23 September 2019

BUTLER: Well hi everyone, I am here today to talk about the Angus Taylor scandal that's engulfing both Angus and Josh Frydenberg as well as the Morrison Government more broadly. Yesterday morning we heard revelations that Minister Taylor claims that he has told Josh Frydenberg, the now Treasurer, the then Environment Minister, about his interest in the grasslands at the centre of this scandal.
It's been made very clear that Minister Taylor has failed in his obligations; his obligations to properly disclose his interests in accordance with the parliamentary requirements and his obligations under the Ministerial Standards. It's clear also from the revelations that we've had this weekend in relation to this scandal, that both Minister Taylor and Treasurer Frydenberg have questions to answer. Specifically, what did Minister Taylor tell Minister Frydenberg about his interest in the property? And when did Minister Frydenberg find out about the interest that Minister Taylor had in the property? What did Minister Taylor tell Minister Frydenberg about the compliance investigation that relates to the property? And when did Minister Frydenberg find out about that compliance investigation?

And of course, importantly, why did Minister Frydenberg have his Ministerial Office arrange a meeting for Minister Taylor with environment department officials, including an explicit request for a compliance officer, to talk about how the grasslands could be de-listed? Why did Minister Frydenberg have his office ask the Department whether those grasslands could be de-listed as critically endangered species, in a way that went around the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, in a way that was done without publishing reasons? Why is it that under this government, if you've got a mate who is a Minister, you get access to the department that is presently investigating the property in which you have a direct and personal interest?
These are really important questions because the Ministerial Standards matter. It matters to Australians to know whether or not their government can be trusted, and it matters to Australians to know that standards of governance are being upheld. Because under this Government it seems as though it's who you know that determines whether you get a go. It's really important that we as Australians stand up and call on the Government to uphold the Ministerial standards. It appears very clear, as plain as day, that Minister Taylor has breached the Ministerial Standards. It is not appropriate to allow your public office to be used to pursue your private interests. Minister Taylor should resign and if he won't resign, the Prime Minister should sack him.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible]
BUTLER: I also just wanted to say something before I take questions, about the drought. There has been a lot of media, and a lot of press and a lot of attention to the distress and the suffering that's occurring in regional communities, both for farmers and other members of the community. The Government has had a drought envoy, they've had a drought coordinator, they've had a drought taskforce, they've had a drought summit, what they don't have is a plan for the drought. It's been really disappointing to see the Drought Minister spending his time taking pot shots at state governments rather than outlining a positive progressive plan that he has in relation to drought stricken communities. Questions?
JOURNALIST: In relation to Mr Taylor, is it corrupt behaviour?
BUTLER: Well the question for the Prime Minister, who is responsible for upholding the Ministerial Standards, is whether in fact there's been a conflict of interest, whether there's been a failure to disclose, and whether Minister Taylor has used his public office for private gain. But I think it's also important that the now Treasurer's conduct be considered in this, it was his office who organised the meeting with the Department for Minister Taylor, it was his office, who, subsequent to that meeting, wrote to the department seeking advice about whether they could de-list the grasslands, about whether that could be done in a way that bypassed the threatened species committee, and about whether that could be done without publishing reasons. So I think the Prime Minister has got a bit of work to do in relation to both of these Ministers when he gets back.
JOURNALIST: Given the EPBC Act, when it comes to clearing, allows for a lot of ministerial discretion, even if an area is found to be at risk, should the EPBC Act be strengthened?
BUTLER: Well the EPBC Act will come under review from October this year. We will be very interested to see what the Government does in relation to that review. I will make the point that Minister Taylor is one of the Ministers that administers the Environment Department. It's one big Department - there's a couple of Ministers; he is one of them. It's a department that is still, to this day, investigating a property in which he has a direct interest.
JOURNALIST: Just on some other matters, are you concerned about the vandals who dumped soil and rocks in the Mulwala canal over the weekend to prevent environmental flows getting to South Australia?
BUTLER: Look absolutely, I would never condone that sort of conduct, people need to act in accordance with the law. I know that people are deeply distressed and deeply frustrated, particularly across New South Wales at the moment, we're seeing situations where there are towns that are at risk, serious risk, of running dry. I know there is a lot of anger, I know people are incredibly frustrated and I know that they're also really worried about the fact that the Commonwealth government seems to be running around pointing its fingers at everyone else and not taking any real action in relation to water security. So I don't condone of course the actions of dumping. I believe, very strongly, that people need to act in accordance with the law. In this case, it is an indication of the depth of feeling, and anger and hurt that communities are suffering. We do know that recently the National Party Federal Council passed a resolution walking away from the 450GL. I have asked the Minister whether he will re-commit himself to that in the light of that Federal Council resolution. It's a Government that is all over the place when it comes to water policy and water management and Australians are hurting.
JOURNALIST: Just on the drought quickly, what do you say to government claims it has enough drought assistance on the table for farmers already without needing the Future Drought Fund to be accelerated? 
