Sunday, 15 March 2015
Was a whistle about to blow regarding Australian Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce misleading Parliament?
A public servant gives evidence at a Senate Estimates Committee hearing on 5 March 2015.
The Guardian 10 March 2015:
The secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Dr Paul Grimes, has gone on unexpected leave after requesting an extraordinary Senate committee hearing in order to provide “highly pertinent” information about a long-running saga over changes to the official Hansard record of answers given by his minister, Barnaby Joyce.
At the heart of the controversy is Joyce’s insistence to the parliament that corrections to the Hansard record of an incorrect answer he gave regarding drought support loans on 20 October had been made by his staff, without his knowledge, and that he had asked for the changes to be reversed when he became aware that they had been made.
The opposition agriculture spokesman, Joel Fitzgibbon, has been questioning whether Joyce did know about, or request, the changes – an allegation which, if proven, would mean Joyce had committed the sackable offence of misleading the House of Representatives.
Fitzgibbon has made freedom of information requests for information and documents relating to the process of changing the Hansard, and Grimes’ “highly pertinent” information related to documents not provided as a result of those requests.
Staff in the Department of Agriculture were advised Grimes had gone on leave on Friday afternoon, without usual information about the duration of his absence. Government and departmental sources said the leave was “unexpected”.
In the letter to the committee chair, obtained by Guardian Australia, Grimes wrote that he had suspected at least one document had not been provided as a result of the FOI request and that he also had “further relevant information”.
“Subsequent actions (in particular, the tabling of the document by the minister in the house of representatives on Tuesday 24 February) and my further inquiries within the department, including new information my officers had not previously provided to me and a telephone call with the minister’s chief of staff, have confirmed by concerns to have been correct,” Grimes wrote on 2 March.
“Without my intervention I considered there was great danger of the committee being inadvertently misled as to the existence of such a document, which it now seems was never released under FOI.
“I have further relevant information that would, I believe, be highly pertinent to the committee’s consideration of the broad context in which I considered that the further evidence I provided was necessary.”
But when the committee reconvened last Wednesday as a result of Grimes’s request – with a much larger turnout of Coalition senators than normal – Grimes did not provide significant new evidence. Some of the committee’s questions were taken on notice, meaning written answers will be provided by mid-April.
During that hearing, Labor’s Doug Cameron, questioning Grimes and indicating that he was reading from Grimes’s letter to the committee chair, said: “But you do also go on to indicate, ‘I have further relevant information that would, I believe, be highly pertinent to the committee’s consideration of the broad context in which I considered that the further evidence I provided was necessary.’ Then you say, ‘This includes specific information relating to the original alterations made to Hansard and the multiple actions I took personally at the time to seek rectification, including a personal meeting with the minister before the alterations became public.’”.....
His minister’s response on Friday 13 March 2015: