Buswell crisis: Premier s full press conference
Buswell crisis: Premier's full press conference

Premier Colin Barnett revealed Treasurer Troy Buswell's resignation at a press conference today. This is the full transcript of that press conference.

Premier: Treasurer Troy Buswell rang me at home yesterday at about 4.30pm to tell me of his decision to resign immediately as a Cabinet minister and therefore as Treasurer and Minister for Transport.

I accepted his resignation and I must say that Troy, as a friend, I am very personally concerned, as I am sure everyone is, about his wellbeing.

I think it is fair, given that event, that I now take a few moments to retrace the events of the last two weeks.

Beginning on Sunday the 23rd of March (February), I was advised by my chief of staff that Troy Buswell would not be attending Cabinet on the following day and he also advised me that he had received that call from Troy Buswell’s chief of staff, who was obviously quite upset. The following day Troy’s chief of staff Rachael Turnseck came to see me privately, prior to the Cabinet meeting.

She advised me that Troy had had a breakdown, that he was not in good shape, very emotional, very upset and that he was in medical care.

Buswell resigns - Full Coverage

She also advised me that Troy had requested privacy and I think that’s the view of those close to him, that he needed that privacy from the condition he was going through.

Accordingly, his leave was, I think quite appropriately, described as personal leave and I called on people to respect his request for privacy.

Therefore, I did not inform Cabinet nor the Liberal Party room of what I knew of his health condition.

At that stage, I must say, I did not know a great deal about it.

I did share the information I’d received with Kim Hames, as Deputy Premier and obviously as a medical practitioner.

By about the middle of the week I became aware that Troy had been admitted to hospital in Perth and then was transferred to a clinic in Sydney.

He has spent over a week in hospital. He is no longer in hospital.

By that stage it was obvious that his absence was going to be more than just a few days.

Accordingly, on Friday afternoon I took the necessary steps to formally take over the role as acting Treasurer and acting Transport Minister.

You will recall then there was a long weekend. On the Tuesday at Cabinet, I advised Cabinet that Troy’s absence was health related and that I would be acting in his place for two weeks.

After that, I was under the expectation that Troy would return to work.

I guess that’s where it was and again I appealed to my colleagues in Parliament and to the media to respect Troy’s privacy, which you did and I thank you for that.

The events of yesterday relating to the driving incident, if you like, and damage to a government vehicle – I became aware of that at about 2pm yesterday.

I was aware that there had been information supplied to the police of erratic driving and also that there was some damage to the vehicle.

As I said at the beginning, Troy rang me. He had tried to contact me earlier in the day but he finally made contact at about 4.30 and explained the situation.

He was extremely remorseful. He said to me he had already made the decision to resign from Cabinet because of his health.

With respect to what happened in the early hours of that Sunday morning, he said he didn’t have much recollection, not denying anything at all, making no excuses and could offer no reasonable explanation for what had happened.

It is clear that Troy is still not in a good place, again very emotional, very upset, very apologetic. As I say, he had taken the decision, which he informed me of to resign immediately as a Cabinet minister.

I accepted, obviously, that decision. What happens now? I will be sworn in as Treasurer and Transport Minister. That is just simply a temporary arrangement and during the course of this week, maybe by the end of the week, there will be a new appointment to Cabinet and I will endeavour to ensure that any changes to portfolios are kept to an absolute minimum.

When you first became aware of the car incident yesterday afternoon, was that from Troy Buswell or was that from elsewhere?

No, it was from a member of my staff and the message was that Troy wanted to speak to me. I was driving or about to be driving back so it was a little bit later, but he had tried to contact me earlier in the day. The first real opportunity was around 4.30.

Reporter: How do you feel that he didn’t tell you about this incident earlier?

Well, I suppose I could say disappointed, but I think we have to bear in mind that Troy was in a serious state of poor health and in hospital for most of that two weeks. I think he spent up to about 10 days in hospital both here and in Sydney and he was under obviously medical treatment. He is still under medical treatment today.

Have you made any inquiries or will you make any inquiries about whether anyone else in government knew of the events at any time after February 23rd?