BUTLER: Well I mean the Government has obviously just got a political strategy and not a real plan for drought stricken communities. I mean this is the Government that was using the drought fund as as a political tool to try to bash Labor simply because we said that droughts and infrastructure could both be supported. This is a drought fund that the Government announced last year, but the first money will not be released from it until July next year. They're all talk no action when it comes to these important issues.
We are also seeing a situation where farmers are seeing income support drying up. I think what Australians want is to get a signal from their government that people are actually on the minds of our leaders. We are talking about communities in severe distress, farmers of course, but also other communities, other members of the community. They are seeing a lot of political game playing from the government, they're seeing a lot of bashing Labor but what they are not seeing is serious action when it comes to drought.
JOURNALIST: Why is Labor making this a political fight with the Government? Is that helpful to farmers?
BUTLER: Well Labor's not making any sort of issue of this, this is an issue that's coming directly from communities and farmers. I mean people are entitled to know, if the Government is going to give Barnaby Joyce extra resources, including extra travel entitlements, extra staff, to appoint him as a drought envoy, why he thinks it's good enough to send in his reports by text message. I mean it's just nonsense. The fact is they've had a drought envoy, they've had a drought coordinator, they've had drought taskforce, they've had a drought summit, what they're lacking is a real plan in relation to the drought. It's another example of this third-term tired government having a political strategy but not a real plan.
JOURNALIST: Is it time to consider special releases of environmental water for farmers?
BUTLER: Look I think that the Commonwealth government needs to be upfront with farmers and with communities about what they're going to do to ensure water security and appropriate safety and protection for people in communities. It's people across all of the Basin states that are concerned about whether this government is doing to enough to maintain confidence, trust, accountability and transparency in relation to water policy and water management in the basin particularly. It's really up to the Minister to explain to both South Australians and New South Welshman, what he is going to do to make sure there is sufficient water for all of the different uses that are required.
JOURNALIST: But do you think there should be a special release of environmental water for farmers?
BUTLER: Well, again that's really a question for the Government. We're not the Government. I'm happy, well I am not happy to say, I am kind of sad to say it actually, but you know we are in a situation now where it's up to the Minister to demonstrate his bona fides when it comes to standing up for communities and people are looking to him to explain how he can actually give assurance that water will actually be made available to them and that is going to take a lot because right now communities really are hurting.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that people who dumped soil and rocks in water to stop environmental flows to South Australia should be prosecuted?
BUTLER: I think the Minister needs to explain what he is going to do to ensure the law is upheld and at the same time he needs to explain what he is going to do to alleviate the anger and hurt and distress that communities are feeling.
JOURNALIST: Do you think $150 million of space funding would be better spent on drought relief?
BUTLER: I think that people across Australia are rightly saying to this government, what are your priorities? I don't think people begrudge participation in space industry. Space industry has got the capacity to create jobs in Australia, to support communities. At the same time though, we've got a situation where we've just seen a massive $4.6 billion under spend in the NDIS and the government's got it's budget almost into balance, not quite, on the back of that under spend, we've got drought stricken communities really suffering, really hurting. We have a lot of Australians looking to the Government and saying, well what about us? When we are we going to be your priority, now I don't think that that means you can't do both, of course you can do both, but I think people would like to hear a bit more from the Prime Minister about what's happening in our communities to vulnerable people like farmers, and people with a disability.
JOURNALIST: Given places like Applethorpe and Stanthorpe have gone through horrific droughts and they've had to use the little water they have left to fight fires, what should be done on state and federal levels to start trucking in water providing water for those communities?
BUTLER: Yeah look it's a really big problem isn't it because the fact is we've had six years of lost time under this Government that has failed to take action in relation to water security and in ensuring that there is sufficient water for communities. Those are six long lost years under this now third-term government, so yes there are a lot of communities in strife, of course places in Queensland that you've mentioned, places in New South Wales, we are seeing a lot of stories about people really really worried that their towns are going to run out of water. It is a conundrum I think, it's a really big challenge for the Commonwealth. What are they going to do and how are they going to step up and fix it? We have been very firm in saying the Commonwealth needs a plan for water, that has to involve actually working much harder when it comes to dams and water infrastructure because nothing has been done under this government in the six long years they've been in.
JOURNALIST: Would Labor provide funding for trucking in water etc?
BUTLER: Well we are two and a half years away from the next election, so what we would do is probably a moot point. Thanks everyone.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible]
JOURNALIST: I might ask that again, you might be 2.5 years away from being in government, but you've still got to have a position, what would Labor do or what does Labor think the government should do?
BUTLER: Well I think by the time there is potential for a Labor government, things will have gotten a lot worse if nothing has been done by this current government. That's what I mean, we are two and a half years away from an election, we are two and half years away from the prospect of even potentially forming government. People need action now.
They need support right now. It's not good enough for the Government to be, you know, they get let off the hook, because they wander around, pointing their finger at state governments, pointing their finger at Labor. Well hang on a minute, we just had an election in May, those guys won it, what are they going to do about these big issues. And look, whistling dixie and pointing at everyone else hasn't worked for the last six years, it's not going to work now.