Thursday, 10 May 2012
Member for Dobell
Madam Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to move a motion, and the motion is: 'That this House calls on the Prime Minister to outline in the parliament today all involvement that the New South Wales Labor Party has had in providing financial and in-kind support to the Member for Dobell since the story concerning his misuse of union funds first broke in the Fairfax press on 8 April 2009, including but not limited to the settlement of the cost of defamation proceedings, the legal costs involved in those proceedings, the preparation of his response to the Fair Work Australia inquiry and all other matters.'
Leave not granted.
That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Sturt moving immediately—That That this House calls on the Prime Minister to outline in the Parliament today all involvement that the New South Wales Labor Party has had in providing financial and ‘in kind’ support to the Member for Dobell since the story concerning his misuse of union funds first broke in the Fairfax Press on 8 April 2009, including, but not limited to the settlement of the cost of defamation proceedings, the legal costs involved in those proceedings, the preparation of his response to the Fair Work Australia inquiry and all other matters.
Standing orders must be suspended and this motion must be debated because the answers the Prime Minister gave in question time today could only be described as evasive and tricky. The Prime Minister must explain every aspect of the Labor Party's deal with the member for Dobell because, without the deal, she would not be Prime Minister. The Prime Minister must explain every aspect of the Labor Party's arrangements with the member for Dobell because, by keeping the member for Dobell in parliament, by paying his legal fees and avoiding his bankruptcy, she maintains his vote in this parliament. Without that vote, the government would fall and she would not be Prime Minister.
Nothing could be more important for us to debate after question time today than the Prime Minister's hold on power with the pillar of support that is the member for Dobell. This is properly a matter for the parliament to consider. The reason why the parliament should consider it can be found in the admission in the first article about this matter, in a long-forgotten story in the Daily Telegraph in August 2011 by Andrew Clennell, repeated today in the News Ltd press. When Labor sources were asked why they paid the legal costs of the member for Dobell they said:
We paid because if he hadn't he'd be bankrupt …
Why is that important? It is important because if he was bankrupt he would not be able to sit in the chamber, and if he did not sit in the chamber and vote for the Labor Party this Prime Minister would not hold office today.
So we are in a very murky area. Some people would call it a quite inappropriate conflict of interest for the member for Dobell—him relying entirely for staying out of bankruptcy on the deal that he has made with the Australian Labor Party in New South Wales to pay what is hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
The reason why standing orders need to be suspended is that the Prime Minister in question time today was given the opportunity on at least two occasions to outline what she and her office knew about the arrangements with the New South Wales Labor Party and she absolutely declined to do so. She came up with a form of words about how it was not her responsibility, her staff's responsibility or the department's responsibility. But she was not asked about whose responsibility it was; she was asked what she knew about these arrangements and whether she could guarantee that no member of her office was involved in the arrangements between the member for Dobell and the New South Wales Labor Party.
Those of us who have been in this House for some time know exactly why the Prime Minister declined—because the answer was that she could not guarantee that her office was not involved in these arrangements with the New South Wales Labor Party. She knew what we all know, and that is that this has been part of the protection racket around the member for Dobell for three years. F or three years the Labor Party has been paying the legal fees of the member for Dobell. In other words, this illegitimate government—which relies on the cross-benchers, made up of disgruntled coalition members of parliament, former, disgraced Labor members of parliament, a green Independent and another Independent—are clinging to power by paying the legal fees of the member for Dobell to stave off his inevitable bankruptcy. They admitted it in the paper two years ago and they admitted it today in the News Ltd press.
Mark Latham showed that he certainly knows his political party when he said:
The tragedy for progressive politics is that there are scores of Craig Thomsons across the labour movement. He is the cultural norm, not an isolated peccadillo.
The party that gave us Tom Domican has now given us Craig Thomson. It is a matter for the parliament to consider, because nothing could be more important—
I will withdraw in the interests of allowing the debate to continue.
Firstly, the member for Dobell rode on the backs of the 77,000 members of the Health Services Union, taking their money and spending their money on personal matters—on fine dining, on overseas trips and on his election campaign. Now he is riding on the backs of the 8,500 members of the New South Wales Labor Party, who pay their dues, stand at the polling booths, put up the election posters, come to the fundraisers and buy Johno Johnson's raffle tickets. Yet their money—Johno Johnson's raffle tickets—is being spent today on the legal fees of the member for Dobell. How ashamed he must be. The standing orders must be suspended so that the Prime Minister can come into the House and outline, for the good of the parliament, the arrangements between the New South Wales Labor Party and the member for Dobell that keep the Prime Minister clinging to power.
What do we know already about this matter? We know that in 2011 New South Wales Labor paid $150,000 of undeclared funds to settle the member for Dobell's legal actions against the Fairfax press. We know that New South Wales Labor has paid an undisclosed sum, since September last year, for the member for Dobell's legal fees in relation to the Fair Work Australia inquiry into him—an undisclosed sum which only came to light today, again when it was reported in the News Limited press.
