Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Acting Prime Minister
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
QUESTION: The Deputy Prime Minister has said in an interview today that he had a don’t ask, don’t tell policy in relation to his extra marital affair, his relationship with his new partner Vikki Campion. Now, how could you not be in breach of the Ministerial Code, which requires you to seek the expressed permission of the Prime Minister to employ a close relative or partner if you have a don’t ask, don’t tell policy?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Barnaby Joyce has made very clear on the public record and to the Prime Minister that Vikki Campion was not his partner when she worked for him. That means that on that basis he is not in breach.
QUESTION: But he says in that interview that if the Prime Minister had asked, that he would not have told him. Essentially you are mounting an argument that the Ministerial Code is a self-guided process where you decide whether or not someone is your partner regardless of whether or not they are seven or eight months pregnant.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I completely disagree with that characterisation Sam. As I have said at a doorstop here before, I am not going to get into the detailed analysis of when you go from meeting somebody for the first time to them ultimately becoming your partner. There is a progression in all these matters, which all Australians would well understand. You do not go from one day to the next from meeting somebody to developing a relationship and then becoming partners. I am not in a position to explain what happened when and what the status was when. There is only one person who can explain that and that is Barnaby and I think he has been quite open and transparent in relation to all of these matters. He has made very clear that while Ms Campion worked for him, she was not his partner.
QUESTION: Well not really because most of the FOIs have been knocked back. Why is there not going to be a proper independent investigation of this just as there was with Jamie Briggs, just as there was with Sussan Ley. Why not appoint Martin Parkinson to investigate it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not have anything else to add.
QUESTION: Does the don’t ask, don’t tell policy that Barnaby Joyce outlined, will that work under the new guidelines that the Prime Minister announced?
MATHIAS CORMANN: All Ministers have a responsibility to comply with the Ministerial Code. The Prime Minister expects very high standards of his Ministers. Ministers are expected to comply with the code. If there was any evidence of a breach of the code there would be consequences.
QUESTION: Yesterday Peter Dutton suggested that Australian school children should have to have a pledge of loyalty at schools. Do you support that idea?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think what Peter Dutton was saying was that it was important that not only migrants who come to Australia, but also those who are already in Australia show their loyalty to Australia. I think he is quite right with all of this. I think it is important for all Australians to be aware and conscious of our history, of our culture, of our values. I think what he has said is that what form that will take in terms of working with schools to ensure that school children are appropriately taught about our history, our background, our values, that is something yet to be worked through.
QUESTION: He also suggested that Australian foreign fighters, more of them should have their citizenship cancelled. Now this idea was at the centre of a huge Cabinet blow up in 2015, where the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and others stood up for what they described as the rule of law. Do you expect Peter Dutton has found a way to strip foreign fighters of their citizenship that will not trigger a same concern from the Prime Minister this time around?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Peter Dutton is a strong and effective Minister protecting our borders. He is at one with the Prime Minister on the need for a strong and effective border protection framework. He is at one with the Prime Minister in having a strong policy framework and strong operational focus on keeping our nation secure. Peter Dutton will continue to fulfil his job with distinction to keep all Australians as safe and secure as possible. That is a great thing.
QUESTION: Minister, Minister Dutton did say that his Home Affairs Department was ready to work with state education departments on improving civics education. Do you think that there is a problem with the sort of civic pride of children and do you think that it is the right role for the Home Affairs Department to be involved in that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think that there is an opportunity to improve civics education, absolutely. Peter Dutton is not only the Minister for Home Affairs, he is also the Minister for Immigration and has responsibilities in relation to multicultural affairs. So it is entirely appropriate for Peter Dutton to think about these things and to explore ways on how what is currently being done can be done better.
QUESTION: Is it true that support for the sex ban was extremely limited in Cabinet ranks and indeed that you argued against it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You can ask whatever question you want about the internal processes of Government. You can ask about Cabinet or leadership group deliberations. You know that these are not matters that we comment on. The Prime Minister expects very high standards from his Ministers. His statements are very clear, all Ministers are expected to comply with the code as set out by the Prime Minister.
QUESTION: It is a bit silly though, a sex ban isn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Ministerial Code is the Prime Minister’s code. All of us are expected to comply. We all have a responsibility to ensure we do.
QUESTION: Barnaby Joyce is on personal leave at the moment. He is doing a fair amount of media at the moment though. Is that a helpful thing for him to be doing while he is supposed to be on leave?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Barnaby Joyce is dealing with some deeply personal matters, some of which spilled into the professional sphere and became a distraction for the Government. He took some leave in order to put some order in to those matters. That is clearly appropriate. To the extent that he is making decisions and taking steps this week to deal with the issues that have spilled over into his professional life last week that is a good thing for him to do.
QUESTION: Minister, yesterday you said you wanted all of this to go away though, people to move on. What we have seen so far is every major newspaper has the front page of Barnaby Joyce. The TV bulletins are leading with Barnaby Joyce because he has given these interviews. This is not moving it on.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think that Barnaby Joyce wants things to move on too. I think that Barnaby Joyce wants the Government to focus on our responsibility to secure more jobs and higher wages and to keep Australia safe and secure. An important part from his point of view in relation to this is to put some order into some deeply personal matters that previously have spilled over into the professional domain.
QUESTION: But there wasn’t a lot of mention of jobs or security in those interviews, it was all about him.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think it is about Barnaby wanting to move on and part of him, his family and his new partner and the Government being able to move on is him putting some order into his personal affairs. That is what he is doing.
QUESTION: Can you explain how the sex ban is going to be policed? Are Ministers and staff expected to dob on others? Is every little rumour going to be investigated?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to get into the weeds of all of this. The Ministerial Code across the board applies to all Ministers. It is administered in the same way across all issues covered by the Ministerial Code. Every individual Minister has a responsibility to comply and if there is evidence that there is a breach, then appropriate consequences will follow.
QUESTION: You said the other day that you had texted Barnaby Joyce, he had not got back to you, but the same day he did manage to do a full interview with the Sydney Morning Herald. Has he called you back?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am very disappointed that you did not listen more carefully to what I had to say. I actually said that I phoned him and left a voicemail message. To be perfectly honest, I did not actually at the time expect a call back. It was essentially a call to a friend, who is a human being, who is under a lot of pressure making sure he is okay. I am pleased to reassure you that yes, we have since spoken. He did ring me back that morning while I was in Cabinet, so he left a message. I spoke to him later that night and we had a very good conversation. He was cooking spaghetti at the time we talked. I think it is very important for all of us here in Canberra and around Australia to remember, with all of the pressure, we are still dealing with real human beings in relation to all of these matters. Some of the public pressure is incredibly intense, not just on Barnaby, but also on his family, his kids and his new partner. Yes, it is a distraction for the Government, but there are some real human beings involved and I think we would do well to remember that.