House debates

Monday, 14 August 2017


Deputy Prime Minister

2:50 pm

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the member for Watson from moving the following motion forthwith—

That the House:

(1) notes:

(a) today, this House unanimously asked the High Court to determine whether the Deputy Prime Minister is constitutionally qualified to be a Member of Parliament;

(b) the New Zealand Government has since confirmed that the Deputy Prime Minister is a New Zealand citizen despite the Prime Minister's assurance on this matter;

(c) the Government has relied on the vote of the Deputy Prime Minister to block a Royal Commission into the banks and to block amendments to legislation which would have stopped nearly 700,000 Australians from having their penalty rates cut; and

(d) the former Minister for Resources and Northern Australia resigned from Cabinet because there were doubts over his constitutional qualifications; and

(2) therefore, calls on the Prime Minister to:

(a) release any legal advice it has received about the constitutional qualifications of the Deputy Prime Minister;

(b) rule out accepting the vote of the Deputy Prime Minister while his constitutional qualifications are in doubt; and

(c) direct the Deputy Prime Minister to immediately resign from Cabinet.

This is a government without legitimacy. This is a government that has had to, for the first time in the history of this country—

Mr Tim Wilson interjecting

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Goldstein!

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

go to the High Court and ask—

Mr Tim Wilson interjecting

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Goldstein is warned!

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

whether or not it in fact has a majority. We've never had a government before—not once since Federation—that has had to go to the High Court because it just wasn't sure if it had a majority or not. We just had a lecture from the Leader of the House talking about lawlessness. Talk about lawlessness! We've got someone in the role of Deputy Prime Minister and we're not even sure if he's meant to be a member of parliament. We're not even sure if he's been legally, lawfully, elected. And what's the test meant to be? Whether or not he's also a citizen of New Zealand. And what does the government of New Zealand say? 'Yes, he is.' You've got the most senior people in New Zealand saying they know the answer to this.

Don't forget that, with Senator Canavan, we were told before—and Senator Canavan was made to stand aside. When he had to stand aside, he said, 'But I intend to check whether or not this has happened lawfully under Italian law,' because he believed there was doubt under Italian law as to whether he was a citizen. We've now got the Prime Minister of New Zealand saying, 'No, no, no, there's no question. Unwittingly or not, he might not have meant to do it, but he is a citizen of New Zealand.'

This could have been handled completely differently today. There was an opportunity for the government today to have the Deputy Prime Minister stand aside. There's an opportunity for the government to be able to prioritise issues—in terms of divisions while this matter is being resolved—where they're not relying on a majority of one. But, no, that's not how they operate. That's not how a Prime Minister who will say anything and do anything to be in office operates. What they're willing to do now is say, 'Who cares what the Constitution says? Who cares about the risk that we might have someone making ministerial decisions that aren't in fact lawful, that aren't in fact allowed under the Constitution? We just reckon we'll get away with it.' The extraordinary thing earlier today, right at the beginning of question time, was that the Prime Minister was telling the High Court what it would decide. What extraordinary words! Not, 'We are confident,' but we had the situation where the Prime Minister was, through his office of Prime Minister, telling the High Court what its conclusion would be.

I can say the Labor Party are confident every member of the Labor caucus has been properly elected. We have processes in place which go back to grandparents, making sure that, wherever citizenship needs to be renounced, the full requirements of the Constitution are taken into account. Do you remember the Prime Minister's description of the Greens? Do you remember what he was saying when the Greens first declared that they, the Greens party, had made mistakes of this nature? He was talking about 'extraordinary recklessness' on their part, about how hopeless they were. Prime Minister, every criticism you made about the Greens is now about you. Every single word the Prime Minister said about that party is now about the Prime Minister himself.

Senator Canavan—imagine how that poor bloke feels right now. If only the coalition agreement had been signed with him, he'd still be in the job. If only he'd been in the House of Representatives as a critical vote, he'd still be in the job. If you think about it, what's the difference between Senator Canavan's situation and the Deputy Prime Minister's situation? Senator Canavan says he had no way of knowing that this could have happened—it was done by others around him; he couldn't have known. According to what the Deputy Prime Minister said today, all the facts that have led the New Zealand government to make this decision aren't based on an additional application; they're based on facts the Deputy Prime Minister has known all his life. Yet the protection racket kicks in, and we end up having a government that will mock other parties. It has a reference for their own people in the Senate, which isn't quite the threshold that everyone else gets held to, but, at that moment when it comes to the vote that this man needs to continue to be Prime Minister of Australia, every principle is out the window.

