Parkinson’s investigation under fire, passed over to Gaetjens

By Shannon Jenkins

September 30, 2019

Philip Gaetjens. AAP Image/Lukas Coch

The former secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has been criticised over his report into two former ministers, with a push for his successor to reopen the case.

Martin Parkinson was tasked with investigating Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop over their appointments to jobs connected with their former portfolios.

The Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee has released its report into the former Coalition ministers, who have both been accused of breaching ministerial standards

The committee has criticised Parkinson’s report that he found “no grounds to believe that either Mr Pyne or Ms Bishop have breached the standards”.

Parkinson’s approach was not “particularly extensive” and he did not “ask crucial questions about what actions were being taken to avoid conflicts”, the committee argued.

But the former secretary believed he had limited capacity to investigate.

“I have no investigative powers and I have no legislative backing. I speak to former ministers, I inquire, I collect as much information as I can and then I make a judgement based on that,” he told the committee.

The committee acknowledged that Parkinson was not entirely at fault for the outcome of the investigation, and noted his “long and respected career as a public servant”.

“The committee does not believe that the deficiencies in Dr Parkinson’s investigation reflect in any way upon him. The committee is confident that Dr Parkinson did the job the Prime Minister expected him to in the manner expected by the Prime Minister. The problem lies in the Prime Minister’s expectations,” it said.

“The Prime Minister should hold his ministers to account. The Australian people should hold him to account if he does not.”

The committee recommended that the PM call on his new top staffer, Phil Gaetjens, to reopen the investigation. 

Senator Rex Patrick was not quite as understanding towards Parkinson’s situation.

He argued the investigation was “either a demonstration of a lack of competence … or a carefully crafted sham which purports to be an investigation but was, in reality, a political fix”.

“The report epitomises what many people see as a public services cancer whereby the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct is cast aside and replaced with a new code which states, ‘Protect the Minister’,” he said.

According to Patrick, the committee was only polite towards Parkinson because he was on the verge of retirement at the time.

“The politeness of the committee towards Dr Parkinson may also have stemmed from the fact that Dr Parkinson was in the process of moving on to other pastures and most people, including myself, are inclined to wish people well on their way,” he said.

“However, I cannot in good faith, or in properly representing my constituents, not express my concerns that the investigation into any breach of the Statement of Ministerial standards was poorly executed, incomplete and reflects extremely poorly on Dr Parkinson.

“Having not followed it closely, I am not in a position to fully analyse Dr Parkinson public service career … What I can say, however, most disappointingly, that instead of leaving the public service on a high, producing this report and standing by it under questioning by the committee on his last day in public office sees him leave public office at something of a professional nadir.”

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