House debates

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Matters of Public Importance

Turnbull Government

3:47 pm

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | Hansard source

This is a very important debate we are having today because it goes to whether in fact the government has colluded with the media in order to expose raids by the Australian Federal Police. I want to make it very clear: the opposition support the Australian Federal Police. They are an independent statutory body and they had to do what they did because a warrant was issued. But let's be very clear about what we're talking about. This is the relationship between the government and the regulatory body it established for these purposes. At the time, when the government foreshadowed its interest to create the Registered Organisation Commission, Labor said we had concerns with this particular body because we said it would be used for political purposes. We said, instead, we would be very happy to see these responsibilities within the remit of ASIC and we argued that that should be the body that deals with serious alleged breaches by officers of registered organisations. We argued that would be the better place. We even explained to the crossbench before the legislation was enacted that the government would use this commission as its political tool to attack its political opponents, because that's the pattern of behaviour of this government since it was elected in 2013.

Let's outline the pattern we have here. We have a government that established a trade union royal commission in order to attack its political opponents. We have a government that's had two royal commissions and summonsed three Labor leaders, two of whom were prime ministers of this country. It is unprecedented that a government would actually set up these executive inquiries and call former Prime Ministers in that way, and yet, of course, that is what this government did. What they did with respect to the trade union royal commission was call the Leader of the Opposition. He sat in the dock for two days; he actually answered 900 questions. There were no findings against the Leader of the Opposition, despite the fact that the commission itself was discredited. It was discredited because we found out that the commissioner of the trade union royal commission was someone who had accepted an invitation to raise money for the Liberal Party at the same time as he was commissioner of the royal commission.

So the reality is this: this is a pattern of behaviour by this government to use state power to attack its political opponents. It did so with the establishment of that trade union royal commission and it's done so now by creating a standing commission, because that's what the Registered Organisations Commission is. It's a standing commission to investigate, ostensibly, registered organisations. But, of all its investigations and inquiries, which one hit the media? Of all the inquiries and investigations of this new body, which investigation was referred by the minister to the commission? Only one, and that is, of course, the one that relates to the allegations made against the AWU in an attempt to smear the federal leader and federal Labor. That is the only matter that's been referred by the minister.

Let's get the chronology right. The Prime Minister and the minister created the Registered Organisations Commission, the minister appointed the regulator of the commission, the minister referred the investigation of this matter to the commission, the minister's office leaked information about the raids of the investigation to the media, and then the minister suggested she had done nothing wrong and the minister suggested that her office had done nothing wrong, and she said so five times in the Senate. She misled the parliament on five occasions. It beggars belief that she did not know what her office was up to in relation to this matter, given the extent to which she was involved from the establishment of the agency to the referral of the investigation and, of course, to the collusion with the media in order to ensure that they elevated this matter by publicly broadcasting the raids.

There is no way that a reasonable person would conclude that the minister has been involved in anything other than gross abuse of ministerial power, and that's why she has to resign. That's why she has to resign: she has misused her office and, indeed, she has breached ministerial responsibility. If she does not resign and the Prime Minister wants to adhere to the Westminster system and ministerial responsibility, he must sack the minister. If he doesn't sack the minister, this government clearly shows it wants to continue this corrupt behaviour.


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