E&OE - PROOF ONLY
PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY IN THE SENATE: Thanks very much for coming. I first wanted to discuss the revelations in the paper today, further revelations about Peter Dutton’s incompetence and his mismanagement of the Paladin contract.
This is the contract for services in PNG and just to remind us all about the history of this, in February we discovered that there was a $423 million taxpayer-funded contract awarded to Paladin to operate the Government’s contract in PNG. This contract was awarded without an open tender. This contract was awarded to a company that did not have a lot of experience in delivering such a large contract. This contract was awarded to a company whose registered office, for a time, was a beach shack on Kangaroo Island. One of the directors was barred from entering Papua New Guinea.
So questions were asked about this contract of Mr Dutton’s department. Mr Dutton’s department, in Estimates, said that the independent assessment of the contract by KPMG “did not identify any significant issues”. That’s what’s been reported today. But what we know now is that this report directly contradicts the evidence given to the Parliament. What KPMG says is that this contract is a financial risk and it questions Paladin’s ability to pay their ongoing expenses. So why did Mr Dutton’s department mislead the Senate? What did he know about it?
We also know that the Papua New Guinea Government opposed the continuation of this contract and we see reports today in the media to that end. Now Mr Dutton is very good at blustering. He’s very good at covering up his incompetence with arrogance and bluster but he should stand up today and give a full explanation of his handling of this contract.
I’ve got some questions for him. Is this contract in the best interest of the Australian taxpayer? Can he explain why his department misled the Senate? Can he explain whether the contract is a financial risk, as identified by KPMG? Can he explain the implications for Australia’s relationship with Papua New Guinea?
My simple message to Peter Dutton is this: do your day job. Do your day job. You can’t hide behind your incompetence by arrogance and bluster. You’re the minister and the buck stops with you.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that the Victorian branch of the CFMMEU is threatening to cut donations if John Setka is expelled?
WONG: I’ve made comments in relation to Mr Setka already and I just refer you to them. I’d make this point: we are the labour movement. We are a collective and no individual is bigger than the movement.
JOURNALIST: What impact will the loss of funding have on the Labor Party?
WONG: I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. I would say I’ve made comments about Mr Setka. Mr Albanese has made comments and he’s made an indication of what his recommendation will be about Mr Setka’s membership of the Labor Party. But I again say as a matter of principle we are a collective, the labour movement, and no individual is larger than that.
JOURNALIST: So should you stop accepting donations from the CFMMEU?
WONG: There are many members of the CFMMEU. We’re talking about one individual.
JOURNALIST: And will the threat of legal action have any influence on Mr Albanese’s decision to ban Mr Setka?
WONG: I don’t know how well you know Mr Albanese but he’s not somebody who responds well to being threatened.
JOURNALIST: Just about Paladin, if this contract is terminated by the PNG Government, where are we left here?
WONG: That’s what Mr Dutton should explain. I saw him on ABC Insiders this week just telling people that the contract was going to be continued without explaining how they are resolving the issues which have been on the table for months. It’s not like this is a new issue. This has been pursued for months. Questions have been raised for months. The PNG Government has made its position clear. We have a report which Mr Dutton has sat on, which has now been released, saying that there were financial risks associated with this company and questioning whether they had the cash flow to meet the expenses as required. Now this is what is reported. Mr Dutton should stand up and respond.
JOURNALIST: Sticking with Mr Dutton can I ask about a case, an immigration case? Mollie Manley, a 93-year-old from Perth who has been issued with a deportation notice. Is this a really tragic case and something where, for example, the system is failing?
WONG: I only heard about that as I was walking in but I would say we don’t comment in Opposition on individual cases. That is a matter for the minister and the minister should explain the reasons behind this decision.
JOURNALIST: But in this case a 93-year-old woman has been here for 11 years. It’s taken that long for a decision. Should there be a more human element? Should Mr Dutton step in?
WONG: The first point is that the minister should explain what has occurred. It’s always difficult to comment on individual cases, as meritorious as they might be. But we’re not the Government and the Government should explain what has occurred.
JOURNALIST: Turning to foreign policy what did you make of the US deciding to send 1000 troops to the Middle East?
WONG: First in relation to the attacks on civilian shipping which preceded this decision. The attacks on civilian shipping are deeply concerning and we share the Government’s concerns, we share the international community’s concerns. We are also concerned about further escalation in the region. Rising tension, outright conflict is not in anybody’s interests.
JOURNALIST: You live in a steel state. Should Australia be concerned about the exemption on US steel and aluminium tariffs continuing?
WONG: Those are matters that the Government should be dealing with the United States on. Obviously there are pre-existing arrangements but I make the broader point because those discussions occur in the context of increasing tensions on trade. Nobody wins from a trade war. That’s the lesson of history. Nobody wins economically and nobody wins in terms of stability, for Australia, even more so. We are a trading nation and we have a direct interest in open, transparent and fair trading arrangements. The Australian Government, Mr Morrison and his ministers, should continue to assert that interest and to urge that these trade disputes be resolved as soon as possible. We have an interest in fair and open trading arrangements and increased conflict on trade isn’t good for anybody.
JOURNALIST: Is the Government doing enough to keep those exemptions?
WONG: I hope so, I hope so. They obviously matter to Australian jobs and Australian industry but more broadly this demonstrates what I was saying, that when you have a situation where trade conflict arises, prosperity in different countries is impinged upon.
JOURNALIST: I’d just like to go back to this topic again.
WONG: Which one?
JOURNALIST: The 93-year-old grandmother.
WONG: I’m sorry, I’m going to have to give you the same answer.
JOURNALIST: My question though is about too much burden in the system when it comes to immigration of a certain age. Is this something that could be looked at?
WONG: That is an issue which the Government should explain and I’m reluctant to comment on individual issue. But what I would say is it is reasonable for you, and the Australian public, to demand the minister explain and to demand that the minister outline why this is an appropriate administration of the system.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any information on these reports of rockets hitting this military camp in Iraq?
Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.