Tuesday, 9 October 2012
That so much of standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition from moving the following motion forthwith—That, as provided for by section 35 of the Constitution, the Speaker be removed from office immediately.
This is obviously a rare and unusual step that I take the start of question time today. But it is a necessary step. It is necessary that this parliament now suspend standing and sessional orders and consider the removal of the Speaker from the high office that he currently holds.
Mr Danby interjecting—
It is clear that this Speaker is no longer a fit and proper person to uphold the dignity of the parliament. It is clear that he is no longer a fit and proper person to uphold the standing orders of this House. This Speaker is disqualified from high office not by the fact of the legal action currently on foot against him but by the undenied, uncontradicted facts that have emerged in the course of this case.
First, there are the truly gross references to female genitalia. I regret to speak in this way to this House, but it is necessary to prosecute this matter.
Mr Dreyfus interjecting—
This is the vile and anatomically specific language to which this Speaker appears to be addicted. Finally—and no less importantly—there is the clear bias on the face of the record shown by the Speaker against a member of this chamber whom he had expelled that day.
Standing orders must be suspended because this Speaker has failed the character test. Standing orders must also be suspended because, I regret to say, not only has the Speaker failed the character test but also the Prime Minister has failed the judgement test. That is why standing orders should be suspended. This prime minister failed the judgement test when it came to the member for Dobell. Now she has failed the judgement test when it comes to the Speaker of this parliament. For months and years this Prime Minister ran a protection racket for the member for Dobell. Please let us not have the same protection racket run for the benefit of the current Speaker of this parliament.
Let us be clear exactly what happened in this place last November. Last November—and this is why standing orders must be suspended—the Prime Minister did a squalid deal to boost her numbers in this parliament. She knew that the government was about to lose the support of the member for Denison.
Deputy Leader of the Opposition—
Ms Julie Bishop interjecting—
Yes, I know. We are in new territory. We are going to go back. The suspension will not proceed. We will go back to the original seeking of leave. We will start the clocks again. The Leader of the Opposition will have the opportunity to begin his remarks as if leave had been granted. The Leader of the Opposition has the call.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I move:
That, as provided for by section 35 of the Constitution, the Speaker be removed from office immediately.
At the risk of detaining the House in a repetitive way, let me say that it is absolutely crystal clear that the Speaker is no longer a fit and proper person to uphold the dignity of this parliament and is no longer a fit and proper person to uphold and protect the standing orders of this House. I say that the Speaker is not disqualified by the mere fact of a legal action against him—that can befall any member of this House and of itself should not be a disqualification from high office. What must nevertheless be held against the Speaker of this parliament are the undenied, uncontradicted facts that have emerged, and that continue to emerge, in the course of the case currently on foot against him. At the risk of dismaying this chamber, at the risk of dismaying the public, I must allude—and I only allude—to the gross references to female genitalia which are contained in the uncontradicted, undenied evidence before the court about the conduct of this Speaker. I must allude to the vile anatomical references to which this Speaker appears to be addicted in his text messaging.
There is the clear bias in undenied, uncontradicted evidence before a court against a member of this House by someone who is charged to act without fear or favour, by someone who is charged to act impartially towards all members of this House, by someone who is charged with the upholding of the standing orders of this House without fear or favour, against or in favour of any single member. Be you the newest member, be you the father of the House, the Speaker is charged with upholding the standing orders impartially for and against all members of this parliament, and on the face of the uncontradicted, undenied evidence before a court this Speaker cannot do that. This Speaker has not done that. That is why this particular Speaker is no longer a fit and proper person to be the Speaker of this House.
But it is not just the Speaker who has failed the character test. It is indeed this Prime Minister who has failed the judgement test. This Prime Minister hand-picked the current Speaker for the top job of this parliament. This Prime Minister orchestrated the resignation of the former Speaker, the member for Scullin, a man of undoubted character, a man of undoubted quality and a man of undoubted impartiality in the conduct of this chamber. Does anyone think for a second that the member for Scullin, the former Speaker of the parliament—a man who loved this parliament, who loved the speakership as he loved his life—would have resigned to spend more time with his colleagues in the caucus? Ask the member for Banks what caucus is like these days. Does anyone think that the member for Scullin really resigned to spend time with members of the caucus? Clearly the member for Scullin resigned the speakership because he had been instructed by the Prime Minister, a Prime Minister who engaged and who masterminded a squalid deal to shore up her numbers in the parliament. And mark my words, Madam Deputy Speaker, what we will shortly see from this Prime Minister and ministers in this government is a defence of the indefensible, an attempt to say that someone who has clearly failed the character test is worthy of sitting in the greatest chair of this parliament. I say to this Prime Minister: just as the Speaker has failed the character test, you, Prime Minister, are about to fail the judgement test. And every day that you, Prime Minister, run a protection racket for the current Speaker, just as you ran for months and years a protection racket for the member for Dobell, you indicate your unfitness for high office as well.
Last November, when the Prime Minister feared she was about to lose the support of the member for Denison because she knew she would not be able to deliver on her poker machine pledge, she cooked up this deal. She knew she was about to lose the support of the member for Denison. She feared she was about to lose the support in the parliament of the member for Dobell. She was apprehensive then, as always, about the actions of the former Prime Minister, the member for Griffith, so, in conjunction with the Leader of the House, the member for Grayndler, she dreamt up this brilliant political wheeze. She dreamt up this brilliant political tactic. Never mind if it involved the political assassination of a well-respected Speaker of this parliament; she knew that she could rely then, as always, on the Sussex Street death squads, which had already dispatched one Prime Minister, to deal with the Speaker of this parliament. Never mind that the squalid deal that the Prime Minister cooked up last November involved placing in the chair of this parliament someone whom her own government was investigating for misuse of entitlements; all that mattered to this Prime Minister last November, when this brilliant piece of political manoeuvring was being dreamt up, was buttressing her position in the parliament. That is all that ever matters to this Prime Minister—her own survival in this parliament.
What is now absolutely apparent is that, while members on this side of the House were attempting to manoeuvre the Speaker out of the parliament, the Prime Minister and members on the other side of the parliament were giving him the biggest job in this parliament, apart from the prime ministership itself. In the process of managing the Speaker, not out of the parliament but into the speakership, this Prime Minister dudded a good Labor man who had done nothing—nothing at all—but discharge the duties of the speakership in a fair and impartial manner, but it was not sufficiently partial to satisfy the Prime Minister and the leader of this House.
Let us be absolutely crystal clear about the situation in this parliament right now. This Speaker is this Prime Minister's creation. This Speaker's actions are this Prime Minister's responsibility and this Speaker's standards perforce are this Prime Minister's standards unless she has the responsibility and the decency to remove this Speaker from his high office. We know, because we have been observing this Prime Minister now for a long time in this parliament, that 'sorry' is the one word she cannot say. We know 'I was wrong' is the one statement that she cannot make. Well, I say to this Prime Minister: please, for the sake of this parliament, for the sake of this country, for the sake of ordinary standards of decency, admit that you got it wrong when you engineered the member for Fisher into the Speaker's chair and just say, 'Sorry'. Just apologise to this parliament for the travesty that you inflicted on us in November last year.
As things stand, this whole sorry Slipper saga illustrates the ethical bankruptcy of this government. We have had minister after minister just about knocking over the microphones to stand up for this Speaker. We have had minister after minister tripping over themselves to defend this Speaker. We had the Minister for Foreign Affairs describing the accuser of the Speaker as 'more rehearsed than a kabuki actor'. We had the Leader of the House saying that anyone who criticised the current Speaker was guilty of engaging in the politics of personal destruction. We even had the Leader of the House compare court action against the current Speaker to Watergate. What sense of standard, what sense of proportion, what sense of perspective do these people have?
Worst of all, we had the one person in this House most charged with respecting due process, with respecting the ordinary processes of the courts, the first law officer of the Crown, the first law officer of this country—the Attorney-General herself—who went out in public again and again to say that those who were engaged in prosecuting this Speaker were somehow guilty of an abuse of process. She did not say it once—it was not a slip of the tongue in the heat of the moment—she went out and said it deliberately, cold-bloodedly and calculatedly again and again and again. It is interesting, isn't it, that the Prime Minister is now saying, 'Oh, I couldn't possibly comment on something which is before the courts. Oh, no, not me. Not me—upholder of standards, upholder of decency, always wanting to give someone a fair go.' Oh, yeah! This is what the Attorney-General said when picked up on the fact that she was prejudging a matter before the courts:
I think it's unrealistic given the public interest in this matter that there will not be commentary.
And wasn't there commentary! There was comment after comment. There was defamation after defamation of someone whose only fault was seeking to assert his rights at law against the Speaker of this parliament.
But what has happened since more has been revealed about the real character, the real nature, of the individual who holds the highest job that this parliament can bestow upon anyone? The Attorney-General has now taken the vows of a Trappist monk. The Attorney-General has now taken the vow of silence on this matter that the Prime Minister is now going to attempt to take. It is total, total hypocrisy. This is a government which is only too ready to detect sexism—to detect misogyny, no less—until they find it in one of their own supporters, until they find it in someone upon whom this Prime Minister relies to survive in her job. Then, of course, no fault can possibly be found—no evil dare be spoken. Well, the Australian public are not mugs. They know what is going on here; they know that this government is about to run a protection racket for something, which is absolutely contemptible for attitudes and values, which are absolutely and utterly indefensible.
Not only has the Prime Minister failed the judgement test, not only has the government failed the standards test, but this Attorney-General has failed the honour test. She has dishonourably failed to defend the ordinary judicial process of this country. Not only has the Attorney-General failed to defend judicial process, she has been the chief defender of the Speaker himself. She has been running his defence rather than defending the courts and the justice process of our country.
It is no accident that the member for Banks has today resigned as chairman of the government caucus. It is no accident that he has resigned today, because the member for Banks must be only too well aware of the fact that, back in November last year, it was he who was forced to nominate the current Speaker for the position that he now holds. It was the member for Banks who was forced by this government to endure 10 minutes of infamy, while he stood in this place to assert the virtues of the member for Fisher. He knew it was wrong then, he has known that it has been wrong every day since then, it has obviously been hanging on his conscience and now he has resigned. The member for Melbourne Ports also asserted the honour of the member for Fisher—an assertion that he knew then and has known every day since to be simply false. So far, the only honourable man opposite in this matter has been the member for Banks. I commend him for that.
I know that the Prime Minister is in a difficult position today. She has already lost her caucus chairman, she is fighting to avoid losing her Speaker and what she is frightened of ultimately losing is also the support of her caucus. Just as she has lost the caucus chairman, she will lose her Speaker—and I suspect she will shortly lose the caucus, because what this Prime Minister has done is shame this parliament. Should she now rise in this place to try to defend the Speaker, to say that she retains confidence in the Speaker, she will shame this parliament again. And every day the Prime Minister stands in this parliament to defend this Speaker will be another day of shame for this parliament and another day of shame for a government which should have already died of shame. The member for Fisher should never have been a Speaker in this parliament; he should not have been made Speaker last November and he should not be Speaker now.
Let me simply remind the Prime Minister, whom I presume is about to rise to her feet in this parliament and defend her personal selection of the member for Fisher as Speaker of this place, that on 24 November last year she said of the Speaker that he had shown 'a fierce sense of balance and appropriateness'. This Prime Minister thinks that this Speaker is a man of appropriate judgement. What this Prime Minister now needs to do is defend the conduct, the character and the words of this Speaker.
Ms Macklin interjecting—
I hear an accusation: 'How long was he in our party room?' We were trying to get him out of our party room and what did members opposite do? They put him into the biggest job in parliament. The Speaker is this Prime Minister's property. The Prime Minister owns this Speaker and, every day the Prime Minister stands in this parliament to defend him, the bonds between them will be closer. This Prime Minister should be ashamed of herself, she should be ashamed of her choice, she should be ashamed of her judgement and she should be ashamed of the fact that she is now having to defend the indefensible. This Speaker should be gone, and he should be gone today.
It is with a heavy heart that I rise to speak on this motion, for it represents a dark and ugly and shameful episode in this parliament. The Prime Minister's choice of Speaker was the member for Fisher. But this motion must be moved because his occupancy of the Speaker's role is no longer tenable. When this House votes to elect a Speaker, a heavy responsibility falls upon the shoulders of the person privileged to take that role—a responsibility to the House, a responsibility to the parliament and a responsibility to the Australian people. It is among the greatest honours in our parliamentary system to be chosen by peers to hold the most important office in this chamber. It is enshrined, no less, in section 35 of the Constitution:
The House of Representatives shall, before proceeding to the despatch of any other business, choose a member to be the Speaker of the House …
This means that the parliament cannot function without first electing a Speaker to preside over the workings of the House. The role of the Speaker rests upon 800 years of tradition, harking back to the early genesis of our parliamentary system in England. All nations that have adopted the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy have a Speaker, playing a critical role as an impartial judge, whose foremost duty is to uphold the dignity of the House, to enforce standards of behaviour and to represent the House and the parliament in the traditional and ceremonial roles that are required of the Speaker. The Speaker's role in the Westminster system has been described thus:
The office of the Speaker occupies a pivotal position in our parliamentary democracy. It has been said of the office of the Speaker that while the members of Parliament represent the individual constituencies, the Speaker represents the full authority of the House itself … symbolises the dignity and power of the House over which … presiding. Therefore, it is expected that the holder of this office of high dignity has to be one who can represent the House in all its manifestations.
The Speaker can only function if he or she commands the respect of the House. In terms of upholding standards, the authority of the Speaker can only be effective if the Speaker has the respect of members.
While the parliamentary authority of the Speaker cannot be challenged, it can be undermined by the conduct of the person who occupies the chair. While I do not presume to speak for all of my female colleagues on either side of the chamber, I would personally struggle to show appropriate respect for the Speaker should the member for Fisher return to the role of presiding over question time. How the women in this House can be expected to show respect to the Speaker when we are now aware of the views that he holds of women is beyond comprehension. The published remarks of the member for Fisher have been read into evidence in a court case. They are uncontested, they are available to the public, they are on a website and they are reported in the media; they are not sub judice.
There has been running commentary on the case involving the member for Fisher and one of his staffers. That running commentary has come from no less a person than the Attorney-General, the first law officer of the land. For the first law officer to think it is appropriate to intervene in proceedings to protect the member for Fisher against a case calls into question her fitness for office. There are legitimate questions being directed to the Attorney-General about why she would intervene in those proceedings to provide special privileges for the member for Fisher that were not afforded to the other litigants in the proceedings. Indeed, the judge in these proceedings has given what I think is an unprecedented statement about the Attorney-General's failure to uphold the dignity of the court, for that is the first duty of the Attorney-General of this country.
These remarks of the member for Fisher that were read into the court transcript, that are uncontested, that are now on the public record, are offensive. Many of them are obscenely offensive and what female Labor members would describe as sexist and misogynist if anyone else had uttered them. One comment maliciously attacked a serving female member of parliament while the member for Fisher was occupying the chair as Speaker. It was a malicious, vicious comment showing the partial nature of the member for Fisher's role as Speaker. It was not impartial; it was impolite, it was obscene and it makes it untenable for the member for Fisher to occupy the position of Speaker. His attitude to women as revealed in these remarks that are now public is entirely, absolutely and utterly incompatible with what is expected of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. We do not need to see the outcome of the court case. We do not need to hide behind the fig leaf of sub judice. These comments are public. The public are judging this House and the actions we will take in relation to them.
This is also a very serious test for the Prime Minister and her leadership, because it was the Prime Minister who sanctioned the political deal with the member for Fisher that elevated him to the position of Speaker. The deal was done to allow the Prime Minister to break her written commitment to the member for Denison on gambling reform. I am sure the member for Denison has not forgotten that betrayal. The deal involved the removal of the member for Scullin from the speakership, a man who had conducted himself and the affairs of the House with enormous dignity. He had earned the respect of all members. Indeed, I recall at one point the Leader of the Opposition intervening when there was a question about confidence in the Speaker. The Leader of the Opposition intervened when members opposite did not to assure the Speaker, the member for Scullin, that he had our support. The member for Scullin is a decent man, an honourable man. Could anyone in this chamber imagine the member for Scullin making the remarks about women that have been made by the member for Fisher, the Prime Minister's choice for Speaker?
The Prime Minister must show leadership on this issue and acknowledge that the member for Fisher was her choice of Speaker. It was a grave error of judgement. There were very serious and deep reservations held about the member for Fisher before he was elevated to the position of Speaker. The Manager of Opposition Business moved that any number of Labor members be appointed to the position of Speaker—I am reminded that he nominated nine Labor members to be Speaker—yet every time the Manager of Opposition Business moved that another Labor member be appointed as the Speaker the government voted against it. On nine occasions we tried to inform the government that it was a grave error of judgement to appoint the member for Fisher but, because he was part of that grubby political deal, the Prime Minister went ahead and said, 'Damn the consequences.'