Last night, the member for Dobell updated the Register of Members' Interests when he got an inquiry from the media about it. His story is that he only got the money two weeks ago. The New South Wales Labor Party story is that they have been paying since last September. Those of us who are lawyers know that we do not usually bill every eight months. We tend to bill on work in progress every month. So the possibility that Holding Redlich waited eight months to register their invoice to the New South Wales Labor Party is utterly unbelievable. I do not stand up for lawyers every day, but they are very good billers, I can assure you of that. In fact, only on 20 April, Holding Redlich was writing to the Senate Legislation Committee on Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. They were being paid by the New South Wales Labor Party in order to stop the production—
I will. The reason they wrote that letter to the inquiry was to ask the inquiry not to release the Fair Work Australia inquiry report. So even on 20 April, paid for by the New South Wales Labor Party, they were trying to cover up the Fair Work Australia inquiry report on behalf of their political masters in the Labor Party. That is what the Prime Minister needs to explain to the House. She needs to explain what her office knew about this and why it is that in the same week that she is claiming to take credit for the suspension of the member of Dobell the New South Wales Labor Party is paying lawyers fees to write letters to try and cover up the Fair Work Australia inquiry.
We also know that in 2011 the New South Wales Labor Party was making loans to the member for Dobell of undisclosed sums in order to keep him from going into bankruptcy. I yet again agree with the former Leader of the Opposition Mark Latham when he wrote about this scandal involving the member for Dobell:
I find it hard to believe that the member for Grayndler can get up again and defend the member for Dobell. Perhaps the so-called fabled light on the hill of Ben Chifley—the Leader of the Opposition referred to it recently—has turned into the red light on the hill, to which all the union leaders are running with their credit cards!
I second the motion. Standing orders must be suspended to provide the Prime Minister with an opportunity to give a full explanation about her actions, and the actions of the party she leads, in support of the member for Dobell.
I made the point yesterday that it is a matter of the gravest importance that one of the elected members of parliament has been found, by an independent government authority, to have fraudulently funded the campaign that enabled him to take his place in the national parliament. These findings are not gossip. These are not the accusations or wild allegations that come from a factional battle within the union movement. A quasi-judicial arm of the government, established by the Prime Minister herself, has made these very serious findings against the member for Dobell after an investigation and an audit that took more than three years.
The Fair Work Australia website reminds us that Fair Work Australia is part of Australia's national workplace relations system, which also includes the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Fair Work Divisions of the Federal Court of Australia and the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia. This is a quasi-judicial organisation, and it appointed an official investigator, Mr Terry Nassios, who produced a report of more than 1,100 pages with findings as to the activities of the HSU and the member for Dobell.
This report contains a litany of legal and industrial breaches, abuses of power, and misappropriation of funds for personal gain, including the procurement of prostitutes. These are findings. That is why standing orders must be suspended. These are not allegations or innuendo; these are findings that require a court to impose penalties.
This matter casts a pall over the integrity of this parliament because the report found that more than $270,000 was misappropriated to fund the election campaign of the member for Dobell. He sits here in the face of that finding of fraud to win his right to be in this place. Standing orders must be suspended because it is important for the reputation of the parliament as a whole that the Prime Minister reveal all the support provided to the member for Dobell by any member of the federal parliamentary Labor Party and the New South Wales Labor Party, whether she or any member of her government was consulted about that support and whether she lobbied for any support to be extended to him.
Standing orders must be suspended because it is also important for the broader community. The Fair Work Australia report found that the member for Dobell's misappropriation—his misuse—of more than $500,000 collected from lowly-paid workers in the healthcare sector was during this time as national secretary of the Health Services Union. However, ongoing support that could exceed even that amount has been extended by New South Wales Labor to the member for Dobell, and it is safe to assume that the majority of funds provided to the New South Wales Labor Party organisation came from union fees collected from workers across the state, including in healthcare and other industries. The battlers who look to the union movement to protect their interests must be appalled.
Standing orders must be suspended because the member for Dobell has been found by an official government agency to have misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars, yet the Labor Party, funded by the unions, has extended potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars more in supporting him. There is only one possible answer for this situation: the Prime Minister knows that, if the member Dobell were unable to pay his legal bills, he could potentially be declared bankrupt and his vote would be lost to her government. The Prime Minister has a very personal interest in keeping the member here.
The legitimacy of the member for Dobell's place in the parliament must be seriously questioned due to the findings of Fair Work Australia, and the role of any member of this government in supporting his ongoing presence in this parliament must be explained. The member for Denison has said in the past that his support for the government may be withdrawn in the event of serious misconduct; the members for Lyne and New England have said maladministration or corruption. There are few allegations more serious than this government's being complicit, and I say to those members: there is a line that has been crossed here, and it is time to support this motion.
On the day of the budget reply, this is the priority of the opposition, because it is their priority each and every day—each and every day getting down in the gutter. But today we saw a step further: today we saw questions and statements from the Manager of Opposition Business which slurred each and every member on this side of the chamber and each and every trade union leader.
I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for her contribution, because it indeed belled the cat when she said very simply, 'These are matters that are to be determined by a court: not by parliamentary members; by a court.' It is important because, when there are serious issues, the judicial system determines them, not parliamentarians based upon party allegiance. That is an important separation of powers which is the basis of fundamental rights in this country, and it is important.
