FRIDAY, 18 MARCH 2016
SUBJECT/S: Barnaby Joyce’s Hansard-gate
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY, AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS: Morning all. Nice to be still in Canberra. Nice to see a bit of rain. Are you guys ready?
Well you would think that politicians would have learned by now that the cover-up is always worse than the crime. You will recall that back in October 2014 Barnaby Joyce dramatically embellished an answer he provided to me on drought policy in the Parliament; he subsequently, or someone subsequently, dramatically altered the Hansard; when I challenged him on the matter in the House – he denied it. He denied having any role to play and blamed his staff. Tragically those series of events led to the sacking of a highly respected Canberra public servant, the then Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Dr Paul Grimes. Indeed, that dismissal cost the taxpayer some $700,000. $700,000 of taxpayers money to save Barnaby Joyce’s skin. Now Barnaby Joyce’s explanation was always improbable, always difficult to believe. And since October 2014, I have been pursuing through Parliamentary processes, Estimates, the House and indeed FOI, a number of unanswered questions about Barnaby Joyce’s role. We know through a series of emails and other events including Senate Estimates, that Barnaby Joyce knew a lot more about what happened with the Hansard than he told the House. Now after a long and multi-layered, protracted process, in which the Government has fought FOI all the way, the Information Commissioner wrote to me last evening, informing me that he has ruled that one letter in particular from Dr Paul Grimes to Barnaby Joyce, which by the way was subsequently withdrawn by Paul Grimes, we suspect under bullying from Barnaby Joyce, but he ruled that that letter must be released. We don’t know exactly what is in that letter, but we do know that the Prime Minister and the now Deputy Prime Minister have been very determined that we never see that letter. I do understand that it might contain a bit of a character assessment, an unflattering character assessment, on Barnaby Joyce, but I suspect the Prime Minister and his Deputy, are not so concerned about the character assessment, I believe they are concerned with something far more sinister, something that demonstrates that Barnaby Joyce was in the Hansard cover-up all the way to his eyeballs. So, my concern today is, that the Information Commissioner’s ruling is capable being appealed in the Courts. Well my message to the Prime Minister is this: appeal this in the Courts and the Australian people will only be left with one conclusion and that is, that this is a significant cover-up and the Government, and in particular the Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, has something very significant to hide. Now it may that Barnaby Joyce misled the House of Representatives deliberately. If Barnaby Joyce misled the House of Representatives deliberately he is in contempt of the Parliament. So this is my challenge to the Prime Minister: release the letter before the House of Representatives adjourns this week. Release the letter this week so that any response from the Opposition to the Information Commissioner’s ruling and the letter can be heard in the House of Representatives and appropriate action can commence on those contempt allegations. If the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister do not release that letter before the House adjourns again the Australian people can only come to one conclusion and that is, they have something very, very significant to hide.
JOURNALIST: Just going back earlier, Barnaby Joyce wouldn’t be the first Parliamentarian, Minister or otherwise, to come back and corrected the record or explained why something in Hansard is being amended. What are they trying to hide here? What was the original problem?
FITZGIBBON: The original problem is that Barnaby Joyce dramatically, for his own political purposes, embellished the work they are doing in drought policy, but he said say so enthusiastically and so extensively that no doubt when he got back to his office someone said: “Minister, I think we need to tidy that up” – in fact many of the things Barnaby Joyce said where factually incorrect. But I don’t believe for a moment that Barnaby Joyce wasn’t involved in the changes. Having been a Cabinet Minister, I cannot believe a staff member would so dramatically change the Hansard without at least asking the Minister’s authority to do so. Yes, Ministers in the past have corrected answers et cetera, but in my 20 years here I have never seen such extensive changes to Hansard, but that is the initial crime. The real crime here, the capital crime, is that he deliberately misled the House.