Julie Bishop asked a series of questions in Question Time yesterday. All of them directed at the Prime Minister. Two questions were ruled out of order.
First out of order question:
Ms JULIE BISHOP (Curtin—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (14:39): My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer to the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday and to this 1996 affidavit of Ian Cambridge that states $300,000 in cash was withdrawn by Bruce Wilson from bank accounts in the name of the AWU over four years to:
… “launder” Union funds, as a step in the conversion of those funds to unauthorised, … irregular, and possibly illegal uses.
As the Prime Minister cannot recall receiving $5,000 from Bruce Wilson, how can the Prime Minister rule out receiving any cash or benefit at any time from these accounts?
The SPEAKER: I think that question was a step too far, and I will be ruling it out of order.
Ms Julie Bishop: Speaker—
The SPEAKER: I do not need to explain. I am ruling the question out of order.
Ms Julie Bishop: Speaker, I rise on a point of order. These are a series of questions that I have asked in this form over the last couple of days. The preamble is the same, so it is not the preamble. In relation to the last part of the question, I will ask if the Prime Minister received any funds from any of these accounts, on that basis.
The SPEAKER: The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will resume her seat. I have ruled the question out of order.
Second out of order question:
Ms JULIE BISHOP (Curtin—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (14:43): My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to her statement yesterday and to the affidavit of then AWU head Ian Cambridge that states around $100,000 from the AWU slush fund was used to purchase a house in Fitzroy in which Bruce Wilson lived. When did the Prime Minister first learn that funds from the AWU Workplace Reform Association were used in the purchase of the Fitzroy property which her then boyfriend Bruce Wilson lived in?
The SPEAKER: Again, I am not sure that this, like the last question, is in the realm of the Prime Minister’s discretion. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition would like to argue the toss or rephrase, but I am finding it hard to know why the last two questions are within the area of the Prime Minister’s responsibility.
Mr Pyne: Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The standing orders—and, in fact, the House of Representatives Practice—make it very clear that ministers and the Prime Minister can be questioned about public statements that they have made. The Prime Minister has held two press conferences on this issue. She has stated on many occasions that she had no wrongdoing at any time with respect to the AWU slush fund. But she has said that, when she became aware of wrongdoing, she ended the relationship with her then boyfriend. That is why it goes within her responsibilities.
The SPEAKER: The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat. I have allowed a great deal of latitude in respect of these issues by virtue of the issue that the Manager of Opposition Business has gone to—that is, that the Prime Minister has made numerous statements. I think these last two questions are going beyond that, and I am ruling them out of order.
Mrs Bronwyn Bishop: Speaker, I rise on a point of order.
The SPEAKER: The member for Mackellar has the call. This is a very important matter, and I am prepared to listen to argument in respect of it. This would not be allowed under normal circumstances.
Mrs Bronwyn Bishop: The Practice makes it quite clear that ministers, which includes the Prime Minister, should be ready and able to answer questions which are reported upon in newspapers and other forms of media. The Prime Minister has deliberately chosen a course of making statements to the media and not answering questions asked in this place. The reason for that is that you can say anything you like to the media and it has no consequences but if in this place you make statements which are misleading there are consequences. Continually we have sat here and listened to the Prime Minister say ‘it is sleaze’, and whatever it is which she seems to attract. The idea that—
The SPEAKER: The member for Mackellar will resume her seat before she goes too far and I have to remove her for again abusing points of order. I understand the point the member for Mackellar has raised, but I think these issues have been canvassed, and these areas are outside the responsibility of the Prime Minister in relation to this issue.
Mr Albanese: Speaker, on a point of order: the member for Mackellar during her point of order suggested that the Prime Minister could say whatever she liked to the media and have no consequences for it. That is an extraordinary statement for the member for Mackellar to have—
Mr Secker interjecting—
The SPEAKER: The member for Barker could have asked that of everybody before the Leader of the House got to his feet. The Leader of the House has the call.
Mr Albanese: There is of course political accountability for our actions.
Mr Pyne interjecting—
The SPEAKER: The Manager of Opposition Business was allowed to make his statement without interruption. The Leader of the House has the call.
Mr Albanese: With regard to your ruling, Speaker, it is absolutely correct, because we have not objected to a range of questions that have been raised by the opposition, although we could have. On these last two questions they have gone too far. They are clearly not within the Prime Minister’s responsibilities, and your ruling is correct.