Grimes won't return to role: Fitzgibbon

11 Mar, 2015 04:36 PM
Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.
Now it's only a matter of determining how he goes
Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.

AGRICULTURE Department Secretary Dr Paul Grimes has taken unscheduled leave and won’t return to resume the role, according to Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.

The Labor MP’s prediction comes after Dr Grimes called a specially convened and unprecedented Senate Estimates hearing last Thursday to address his concerns about the processing of a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

The FOI centred on Mr Fitzgibbon’s ongoing allegations that his counterpart Barnaby Joyce misled parliament over Hansard corrections from October last year, relating to drought support for farmers.

The Department yesterday confirmed Dr Grimes was currently on leave and Phillip Glyde would be the Department’s acting Secretary.

The Department also said it “does not comment on an individual's leave arrangements”.

Relationship 'broken down': Fitzgibbon

Mr Fitzgibbon said today he understood Dr Grimes had taken leave following the controversial hearing and won't return.

“Now it's only a matter of determining how he (Dr Grimes) goes,” he said.

Mr Fitzgibbon said he also understood the relationship had completely “broken down” between the Department Secretary head and Mr Joyce.

But he challenged Mr Joyce to provide answers to questions taken on notice at last week's Senate Estimates hearing relating to specific dates and details of the Hansard changes “as soon as he receives them”.

The unusual Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee hearing was requested when Dr Grimes wrote to committee chair and NSW Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan and Labor Senators Doug Cameron and Glenn Sterle.

The letter in question

A copy of the letter – obtained by Fairfax Media – said the Department Secretary was concerned about evidence presented at additional Senate Estimates hearings about the FOI on February 23 this year.

“…as a result of evidence given earlier in the day, I formed a suspicion that a key document had not been released through FOI by the Minister for Agriculture’s FOI decision maker,” he wrote.

“I wanted to ensure that the Committee was not left in any doubt about the existence of a document held by the department that may have been within scope of the FOI request.

“Without my intervention I considered there was great danger of the Committee being inadvertently misled as to the existence of such a document, which it now seems was never released under FOI.

“I have further relevant information that would, I believe, be highly pertinent to the Committee’s consideration of the broad context in which I considered that the further evidence I provided was necessary.

“This includes specific information relating to the original alterations made to Hansard and the multiple actions I took personally at the time to seek rectification, including a personal meeting with the Minister before the alterations became public (that is, before questions relating to the alterations were first raised in the House of Representatives on the afternoon of Monday 27 October 2014).”

'Strong working relationship': Minister's office

An interview request from Fairfax Media to Dr Grimes, after last week’s hearing, was denied.

A spokesperson for Mr Joyce said the Minister does not comment on the leave arrangements of officials at the Department of Agriculture.

“The Minister continues to have a strong working relationship with his department,” the spokesperson said.

Last week, Mr Joyce rejected suggestions he and Dr Grimes were experiencing conflict, given the unusual nature of the additional Senate Estimates hearing.

“I have a very professional relationship (and) I’ve never ever been in a discussion with Mr Grimes where we have even so much as raised our voices,” he said.

Mr Joyce told Fairfax Media Dr Grimes was welcome to make contact and arrange a personal discussion about the issues raised via the extra estimates hearing.

Mr Fitzgibbon said it was the first time in his 19 years in parliament he’d seen a department head write to a committee requesting to reconvene Senate estimates.

However, several sources indicated the actual substance of last week’s hearing failed to match the expectations about presentation of any significant additional evidence, as intimated by Dr Grimes’ letter.

Dr Grimes opened the special estimates hearing with a brief statement saying he hoped the forum would provide a good opportunity to put several matters to rest on the FOI request.

He said there was “no question” errors occurred within his department about how it assisted the Minister’s office in processing an FOI request, directed to the Agriculture Minister.

“On all the facts that I am aware of, the officers concerned have acted to the best of their ability in good faith,” he said.

“They are all good public servants - in fact, they are excellent public servants - who have big futures ahead of them serving the government of the day.”

Dr Grimes said, unlike some departments, the Agriculture Department did not have the experience of managing a significant volume of FOI requests, “addressed solely and directly to the Minister”.

“It is in this specific area that errors have occurred and improvements will need to be made to our systems so that they function more effectively in the future,” he said.

PM's office requests

Another media report today on the tensions between Dr Grimes and Mr Joyce said the Prime Minister’s Department contacted Dr Grimes, “a number of times” after his Senate hearing request.

The Department said its position to not comment on individual leave arrangements hadn’t changed, despite Mr Fitzgibbon’s suggestion Dr Grimes may not return from leave.

It’s understood tensions between Dr Grimes and Mr Joyce have been strained since he was first appointed to replace Andrew Metcalfe shortly after the 2013 federal election.

Mr Joyce only learned of the snap move after it was announced by Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Dr Grimes was formerly Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities Secretary and is understood to clash with Mr Joyce over key philosophical views on environmental issues.

A request for comment and clarification has been sent to Mr Abbott’s office.

Other Coalition MPs contacted by Fairfax Media have declined to comment.

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


angry australian
12/03/2015 9:30:19 AM

Joel a government is reliant upon the Public Service to give "frank and honest" advice. It also relies on the PS to offer policies that are for the betterment of the nation.Arguably over the last 20 years DAFF has gone off the rails, forestry is struggling,fishing industry has been destroyed,sugar just hanging on and very few farmers are making good consistent profits.the only beneficiaries from our policies have been bureaucrats,researchers and bookkeepers! DAFF almost appears to be an extension of the Environment Dept. It need a complete new broom through the top hierarchy to promote growth.


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You had better check your sources ATB!
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I couldn't think of anything more painful or fruitless than sitting on a board that does not
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I've said this before but if farmers are not happy with their CBH Board they should put up or