I am not sure that anyone did know of those events. Certainly I can say that I didn’t, the Police Minister did not, no one in my office was aware. Whether people in Troy’s family or those close, I don’t know.

Has the Police Minister told you that she wasn’t aware, because I understand matters like that and particularly serious ones are typically brought to the notice of the Minister?

As I understand it, a member of the public had informed the police of erratic driving and therefore a police report was made. I don’t know when that became known to senior police officers, in particular the Police Commissioner, but what I can tell you is that my first knowledge of anything relating to the vehicle or erratic driving was at about 2pm yesterday. The Police Minister became aware at about the same time, but independently, and it is normal protocol that if a matter reaches senior police about an incident involving a member of Parliament, usually the Premier of the day will be advised and the Police Minister. That happens through their heads of department.

Will you make attempts to see if the attending police officers knew that it was Mr Buswell’s address that they were attending and whether they passed that information up the chain of command?

That is a matter for the police and if the police pursue this in any way, that is entirely a decision of the police to act independently on that. My concern now is obviously for Troy’s welfare. I think it’s a very sad day and it’s a sad situation that he finds himself in. And again, while I understand the significance of today’s events, I again would ask that you respect his privacy and respect the fact that he is under medical care.

Premier, are you saying that his health issues are related to the drink-driving incident?

I am not qualified to answer that. I only spoke to Troy yesterday. I, like everyone else, was respecting his privacy and I don’t think it’s a proper thing or a competent thing for me to comment on his health condition.

Can you elaborate on what the condition is though?

Troy said that he’d crashed into a gate at his house and that there was some damage to the car. I don’t know anything more than that. He had a breakdown and from the little knowledge I had initially, I assumed that might be a relatively short-term phenomenon. It was only later in that first week when I learned that he had been admitted to hospital that I realised this was a more serious situation than I had originally thought and therefore I put in place the acting arrangements.

On the morning of the 24th when Ms Turnseck came to see you before Cabinet, did she know at that time that Troy had been in the traffic accident?

I am not aware of that and certainly no comment along those lines were made. She was obviously very upset herself and I think had done a great deal, and continues to, to support Troy and assist him through that. The knowledge of the accident, if you like, I don’t know who knew about that but the first knowledge, certainly within my office and within government generally was yesterday.

If she knew about that, did she have an obligation to tell you or Mr Conran?

Premier Colin Barnett leaves the press conference. Picture: Steve Ferrier/The West Australian

I think her concern was for Troy’s welfare and indeed she was doing exactly the right thing in trying to look after Troy. I think you all know some of the history, so Troy didn’t have a lot of people around him, and Rachael was doing everything she could.

In that discussion, what questions did you ask of Ms Turnseck to establish exactly what had led up to Mr Buswell’s breakdown?

I didn’t ask questions as such. Rachel Turnseck came to see me, obviously very upset herself, and I think about 8.30 or so on that morning and told me that Troy had a breakdown, asked that I keep that private, which I did. No one in my office knew for a couple of days. And at that stage I certainly didn’t understand how serious that may have been and probably no one did at that point. He was about to have some medical care.

Premier, were you not curious about the circumstances of the breakdown?

I wasn’t curious as such. Troy is a friend. My concern was his welfare and that he was getting good care and I hope would make a rapid recovery. I think it’s well known he had been at a private event the night before and the following morning he had a breakdown. I don’t know the intricacies of that and while I spoke to Troy on the phone for probably 10 or 15 minutes last night, I didn’t go into that detail.

Premier, did you not ask a single question about the circumstance?

Well, I knew Troy had been out the night before and I knew he had had a breakdown, as that is what I was told. My concern was for his care and his welfare and I guess, if there was a subsequent concern, my mind was going through, well, how do we manage this in terms of government? We are in the middle of a Budget cycle and so on. But uh, no, look I wasn’t prying into the particularly circumstances.

To what extent are these mental issues a mitigating factor in the car accident?

I don’t know and I’m just not in a position to answer that. All I really know, and I accept, and I’m not hiding from this, all I know is what’s basically been reported in the media. My first knowledge was yesterday.

Is it possible to separate those two issues though, or in your view are they intrinsically linked?

Troy stressed to me last night he is making no excuses whatsoever. He repeated that several times and he can provide no logical explanation for his behaviour.

He’s booked off on leave after having a crash, which he must have woke up in the morning and realised was a very serious thing. He’s taken himself off the scene, hoping that it’s all going to blow over?

With respect Geoff, he’s had I think 10 days in hospital. It has only been a two-week period so he has been in care and in hospital throughout that period and not in a good state.

Is Mr Buswell going to be OK?

I am sure he will and I think, as he said, he’s got a lot of issues to deal with but I am confident and hopeful that Troy will make a full recovery but it is going to take some time. What I thought might be a few days is obviously going to be weeks.

Given this man’s history, wasn’t this always going to happen?

I can understand why you might ask the question but, you know, Troy’s had a turbulent career, he’s had a lot of issues in his life and, tragically, maybe it all just became too much.

You’ve given him so many chances over the years, it seems inevitable that it was going to come to this point?

Well I don’t accept your summation or suggestion, but yes I have been supportive of Troy. I think Troy is a brilliant person and has got an enormous capacity for work and an enormous capacity to understand and solve difficult issues, so yes I have put my faith in Troy and yeah, there have been some issues during his time in Parliament. No, I don’t regret it but it has got the point now…

In your view Premier, is a future in politics and in the spotlight, a further in public life, good for Mr Buswell, considering his now mental issues?

I don’t think my view matters. I am doing what I have to do as Premier. I care for Troy as a friend, I hope he makes a recovery, so I’m not qualified in this area, but I think we can all observe that people in high-profile positions, whether it be sport or the arts or politics are vulnerable. This is not a criticism of media or of anyone else but if you are in a public position you are under scrutiny continuously. I guess if someone is prone to depression or whatever it might be, that may bring it on, but that’s just my opinion as the layperson.

Is Mr Buswell receiving treatment for depression?

Look, I don’t know the details. He’s had a breakdown. He’s been hospitalised for 10 days. He’s still under treatment and he’s facing up to the reality and he’s working on making a full recovery.

He’s just resigned from the Ministry, not as a backbencher at this stage?

That’s correct. He’s resigned as a Cabinet minister. He is still the member for Vasse. I’d like to thank the people of Vasse because with some of the issues that Troy’s had over the years, his local community have been good friends to him and very supportive.

Have you advised him about whether he should actually stay in politics at all at this stage?

We haven’t discussed that and I hope he does. But I think at the moment his concentration quite properly is on his health.

Did you ask the Police Minister if she was told by the Police Commissioner about the crash?

Knowing that this issue was around today, I did ask the Police Minister when she was informed and as I said I think it was about the same time I was, yesterday, early in the afternoon.

Just on the police, when they confirmed yesterday that police had followed up and gone to the house after the incident had been reported that they would give no other details. Are you concerned about what they did or didn’t do?

That is a matter for the Police Commissioner in an operational sense. It is not a matter for myself or the Police Minister. The accident, as I understand it, was driving into a gate at the house, causing damage to the car. I simply do not know, I have not read any reports, I won’t be reading any reports. If there is any further action taken, that would be at the discretion of the police.

Hasn't there been a discussion at all about another car being involved? There was a report.

I just don’t know. I only know basically what has been reported. I know the car has been damaged. I don’t think it’s massive damage, but there’s some damage to the car. I don’t know those details, but there’s damage to the car. Troy is not in any way denying that. He’s not denying it in any sense whatsoever.

Premier, how big a blow to the Budget preparations is this?

Obviously, Troy, as Treasurer, is the key, but the Budget is going smoothly. I’ve chaired the last two EERC meetings. Other ministers are stepping up to the mark and probably putting in a bigger effort than maybe they have previously and fortunately I’ve got Mike Nahan as Finance Minister to assist.

The way that this was handled and the way the incident has come about, do you think it has been embarrassing for the government?

No. I think it has been courteous and respectful and proper.

Did you have any indication at all that he was headed towards this?

No, not specifically at this time. Troy’s an emotional person and I think we all know he’s been through some extraordinary circumstances and he does show his emotion. He wears his heart on his sleeve.

Do you think the incident was the trigger for his breakdown?

I’m not in a position to speculate.

Why did you assume he would be back so soon? If you had been told that he’d had a breakdown and been told that he’d been in hospital, why last week?

At that stage I did not know that he was in hospital. At that stage, yes, I was still respecting his privacy, but once I knew he was in hospital, clearly it was more serious than maybe I originally thought it was and at that stage for legal reasons I just had to, basically for legal reasons, take over as acting minister.

You said last week you’d been aware of Mr Buswell’s condition for some time, what did you mean by that?

Some time maybe implies a longer length of time. When I said that it was personal leave, and it was, and that he was entitled to his privacy there were some suggestions around that I didn’t know that he was unwell. I just wanted to make it clear I knew that he had had a breakdown on the Monday morning following that Sunday, so what I was implying that I knew that it was a health matter throughout the period but I was respecting his request for privacy, which we did and which you did – and I appreciate that – but it obviously got to the point where that was no longer possible.

Premier, if the witness hadn’t have come forward of his own volition to 7 News and The West Australian over the weekend, would the public have ever known about the details of Mr Buswell’s driving accident?

Well, the car would have needed repair and I imagine at some stage there would have been a report, probably to me, about a damaged car. You must concede that that report would not have contained all the inappropriate driving, swerving up and down Roberts Road in that report?

That may well be the case but I think a damaged car, it’s a government vehicle, it’s a ministerial vehicle that’s seriously damaged, there would have been a report on that.

Premier, do you believe that you asked all the reasonable questions, did everything you could to satisfy yourself of the facts around this? Or was there an element of not asking too much so you didn’t get too many answers?

No, Gareth. And, again, serious issue as we stand here today, going back two weeks I was told a Minister, who had a few issues along the way, had had a breakdown. I assumed that was, people do break down in various circumstances, I assumed that was probably something he’d get over hopefully in the next few days. And indeed, that was the level of knowledge I had. It was only as I became aware he had been admitted to hospital, which I knew was a possibility, but when I became aware he was admitted to hospital and that it would be more than just a day that I realised…

That’s a pretty bad understanding of mental health if you thought he was going to get over a breakdown in a couple of days.

Well sorry, choose your words in different ways please.

Given your parliamentary experience, do you really believe that no one else in government knew about this for two weeks?

I don’t know who Troy may have spoken to. As I say, certainly no one in Cabinet, no one in my office had any knowledge and in fact for two days not even my chief of staff.

And so you are not aware if his chief of staff was aware of the crash?

No I’m not.

Are you satisfied Premier that the plee for privacy wasn’t part of the plan to cover this up?

Look, I’m not into conspiracies. Troy was in a bad way, he’s resigned from Cabinet. My only concern now is his health.

Premier, can I ask you to reflect on his contributions to the Cabinet and also on how the government will deal with his absence going forward?

Troy’s an outstanding minister. He’s been controversial from time to time but no one can doubt his intellect, no one can doubt his capacity for hard work and, as I said before, no one can doubt his ability to grapple with some of the most difficult and complex issues. He is a brilliant person. Unfortunately, he has also got a serious health issue.

In terms of the reshuffle, is it likely some first termers might see a meteoric promotion?

Anything’s possible but the changes will be kept to a minimum. A new minister will be appointed. How Troy’s portfolios are allocated, I am giving some thought to now.

Are you inclined to keep Treasury?

It’s a possibility but I haven’t made a decision.

Do you have a timeline in which you’d like to make a decision around the reallocation?

Given the Budget process, a decision on a new minister and any changes in portfolio will need to be made by the end of this week.

Is there any scenario in which it is not either you or Mike Nahan as Treasurer going forward?

I’m not going to speculate.

Was there any indication that Mr Buswell was heading towards a breakdown? Do you think he was under too much pressure with the portfolios he was handling?

