‘Error of judgment’: Assistant treasurer admits failure to disclose bank shares

Victoria’s Assistant Treasurer Danny Pearson has admitted to an “error of judgment” for not disclosing shares he held in the Commonwealth Bank when he announced a banking and financial services panel for the state.

Pearson on Tuesday apologised for what he described as a “potential for a perception of a conflict of interest,” but maintained he was not the decision maker in a 2021 process that awarded the bank a multi-million dollar contract.

Victorian cabinet minister Danny Pearson in Melbourne.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

In a statement released on Tuesday, Pearson denied wrongdoing and said he would place all of his shareholdings in a blind trust.

Pearson announced a banking and financial services contract to the Commonwealth Bank, Westpac and NAB in 2021, believed to be worth around $120 million a year.

“The process was run by senior independent public servants and there was a probity auditor engaged throughout who signed off on the process,” he said.

“I noted the outcome of the tender once it had been determined by the Department of Treasury and Finance.”

“Despite this, I accept that it was an error of judgment to not recognise and manage the potential for a perception of conflict of interest and I unreservedly apologise for this oversight.”

Premier Daniel Andrews said putting the shares into a blind trust was the appropriate thing to do.

“It’s very rare, if at all, that a minister would be directly involved in assessing bids and assessing proposals and in determining who was the winner of a competitive process,” he said. “I think the minister’s statement goes to that, [and] makes it very clear what occurred in this instance.”

When asked why it was not mandatory for ministers to put shareholdings in blind trusts, Andrews said there was an assumption it had already taken place.

Federal ministers were ordered to sell off shareholdings and divest from blind trust arrangements in July 2022, following a new code of conduct implemented by prime minister Anthony Albanese.

The move came after former attorney-general Christian Porter’s use of a blind trust, which received funding for a defamation action against the ABC via donors whose identities were not made public.

State ministers are not bound by the same code of conduct.

According to Pearson, he held the shares for more than a decade – before his arrival as a member of Parliament in 2014 – which was why they were not already in a blind trust.

He added that when he announced the banking panel contract in August 2021, it was not him signing off on it, but an acknowledgment of the decision instead.

Pearson said it did not occur to him that he held those shares at the time of the announcement.

Opposition finance spokeswoman Jess Wilson said Pearson’s role as assistant treasurer meant he had “direct” responsibility for the financial management of the state.

“He has questions to answer in terms of how he was involved in this situation … he is the assistant treasurer and has responsibility for making these decisions,” she said.

Shadow Treasurer Brad Rowswell said Pearson’s role as minister for government services meant he should be held to a higher degree than other politicians.

“Any number of times he has stood in this very spot, holier than thou, pontificating about what is right and what is wrong in his opinion. And today, the bloke’s been effectively caught with his hand in the cookie jar,” Rowswell said.

The discovery of Pearson’s shareholding follows the resignation of NSW finance minister and leader of the government in the Legislative Council Damien Tudehope, who quit just hours after confirming he held shares in Transurban, which owns the majority of tolling concessions across Sydney, including WestConnex, NorthConnex and the M2.

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