A bid by Labor, the Greens and some Senate crossbenchers to impose unprecedented sanctions on the government’s Senate leader Mathias Cormann and try and force the release of the Gaetjens report into the sports rorts saga has failed. One Nation pulled its support for the motion – which would have limited Senator Cormann’s capabilities in the chamber – and Centre Alliance senator Stirling Griff abstained amid concerns it set a dangerous standard.
Source: Rosie Lewis
One Nation pulls support from bid to bar Mathias Cormann from Senate estimates
Voted down 36-35, the motion would have prevented Senator Cormann from answering questions on behalf of Scott Morrison until March 6 and from representing the Prime Minister at Senate estimates if the Gaetjens report was not tabled by 5pm on Wednesday.
Senator Cormann would also have been forced to sit on the frontbench and not in the seat reserved for the government’s Senate leader.
“In the 119-year history of the Australian Senate, those proposed sanctions are completely unprecedented,” Senator Cormann said, as he cited public interest immunity for not releasing the report.
“There are limits on the Senate’s powers and it’s our view that this motion is asking the Senate to exceed its powers.”
Labor’s Senate leader Penny Wong agreed the sanctions were unprecedented but argued they were “necessary because of the unprecedented behaviour of this government”.
Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Philip Gaetjens reviewed ousted minister Bridget McKenzie’s handling of the $100m controversial sports grants, which ultimately led to her resignation from cabinet.
While Mr Gaetjens’ report cleared the sports grants scheme of political bias, contradicting the Auditor-General’s own report, it found Senator McKenzie breached ministerial standards by failing to declare her membership to a gun club that received $36,000 under the Community Sport Infrastructure program she oversaw.
“Senator Cormann argues that cabinet is the cornerstone of our democracy. He’s right, that is why it ought not be used to perpetrate a political rort … and a cover up,” Senator Wong said.
“That’s what all this contortion is about. It’s refuting a report of an independent parliamentary officer who has both said the money … was misadministered and also questioned the legal basis of the power of the minister to do these things.”
Senator Griff, who split from his colleague Rex Patrick on the motion, said he supported the Senate being provided with at least summary details of the Gaetjens report but was “not supportive of actions designed to humiliate any member of parliament”.
“The motion had no consequences for government,” Senator Griff said.
“If any penalty for nondisclosure related to government business I would have been more receptive to considering it, but sending a minister off to effectively a naughty chair and stopping him doing his job is plainly a personal attack.”
A Senate committee into the administration of the sports grants, which the Auditor-General found often favoured marginal and targeted seats the Coalition needed to win at the 2019 election, is due to hold its first hearing on Thursday.
‘Serious governance issues’
Earlier Senator Patrick said there were “serious governance issues” relating to the sports rorts saga the Gaetjens report could shed light on and stressed the Senate’s move was not personal against Senator Cormann.
“He is the captain of the government’s ship and the captain has to take responsibility,” Senator Patrick said.
“If there is something sensitive in there, it begs the question, what? If there is nothing sensitive in there then why the secrecy?
“The Gaetjens report relates to a document over which they claim cabinet-in-confidence. It’s highly inappropriate the government has created a governance committee of cabinet to deal with dirty laundry behind the doctrine of cabinet-in-confidence.”