Sadly, the potential for this grubby political deal to drag down the reputation of the parliament has now been realised. The member for Fisher is still the Speaker, as Madam Deputy Speaker well knows. He still commands the salary. He is still carrying on the business of the Speaker behind the scenes. He just does not turn up for question time. This is all part of the ruse to enable the government to say he has stepped aside. He has not stepped aside. He is still the Speaker. He does not turn up for the public viewing of question time, but in every other respect, sadly, he is the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Yes, the member for Fisher has been embroiled in a court case, a sexual harassment case brought by one of his staffers. It is in the course of that case that this evidence has come to light—and this is uncontradicted evidence. The member for Fisher has not denied it. He has not claimed it was fake. It is entirely and absolutely uncontested evidence, accepted by the court as evidence, as any lawyer would know.
The Prime Minister struggles to admit fault or errors of judgement, and there have been plenty of errors of judgement on the part of the Prime Minister. I guess it is a matter of pride that she does not like to admit when she gets it wrong, but this is an issue that goes beyond the pride of the Prime Minister; this is an issue that goes to the heart of our democracy. If members of this parliament lose respect for the Speaker, it follows that the broader community will lose respect for the office of Speaker and that will impact on the respect the community holds for the Australian parliament.
All members elected to this House know from their first days in this place of the important role of the Speaker of the parliament. We are keenly aware of the need to accord the Speaker the highest levels of respect and obey the rulings of the chair, and when we do not the Speaker takes action and we oblige. The current Speaker, if he is retained in this role by the Prime Minister, will be an embarrassment not only to members of this parliament but to the Australian public as he carries out the duties of Speaker.
Of course, it is important to our democratic system to have a Speaker who upholds the dignity of the House; it underpins our system of government. But the Speaker also holds a very public role: he is the senior representative of the parliament in welcoming foreign leaders—foreign female leaders—and entertaining foreign dignitaries. And yes, they too read the media. They too will be aware of the member for Fisher's views on women and the partial role he has played as Speaker in condemning a serving shadow minister in this House. He also leads delegations internationally. He is meant to be the person to lead our members of parliament overseas, to represent the parliament, to lead female delegates. Does the Prime Minister think it is going to be easy for female delegates to go on trips overseas with the member for Fisher knowing the sexist, misogynistic views that the member for Fisher holds about women?
The Speaker also liaises with other governments and liaises with the Governor-General on our behalf. As the Prime Minister often points out, not only do we have a female Prime Minister of this country; we have a female Governor-General. She is meant to receive the member for Fisher, the man who the Prime Minister chose to uphold the dignity of the House. The Speaker also leads the staff of the parliament and is meant to set standards of behaviour for staff in the parliament, and we now know through this exchange of text messages how the Speaker, the member for Fisher, deals with his staffers. There is uncontested evidence of the most appalling kind.
The Speaker should be setting a personal example for others to follow. I remind the House of previous speakers who have set such an example: Speaker Harry Jenkins, Speaker Steve Martin, Speaker Neil Andrew and Speaker David Hawker. There are many, many more from both sides of the House—speakers who have upheld the dignity of the House. Can you imagine any one of those occupants of the chair ever descending to the type of sexist, offensive, obscene conduct that is enshrined in these text messages that the member for Fisher sent to his staff? I call on all members to maintain the high standards to ensure that the Speaker is a person of dignity. It is a grave situation that only the parliament can resolve by removing the Speaker from office and electing a new Speaker. (Time expired)
I rise to oppose the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition, and in so doing I say to the Leader of the Opposition: I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. I will not. The government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man—not now, not ever. The Leader of the Opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well, I hope the Leader of the Opposition has a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation, because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia he does not need a motion in the House of Representatives; he needs a mirror. That is what he needs.
Let's go through the opposition leader's repulsive double standards when it comes to misogyny and sexism. We are now supposed to take seriously that the Leader of the Opposition is offended by Mr Slipper's text messages, when this is what the Leader of the Opposition said when he was a minister under the last government—not when he was a student, not when he was in high school but when he was a minister under the last government. In a discussion about women being underrepresented in institutions of power in Australia, the interviewer was a man called Stavros and the Leader of the Opposition said: 'If it's true, Stavros, that men have more power, generally speaking, than women, is that a bad thing?'
Then a discussion ensued and another person being interviewed said, 'I want my daughter to have as much opportunity as my son,' to which the Leader of the Opposition said: 'Yes, I completely agree, but what if men are by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?' Then ensues another discussion about women's role in modern society, and the other person participating in the discussions says, 'I think it's very hard to deny that there is an underrepresentation of women,' to which the Leader of the Opposition says, 'But there's an assumption that this is a bad thing.' This is the man from whom we are supposed to take lectures about sexism!
And it goes on. I was very offended personally when the Leader of the Opposition as minister for health said, 'Abortion is the easy way out.' I was very personally offended by those comments. He said that in March 2004, and I suggest he check the records. I was also very offended on behalf of the women of Australia when in the course of the carbon pricing campaign the Leader of the Opposition said, 'What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing.' Thank you for that painting of women's roles in modern Australia! Then, of course, I am offended by the sexism, by the misogyny, of the Leader of the Opposition catcalling across this table at me as I sit here as Prime Minister, 'if the Prime Minister wants to, politically speaking, make an honest woman of herself'—something that would never have been said to any man sitting in this chair.
I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition went outside the front of the parliament and stood next to a sign that said 'Ditch the witch'. I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition stood next to a sign that described me as a man's bitch. I was offended by those things. It is misogyny, sexism, every day from this Leader of the Opposition. Every day, in every way, across the time the Leader of the Opposition has sat in that chair and I have sat in this chair, that is all we have heard from him.
Now the Leader of the Opposition wants to be taken seriously. Apparently he has woken up, after this track record and all of these statements, and has gone, 'Oh dear, there is this thing called sexism; oh my lord, there is this thing called misogyny. Who is one of them? The Speaker must be because that suits my political purpose.' He does not turn a hair about any of his past statements; does not walk into this parliament and apologise to the women of Australia; does not walk into this parliament and apologise to me for the things that have come out of his mouth—but he now seeks to use this as a battering ram against someone else. This kind of hypocrisy should not be tolerated, which is why this motion from the Leader of the Opposition should not be taken seriously.
Second, the Leader of the Opposition is always wonderful at walking into this parliament and giving me and others a lecture about what they should take responsibility for. He is always wonderful about everything that I should take responsibility for, now apparently including the text messages of the member for Fisher. He is always keen to say others should assume responsibility, particularly me. Can anybody remind me whether the Leader of the Opposition has taken any responsibility for the conduct of the Sydney Young Liberals and the attendance at their event of members of his frontbench? Has he taken any responsibility for the conduct of members of his political party and members of his frontbench, who apparently when the most vile things were being said about my family raised no voice of objection.
Government members interjecting—
No-one walked out of the room, no-one walked up to Mr Jones and said that this was not acceptable. Instead, it was all viewed as good fun—until it was run in a Sunday newspaper, and then the Leader of the Opposition and others started ducking for cover. He is big on lectures on responsibility; very light on accepting responsibility himself for the vile conduct of members of his political party.
I turn to the third reason why the Leader of the Opposition should not be taken seriously on this motion. The Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition have come into this place and talked about the member for Fisher. Let me remind the opposition, and the Leader of the Opposition particularly, about their track record and association with the member for Fisher. I remind them that the National Party preselected the member for Fisher for the 1984 election, that the National Party preselected the member for Fisher for the 1987 election, and that the Liberal Party preselected the member for Fisher for the 1993 election, then for the 1996 election, then for the 1998 election, then for the 2001 election, then for the 2004 election, then for the 2007 election and then for the 2010 election. Across many of those preselections Mr Slipper enjoyed the personal support of the Leader of the Opposition. I remind the Leader of the Opposition that on 28 September 2010, following the last election campaign when Mr Slipper was elected as Deputy Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition referred to the member for Maranoa, who was also elected to a position at the same time, and went on:
… the member for Maranoa and the member for Fisher will serve as a fine complement to the member for Scullin in the chair. I believe that the parliament will be well served by the team which will occupy the chair in this chamber … I congratulate the member for Fisher, who has been a friend of mine for a very long time who has served this parliament in many capacities with distinction …
They are the words of the Leader of the Opposition on record about his personal friendship with Mr Slipper and on record about his view of Mr Slipper's qualities and attributes to be the Speaker. There is no walking away from those words—they were the statements of the Leader of the Opposition then.
I remind the Leader of the Opposition, who now comes in here and speaks about Mr Slipper and apparently his inability to work with or talk to Mr Slipper, that he attended Mr Slipper's wedding. Did he walk up to Mr Slipper in the middle of the service and say he was disgusted to be there? Was that the attitude he took? No, he attended that wedding as a friend. The Leader of the Opposition is keen to lecture others about what they ought to know or did know about Mr Slipper but, with respect, I would say to the Leader of the Opposition that, after a long personal association, including attending Mr Slipper's wedding, it would be interesting to know whether the Leader of the Opposition was surprised by these text messages. He is certainly in a position to speak more intimately about Mr Slipper than I am and many other people in this parliament are, given this long personal association. Then, of course, the Leader of the Opposition comes into this place and says:
And every day the Prime Minister stands in this parliament to defend this Speaker will be another day of shame for this parliament; another day of shame for a government which should already have died of shame.
