Mike Baird and Mark Speakman questioned over Heathcote Hall meeting at budget estimates hearings

Diary questions: Mike Baird and Mark Speakman have been questioned about a meeting over Heathcote Hall. Picture: John Veage
Diary questions: Mike Baird and Mark Speakman have been questioned about a meeting over Heathcote Hall. Picture: John Veage

Premier Mike Baird has been grilled over a meeting Environment and Heritage Minister Mark Speakman had with the developers of Heathcote Hall.,

Mr Baird and Mr Speakman were questioned separately by Labor spokeswoman Penny Sharpe at budget estimates hearings about the minister’s belated diary entry on the meeting.

Ms Sharpe said Mr Baird’s response showed he was not overly concerned about rules governing ministerial diaries.

“There is a massive loophole in the diary disclosures system that needs to be closed as soon as possible,” she said.

Ms Sharpe’s questions followed a Leader report in June which revealed, the previous month, Mr Speakman quietly amended his ministerial diary to show he met Heathcote Hall development representatives nine months earlier.

This was long after the required time for diary entries, which is within a week of the end of each quarter.

Mr Speakman’s entry in May this year said he met Fuzortinn Pty Ltd and Heathcote MP Lee Evans on September 21 last year.

Mr Speakman told the Leader in June the rules did not require disclosure of meetings with MPs or of non-scheduled meetings with a third party.

During the budget estimates hearing, Mr Baird said he was not aware of Mr Speakman’s belated diary entry.

When Ms Sharpe read to him a comment his spokesman had made to the Leader, he replied, “That is fine”.

“Obviously sometimes you might get to an event, or you see something and you then think that might be something I need to update or that might be something that was omitted in a particular return,” he said.

“These things can happen.

“But, I find it a bit rich that the Labor Party is going to come in here and question ministerial diaries. How many ministerial meetings did you disclose in 16 years?”

Ms Sharpe put to Mr Baird Mr Speakman only amended his diary “once he got inquiries from local media and pressure from local residents”.

“Do you think that is reasonable?” she asked.

Mr Baird replied, “I think what is entirely reasonable and appropriate is that we are the first government to introduce disclosure of meetings”.

Mr Speakman told the hearing his recollection was he went to Heathcote Hall expecting to meet Mr Evans.

“When I arrived, there were also other people there,” he said.

“The view I have is that it is not a disclosable meeting. To the extent that it was with Mr Evans, it is not disclosable.”

Ms Sharpe: “Are you arguing that if you have an MP in the room and there is a bunch of other people that happen to be there, you do not have to disclose that?”

Mr Speakman: “No. If it is a scheduled meeting, I have to disclose it. But if it is a non-scheduled meeting…”

Ms Sharpe: “It sounds like a giant loophole to me. Your local MP can go, ‘Come on, let's have a meeting, minister.’ They can then say, ‘Look who has come in the door! It’s Marjorie; hello.’ "

Mr Speakman: “The form that protocol should take is ultimately a matter you should ask the Premier about rather than me.”

Mr Speakman reiterated neither he nor Planning Minister Rob Stokes had a statutory role in approving any development on the site.

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