2 July 2019




ROS CHILDS: As the new Parliament begins official meetings, concern is emerging at the activities of some of the members of the last Parliament. Former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is the latest to take a job with a private company in her old portfolio area. Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong joins Tom Iggulden now for more on this.

TOM IGGULDEN: Thank you Ros, and as you say we have the Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong with us here.

Penny Wong, former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has taken a job with a private sector company that does business with the Department of Foreign Affairs. Does this pass the pub test?

WONG: Not only doesn’t it pass the pub test, I think, on the face of it, it looks like another breach of the ministerial standards and let’s understand why.

First, Ms Bishop has been appointed to the board of a company that profited under decisions made while she was Foreign Minister – in excess of $500 million from what we can ascertain.

Second, Palladium itself has said that she has been appointed in part, for example, because of her extensive network of global contacts. Now, the Ministerial Code says very clearly you can’t use information, knowledge, et cetera, that you have attained as a minister that is not available to the general public. I think the statement by Palladium makes it clear Ms Bishop has been appointed because of her unique knowledge.

IGGULDEN: Just to stop you there, Ms Bishop said that she is only on a modest stipend here and that she’s aware of the ministerial standards and that she’s confident she meets them.

WONG: The problem is that Mr Morrison really is the person who needs to act here. They are his standards. It isn’t sufficient for either Christopher Pyne or Ms Bishop to say, “I think I am complying” and that to be the end of the matter. I mean, this is a test of the Prime Minister’s integrity. It is a test of what sort of Prime Minister is he going to be? Is he a man of integrity or not? I think Scott Morrison has to act.

IGGULDEN: The impression, I suppose, has been given here that Palladium is a company that delivers aid to underdeveloped countries and that Ms Bishop is merely helping here, but talk us through some of hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts it has with DFAT, with the Government.

WONG: As I said, there are two issues. There is the historic issue and the fact that this company did benefit from decisions that were made while Ms Bishop was Foreign Minister. That should be explained. As I said in excess of $500 million in contracts. But also a policy position which benefited the private sector. There may be explanations for that, but I think the public deserve an explanation.

IGGULDEN: The point here, I guess, is it is a for-profit private company we are talking about?

WONG: Exactly. The second point that I think is very important, as I said, the Code is very clear. You can’t use the knowledge that you obtained as a minister, uniquely obtained, in your subsequent work for a certain period and it is clear from the statement that Palladium has made – and they have said quite clearly she is very impressive – and she is – and she has a very extensive network – and she does – and that is why she’s been appointed and that, on the face of it, is contrary to the Code of Ministerial Standards.

IGGULDEN: Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick, after the Christopher Pyne incident that you mentioned last week, has been pushing for a Parliamentary inquiry into these sorts of matters. Is that something Labor will now support?

WONG: We are discussing the best way to deal with this, including Senator Patrick’s proposition. But I think the important point here is this, ultimately, shouldn’t have to be dealt with by the Parliament, it should be dealt with by the Prime Minister of the day. The ministerial standards are enforced by the Prime Minister. So this is a test of Scott Morrison and what sort of man he is.

IGGULDEN: He hasn’t thus far enforced it when it comes to the Christopher Pyne case. This is the start of the 46th Parliament, what better time to start off your Parliament on a fresh foot making sure everything was above board?

WONG: What I would say is this a test for him. This is something that the Prime Minister should say to the Australian people: it does matter to me, the standards of ministerial behaviour and I’ll enforce them.

IGGULDEN: Just a final one, yesterday the Government announced – I will get this right – the Australia Infrastructure Finance Facility for the Pacific – a $2 billion fund, to help fund aid and development programs in the South Pacific was open for business. Would you be concerned if Palladium, the company that Ms Bishop joined, was to bid to gain a share of some of that $2 billion?

WONG: Well, I think this demonstrates the issue and this demonstrates why the Prime Minister really needs to act to satisfy, not just himself, but the public, that the ministerial standards are being complied with.

IGGLEDUN: Penny Wong, thank you for joining us.

WONG: Good to speak with you.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.