I indicate to the Leader of the Opposition that the government is not dying of shame—and my father did not die of shame. What the Leader of the Opposition should be ashamed of is his performance in this parliament and the sexism he brings with it.
Opposition members interjecting—
That is a direct quote from the Leader of the Opposition, so I suggest those groaning have a word with him.
On the conduct of Mr Slipper and on the text messages which are in the public domain—I have seen the press reports of those text messages and I am offended by their content. I am offended by their content because I am always offended by sexism. I am offended by their content because I am always offended by statements which are anti women. I am offended by those things in the same way I have been offended by things the Leader of the Opposition has said and no doubt will continue to say in the future—because if this, today, was an exhibition of his new feminine side, I do not think we have much to look forward to in terms of changed conduct.
I am offended by those text messages but I also believe that, in making a decision about the speakership, this parliament should recognise that there is court case in progress and that the judge has reserved his decision. Having waited for a number of months for the legal matters surrounding Mr Slipper to come to a conclusion, this parliament should see that conclusion. I believe that is the appropriate path forward and that people will then have an opportunity to make up their minds with the fullest information available to them.
But, whenever people make up their minds about those questions, what I will not stand for—what I will never stand for—is the Leader of the Opposition coming into this place and peddling a double standard. I will not stand for him peddling a standard for Mr Slipper he would not set for his himself, peddling a standard for Mr Slipper he has not set for other members of his frontbench or peddling a standard for Mr Slipper which has not been met by the people—such as his former shadow parliamentary secretary, Senator Bernardi—who have been sent out to say the vilest and most revolting things. I will not ever allow the Leader of the Opposition to impose his double standards on this parliament.
Sexism should always be unacceptable. We should always conduct ourselves in such a way as to make it clear that it is unacceptable. The Leader of the Opposition says, 'Do something.' He could do something himself if he wanted to deal with sexism in this parliament. He could change his behaviour, he could apologise for all his past statements and he could apologise for standing next to signs describing me as a witch and a bitch—terminology now objected to by the frontbench of the opposition. He could change standards himself if he sought to do so. But we will see none of that from the Leader of the Opposition, because on these questions he is incapable of change. He is capable of double standards but incapable of change. His double standards should not rule this parliament.
Good sense, common sense and proper process are what should rule this parliament. That is what I believe is the path forward for this parliament, not the kinds of double standards and political game playing imposed by the Leader of the Opposition, who is now looking at his watch because, apparently, a woman has spoken for too long—I have, in the past, had him yell at me to shut up.
But I will take the remaining seconds of my speaking time to say to the Leader of the Opposition that I think the best course for him is to reflect on the standards he has exhibited in public life, on the responsibility he should take for his public statements, on his close personal connection with Peter Slipper and on the hypocrisy he has displayed in this House today. On that basis, because of the Leader of the Opposition's motivations, this parliament should today reject this motion, and the Leader of the Opposition should think seriously about the role of women in public life and in Australian society—because we are entitled to a better standard than this.
I take no joy whatever in speaking on a motion of this nature. I am deeply conscious of the gravity of this motion—how rare it has been in the history of this parliament for a motion to remove the Speaker from office to be put forward for debate. It is a subject of great importance and great significance. The decision by the opposition to take this action is one we have taken with the heaviest of hearts.
But these are circumstances which we have surely never before seen in this parliament. The Speaker has been the subject of a series of allegations over a long period of time and we now find that some of those allegations are supported by the Speaker's own words in his text messages. This is unsatisfactory conduct from the person whose primary responsibility is to uphold the honour and the dignity of this parliament, to set an example to other members, to set an example to the community and to be the face of the parliament. We should be able to admire the person in that office. We should be able to respect the man in that office not only because he holds an important office but because he carries out the responsibilities of that office with dignity.
This is no mere censure of a Speaker who has made poor rulings as chair of the parliament. It is not a dispute over standing orders or administration of the parliament. It is about the very fitness of the incumbent to hold this high office. There has been a dark cloud growing for far too long and the government has been prepared to stand in the shadow rather than come out into the light and condemn the behaviour of the man they chose to be Speaker.
They moved aside a man of great integrity, a person admired on all sides of the House, who had carried out his responsibilities with distinction. There had been no suggestion of impropriety. There had been no suggestion that he had behaved in a way which was anything other than fair and appropriate for the Speaker's office.
The former Speaker was stood down.
Put in his place, entrusted with the responsibility for the traditions and standards of the parliament, was a person who did not have such a record. At the very time the member for Fisher was appointed Speaker, there had already been many months of articles in his own local newspapers questioning his integrity, questioning his use of his parliamentary entitlements, questioning his travel bills, questioning the quite strange travel patterns that had developed over the years. These questions were already in the public arena; they were already being considered and under investigation—yet this government chose to make him the Speaker of this parliament. He still holds that office now. He collects the full salary. He continues to collect the travel allowance and travel the world, to entertain in his office. He is marked present, as if he has been here, even though you, Madam Deputy Speaker Burke, have been conducting the most important part of his work.
The office of Speaker is more than just a privileged position. It is more than pomp and ceremony, and parades through the Members' Hall. The Speaker is the custodian of the dignity of this chamber and it reflects on all who are seated here. The Speaker is the arbiter in whom the public must have confidence if they are to believe in the fair workings of this parliament. Despite political differences, the Speaker must be an impartial umpire over the people and the proceedings of the House. From time to time, the Speaker rebukes members—more members on this side, I must say, than others—because he believes they have not appropriately followed the standing orders. If he undertakes the job, he must earn the right to be respected in exercising that discipline. He is not respected just because he holds an office entitled to respect; he must build a reputation and earn that respect; and this Speaker has not done that.
How can you accept rebuke from a person whose own behaviour falls so far short of the standards that we could reasonably expect? The Speaker is the face of the parliament. He is the defender of the rights and privileges of all members. It is a position of honour, but the Speaker needs to bring honour to that post. The member for Fisher has brought dishonour to the post. Further, he has made it absolutely clear through the text messages which have now become public that he does not believe that it is necessary for him to carry out his task with impartiality. That is surely an absolutely essential quality of the person who holds the office of Speaker.
The members for Fisher's comments about the suspension of the member for Indi are a disgrace. They are a disgrace to the office of the Speaker. Of course, they are inappropriate and unacceptable in their sexist nature. But he also demonstrated that that decision was not made with impartiality. It was made because he did not like the member for Indi. He thought it was appropriate to suspend her on a day that was critical in the votes of this parliament: the day on which the carbon tax was to be inflicted on the Australian people. He thought that was good fun—to evict a member of the opposition in those circumstances. That does not reflect the level of impartiality that the members of this parliament have a right to expect from the person who fills the high office of Speaker. A solemn trust is vested in the Speaker. It is a trust that past speakers over the years have assumed with reverence. There is a long tradition of honourable men and women filling this post. All of them have taken their responsibilities seriously. Most of them have built on the reputation and standing of this parliament. But our current Speaker has demeaned that office. He has declared himself innocent of the charges in relation to his private expenditure, although his defence has never been on show. The allegations about his travel costs and cab charges are serious ones that need to be responded to. Nevertheless, in an act of political expediency, this government elevated the member for Fisher to this high office and in the process plunged the parliament into a parlous state.
The allegations of sexual harassment that followed engulfed the office of Speaker to the extent that the member for Fisher could not fulfil his duties in the chamber. He did the right thing in standing aside while those allegations were under consideration. But things have become so much worse because of what has come out of his own mouth, out of his own Twitter, during his absence from the chamber. Those allegations are so serious. They reflect so much his attitude towards women—and they reflect on the parliament. He is not fit to hold this office.
Madam Prime Minister, it is not a satisfactory defence of the current Speaker to indulge in a tirade of abuse against the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition is not on trial here; the Speaker of this parliament is. Over recent weeks, the government may well have tried to distract attention from their carbon tax, from their $120 billion black hole, from crisis after crisis of bad government management, by trying to slur the Leader of the Opposition. That is unsatisfactory behaviour, and the people of Australia can make their own judgements about that. What the Prime Minister should have done today is provided a defence and given us as the parliament a reason to have confidence in this Speaker. In her speech, she should have given us a reason for not seeking to have the Speaker removed. She did not choose to do that. She spent her time criticising the Leader of the Opposition. She spent her time criticising other people and comments they may have made about her, but she did not address the crisis of confidence in the Speaker that there is in this place.
