Malcolm Turnbull has laughed off suggestions of a Cabinet reshuffle, saying he had an “excellent ministry” and was delighted with the work his colleagues were undertaking.
During a press conference today, the Prime Minister announced Susan Kiefel would be Australia’s first female High Court chief justice, alongside his beleaguered Attorney-General George Brandis.
Senator Brandis has been under pressure this week over his handling of a reported deal with the West Australian government that would have helped the state gain nearly $1 billion back from Alan Bond’s collapsed Bell Group.
The senator has denied there was a deal to favour the state over the Australian Taxation Office and provided a detailed explanation of his actions to parliament on Monday. But Labor and the Greens were still expected to call for an inquiry.
Labor’s Murray Watt even compared Senator Brandis to pop singer Britney Spears.
“I don’t know how many times Senator Brandis is going to be given second chances by this prime minister,” he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.
“He really seems to get more second chances than Britney Spears has ever had and we know what happened to her.”
There has also been pressure on Mr Turnbull to consider returning former prime minister Tony Abbott to the Cabinet.
Mr Abbott told Sky News over the weekend: “I guess it’s an issue for him whether I am or am not of the 23 members of the party room most qualified to be in Cabinet”.
During the interview Mr Abbott also took at swipe at Mr Turnbull’s leadership saying: “It’s good we’re no longer talking about innovation and agility because that frankly loses people”.
But when asked whether about a Cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday, Mr Turnbull said: “Look at what my front bench has delivered”.
The Prime Minister said the government had passed registered organisation reform, superannuation reform, the omnibus bill of Budget savings and had protected the volunteer firefighters of the Country Fire Authority.
“I have an excellent ministry,” he said. “I’m delighted with the work that my colleagues are undertaking.
“We are delivering … the 45th Parliament is working.”
WHAT’S ALL THE BRANDIS FUSS ABOUT?
Senator George Brandis was accused of having a secret deal with the West Australian government that would have helped the state claw back nearly $1 billion back from Alan Bond’s collapsed Bell Group.
The deal would have helped the Liberal-led government get back money from the company ahead of the Australian Taxation Office.
Senator Brandis told parliament there was no agreement. He said letters between former treasurer Joe Hockey and his WA counterpart Mike Nahan — as well as the fact that a court challenge over the decision went ahead — backed that up.
The Federal Government in May won a High Court challenge against WA’s legislation to finalise Bell Group matters and distribute the proceedings, despite WA ministers believing they had a deal with Canberra that it would take a hands-off approach.
Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said Senator Brandis failed to tell the parliament what position he had initially taken when discussing the issue with the then solicitor-general Justin Gleeson.
Labor and the Greens suspect the initial position — negotiated by then treasurer Joe Hockey — was to run dead in the court case, favouring the WA Liberal government over Australian taxpayers.
Labor frontbencher Penny Wong said Senator Brandis had thrown his former colleague Mr Hockey “under a bus” and not taken responsibility. She said there were still questions left unanswered.
“If you’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars being provided to the West Australian government under a political deal, how is it possible the Cabinet isn’t informed?” Senator Wong asked.
A letter from Mr Hockey to Dr Nahan dated April 29, 2015 stated he considered “an outcome that mirrors as close as possible a commercially acceptable agreement, as would have been determined by the parties themselves, is the optimal outcome to be sought”.
Mr Hockey was responding to a letter from Dr Nahan two weeks earlier in which the WA treasurer said the state’s proposed laws would “deliver a more rapid financial return to the Commonwealth” than the ongoing court action.
That letter concluded: “I trust that you would therefore see no need for the Commonwealth to contest the legislation we plan to introduce into the WA parliament.”
Revenue Minister Kelly O’Dwyer, who was also involved in the negotiations, said she sought advice from the ATO when she heard the “assertions” being made by WA ministers.
“The ATO advised me it had a legal obligation and a sound case to intervene in the proceedings in the High Court of Australia to protect the interests of the Commonwealth. I fully supported the ATO position,” she said.
Online Source: News.com.au.