There are Australians all around the country in a series of industries—in the automotive industry, in shopping complexes, at restaurants—all saying: 'If only he fought for our jobs as tough as he's now fighting for his own; if only he would care and put as much commitment into fighting for the jobs of Australians as he's putting in today for his own job.' This is what the Prime Minister said with respect to the Greens party:

Those two Senators knew exactly what the rules are.

Apparently the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia hadn't heard about this Constitution document. He then went on to say:

… why they wouldn't have turned their mind to it and dealt with it, is beyond me.

Prime Minister, a few things: first of all, if the Prime Minister really believed those words then how on earth can he think this is the human being who should be his second-in-charge? If he actually believes any of the words he spoke when he thought the only people at stake were members of the Greens party, how on earth can he now be in a situation where he's willing to accept somebody who has acted with that same degree of recklessness and make that person Deputy Prime Minister? There's only one reason why he'll do it, there's only one reason why this Prime Minister will make all these concessions, and that's because keeping his job is contingent on it. That's what it's about. Think of all the times this House has divided and the government has held on by a majority of one. Think of the times when every member of the crossbench has lined up on the same side as the Labor opposition and the outcome for Australia could have been different.

Not only are they unwilling to say, 'We won't accept his vote'—they're not even willing to say, 'While this is being resolved, he won't get his salary.' Every dollar of the salary has to survive during this period, where the parliament has voted unanimously that we don't know whether he's allowed to be here. It isn't like Labor did some deal, someone crossed the floor and we just got it over the line; the Leader of the House came in here today and moved it. It was carried unanimously in this House. This House has resolved for the first time in its history that it doesn't know whether or not this government has a majority—and the Prime Minister reckons it's business as usual!

Well, let me tell you, Prime Minister, it's not business as usual for the victims of the banks, who've been held back by the way you've hung onto that majority of one. It's not business as usual for the Australians who took a pay cut when their penalty rates were taken from them, when this parliament tried to fix it. What this government is doing is accepting that it doesn't know whether or not it's acting lawfully but keeping its job anyway.

The government needs to release the advice as to why the situation for Senator Canavan is different to the situation for the member for New England. Senator Canavan may or may not be a senator. The member for New England may or may not be really the member for New England. But there is another thing we don't know: this government may or may not have a majority, and yet it thinks it can govern anyway and the Australian people won't notice. The Australian people aren't going to miss this today. The Australian people aren't going to let today be something that just slips their mind when they flick the news on. Today was the day that the parliament resolved it didn't know whether or not this government had a majority, and the Prime Minister was determined to cling to power, whether it was legal or not.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

3:01 pm

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

It is. Not without cause, I have often said that the Deputy Prime Minister is all hat, no cowboy, and now we are entitled to question his right to even wear the hat. We've known of the secret coalition deal for some time, but now, after 10 years, we learn of the secret citizen. Australia currently has an illegitimate agriculture minister, an illegitimate Deputy Prime Minister, an illegitimate resources minister, an illegitimate water minister and an illegitimate minister for northern Australia—all allegedly some of the Prime Minister's key interests.

Minister Canavan must be feeling pretty sad for himself today. No doubt Minister Canavan thought he was doing a pretty good job. We had a slightly different view, but certainly Minister Canavan thought he was part of a cabinet which liked him and supported him. He is, of course, a protege of the Deputy Prime Minister. He was entitled to believe that the Deputy Prime Minister and, indeed, the Prime Minister might have stood beside him in his hour of need, but it wasn't the case—dispatched on the moment of confession. But it is a different story in the case of the Deputy Prime Minister. And why is that so? Well, there is one simple reason, called the numbers in the House of Representatives. That is the difference between Senator Canavan and the Deputy Prime Minister, who continues to sit in the House today with every intention of continuing to exercise his vote on behalf of the Australian community.

I can take up a lot of my time reflecting on the poor performance of this minister over the course of the last four years. Everywhere I travel in this country they're saying the same thing—

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Hunter will resume his seat for a second. The motion is to suspend standing orders, and the member for Hunter needs to speak to why the standing orders should be suspended. I give a lot of latitude on these motions, but he's now straying beyond why standing orders should be suspended.