This is a man who has recently involved the government in a payout of $50,000 worth of taxpayer dollars. That suggests that these are more than just allegations against the member for Fisher. The government itself was prepared to pay out $50,000 to settle just one of these actions, along with three-quarters of a million dollars worth of legal expenses and who knows what else. So this is not just idle chatter. These are not just empty words from the man who occupies the Speaker's chair. No matter how inappropriate, no matter how sexist, no matter how repugnant those words are to everybody in the chamber, these are words which now have had the credibility of court action and some degree of judgement and, in reality, in these circumstances, the Speaker is left exposed. The Speaker has no defence. The Speaker is bringing disrepute upon this parliament and therefore lacks the public confidence that the institutions of this government, of our democracy, are entitled to enjoy.
The revelations and the abhorrent text messages have really broken the camel's back. They have shattered public confidence and left this government with no option but to sack the Speaker. The content of the messages is certainly vile. The messages are denigrating to women and even include reference to female members of this chamber. None of that is acceptable behaviour from a person who is supposed to be the custodian of the honour of this parliament. None of that is acceptable from a person whom we should be respecting in the office of Speaker. The facts are that, in truth, the poisoned texts of the Speaker say it all to everyone. The duplicity of the government is laid bare for all to see because of their defence of this Speaker, but the Prime Minister, who showed poor political judgement to support his selection in the first place, can still gain some honour from this shameful incident. She could still do the right thing. She could admit the error of judgement and support the motion that the parliament no longer has confidence in this man and wants to have a new Speaker.
The Prime Minister criticises the Leader of the Opposition but this is about the future of the Speaker. The Speaker must have the confidence of the House. This Speaker does not have the confidence of the Australian people. His behaviour does not befit a person in this important position. I call on the Prime Minister to end the torment of the Australian people—we have had enough—and to restore trust to this office. It is time to stand up for decency and integrity and the honour of the parliament. It is essential that we have a new Speaker to help restore the dignity of this House and the confidence of the Australian people.
What a shameful day this is. Those opposite should be hanging their heads in shame at what they are seeking to do here—plucking a piece of evidence from an ongoing case in the Federal Court of Australia and bringing it here seeking a rush to judgement before the Federal Court has even ruled on the abuse-of-process application in which this piece of evidence was tendered, seeking to rush to judgement, let alone before the actual case, before the case brought by Mr Ashby in the Federal Court of Australia is ruled upon. There are two stages in this case in the Federal Court. To remind members opposite, at the moment the judge has heard an abuse-of-process application which says that the whole case brought by Mr Ashby should be thrown out of court, and the judge is presently considering his decision in respect of that application—he reserved last week. In the course of that application for abuse of process the judge made some highly critical remarks about the conduct of this case, but those opposite would have us rush to judgement on the Speaker of this chamber before the judge in the Federal Court has ruled on abuse of process, before the judge in the Federal Court has ruled on the case brought by Mr Ashby and before anyone in this parliament has the chance to examine anything about these texts and anything about the context in which they were tendered in the Federal Court of Australia in evidence.
It might be said, and I picked this up from reading the newspaper accounts about these texts, that the particular text in question—and it is an offensive and sexist text; I do not make any bones about this—was an exchange that the Speaker of the House of Representatives had with Mr James Ashby before the member for Fisher became Speaker of the House of Representatives and before Mr Ashby became his employee, indeed when he was a Liberal-National member of this place. As the Prime Minister has said, the member for Fisher was preselected on no fewer than eight occasions—first by the National Party for the 1984 election, then by the Liberal Party of Australia and more latterly, the last four, five or six times, by the Liberal-National Party of Queensland.
We hear from their Leader of the Opposition, falsely it seems, saying, 'We were trying to get him out of our party room.' They were pretty slow about it. They have taken since 1984 to get the member for Fisher out of their party room. They were not exactly hurrying at the 2010 election when this Leader of the Opposition stood side by side with the member for Fisher and endorsed him for election as member for Fisher. The Leader of the Opposition comes in here not only inviting this House to act as a kangaroo court, which we should resoundingly reject, not only inviting this House to rush to judgement on the Speaker of our chamber on the thinnest piece of evidence plucked from the Federal Court of Australia, but also seeking to comment, if you please, on the merits of the case before court, saying of Mr James Ashby, 'His only fault was seeking to assert his rights against the Speaker of this parliament.'
The Leader of the Opposition should have a look at what Mr James Ashby did and might care to listen to the comments that Justice Rares made last week in the Federal Court of Australia. Extreme criticisms were made of Mr James Ashby by this judge in the Federal Court, in particular criticisms of the way in which Mr Ashby chose to bring his case against the Speaker of the House of Representatives and chose to make allegations of criminality which were given the most extreme publicity possible, only then to have them withdrawn. The judge commented as well on the publicity that Mr Ashby had sought to bring to every aspect of this case. And yet this opposition seeks—and I will come back to this—to attack the Attorney-General for doing her job, which is to explain the way in which proceedings involving the Commonwealth are being conducted, because the people of Australia are perfectly entitled to be informed about the way proceedings are being conducted.
No institution is safe from this opposition. No convention is safe from this opposition. The courts are not safe from this opposition and this parliament is certainly not safe from this opposition. It is an opposition that does not believe in due process. It is an opposition that does not believe in fairness. It is an opposition that has no shame and is prepared to tear down any institution, tear down any convention, to get at its objective, which is power for this Leader of the Opposition. This is a Leader of the Opposition who will let no institution, no convention, stand in his way. We have heard of that from the member for New England. No trick is too low, no stunt is too wild and no effort will be spared to create an atmosphere of disorder in this chamber when none exists.
The Leader of the Opposition should in fact be explaining to this chamber what the involvement of Mal Brough, a former member of this chamber, was in the bringing of this case in the Federal Court. The Leader of the Opposition could well explain the involvement of the member for Sturt in the planning of the attack on the Speaker of our chamber. Indeed, let us hear from the Leader of the Opposition about the involvement of Mark McArdle, a Liberal National Party minister in the government in Queensland, who was also, we have learnt from proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia, directly involved in the planning of this attack—using court proceedings in the planning of this attack on the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
I said a moment ago that there is a misguided attack being made in the speeches that we have heard from the opposition this afternoon. There is a misguided attack being made on the Attorney-General for comments that she has made in the course of this proceeding in the Federal Court about the way in which the case has been conducted. I say—and we should all say, loud and clear—that the comments made by the Attorney-General have been entirely appropriate. This has been, as the judge has commented himself, a very, very unusual case. Because it is such an unusual case—when the Commonwealth brings an application for the proceeding to be struck out as an abuse of process, that is a pretty unusual application—it is entirely appropriate for the Attorney-General to say: 'Yes, the Commonwealth's view is that this case is an abuse of process. This is the basis for the application we make to the court; this is the reason we have engaged lawyers to put that application to the court; and these are the details of it.' It is entirely appropriate for the Attorney-General to explain the basis on which the claim against the Commonwealth was settled.
As for the nonsensical statements that we continue to hear from those opposite about the expenditure of $50,000 in settling the case, as any legal practitioner would know—and there are a few on the other side who would know this—it is entirely appropriate to compromise proceedings. Compromise of proceedings, settlement of disputes, is what the legal system exists for—not to magnify disputes, not to exaggerate claims, which is what those opposite would always wish to do. No; the objective, the purpose, of the legal system, is to bring disputes to an end in an orderly way. It is always potentially entirely appropriate for any litigant, including the Commonwealth of Australia, to settle claims brought against that litigant if it avoids further cost, further difficulty and further trouble to the litigant to do so.
