Labor has seized on comments from the West Australian Agriculture Minister talking up the advantages of selling the Perth Industry Authority, arguing it shows a substantial failure in how he has managed conflict of interest problems.
Minister Ken Baston has been below fire for not publicly acknowledging he had declared a conflict of interest over the Perth Market Authority sale, triggered by an advisory role his son has with one of the bidders.
Mr Baston declared the conflict in July, but did not reveal it in State Parliament until Wednesday, just a few days soon after he had appointed an interim board to the authority.
The Opposition continued to grill Mr Baston in Parliament late on Thursday more than his handling of the matter, seizing on the minister’s remarks in the Legislative Council when appointing the interim board.
In that speech, Mr Baston mentioned the sale provided a “significant chance for private sector investment” and that he believed private ownership of the marketplace will “aid open up new export possibilities that are presently not obtainable”.
Mr Baston produced these remarks on Tuesday, a day before the conflict of interest problem came to light.
Labor questioned if it was a breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct to make these remarks, provided Mr Baston had declared a conflict and excluded himself from Cabinet discussions, but the minister insisted he had done the appropriate thing.
“There is no need to clear any prospective conflict of interest to Parliament,” he said.
“The Ministerial Code of Conduct needs I declare any possible conflicts to Cabinet, which I have accomplished.
“I am accountable for the Perth Markets Act, and under the act the minister is responsible for ensuring the day-to-day operations of Industry City … this has had nothing at all to do with the sale of the asset.
“The tips my workplace received was that it would not be in the very best interest of any certain bidders to disclose any info publicly that may well disadvantage them.”
Premier Colin Barnett also continued to back the minister, saying Mr Baston’s conflict declaration affected his involvement in Cabinet consideration and not his ability to speak on the matter in Parliament.
The continued controversy over Mr Baston’s handling of the Industry Authority continued as the Government pushed on with attempts to get legislation by means of Parliament to let its sale.
Numerous MPs are expecting the Legislative Council to sit all evening and into tomorrow morning, as the Government attempts to pass the legislation before Parliament rises for the year.
Topics: government-and-politics, perth-6000