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

Obviously it's urgent that standing orders be suspended, because we have a Deputy Prime Minister sitting in this chamber with us now, with every intention—with the imprimatur of his Prime Minister—to exercise his vote in this place, illegitimately, certainly under a cloud, until the High Court makes its determination, a determination referred by his own Prime Minister. As the Manager of Opposition Business said earlier today, you don't refer the matter if you're sure of the answer; you refer the matter if you're unsure of the answer.

I won't spend too much time reflecting on people's disappointment in this minister's past performances. But everywhere I go—and this is the urgency out in the Australian community and the reason this motion is urgent—what they're more concerned about is what the future will look like, whether they are going to be represented by a minister who has the legal capacity to represent their interests and who, over the coming months, will be making decisions in each of those portfolios which are critical to their interests. And, of course, their interests are also the Australian interests.

We recently had an outbreak of white spot disease in the prawn sector. When these biosecurity risks emerge we need someone on the watch, someone on the job with the power to legitimately deal with these issues in a legally binding way, and all those out there in the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector are asking themselves whether they have such a person on that watch. As we speak there are boats sitting off the coast of China with frozen beef on board because they have been denied access to the China market. When these things occur, they need to know, Prime Minister, that they have an agriculture minister on watch who is able to deal with these issues in a full legal capacity. And those exporters of that beef today will be asking themselves whether (1) they have a minister representing them with that legal capacity and (2) whether they have a minister who is taken seriously in China and in other export markets.

Do you really believe, Prime Minister, that we are on a level playing field when you have an illegitimate minister negotiating with trading partners and when our exports are blocked off coast? The Deputy Prime Minister—and indeed you, Prime Minister—is very fond of talking about the beef sector. He—again, illegitimately—takes credit for higher beef prices. We know how funny that must be to the cockies out there, the producers. But what we do need is someone who's taken seriously on export markets, and in this Deputy Prime Minister—this minister—we certainly have no such person.

3:06 pm

Photo of Christopher PyneChristopher Pyne (Sturt, Liberal Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm sorry to say that the member for Hunter was even worse than the member for Isaacs usually is, which is really pushing the boat out there! Fancy the chutzpah of the Labor Party, to come into this chamber and lecture the Liberals and Nationals about parliamentary ethics. In the 43rd Parliament the Labor Party were the party that suborned Peter Slipper, the member for Fisher, and the party that stuck the knife into Harry Jenkins, the former member for Scullin, to get him out of the chair as Speaker to slip Peter Slipper into the Speaker's chair in order to deny the coalition a vote on the House of Representatives. It was a disgraceful and ruthless act of realpolitik. And didn't that end well? That was the record of the Labor Party in office when they thought they had the chance. They didn't think for one minute about the right way to behave in this place.

But that's not even the worst example of the Labor Party, because the Labor Party spent three years supporting the member for Dobell, Craig Thomson, in this place, taking his vote in this House when we had refused to take his vote in the opposition. The member for Dobell was backed in by the Labor Party in a disgraceful protection racket in order to save the skin of Julia Gillard, the then Prime Minister of Australia. And the person who sidled up to Craig Thomson—supported him—was the current Leader of the Opposition, the member for Maribyrnong. So, for the Labor Party to come in here and lecture the coalition, who has done the right thing by the government, by the people of Australia, when we are behaving ethically in every respect—on every part of this journey we have done the right thing.

The Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear in the House and elsewhere that we are totally confident of the status of the member for New England, and that is the very clear advice of the Solicitor-General. And nobody has sought to impugn the Solicitor-General's reputation. It is absolutely clear, however, that this area of the law needs to be clarified. This area of the law, under section 44(i), needs to be clarified. What the government has decided to do is, on the request of the Deputy Prime Minister, refer this matter to the High Court, to get a very clear ruling from the High Court about what section 44(i) means—

Mr Brian Mitchell interjecting

Photo of Christopher PyneChristopher Pyne (Sturt, Liberal Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

particularly with respect to citizenship gained by descent. So, we have done the right thing, yet Labor comes in here and thinks they can lecture the government—

Mr Brian Mitchell interjecting

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Lyons is warned.

Photo of Christopher PyneChristopher Pyne (Sturt, Liberal Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

about us taking the right course of action to ensure that, in the public interest, people have absolute confidence in how the Constitution works, because this government is the adult in the room. Where the Leader of the Opposition and the Labor Party keep playing old politics, this government is the one that is getting on with dealing with issues like low wages, creating jobs, growing investment in the economy, reducing inflation, keeping interest rates low, balancing the budget. That's what sensible governments do—they deal with welfare reform and the economics of opportunity. All the opposition does is play politics day in and day out, and that's why the public are thoroughly sick of it. They are thoroughly sick of it, and that's why they continue to support this Prime Minister over the Leader of the Opposition every day of the week.

