Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Wong, Senator Penny; Censure
I seek leave to move a motion of censure.
Leave not granted.
Pursuant to contingent notice standing in my name, I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to give precedence to a motion to censure the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Wong, in the following terms:
That the Senate censures the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Wong) for:
(a) causing her Chief of Staff to engage in inappropriate conduct with a foreign political entity for the purpose of causing damage to Australia;
(c) misleading the Senate by suggesting that the issue of the Deputy Prime Minister's citizenship arose in New Zealand as a result of media inquiries, rather than orchestration by her Chief of Staff;
(d) embarrassing the government of New Zealand, and thereby potentially causing damage to Australia's relationship with one of our closest allies; and
(e) engaging in conduct which makes her unfit to ever hold the office of Foreign Minister of Australia.
Mr President, it has been revealed overnight in the Fairfax Media that the engagement of the New Zealand Labour Party in an attempt to undermine the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and, thereby, to undermine the Australian government was orchestrated by the chief of staff of none other than the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Wong. As I said in answer to a question from Senator Wong yesterday, it plainly crosses a line when a serious domestic political dispute—because the argument about the Deputy Prime Minister's citizenship plainly is a serious domestic Australian political dispute—is prosecuted by the opposition through not the processes of the Australian Parliament but the processes of the parliament of a foreign friendly nation. That is what has happened here—by conspiring in conspiracy with a foreign political party, namely the New Zealand Labour Party.
Yesterday, after question time, Senator Wong took the very unusual course of speaking in the taking note debate. In the course of the taking note debate, she suggested that this was all a matter of media inquiry by the Fairfax Media of the New Zealand authorities—nothing to do with her. And yet she made that speech to this chamber well knowing that it was her own chief of staff who was the person responsible for the matter, who was behind the matter—something that was revealed in the Fairfax Media overnight, and has been confirmed this morning, including as recently, I'm told, as a few minutes ago by Mr Albanese in an interview on Adelaide radio.
To conceal from this chamber her own direct involvement in a matter of this gravity is disgraceful—utterly disgraceful. Surely, if Senator Wong, knowing what she knew, decided to participate in the debate as she did yesterday afternoon, one would have thought that simple honesty would have caused her to at least disclose that fact to the Senate, but she did not. She remained mute about it, and we have to learn overnight from the Fairfax Media that this was the case.
Now, we've chosen the words 'inappropriate conduct' to describe Senator Wong's behaviour, not because, Mr President, those are my words, but those are the words of none other than the leader of the New Zealand Labour Party, Jacinda Ardern, who described the conduct of her own MP—which was inspired and encouraged by Senator Wong's chief of staff, no doubt with Senator Wong's active knowledge and encouragement—as 'inappropriate conduct'. So we have the question of the inappropriateness of the conduct, and then we have the deeper question of the misleading of the Senate.
Now, this is a suspension motion. We want to have this debate, and I ask the crossbench at least to support the procedural motion moved by the government this morning to enable the Senate to debate a matter which, on any view, is a serious political scandal.
Well, this is the latest in the rather extraordinary tactics of this government to try and distract attention from the fundamental problem, which is that the Deputy Prime Minister was elected whilst apparently being a citizen of New Zealand. Let us be very clear about the facts, and I did cause a statement to be issued yesterday, after the extraordinary and disastrous press conference by the foreign minister, one in which her credibility was substantially damaged—and I regret that, because I think it's in the national interests for the foreign minister to have and retain her credibility—and in which she trashed our bilateral relationship with New Zealand. But, after that, I did cause a statement to be issued, and I also have been very clear today in the media, including doing a press conference and an interview. I want to go through again the circumstances which present themselves and make clear that this motion by Senator Brandis is a grubby, baseless smear in an attempt to distract attention from this government's problems.
Now, I want to make this very, very clear. Questions about the Deputy Prime Minister's citizenship have been public for some time, including by way of questions from the media in July and a direct question to him on television. The story became public as a result of media inquiries. This is an extraordinary motion, because it's actually saying that a minister in the New Zealand government is lying—that's what your motion is saying. It is saying that a minister in the New Zealand government is lying when he says—and he's not a Labour minister, and I know you are happy to trash the relationship—'This story became public as a result of media inquiries'.
