MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS AND SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER TONY BURKE: Because there’s some complexity to this, I’ll just explain the detail first and then comment on it quickly. Obviously, I’m here to talk about what we’ve dealt with in the Parliament today relating to Barnaby Joyce, the Minister for Agriculture.
After you make a speech in Parliament, Hansard send to your office a copy of what you’ve said for the purposes of you being able, for example, to correct any names that they might have got wrong. Sometimes there can be minor changes that are put back where a word that they’ve got might be incorrect from what you actually said or something like that. The edits that go back are very very minor. There are rules of the Parliament that prohibit Members of Parliament from changing the meaning.
On Monday, Barnaby Joyce gave an answer in the Parliament which contained errors of fact. On Wednesday, Joel Fitzgibbon said to him in Question Time, how come you haven’t come back to the Parliament to correct those errors. What appears to have happened after that is two things. One, Barnaby did what ministers are meant to do, which was come in to the Chamber a few hours later - although he should have done it much earlier than that - but at least he came in and corrected the record. But the second thing is the Hansard record of Monday has been changed to make an incorrect answer, correct. So words that were never said in the Parliament, so for example we have a reference to applications that have been through, and added – and only if - “and if you were also a recipient of the Interim Farm Household Allowance.” Similarly later on you’ve got the words: “Unless it is a new application.” A correction being put in to try to make an incorrect answer accurate.
Of all the things that you can do in this Parliament that carry a penalty the greatest gravity is reserved for deliberately misleading the House. I’m not asserting that Barnaby mislead the House deliberately on Monday. From everything we can work out then, he got the details wrong and didn’t know enough about the programs within his own portfolio. But whether it was him or it was his office, somebody appears to have deliberately doctored the official record of what was said in the Parliament, and words have now been included in the Hansard that were never uttered within the Parliament.
I believe we should have dealt with this with a censure motion immediately within the Parliament. This is exactly the sort of issue that governments normally allow leave for oppositions to be able to raise an issue. Not only did they not give leave for us to have the argument, when we moved to suspension they then gagged the debate and shut us down completely. What this Government is doing is, in the first instance providing wrong information then doctoring the records to try to make it look right, and then today silencing the debate.
The Speaker has now taken the issues on notice to be able to compare what was said on tape with what has turned up on the record. But be in no doubt, either Barnaby Joyce or someone on his behalf has been involved in changing the record of the Parliament of Australia to have him saying words he never uttered.
JOURNALIST: How’s the Speaker dealt with these sort of issues in the past?
BURKE: Well normally it wouldn’t have gone to the Speaker, normally the Parliament would have allowed a debate – that’s what should have happened and Christopher Pyne was wrong in his role as Leader of the House for denying leave for the debate and then shutting down the speeches so that he wouldn’t even allow a 25 minute debate on it. That - It was wrong for those issues to happen in the first place. The Speaker now, so far, has done exactly what the Speaker should do in accordance with precedent, which is to take it on notice, have a look at the record, check and verify whether what we’re asserting is true – it’s fair for her to do that – and report back to the House.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] …sure he didn’t do it deliberately that it’s a mistake but you’re effectively still calling for his head?
BURKE: Well, no, no, no. When he made the error and got information about farmers being helped or not, that was an error in the Parliament and I’m not saying that he made that error deliberately. I don’t know what’s going on inside his mind, I’m not about to psychoanalyse Barnaby Joyce. What I do know is that the changing of the official record was designed to mislead. The changing of the official record was done quite deliberately to make sure that it looked like Barnaby Joyce had given an accurate answer when in fact he hadn’t known the details of his own portfolio.
JOURNALIST: So what do you want to happen to him…
BURKE: Well the right thing was, the right thing should have been for there to be a censure motion within the Parliament immediately, that didn’t happen. We’ve then gone for the second option which we have, which is to raise issues through the Privileges Committee, it’s the most powerful committee in the Parliament and we’ll now wait for the Speaker to report back. I don’t think it will take a long time before she does.
JOURNALIST: When do you, when can you expect that?
BURKE: I’d be surprised if we got to the end of tomorrow before it had happened. I would presume by Question Time but you know these issues, the Speaker has dealt with it properly today and I’m not taking issue with that.
JOURNALIST: We’ve seen a bit of a protest outside of the Parliament House. Three men, one in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. Do you think that’s appropriate given the debate we’re about the burqa in Parliament?
BURKE: Look, I don’t, I don’t respond to people in dress-ups. I’ll leave it at that.