It has become very clear that there is no respect for the office of the Speaker of this House from anybody in the Liberal Party, anybody in the National Party or anybody in the Liberal National Party of Queensland—none. It has become clear in the course of the proceeding which the Leader of the Opposition now seeks to take advantage of—the court hearing last week—that James Ashby did not complain to the Speaker about his conduct at any time before bringing the complaint in the Federal Court. Mr Ashby did not complain—
Opposition members interjecting—
I am now simply—
Ms Julie Bishop interjecting—
No, I am not talking about the evidence. I am just going to make clear the basis on which I am making these comments to those opposite, who seek to abuse court proceedings. I do not. I seek merely to repeat, for the assistance of members of this House, what has happened in this proceeding. What happened in the proceeding last week, in the course of the abuse-of-process application that the judge heard, was that the judge questioned counsel for Mr Ashby as to when he had made a complaint, and he questioned counsel for Mr Ashby as to whether or not it was possible for this claim to have been brought in some other way. No answer was provided, because it is the fact that Mr James Ashby did not complain to his managers; he did not complain to human relations officers in this place; he did not complain to the Department of Parliamentary Services; he did not use the processes provided by the Human Rights Commission—
This is not the evidence; these are the actual contentions advanced in court last week. The judge made it clear—because this is one of the bases of the abuse-of-process application put to the court—that Mr Ashby did not use the processes provided for claims of this nature by the Human Rights Commission, which involve confidential communication. Far from it: assisted by operatives from the Liberal National Party, assisted by those associated with the opposition, and, it would appear, potentially assisted by the member for Sturt, Mr James Ashby brought this claim in the most public way, to cause maximum embarrassment to the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
I repeat: I am not seeking to comment on the merits of the claim brought by Mr Ashby; I am commenting on the way that this opposition, without shame, seeks to abuse the processes of the Federal Court and seeks to have this parliament sit as a kangaroo court, without giving any notice, without giving any proper opportunity for examination of this. I am commenting on the way that this opposition has sat silent during the attacks on the Speaker of the House of Representatives, has sat silent while the processes of the Federal Court have been used in the way that they have been to cause maximum embarrassment to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, because nobody who is in the slightest bit interested in politics in Australia could have failed to notice that what we have had this year is trial by media, where those opposite wish simply to cause trouble to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, to cause embarrassment to the Speaker of the House of Representatives. They do not wish to wait until the Federal Court rules on any question at all. They do not wish to wait until the Federal Court of Australia has ruled on the abuse-of-process application. They do not wish to wait until the Federal Court of Australia has ruled, let alone ruled on the actual merits of the claim brought by James Ashby. No, they wish to leap in. They wish to fan the flames of public embarrassment and the trial by media that we have had in this country since 20 April, when the Speaker of the House of Representatives was bailed up by a phalanx of television cameras without any notice to him. Even before the proceedings in the court had been served on him, he was met at the airport by a barrage of television cameras and journalists.
The opposition sit silent. They have no regard for due process. They have no decency. They have no respect for institutions or conventions. If they had any decency, they would not have rushed so assiduously to assist James Ashby in his attack on the Speaker of the House of Representatives. They would not have rushed to help him drag down the Speaker of this House. They would have thought of other ways of resolving this complaint. They would have thought of the other ways that are provided by the legal system for resolving complaints of this nature. They would have thought of other ways that are provided by human relations procedures both in this parliament in the Department of Parliamentary Services and by the Human Rights Commission—but no. Seizing on whatever pretext, they come to this parliament and invite this parliament, without notice, without examination of the material, to sit here as a kangaroo court and to rush to judgement—which was the way in which I commenced this speech.
It is extraordinary hypocrisy from this Leader of the Opposition, who has spent a lifetime making offensive comments about women, has spent a lifetime making sexist comments, starting way back in his student days when he thought it amusing to refer to the Chair of the Students' Representative Council at the University of Sydney as 'Chairthing'.
A government member: Thing!
'Thing'. Let us think about that. That is this Leader of the Opposition, and in almost every year of his life since he has been making offensive comments about women. (Time expired)
I do not come to this debate with any sense of pleasure at all. I come to this debate with a great sense of a heavy heart. I have known the Speaker for the best part of 20 years, and when you serve as a colleague with another human being for 20 years you have many shared experiences over that time in opposition, in government, and in opposition again. I am very sad and very sorry that we have come to this pass in this place, and I know that other members of this House know exactly what I mean.
All of this could have been entirely predicted when the Prime Minister suspended her best judgement, yet again, to choose her own political survival over good judgement made in this place as Prime Minister. We do not seek to prejudge the court case that is currently underway in the Federal Court. The reason that the opposition brings this motion—a very serious motion to declare the speakership vacant—to the House today is that the revelations that have arisen out of the court case are so heinous, so egregious, that it is the opposition's contention that the Speaker can never resume the chair in this place in any way that would lend confidence to the opposition that he would do so with impartiality, good taste and fairness.
The Prime Minister said in her defence of the Speaker today, when she associated herself with the member for Fisher, that there was a double standard being employed by this opposition. I remind the House that it was this Prime Minister who said in relation to the member for Dobell that a line had been crossed and that that line meant that he could no longer serve in the Labor caucus. But, in spite of the revelations about the current Speaker, in spite of everything we now know about the Speaker, the Prime Minister still does not believe that any line has been crossed.
At the end of the day, this Prime Minister always puts her own political survival, her own ruthless ambition, ahead of the best interests of the Australian people and this parliament as their representative. She has always done it in her career. She did it to Kevin Rudd, the member for Griffith, when she promised that she would never seek the prime ministership and then ruthlessly cut him down in the dark of the night to seize the job before the 2010 election. She did it when she told the Australian people, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead,' and then, to get the Greens into the tent after the election, broke that promise ruthlessly so that she could cling to power in this parliament. She has never had any regard for anything other than her own ruthless ambition and desire to grasp power in this country since her university days, when she was part of the far Left of the Australian Union of Students.
Let us deal with some of the things the Prime Minister said in her speech. She did not at any point rise to defend the Speaker, the member for Fisher, about the allegations that have been made against him and about the release of the egregious text messages. No, she played the victim. She attacked someone else. She said that any debate about these matters was pure sexism on the part of the opposition. She played the victim in an insipid and pathetic performance that was not prime ministerial.
But nobody forced the Prime Minister's hand in November 2011. Nobody came to her and said, 'You must axe Harry Jenkins, the member for Scullin, and put in Peter Slipper.' She came up with that idea all on her own—she came up with the idea of gaining one extra vote in this chamber. She never at any point was forced to crash her prime ministership on the rocks of her own self-regard and her own ruthless ambition to seize and hold power. The Prime Minister's judgement is in question today because time and time again this government lurches from one catastrophe to another and from one scandal to another, whether it is the member for Dobell, the pink batts fiasco, the schools disaster, the supertrawler mind-changing, the live exports fiasco or the carbon tax breach of promise.
The public of this country deserve so much better; the public deserve a government that puts their interests, rather than the government's own interests, first. I beseech some good members of the Labor caucus—and I am looking at them now—to recognise that the damage which has been done to this parliament in the last 12 months has damaged us all. The lack of integrity demonstrated by this Prime Minister in choosing one vote over principle has damaged the parliament and our Westminster tradition.
Why Richard, it profits a man nothing
to give his soul for the whole world.
But for Wales.
Yet this Prime Minister, born of Wales, sacrificed her soul for just one vote—and the whole Labor caucus owns it. All the sanctimonious, supercilious members of the Labor front bench who come out and do press conferences day after day lecturing the opposition and the Australian people about misogyny are going to vote today to support the member for Fisher's remaining in the role of Speaker. Like lemmings, the Labor caucus is yet again going to follow this perfidious Prime Minister over the cliff to protect her own ambition, her own ruthless desire to grab and cling to power. Surely it is time that the members of the Labor caucus started putting the Australian people first and this Prime Minister last, because that is what is going to happen.
Let us talk about the Prime Minister's double standard. She lectures the Leader of the Opposition about his past statements, but when the former member for Robertson said to the member for Indi 'evil thoughts will turn your baby into a demon', the only comment from the then Deputy Prime Minister Gillard was that 'the member for Robertson is a good member'. She throws our words back at us today, but let us remember her words: 'the member for Robertson is a good member'. Yet the then member for Robertson had said that the member for Indi's 'evil thoughts' would 'turn her baby into a demon'.
It does not stop there. When John Williams was the Labor candidate for Indi in 2004, he said that the member for Indi could not represent the people of Indi because she did not have any children, because she did not have a family. Because she was not married and did not have any children, he said that she could not possibly represent the constituents of Indi. Does this sound familiar? Julia Gillard did not come out and attack those appalling statements; after the comments had been reported in the Age she went and campaigned for and supported the Labor candidate for Indi, Mr Williams. The Prime Minister says to us that we fostered and supported the member for Fisher as a candidate for many years. But we did not support him to be put in the most important position in this parliament. We did not support him to be Deputy Speaker after the 2010 election; we opposed his election in 2010 to the post of Deputy Speaker, and the Labor Party supported him. In 2011 we opposed his election as Speaker of the House, and I nominated on that occasion nine different members of the Labor Party of whom I asked whether they had the integrity to take the chair. I nominated them to take the chair, and their responses were very interesting. You yourself, Madam Deputy Speaker Burke—
said 'while I am loath to do so, I turn down the offer'. The member for Reid was good enough to be uncomfortable about the fact that he had to turn down the nomination. So it was not just this side of the House which knew that the Labor Party was crowing for no good reason; many members of the Labor caucus knew that the Prime Minister's judgement was seriously flawed in putting the member for Fisher forward for the post of Speaker. Her judgement has been catastrophically flawed today in defending the member for Fisher remaining in the post of Speaker and, worse, in driving her caucus over the cliff with her.
