Australia’s most senior public servant refuses to appear before Senate inquiry | Australia news
Australia’s most senior public servant is refusing to appear before an inquiry into Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop’s controversial new corporate jobs, saying it would not be “worthwhile” for him to give any further evidence.
The stance of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary, Martin Parkinson, has prompted stern words from the Senate committee chair Jenny McAllister, who has now demanded he appear as requested.
The Senate is currently examining Pyne and Bishop’s acceptance of post-politics jobs in fields related to their work as cabinet ministers. Pyne, a former defence minister, joined consulting giant EY to help grow its defence business, and Bishop, the former foreign minister, took a job with one of the Australian government’s biggest private aid contractors, Palladium.
Parkinson investigated and cleared the pair of breaching rules in the ministerial standards designed to stop ministers using their inside knowledge and contacts for private gain.
The Senate inquiry asked Parkinson to attend and give further evidence about his findings and his role in helping oversee the ministerial standards.
But Parkinson declined on Monday. John Reid, a first assistant secretary with the department, wrote to the committee saying it would not be “worthwhile” for Parkinson to give further evidence.
“Dr Parkinson advises that there is nothing further that he can add to his already-published letter on this subject. All evidence he could provide to the Committee is included in those pages,” he said.
“On that basis, he does not consider it would be worthwhile use of the Committee’s time for him to appear.”
McAllister, a Labor senator who chairs the finance and public administration references committee, wrote back the next day to insist that Parkinson appear.
McAllister said the “committee has determined it has questions it wishes to ask you”.
“In any event, with respect, it is a matter for the committee to decide what evidence is relevant to its inquiry,” she wrote.
“It is therefore the committee’s expectation that you will make yourself available to appear at a public hearing.”
McAllister noted that Parkinson’s role in overseeing the standards fell directly within the inquiry’s scope, she said. She also noted that, despite Parkinson saying there was no more he could say, he had spoken at length on the issue to the ABC.
“You are uniquely able to answer questions regarding these actions,” she wrote. “The committee’s understanding, based on answers given to it over many sessions of estimates, is that matters such as this are handled by you as secretary of the department.”
It was recently revealed that Pyne had discussions with EY about his plans after politics while he was still in cabinet. EY is seeking to secure more work from a government that has vastly increased its defence spending, including through its submarine and frigate programs.
The government has already tabled advice from Parkinson, which said after an investigation and discussions with Pyne and Bishop about their new roles, he had “no grounds to believe that either Mr Pyne or Ms Bishop have breached the standards”. Parkinson also made a written submission to the inquiry.