I want to make clear to the Senate what I said today and what I will say again in this debate—firstly, at no stage did my staff member request that questions be placed on notice in the New Zealand parliament; end of story. Secondly, I was not aware until this story broke—
Well, I know you like baying about this, George, because you want to distract attention from the disaster that the government is. Secondly, I want to be very clear that I did not know, nor did my staff member, that the New Zealand Labour Party had placed those questions on notice until this story had broken. He did not know and neither did I until Monday—end of story. Now, people can decide whether they believe me or they believe this Attorney-General, with his history in this place, his history of being censured and his history of misleading this parliament. I was not aware.
I absolutely accept it was unwise for my staff member to engage in that discussion; I accept that and I have said so publicly. But what I'm more concerned about, and what I'd suggest to the crossbench—
What I would say to the crossbench is this: I have been clear about what occurred. The time line is also clear: Fairfax Media questioned the New Zealand government and its minister prior to the questions being lodged in the New Zealand parliament. So it is incorrect to assert, as Senator Brandis does, that this story broke as a result of any action of my office. I think it is really very disappointing that the government—and I understand they're in trouble and I understand they want to throw grenades—yet again today, are prepared to risk their relationship with New Zealand. You've had the foreign minister saying she can't work with a Labour government in New Zealand. You've had the foreign minister—and you've repeated it again today—essentially calling a New Zealand minister a liar. It is an utter disgrace the way this government are prepared to trash bilateral relationships in pursuit of their own agenda. (Time expired)
In the 13 years I have been in this place I have never heard Senator Wong speak with less conviction. Senator Wong is usually, to be fair, a strong and confident performer in this place. I think colleagues could not help but sense the uncertainty and the extremely careful choice of words in everything that Senator Wong contributed in her five-minute debate.
Colleagues, the motion that is before the chamber, moved by Senator Brandis, seeks to suspend standing orders so that a censure motion can be moved and debated. This is an important censure motion. It is particularly important because it relates to the conduct of the shadow minister for foreign affairs, the person that the alternative government of this nation are seeking to put forward to the Australian people as the individual who would hold the high office of foreign minister. Now, as the shadow minister for foreign affairs, the highest responsibility that the holder of that office, even as a shadow, should seek to discharge is to pursue the Australian national interest and to deal with foreign entities, whether personally or through their office, in a way that supports the Australian national interest. What we have seen through the office of the shadow foreign minister is something that the shadow foreign minister herself has conceded in her own words was unwise. We, on this side, agree with Senator Wong that it was unwise, but we believe that that is not an adequate characterisation of what Senator Wong's office undertook.
Each of us in this place, I think, operate on the basis that we have responsibility for that which occurs in our office, and if something occurs in our office that we don't agree with, that we think—to use the words of Senator Wong—'was unwise', then that requires a response. We haven't seen any response to date, so Senator Brandis is seeking to give this chamber the opportunity to fully debate the matters surrounding this very peculiar activity on behalf of Senator Wong and her office.
What Senator Brandis is seeking to do by moving a suspension, in order to provide the opportunity for a censure motion to be moved, is to give this chamber the opportunity to fully debate these matters. It's to give Senator Wong the opportunity to fully answer the questions: what did she know, when did she know it, and what did she do? She has not yet done that.
Honourable senators interjecting—
I'm always very interested when the decibel levels rise on the other side. It's usually an indication of a lack of confidence in their position on a particular issue. You can name them one by one, who will come in on cue. But, despite those laughing opposite, this is not a matter for mirth. This is a serious matter.
Opposition senators interjecting—
The Senate should be given the opportunity to debate it. That is what Senator Brandis's motion to suspend standing orders is seeking to do—to allow this matter to be ventilated in full.
The Greens won't be supporting the suspension of standing orders today, and we won't be supporting a censure of Senator Wong. This is simply the politics of distraction from a government that is teetering on the edge of political oblivion. This is you trying to cover up, with a not very effective smokescreen, your own chaos. If this is your version of a haka—looking your enemy in the eyes—it's not a very good one. It's not a very good one, if this is the best you can come up with.
Two things are really clear to the Australian Greens: the Australian people are sick and tired of the mess that we're seeing in this parliament. They're sick and tired of hearing about this citizenship issue and they want us to fix it. We have, continually in the last two weeks, proposed a solution—that is, an audit of every MP by the Australian Electoral Commission to make sure that these issues are cleared up beyond any doubt. That's what the Australian people want, and I urge the Senate to support that, rather than coming in here and pulling stunts and wasting taxpayer time and taxpayer money.