Madam Deputy Speaker, since the current Speaker has been elected—
he has sat in the chair for 19 days during question time and not sat in the chair for 34 days during question time. For 34 days the current Speaker has been the Speaker with the full salary and emoluments of the post—the capacity for overseas travel, the higher travelling allowance and every other emolument that comes with the post—as well as the job of meeting foreign dignitaries and greeting them at the chamber door et cetera. He has been receiving and doing all those things, but for 34 days he has not sat in question time while the member for Chisholm has fulfilled that role, and for only 19 days he has sat in the chair as Speaker since his election on 24 November 2011. It has become high farce; it is beyond a joke. The member for Denison, in fact, described it as beyond a joke—and he is correct. The public expect a great deal better from this 43rd Parliament. If today the House votes to make the Speaker's chair vacant, it will be the first occasion—though there have been many opportunities—that this 43rd Parliament has stood up for its own integrity and supported itself.
We also heard from the member for Isaacs; it was an extraordinary performance but his credibility on these matters is nil. This man represents the seat of Isaacs, Sir Isaac Isaacs being the first Jewish Governor-General in Australia's history and the first Australian-born Governor-General in Australia's history. The member for Isaacs himself is of the Jewish faith, yet he described the Leader of the Opposition as using Goebbels-like tactics. This is a man who it is alleged—and it was reported in the newspapers—called the member for Indi a bitch in this chamber and was forced to come back into the chamber, apologise and withdraw. Yet he stands in this House today and lectures the opposition on statements that we have made in the past. The hypocrisy of the member for Isaacs is breathtaking. He said that the text messages exchanged between the applicant in the case in the Federal Court and one of the respondents all happened before the member for Fisher was the Speaker. Quite frankly, so what? The behaviour since he was Speaker is the matter that is complained about by the applicant in the case. And the Speaker was also the Deputy Speaker. I remind you that the Labor Party appointed him to that role and appointed him to the speakership.
The member for Isaacs said that the opposition had no respect for the office of Speaker. We are in the House this afternoon debating this motion to make the Speaker's seat vacant because we are the side of the House that has respect for the office of Speaker. We would never have traduced it by axing a fine and honourable man, the member for Scullin, in order to gain one vote on the floor of the House. Like Banquo's ghost, that decision of this Prime Minister has come back to haunt her and it will hang around her neck like a millstone right through to the next election—another example of her bad judgement.
So I do commend this motion to the House. I call on those good members of the Labor caucus who are thoroughly sick of this Prime Minister to finally show the courage that you have and support the opposition in restoring integrity to this parliament, in restoring integrity to the jobs that we do as members of this parliament. I call on the House to support the motion.
As the member who nominated the member for Fisher firstly as Deputy Speaker of this House and then as Speaker of this House, it is appropriate that I contribute to this debate. I accept that. I have gone back over the words that I used, both when I nominated the member for Fisher as Deputy Speaker and then as Speaker, and I do not resile from anything that I said then. Indeed, the member for Fisher was so successful in his job at question time that, for the first time in over 20 years, he managed to silence me for fear of being thrown out of the parliament. That has never happened to me in 22½ years.
The debate before the House today is a very serious debate because precedents will be forged as a result of it. It has to be taken seriously. This is not student politics, which is where I first observed the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Warringah, at Sydney University. This is the real show, the alternative government, the alternative Prime Minister. Student politics stunts are not enough to remove a Speaker, to cripple a House because people are upset that they are not on this side of the House. Let us have a look at the issues. Let us have a look at the principles. I was trained as a lawyer, a criminal defence lawyer, so cases I did involved people going to jail if they were found guilty. That was the penalty. The Leader of the Opposition knows about being in court, about having false accusations made against you and what that can do, and allowing the process to go the full length.
In relation to the Speaker, there are no criminal charges that we know of. There is an investigation into Cabcharge documents—allegations that were withdrawn by the civil complainant, Mr Ashby, and were not pursued. So that is not before us. There is not a scintilla of evidence of abuse of Cabcharge documents—a criminal charge, not a civil charge, which is the more serious. I say to members of the opposition: where is the evidence of criminal involvement of the Speaker? There is none. Indeed, the presiding judge in the Federal Court made a number of statements last week which brought into question the filing of that affidavit in court in those terms and its subsequent withdrawal. What we are dealing with is a civil charge where the Speaker is contesting it as an abuse of process and the judge has reserved. The opposition want us to come in and adjudicate. I say to the crossbenchers—because I think they are the ones who will determine this debate—that that is a very dangerous precedent. The member for New England has previously cited the case of Nick Greiner, who was found by ICAC to be corrupt and was dumped as Premier. But subsequently a court of appeal acquitted him and found that ICAC had got it wrong. In the first instance, we should be waiting for the real court, not the kangaroo court.
The thing that is most disturbing is the other procedures. I used to be on the Privileges Committee and I have been on the Procedure Committee; I understand some of the history of this case. I remember the case of Fitzpatrick and Browne, who this parliament put in jail for three months in 1955. At least Fitzpatrick and Browne addressed the bar of the House. Where is the procedural fairness in this shonky motion? This is a Speaker who is absent, who does not have the opportunity to have someone address on his behalf, in a situation where the numbers are depleted because he has voluntarily not taken his place in the House, which was his decision alone. So he does not come in and vote, he does not come in and participate in debate and he does not preside in any way. What is the urgency of this?
I am not here to endorse private text messages. A judge of the Federal Court will adjudicate on what they constitute. I say: what if it were me? How would I want it adjudicated? Is this the way we are going to administer justice—hang, draw and quarter someone? It is not because we are impartial. Let's be very clear, the vote will be a partisan vote as far as the opposition is concerned. As far as the government is concerned it is not on independent grounds—we do not know what the Speaker's answers to some of these allegations are. We do not get, 'We're going to put this on the table to give an opportunity for this matter to be considered and dealt with later on,' but rather it gets brought on for debate. This is a very dangerous precedent.
I can understand some members having particular concerns, but this is not about Mr Slipper. This is about principles. I am not going to sit here and try to say that I am better than you or whatever. My record speaks for itself. I have been in this place for 22½ years. The Privileges Committee, of which I have been a member, which operates impeccably towards all sides of the parliament has always operated unanimously. These are grave issues, but we are not prepared to give the Speaker of this House an opportunity to present a case—to have a case pleaded on his behalf. He is going to be one vote down. Where is the pair for him? If he sat in the chamber, the government is one vote down. These are things that need to be thought of. Why do I say that? Gee whiz, I remember 1975 and the appointment of replacement senators. We changed the Constitution.
I like the whingers and whiners: get up and put your point of view. The Leader of the Opposition verballed me, which is why I wanted to speak. He tried to misrepresent my position when, today, I announced that I was resigning as chair of caucus with this position. That is why I am speaking. I asked to speak, and I was never going to be stopped from speaking. If you want to get up and speak, get up and speak inside your four speeches. I am telling you about a situation that will govern this parliament in future. If we make the wrong decision, we will be bound by it and by the principle of it. I can understand rough and tough politics, but my plea to the Leader of the Opposition is that you are not at Sydney University now; you are the alternative Prime Minister. There are some places you do not go to, there are some places where you should show a bit of patience and allow people to flow.
I resent the fact that the member for Sturt attacks the Speaker for the 34 days he has not presided when, frankly, the Speaker offered to remove his position from criticism at the time. We have a situation where the judgement is reserved, so it is not a question of sub judice. I am not arguing sub judice per se. I am arguing a separation of powers. This is a civil matter where this parliament is entitled as a matter of course to have the judge's determination in front of it before it makes a decision in relation to the Speaker. Any bozo can see that, except the lynch mob, who have a political purpose. I am not trying to say that in a derogatory sort of way. I can understand people wanting to get swept up in it, but that is how it is. Call it as it is.
I am saying this as the person who nominated Mr Slipper, the member for Fisher, for this office. I do not say that the parliament does not have a right to remove him. That is not my argument. I am saying to you: before you proceed down that path, let the cards fall where they are going to fall in a Federal court. It may well be that the Federal Court gives you the ammunition for him to go voluntarily without being voted out by the House. I believe that that option adds further dignity to the House.