If you take the Manager of Opposition Business's logic to its logical conclusion, if a member who was referred to the High Court, such as in the circumstances of the Deputy Prime Minister, could no longer sit in the parliament until the High Court decided the outcome of that application, the government could use its numbers any time it wished to refer any member of the Labor Party to the High Court if it chose to do so. In fact, I'm sure that, if the Labor Party had that kind of power and the shoe was on the other foot, that's exactly what they would do. But, taken to its logical conclusion, if the government was unsure of winning a vote, we would simply refer one of the members of the opposition to the High Court and ask the High Court to determine their status, and, until the High Court got around to it, we'd say that they couldn't vote in the chamber. That might work in Third World Stalinist countries, one which many of the Labor members would draw their political inspiration from, but it doesn't work in a democracy like ours. That's why we will not be supporting the suspension of standing orders. That's because the government—the adult in the room—is getting on with the business of government, and that's what the public expects and wants us to do.

The other reason we're not going to be lectured by the Labor Party about this matter is the Prime Minister wrote to the Leader of the Opposition today. In his letter to the Leader of the Opposition, he said, 'There are a number of cases already referred by the Senate, so it would be helpful if all relevant matters could be heard by the court at the same time.' In other words, we would be quite keen to refer members on the other side of the House over whom there may be a cloud to the High Court for determination.

Opposition members: Who?

I've been asked to name them, and I will. The member for Braddon, for example, has a much worse case than Senator Malcolm Roberts. The only difference between the member for Braddon's status in this House as a UK citizen and Senator Malcolm Roberts is the matter of months it took for the UK to write and say that both he and she were not citizens of the UK. But, on election day, neither of them had renounced their citizenship to the United Kingdom, and the only difference between the member for Braddon and Senator Malcolm Roberts is a matter of months. That is the only material difference.

There are others. Is surprises me that, if members on that side of the House had evidence of renouncing their citizenship, they would not be providing it to the media. I understand that The Courier Mail has asked the member for Longman on many occasions to prove that she has renounced her UK citizenship. She has refused to do so. If the member for Longman has absolutely nothing to fear, why doesn't she release the evidence that shows that she renounced her citizenship? What about the member for Makin? The member for Makin has been asked time and again by the press to show how he's renounced his citizenship. He says that he has, but where is the evidence that the member for Makin has renounced his citizenship? It was okay for the member for Cowan to produce her evidence. The member for Cowan, who had the potential to be an Egyptian citizen, produced the evidence which shows that she has renounced her citizenship. She's done the right thing. So, if it's good enough for the member for Cowan, why isn't it good enough for the member for Makin, the member for Longman or, in fact, the member for Braddon, who is in a worse position than Senator Malcolm Roberts? I understand that the member for Calwell has also been asked to produce her evidence to show that she is no longer a Greek citizen. They all claim that they're not dual citizens, but if in fact they have this evidence, which is apparently clearly able to be obtained, why haven't they produced it for the general public?

If the government decided to refer those members to the High Court to seek clarity about their status, would we insist that they not be allowed to vote in the House of Representatives until justice had been able to take its course?

Of course we wouldn't. We would expect their status to be resolved by the High Court, and once resolved they would be able to continue to do exactly what they had done before unless they were found to have been disqualified.

There are many more. If Labor wants to open this Pandora's box, that is a matter for them, but the reality is that there are more, and they need to prove that they are not disqualified from sitting in the House of Representatives before they start to criticise the government for being the ones that did the right thing and recognised that this was an area that needed to be clarified by the High Court in relation to section 44(i) for us to be able to have full confidence that the Constitution is fit for purpose. That's what the public expects us to do: to get on with the job. When an issue is raised, they expect us to deal with it maturely, calmly and sensibly, while all the time the cabinet and the rest of the parliament on this side of the House are serving the interests of the people: creating jobs, building investment and supporting local communities. That's exactly what we're going to continue to do, and we're going to vote against the suspension of standing orders because we want to deal with the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection's citizenship laws, which is much more important than pathetic political point-scoring from the Labor Party.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has concluded. The question is that the motion moved by the Manager of Opposition Business to suspend standing orders be agreed to.

3:24 pm

Photo of Malcolm TurnbullMalcolm Turnbull (Wentworth, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

( — ) ( ): I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.