I refer to an article of 12 January 1978 in the Daily Telegraph, just as the Manager of Opposition Business spoke about past articles in the Daily Telegraph. The headline reads: 'Assault raised laughs and jeers, woman tells court.' I table it. I refer to a follow-up article on 13 January 1978, the headline of which reads: 'Touching charge by girl fails.' The Leader of the Opposition had accusations made against him, they went through proper processes in court and he was found not guilty. That is the appropriate way we deal with these issues. It was not determined by Sydney Uni SRC based upon the numbers at Sydney Uni SRC; it was determined properly.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will resume her seat or she will leave the chamber. If anyone is going to be talking about speaking to the motion that I have now sat through for three days, then I think I have allowed a great deal of latitude—more to the opposition, who have moved it—but I will ask the Leader of the House to refer to the motion before us.
We should not support this motion—we should not support this suspension of standing orders—not just because we should get on with the business of government but also because of the rank hypocrisy that we have seen from those opposite.
The Leader of the Opposition was also pinged by the Daily Telegraph, a fine newspaper, in an article, "$710,000 in Abbott loans not declared—Liberals cash crisis.' For two years he did not declare the loan, and he has the hypocrisy to come in here and authorise these attacks. He does not have the guts to do it himself, but he comes in here and authorises these attacks. He is a bloke who has been negligent in terms of his pecuniary interests, a bloke who has sat in the dock of the court being charged with serious offences, a bloke who knows how important the separation of powers is.
The reason we should not do this is that perhaps this afternoon we can hear from the Manager of Opposition Business about what he knew about the issue with James Ashby. In interview after interview he got the bucket out for the member for Fisher, someone they have preselected nine times.
On 29 April he said, 'I had no specific knowledge of these claims before that,' the same words used by the Leader of the Opposition. When asked about his relationship with Mr Ashby, he said:
I walk into the reception in the Speaker's office with Speaker's staffers there … I've said hello to all of them, so I passed the time of day with all of them.'
But on 1 May—
Madam Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: I take note of what you said about how the coalition have approached this, but not once have we spoken about people outside the confines of the motion.
Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will resume her seat. When she is told to resume her seat, she should stop talking and sit down. It is quite disrespectful. The Leader of the House will refer to the motion before the chair in respect of this issue.
I will indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker, because if this suspension motion is not carried, we could get on. We could continue question time and perhaps we could explore exactly what the Manager of Opposition Business's involvement is with this, because we have heard the stories change bit by bit. He said he had just passed the time with all of them. Then on 2 May he did not remember having asked for Mr Ashby's number, then later on he said he could well have, then he said he met him at least three times and then he said he had not spoken to James Ashby on the phone.
Order! The Leader of the House will resume his seat. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will resume her seat. I know what her point of order is and I will ask the Leader of the House to refer to the motion before the chair.
The motion before the chair is to suspend standing orders so that someone can come in here and talk about issues with regard to what the Manager of Opposition Business suggests they should—to direct a member of parliament to answer particular questions. The Manager of Opposition Business should not be supported on this, because he himself will not answer any questions about these issues at all. Today on ABC NewsRadio he was asked seven times—I will spare you the beginning of it but his basic answer was, 'I'm not going to play these games, Marius.' Asked again, he said, 'It's irrelevant.' Asked again, he said, 'I'm not playing these games, Marius.' He would not answer anything today and yet he comes in here and moves a suspension of standing orders about these issues.
If we are going to go down this road, we will have suspensions of standing orders about the member for Indi and court cases that are being conducted with regard to her involvement. We will have suspensions of standing orders about the Manager of Opposition Business, about the Deputy Leader of the Opposition—about all the others that we know were involved in the Ashby incident. We now have a new explanation. They have gone from specific knowledge—they got pinged on that one—to now all having a different script. The Leader of the Opposition is now saying, 'The first I knew of all these things was when I read the newspapers on the Saturday morning.'
The member for Cowper will resume his seat. It is my determination if anyone is defying my call. What I have actually asked the Leader of the House to do—and I am sick of the armchair experts assisting along the way—is to refer to the motion before the chair.
even though the mover and seconder did not talk about why standing orders needed to be suspended. The reason why standing orders should not be suspended is so that we can debate the budget and so that the Leader of the Opposition can do his budget reply. I do not think they have even woken up yet. By moving a motion to suspend standing orders, we have not even carried the procedural resolution which allows the Leader of the Opposition to do his budget reply tonight. If this motion is carried, you will knock over the Leader of the Opposition's budget reply. They just do not pay attention. They are so concerned with being in the gutter, they just do not pay attention. (Time expired)
Madam Deputy Speaker, documents are tabled in accordance with the list circulated to honourable members earlier today. Full details of the documents will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings and Hansard.
That the House take note of all documents:
Australian River Co. Limited and its consolidated entities—Report for the period 1 December 2010 to 30 November 2011.
Interactive Gambling Act 2001Prohibition on interactive gambling advertisements—Report for 2011.
Question agreed to.