Government senators interjecting—
The second point the Australian Greens would like to make today is: Senator Wong made a very good point about—I was going to use a word that probably wouldn't be parliamentary—the pathetic press conference by our foreign minister yesterday. That's what it was. It totally backfired. What confidence can the Australian people have in a foreign minister who has picked a fight with New Zealand as a smokescreen for her own party's chaos, who, along with Senator Payne and other members of the cabinet and the Prime Minister, is the decision-maker in this place on behalf of the Australian people and who is committing Australian Defence Force personnel next week to the Korean Peninsula in direct provocation of a madman in Pyongyang, who has made it very clear that that would be a provocation?
This is the same government that is presiding over extremely important issues around our national security, around our ANZUS alliance and around potentially catastrophic nuclear war in our own region.
Senator Payne interjecting—
I make this point very carefully, Senator Payne: you expect the Australian people to have confidence in your government and in your foreign minister after the debacle we saw yesterday. People see this as politics. They don't see this as important, policy based parliamentary work. This is politics to cover up for a Prime Minister who is in his last gasp of political power. That's what this is covering up. This is the politics of distraction at its worst. But it's worse than that because it's actually dangerous. We're in a situation now where the Australian people have to have faith in your government's ability to make important decisions. If you want to suspend standing orders in here and get my party, the Greens, to support it, then suspend standing orders to discuss sending ADF personnel to the Korean Peninsula next week in direct provocation of an escalation in North Korea. What we should be discussing, clearly, is de-escalation of and other ways forward in what I hope will be a perfectly avoidable conflict in North Korea.
Isn't it surprising that, when I raise something, I wish it to be open for debate so the people of Australia can hear what is going on, what is happening with dual citizenship for many members of this parliament at this time! Isn't it a shame that the opposition is not willing to be open and honest about this. I have listened many times in this parliament to the opposition wanting answers from the government. I remember the time with the Solicitor-General; it was disgraceful what was happening. I believe what has happened here is that Senator Wong has gone and used her office in a backdoor way to get information. This is based purely on the fact that it was only a few days ago that our Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, asked Bill Shorten to join with the government to bring this matter to rest. This is an underhand move. They could have done it openly and honestly to prove to the people of Australia whether anyone had dual citizenship. It was the Prime Minister that offered that in the first place.
Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting—
This has been underhand, and it needs to be debated; it needs to be open. I am sick of hearing in the halls of this parliament who may have dual citizenship and who may not. The onus to prove whether they have it or not is not that of the people making the allegation. It is up to everyone on the floor of this chamber and in the other place to prove that they do not have dual citizenship. Put it to rest; the people of Australia deserve this. If you are not prepared to do this—
They're not very happy with what I have to say on this whole issue. You've got too much to hide and you're covering up a lot. There are a lot of questions to be asked about a lot of other people in this chamber. Even Senator Wong's citizenship has been questioned. Even Senator Dastyari's citizenship—through you, Chair—
In all honesty, you get the loudest screams from the people who don't want an open and honest debate. So let's have this debate and expose it for what it is. Stop trying to shut it down, and let the people know exactly what is happening. If Senator Wong has not done the wrong thing, then she can have her say in full in the debate and her colleagues can speak up on her behalf, but don't scream when it's your turn to express yourselves. If it were on the other side of this chamber and the opposition were in government, they would be screaming blue murder over this as well—and I have no doubt about it. So, when you have to answer to the people of Australia—
Opposition senators interjecting—
Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting—
This is clearly a desperate tactic from a government that is clearly not able to even control its own backbench anymore, because of its shocking failure to control the chaos that looms throughout this government. This is a government that has failed dismally to manage the affairs of this country, because it can't even manage the affairs of its own party. And it comes to this chamber with this shockingly desperate effort to distract attention away from its bungling—it's nothing more than bungling—of nominations for election to this parliament.
The motion the minister has put before us should be rejected because it is factually wrong. Senator Wong has not caused her chief of staff to engage in inappropriate conduct. Senator Wong has not caused her chief of staff to interfere in the political processes of New Zealand. Senator Wong has not misled this Senate. It is fact that the minister in New Zealand pointed out that it was Fairfax Media that initiated its inquiries and it was Fairfax Media that discovered the truth about the citizenship of the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. It is also the case that the leader of the Labour Party in New Zealand highlighted the fact that it was not in any way associated with Senator Wong's staff that any names were mentioned in conversations about the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. In fact, what we should actually look at is a censure motion directed squarely at the Australian foreign minister. We have sound relations with the New Zealand government, our oldest ally, our partner in ANZUS, our partner, of course, throughout the 20th century and our fundamental foundation relationship in international terms. It is the foreign minister Julie Bishop who has accused ministers in New Zealand of lying, of conspiracy. It is the foreign minister of this country who has behaved in a totally inappropriate and totally disgraceful manner by undermining relations with our closest ally. It is the foreign minister of this country who has behaved in this disgraceful manner.
