House debates

Wednesday, 24 August 2011


Member for Dobell

9:37 am

Photo of Stephen SmithStephen Smith (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the House) Share this | Hansard source

I take the call as Deputy Leader of the House. The issue before the House is whether standing orders should be suspended to enable the member for Dobell to address the House. That is in the context of two very important factors which the House needs to bear very carefully in mind. Firstly, there is a Fair Work investigation under way with respect to those matters. Secondly, the New South Wales Police have indicated that they are contemplating an investigation in this respect. That must cause the House to proceed very carefully so far as a suspension is concerned. For the reasons that the Leader of the House has outlined, any number of executives in this place have always cautioned the House that when an investigation is on foot, when an investigation is under way, when an investigation is possible, the House must proceed very cautiously and very carefully before inveigling itself into such a matter.

This is not the first occasion this year that this parliament has had to consider such a matter. We know in the other place there is a senator who is the subject, firstly, of a criminal investigation and, secondly, of criminal charges. The parliament, generally and quite rightly, has been respectfully silent about that matter because the senator concerned is entitled to the presumption of innocence and is, of course, entitled to see those processes go to their logical conclusion. The same should occur here. When the House knows that an investigation is underway it should be cautious and very careful about suspending standing orders to inveigle itself into those procedures.

There is, of course, an appropriate action which the member for Dobell has already taken. The member for Dobell has made a change to his declaration of interest to reflect a contribution made to his lawyers by the New South Wales branch of the ALP. On his own acknowledgement he has said that in making that declaration he was late. As members know, he is not the first person in this place to be late with the declaration. That is regrettable. It is not the first time it has occurred. I suspect it will not be the last time it will occur. The Leader of the Opposition well knows the regret which comes from being late in a declaration or disclosure. That is an appropriate parliamentary response which does not require the House to suspend standing orders, and that has already been effected.

Secondly, the member yesterday indicated that it was appropriate for him to resign from the position of chair of a committee of the House of Representatives so as to ensure that the deliberations of that committee would not be caught up in any controversy. So the two appropriate parliamentary responses have already been effected: firstly, a change to the register of interests and, secondly, a resignation from the relevant House committee that the member chaired.

The suspension of standing orders suggested by the Manager of Opposition Business would take the House into very risky and dangerous grounds, which previous occupants of high office, in particular former Prime Minister John Howard, have made crystal clear in the past to the House. We have two investigations clearly underway: firstly, an investigation by Fair Work Australia looking at the issues which relate to a registered organisation under the Fair Work legislation—namely, the Hospital Services Union; and, secondly, an indication yesterday by the Commissioner of the New South Wales Police that the New South Wales Police were contemplating whether an investigation was warranted in these circumstances. In that context, as the Leader of the House has outlined, it is very dangerous for the House to seek to inveigle itself into these matters.

When the House comes to contemplate whether standing orders should be suspended or not, we need to look very carefully at precedents and practice in the past. I regret on this occasion that what motivates those opposite is not respect for the standing orders, it is not respect for the practices and the procedures of the House, it is not respect for the presumption of innocence, it is not respect for the separation of powers and not seeing a merging between the parliament, the executive and the judiciary; it is crass political opportunism. Why would that surprise us? For the reasons that I have outlined, which reinforce submissions made by the Leader of the House. The House should not suspend standing orders on this occasion and should let those investigations underway or contemplated by the New South Wales Police take their natural course.


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