I think Troy was more than capable of handling his portfolios but I think there’s been a fair bit going on in the rest of his life and I’d say that is a factor. I don’t think it was related to work stress or overwork. He is an extremely competent person.

Did you have any knowledge of a history of mental illness, of depression? Had he ever mentioned it?

No. I’m not going into those discussions. I think it’s fair to say that people close to Troy recognise that he was a vulnerable person in that sense.

Could anyone have done anything differently, government media, public, to avoid this situation?

I don’t think from the moment Troy had that breakdown, as I understand it on Sunday morning, I don’t think anything should have been done differently than it has been done. And I can understand frustration, maybe even suspicion, within media that something was being covered up, and yes to some extent it was – I honoured and protected Troy’s privacy during those early days.

So to be clear on that statement, to the extent that anything was covered up, it was Troy’s health condition for the reasons of respecting his privacy and anything to do with the car crash, you are saying that no one knew about it?

As I said, the first I knew about that was 2 o’clock yesterday.

When you got that call at 2 o’clock yesterday, what was your reaction?

The call was from a member of my staff to tell me that Troy wanted to speak to me and to tell me that there was some damage to his car, which I took to be quite light damage, and I don’t know how severe the damage is. I was about to be driving so I arranged for him to call me a bit later, which he did about 4.30.

You said he had no recollection? Has he admitted that he was under the influence?

He’s still not in a good place and Troy made the comments to me that he made no excuses, so there was no denial at all, no excuses, but he could not provide any sort of adequate explanation as to what had happened and how it happened. But he was certainly not trying to excuse himself in any way whatsoever.

You said he had already decided to resign because of health issues?

He told me he had made the decision to step down from Cabinet prior to the public knowledge about the driving.

Do you know how long previous to the matter becoming public that he made the decision?

No I don’t, Geoff.

Do you still expect him to return to Parliament as a backbencher this week?

It certainly won’t be this week and I suggest it might be some time, but I do expect him to return to Parliament and indeed he indicated a desire to get back to work.

When your staff member called you at 2 o’clock was that the first your office had heard of this?

I think my office became aware around the middle of the day.

Is Mr Buswell still receiving medical treatment?

Yes, he is under medical treatment. He is not in hospital but he is still receiving medical treatment.

Is he in WA now?

Yes, he is.

Premier, did you press Mr Buswell for an explanation when he called or did you just listen as he talked?

We primarily spoke about how he was feeling and he was just very remorseful about what had happened, still in very delicate state, quite emotional on the phone, upset on the phone and I don’t know why, but I think he felt he’d let me down. I don’t see it that way at all but he was certainly feeling that.

You really think he hasn’t let you down?

This is a health matter. No one would wish to go through what he’s obviously going through.

In terms of his performance and his erratic behaviour, surely he’s let you down?

I don’t see it that way.

If charges stem from the car crash, would you still be comfortable with him sitting in Parliament?

It is a hypothetical and if anything further happens, that is a matter for the police.

Just to clarify, you believe he’s not in a position to run the State’s finances but he can still operate in terms of representing his constituents?

He has resigned from Cabinet, that’s the correct decision, and I accept that at the end of the discussion, but I don’t think we should jump to conclusions and if the police decide to pursue it, that’s up to them, and the consequences will be what they will be. No charges have been laid, there’s damage to the vehicle and he’s resigned.

Has the government’s capacity to govern been diminished by this affair?

Troy’s a loss – no doubt about it. He’s a key member of the government. But I’ve been around a long time and when something like this happens, invariably, someone steps up. There’s a significant number of members of the Liberal-National Party and, sadly I guess, someone will get an opportunity out of this.

Can you reflect on the fact that the next generation down from you, the cream of conservative leadership, Brendon Grylls, Christian Porter and now Mr Buswell are not all gone from the Ministry?

Well obviously Christian’s definitely gone. With respect to Brendon, I would hope at some stage that he returns into a Cabinet position. When that will be, I don’t know. Troy I think it’s a matter of his health and what he decides his future is.

The West Australian

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