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Christopher Pyne's defence job could put him in breach of ministerial standards, Labor says

Labor has raised concerns the former defence minister Christopher Pyne’s new job with consulting giant EY could place him in breach of ministerial standards, while a key defence group has warned it is “uncomfortable” with the appointment.

EY announced on Wednesday that the former defence minister would be joining its ranks to help grow its defence business, little more than a month after he left office.

The decision makes Pyne the latest in a long line of former ministers – both Labor and Liberal – quickly taking jobs in industries they previously held portfolio responsibility for.

The decision has prompted concern from some within the defence community, who are concerned that ministers do not have to comply with rules that apply to others leaving the Australian Defence Force.

Senior military officers and public servants are usually barred for 12 months from taking private work that could be relevant to their prior roles within defence.

The rules, though not well enforced, are designed to stop the use of inside information or contacts obtained in the military for private gain.

The Australia Defence Association, an independent watchdog that monitors issues of national security and defence, said ministers should be subject to the same forced 12-month embargo period.

“The ADA remains uncomfortable with the growing tradition of ministers leaving and being employed in industries closely connected to their duties as a minister,” the association’s executive director, Neil James, told Guardian Australia.

“And our longstanding policy is that public servants, defence personnel, and members of parliament and ministers, should be held to the same quarantine periods. There shouldn’t be a lower one for ministers.”

There are other rules designed to stop former ministers going immediately into paid employment related directly to their past portfolio.

The ministerial standards say ministers should not “lobby, advocate or have business meetings with members of the government” on any matter which they have had official dealings with in the past 18 months, and should not take advantage of information they had special access to in office.

But the standards have no legal power, and are typically enforced at the discretion of the government of the day. Even then, the punishments for breaching standards are only really applicable to sitting members.

Labor believes Pyne’s new role could place him in breach of the standards. Jones told Sky News that Pyne’s new job was “directly related to his ministerial responsibilities”.

“We wish him well in his post-politics career, but what’s gone on here seems to be a breach of the government’s own ministerial code of conduct.

“Most Australians would say that is not on, that is not right,” Jones said. “There should be a healthy break between your ministerial life and jumping into the private sector and working directly in an area you were once a decision maker on.”

The shadow attorney-general, Mark Dreyfus, said the prime minister, Scott Morrison, was “trashing his own ‘ministerial standards’ if Pyne can take this job”.

Labor’s leader in the Senate, Penny Wong, said it was clear that Pyne had breached the standards.

“The question for [prime minister] Scott Morrison will you exercise any leadership or not?” she said.

Mark Dreyfus
(@markdreyfusQCMP)

This is what Australians have come to expect from the shady and self serving Morrison Government. Mr Morrison is trashing his own “Ministerial Standards” if Pyne can take this job. https://t.co/0toZMrQGnY


June 27, 2019

The Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick said Morrison must intervene.

He said Morrison should call Pyne directly or direct defence to cease engaging EY on contracts.

“My view on this is that this happens and it happens and it happens, and it will continue to happen until we have a PM that steps on it,” Patrick told Guardian Australia.

“That’s the place where this stops. If he doesn’t act, it will show poor leadership and will undermine his own integrity.”

Guardian Australia has approached Pyne for comment.

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