked hard for it. The Australian parliamentarian class also understands this and must be held to very high standards.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think Sussan Ley has met those expectations you said Australian people hold?

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

As I said, I’m not going to get into a detailed commentary in relation to the Minister. The Minister is currently having an independent investigation of her claims being conducted by the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. That is appropriate. That is being done expeditiously. When the findings of that independent inquiry are made, then there will be further statements in relation to that.

JOURNALIST:

But in your opinion, in terms of what’s already publicly known, do you feel that use of taxpayers’ money meets our standards?

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

I am not going to get into commentary. As I said to you, I think the investigation should run its course. That has been clearly set out.

JOURNALIST:

January hasn’t been the best month for the Government in the past three years now. What is it about the first month of the year?

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

[Laughs]

Well January, I think, is a great time for most Australians and I think most Australians actually enjoy a little bit of time with their family, a little bit of time with their friends and easing back into work. I’ve got to say it hasn’t been an ease back into work for me, but I certainly, at least, got the opportunity to spend a little bit of time with my family prior to Christmas. At the end of the day, the Government is held to high standards, as is appropriate, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

JOURNALIST:

Have you ever purchased a property on a whim?

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

No I haven’t.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think it’s acceptable that taxpayers money was be used to do so?

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

Taxpayers money was used to purchase property? I don’t think –

JOURNALIST:

Sorry, to go on a trip to purchase property.

ACTING SPECIAL MINISTER OF STATE:

Look as I said, I’m not going to get into detailed commentary -as I mentioned before – in relation to expense claims, because they are  currently a matter that is subject to an independent investigation which will be conducted very quickly and thoroughly. As you would expect it to be conducted. I’m not going to speculate on the findings. Alright, thanks very much.

 

[ENDS]