The Project - 20/10/2020

20 October 2020

SUBJECTS: Senate Estimates; Need for a National Integrity Commission; ICAC; Daryl Maguire; Badgerys Creek land scandal; FaceTime during Estimates hearing.

WALEED ALY, HOST: We did invite the Deputy Prime Minister on to tonight’s show. We got no response from him. The Labor Senator, Penny Wong, has managed to duck away from the Senate Estimates during the dinner break to join us. Thank you very much for your time. I'm intrigued as to…

SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Good to be with you but I do wish the Deputy Prime Minister was on.

CARRIE BICKMORE, HOST: (Laughing) I’m sure you do.

ALY: I hope you are not offended to know that he was our first choice tonight.

WONG: I am very pleased for that, we could have sold popcorn I suspect.

ALY: I’m interested in knowing whether or not after these couple of days of grilling on this are we any closer to getting to the bottom of how this $33 million deal actually happened?

WONG: Well, no, I don't think so. I think all we have learnt is how bad it actually was. As you said, in the intro, you know, taxpayers - everyone watching - paid 30 million bucks for land that was worth three. We know it's gone to the Federal Police who are looking at possible criminal conduct, or investigating that. We know that questions are being raised about Daryl Maguire's involvement - the former Liberal MP who is before the Independent Commission Against Corruption. All of these questions have been raised.

What this really demonstrates though is the need for a Federal Integrity Commission, because this sort of dodgy deal should not be allowed to happen. We can't have a situation where the best the Government can do is have the Deputy Prime Minister tell you that it's a bargain.

ALY: I get all that and it's clear that someone is to blame or someone has stuffed up. Is it going too far, too quickly though to say it's the Government's fault? Because I notice the Auditor-General's report seems to suggest the Ministers responsible just weren't kept in the loop here, that it may have been a problem at the level of bureaucracy, rather than politics?

WONG: Well, I think the truth is we don't know precisely how it is that the Government, the Morrison Government paid this much money, $30 million, for land worth $3 million. We don't know, we know there are a number of investigations, including the investigation for criminal conduct and what involvement Ministers did or didn't have, or their staff did or didn't have, presumably will be something the AFP will have to look at to determine if there was any involvement.

But look, I think this does come down to, we have got Mr Morrison who’s promised a National Integrity Commission – two years ago in fact – they’ve dragged their feet on it. I think this really demonstrates why we need one and why we also need to make sure that the Auditor-General who is the office that blew the whistle on all of this is properly resourced, and it's disappointing that we are seeing the Government reducing their resources.

NAKKIAH LUI, HOST: But could this all be spectacular incompetence rather
than something more sinister?

WONG: Well, that's a question the police will have to determine through their investigation. What I can tell you is, when I read the Audit Report, when I read the brief that was given to me before I started asking questions yesterday; somebody went to a lot of effort to try to inflate the price that was paid. I mean, the engagement with the valuer went on and on and on. I think there were nine different interactions to try and get a bigger price, and if you look at the price that we paid, taxpayers' paid - $30 million for $3 million worth of land - it's pretty extraordinary situation.

BICKMORE: Senator, just before we let you go, there was an attempt to infiltrate Senate estimates from outside forces today. We have a clip here...

(Footage from Estimates: WONG: OK. My eight-year-old is FaceTiming me. That’s probably not optimal timing!)

BICKMORE: Is your daughter a spy?!

WONG: (Laughs) No, but she does answer questions. She has no difficulty in answering questions unlike some of the people I question at Sentate Estimates!

ALY: Even then she got one away! Even then! Amazing. Thank you very much for your time. Appreciate it.

WONG: It was great to be with you, cheers.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.