This motion is not dignified. To pull on a motion without notice where the Speaker's support is one vote down because he is not in the chair is not a true representation of this parliament. Be very careful, be very cautious, because I for one did not like what the parliament did back in 1955 when it sent people to jail for three months. But what it did have which we do not have was a conscience vote—not a vote on party lines to remove a Speaker. I am not arguing for a conscience vote, but I am re-emphasising the point I made to you earlier that we are involved in a party political debate which has ramifications for how this parliament is seen by those outside and by parliaments around the world. I say to the Independents: you will have an opportunity in the near future, I assume, to exercise your judgement if you have doubts, but today is not the day. I say that in all sincerity, because the position is that we have to get this right. We cannot act hastily and get it wrong. What happens if we make the decision to remove the Speaker today and the Federal Court judge finds—
Opposition members interjecting—
I will tell you something about text messages. I will show mine to the world. I do not think 226 MPs would and survive. This was not a public communication; this was a private communication that came out as a result of subpoenas. The difficulty here is that we each need to be very careful. I know we can engage in the theatre of a debate, but this actually has quite serious ramifications. I believe I have raised some fundamental issues which show that in proceeding to a vote today is flawed. Do not be too smart by half. These principles are bigger than Slipper; they are bigger than anyone in this chamber. We have a duty to maintain the dignity of this chamber. I do not believe the dignity of this chamber would be maintained if we removed the Speaker without him having an opportunity to present a case to us without a full complement of the House, without the wisdom of the Federal Court's judgement in relation to the matter that is currently before him. I say: do not persist with this at this point of time. Leave it on the table and allow it to stand there. We revisit it when his honour delivers his judgement in the Federal Court case.
Today is the day the Liberal Party discovered misogyny. Before today it did not exist. Before today, on the nine separate occasions on which the Liberal and National parties preselected Peter Slipper they did not know anything about him. In spite of the fact that we have a court case where the judge reserved judgement just last Friday, today they come into the parliament and move this motion. It would be the first time that such a motion had ever been carried on partisan lines. They do this without any concern whatsoever for the standing of this parliament and the precedents that are set.
What we have seen, though, is some consistency from those opposite. We saw with their attitude over the issues surrounding the member for Dobell and the issues surrounding the member for Fisher that, when it is convenient, they say no-one should comment on these matters because they are before the courts. Remember that? Remember them out there—the member for Sturt, the Leader of the Opposition and others—being critical of me for making some comments? Yet here they are, once again, setting up this parliament to usurp the role of the courts. The fact is that these issues are of concern. I was asked whether I am concerned about the comments by the member for Fisher, and I stated unequivocally that, yes, I am concerned about sexism in any form. But that did not seem to matter as a precondition for holding high office for the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition, in an interview in the Good Weekend, made comments in a debate with Michael Costa in which he said, 'But what if men are by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue a command?' When Michael Costa spoke about the need to deal with the underrepresentation of women, he said, 'But now there is an assumption that this is a bad thing.' He said, 'Abortion is the easy way out when it comes to the difficult choices that women, and only women, should have the right to determine.'
The Leader of the Opposition has made all sorts of statements—not just over a year, not just over a term, but over decades in public life. We saw of course a historical linkage between the Sydney University Liberal Club, with the speech from Alan Jones, and his political origins at Sydney University where he engaged in the sort of campaign that has characterised the hard Right at Sydney University from the seventies through to the current day.
He could not drag himself to condemn Alan Jones for saying that the Prime Minister should be put in a chaff bag and dragged out to sea. Indeed, this week he rang up Alan Jones to console him and he had a private conversation with him. The alternative Leader of the Opposition, who has more leadership in his little finger than this bloke, was straight out there on the Sunday morning to condemn the comments relating to the Prime Minister's father. But the Leader of the Opposition could not bring himself to say anything; he had to wait for Alan to do the press conference because he did not want to upset him. That was more important than doing the right thing and showing a smidgin of leadership just once. But what we have seen since 2010—and today is the logical extension of it—is the longest dummy spit in Australian political history.
During 17 days we saw statements from the Leader of the Opposition that he would dignify the parliament, that he would respect whatever decision the crossbenchers have made. Indeed, we had parliamentary reform that would have made it irrelevant who the Speaker was in terms of the partisanship of this chamber—agreed to not under coercion but voluntarily by those opposite and signed up to by the Manager of Opposition Business in the House and the Leader of the Opposition as well as the Prime Minister, me and the crossbenchers—to take away partisanship from the speakership of this parliament. Yet straightaway, like a kid who does not get to bat first going in and trashing all the stumps, from that day on he trashes parliamentary process. And he comes in here again and trashes question time, as he does day after day, and engages in political debate and strategy based upon wrecking the joint, or 'destroying the joint' as his mate Alan Jones would say.
This bloke does it day in day out. His whole political strategy has been to wreck the parliament. He has boasted about wrecking the parliament, and he has tried to do it on issue after issue. That is why more than 400 bills have passed this parliament without a single defeat. Those opposite are the first opposition in history to not worry about the actual policy that is going through the parliament and the key policy debates of the day. That might be acceptable if they were a rump, but they are almost half the parliament. In spite of the fact that they are in a position, with support from the crossbenchers, to make a difference to the way this nation operates, in policy terms they have not won a thing. Why? Because they do not care. Because it is all about political power for power's sake. We saw it from the Leader of the Opposition when he spoke about how difficult it was to be in opposition. Remember what he said? 'It is not quite like losing a spouse; it is like losing a parent.' That is what he had to say. He then went on to talk about the tragedy of losing some of his salary, showing just how out of touch he is.
But we absolutely see this day in day out. You would think that the Manager of Opposition Business, the Leader of the Opposition and others who have spoken in this debate had not met Peter Slipper, the member for Fisher. I tabled a reference from Tony Abbott to the Liberal preselectors for the electorate of Fisher. He said, 'The fact that Peter has chosen to stand in Fisher even though much of his existing electorate has become part of Fairfax is a sign of his determination to be a team player.' He went on to say, 'Success in politics is hard won through long experience. I find it hard to imagine a better candidate to hold the seat.' That is what the Leader of the Opposition had to say about the member for Fisher. We know the friendship is there because he went to the wedding, along with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
Then we have the circumstances whereby the Leader of the Opposition is only sitting in the chair because he got the member for Fisher's vote when he won the leadership by one single vote. I did not hear him talk about it being tainted. He was happy to take that vote then.
Then we have the meetings of those opposite with Mark McArdle and the Manager of Opposition Business going into the Speaker's office to have a little drink with the Speakers' staff, including Mr Ashby. There have been multiple meetings with Mal Brough. Gee, he could not have an interest there, could he? He is running for preselection for the seat and trying to knock the bloke off and he is meeting with the bloke's staff about these issues! Joe Hockey, Mal Brough and Clive Palmer met at Coolum resort over Easter, from 6 to 9 April. There was contact after contact in the lead-up to these allegations being made.
The Leader of the Opposition was a bit slow off the mark the other Sunday when Jonesy was in a spot of bother, but he was pretty quick off the mark on the Saturday morning when the Daily Telegraph splashed spontaneously. At 9.15 am he was out there. He did another couple of press conferences the next day, and there were coalition members splashed across the Sunday morning TV programs, something they normally avoid like the plague. You are more likely to see this bloke on Lateline, 7.30 and Q&Athanto see a coalition member subjected to scrutiny on a Sunday morning. But that was all okay.
Then on 22 April, when the Speaker stepped aside from chairing the parliament, the Leader of the Opposition said this:
It's good that the Speaker has stepped aside until these matters can be resolved …
That is what he had to say then. He argued that the process currently in place should be put in place and, ever since, he has continued to trash that exact process. We know that throughout it all the 'no specific knowledge' defence was there. We know that most of these alleged text messages took place prior to the member for Fisher being the Speaker—when he was a member of the Liberal-National Party and the Leader of the Opposition was happy to accept his vote day after day.
What we are seeing here is just the latest in the Leader of the Opposition's determination to trash proper processes in this parliament. It is not appropriate that the parliament just go along with this. We see this aggression every day. Today, when I saw the member for Indi out there lecturing us on these issues, I recalled the demonstration outside my office with a coffin. The member for Indi used taxpayer funds to fly up to the demonstration and on TV footage for all to see was a woman grabbing my tie and saying that my dead mother would feel ashamed of me—and my response was on TV.
We remember the context of this—the demonstration outside the parliament with the Leader of the Opposition prepared to stand in front of a sign which said 'Juliar: Bob Brown's bitch'. Do not lecture us about sexism when you did nothing to dissociate yourself from this group. When Alan Jones was promoting the demonstration outside my office with all of these signs still there, you sent a frontbencher interstate to Marrickville to engage in a demonstration which required the mass presence of the Australian Federal Police. If you light the fire, you should not be surprised that it occurs.
The Leader of the Opposition has called for a people's revolt. He has engaged in language which is unprecedented in this parliament, which has incited people. He has said that this is not a legitimate parliament. He has been a part of saying that, yet he comes in here and gives it no respect whatsoever. I say to the Leader of the Opposition: it is a step too far to go down this path of moving this resolution today without any notice whatsoever to the government. It is consistent with his attitude of wrecking and trashing everything that he touches and his failure to grant any common respect. Can you try just one thing for the rest of the week: see if you can call the Prime Minister 'Prime Minister' instead of 'she' and you might have just a smidgin of credibility.