It is not Senator Wong. It is not her staff. It is Senator Brandis who has come into this chamber in this quite disgraceful and deceitful manner to try and present this as something other than the fact that the government can't even control its internal affairs anymore. Its morale is comedy. It is in complete and total chaos. It is the government of Australia that now is on the brink of collapse. It is not the relationship between the Labor Party and the people of New Zealand, the government of New Zealand or the Labour Party in New Zealand. It is this government that has failed dismally the people of this country. It is this government that is now asserting that there is a conspiracy, treason—this is the sort of language that our foreign minister is using. It's an extraordinary proposition that, in this day and age, this government has become so desperate, so in need of some distraction from its own failings, that it uses this type of language. How can this possibly be sustained in this chamber? How could it possibly be the case that a censure motion is warranted in these circumstances against Senator Wong?
The censure motion should be against the foreign minister of Australia, Julie Bishop. She is the one who brought the reputation of this country into disrepute, and it is Senator Brandis who has aided and abetted her. Senator Brandis has sought to justify the different actions that are being taken by the National Party in the Senate as against the National Party in the House of Representatives, and we all understand the reasons for that. The National Party in the Australian Senate is, of course, quite dispensable, but the National Party in the House of Representatives is critical to the future survival of the Prime Minister, who, I might add, said:
The Australian people elected the government. Bill Shorten wants to steal government by entering into a conspiracy with a foreign power ...
What an extraordinary proposition, that the Labor Party of Australia is engaged in a conspiracy with a foreign power, namely New Zealand. What a joke! (Time expired)
I have to say from the outset that I don't believe this is a very productive way for us to start the day in the Senate. There are many pressing issues facing this country. I don't have any doubt whatsoever that every contact was brought to bear to establish the facts about Mr Joyce's citizenship. It is a circumstance that someone has exploited for political gain. I don't think it's interference of a treasonous nature, malfeasance or anything else. I would challenge anybody in this place to say they would not have done the same. I recall that there are members of the government, including the Prime Minister himself, who went to great lengths to contact the then Prime Minister of Great Britain to say that I shouldn't be speaking at a Tory conference when I went over there. We know that people exploit personal contacts for political gain, to smite their enemies or anything else. So it doesn't matter to me whether we approve of what Senator Wong's chief of staff has done. (Time expired)
I indicate that I've discussed this matter with my colleagues Senators Griff and Kakoschke-Moore this morning. We would not support the censure motion if it came to a vote. We do not support this particular suspension of standing orders because we believe that there has been a de facto debate in relation to it. There is one aspect in clause (c) of the motion that makes assertions against Senator Wong in terms of misleading the Senate. I do not make any judgement with respect to that, but, if the government has serious matters to raise, then that is a separate issue for the Privileges Committee of the Senate. It is a separate issue altogether. So we cannot support a censure motion. I echo some of the sentiments of Senator Bernardi in relation to this.
I'll be supporting the government on this motion to suspend standing orders. I'm not saying that I will vote for them when it comes to the line, because I believe that the foreign minister, Julie Bishop, bowled underarm yesterday. In the past, I've voted in favour of the Greens when they have raised issues that I think should be aired and I've voted against them as well. I do support Senator Whish-Wilson's comments when he talked about the fact that most of the crossbenchers sat over here on dual citizenship and all of you, the government and the ALP, sat over there. If you want to end all this now, get it over and done with and get on with the stuff that Senator Bernardi talked about. Call it; get it over and done with. Let every senator and every member of the House of Representatives put up or shut up. That's the way it should be done. It's been put up by the Greens twice and the government and the ALP have not voted in favour of it. As I said, I'll be supporting the government to let them get up and air their dirty laundry. I do believe it's a smokescreen for 'Crocodile Dunedin', as they call the member for New England now. (Time expired)
The question is that the motion moved by Senator Brandis to suspend standing orders be agreed to. Those of that opinion say aye and those against say no. I think the ayes have it.
Opposition senators interjecting—
I'm happy to call it for the noes if you would like me to call it for the noes. A division will be required in any event. So a division is required.
Honourable senators interjecting—
Just before I put the question, in relation to the request that the noes had it last time, the indication from the floor was 37 no votes. So I think it was fair to call it for the affirmative. But, in any event, I think a division would have been required. The question is that the motion moved by Senator Brandis to suspend standing orders be agreed to.