Thursday, 20 September 2018
Minister for Home Affairs
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Melbourne from moving—That this House has no confidence in the Minister for Home Affairs.
There's a golden rule in this place if you are a minister: tell the truth. Do not mislead the parliament. The parliament is there to hold ministers and the government to account. We might not like the answers they give. We might disagree with the decisions they've made. But, because ministers have enormous power that, in many instances, they exercise behind closed doors, we need them to be honest with us. So one of the most vital questions that we have to resolve now—and before question time, when all the ministers line up and give their answers—is: is any one of these ministers telling the truth? Can we have confidence in what they say?
What has become crystal clear is that you cannot trust what the Minister for Home Affairs says to this chamber. I asked him a simple question: did he know someone? Did he have a personal connection with someone? He stood up in this chamber, with full knowledge of who I was referring to, and said no. He not only said, 'I have no personal connection with that person;' he went on, of his own volition, to say, 'I did not know them.' But it is now crystal clear, and the Senate inquiry has confirmed this, when the minister told parliament he didn't know someone, he did. He did, and that throws everything into question, because now the minister's credibility is on the line.
The Prime Minister has laid down some very clear rules for ministers, and those rules say that you have to exercise your power with the sole objective of the public interest and you must not mislead the House. But what we have here is a minister who's about to get up in a couple of hours, which is why this is so urgent—a minister who, when he knows exactly who it is the question is about, is prepared to say to the House: 'No, I don't know them. I have no personal connection with them.' Then he goes on radio and says, 'They're a former colleague of mine.' Then he comes back later into the House and says that, yes, he did, in fact, know them. Then, not of his own volition, but because the Senate does its job and inquires into the decisions of the minister, several emails popped up. And one email popped up in response to a question from the opposition spokesperson in this House that says, 'Peter, long time between calls.' This comes from someone the minister said he didn't know.
What is also becoming crystal clear is that the department and the minister's office bent over backwards to help this person in a way that has not happened with anyone else, with the exception, perhaps, of another au pair. This person got special treatment. Why? The inference is clear: because they were known to the minister. So there are multiple parts of the ministerial standards that the minister has breached.
The Prime Minister has refused to take the action that's needed, which is to dismiss the minister. The minister has refused to resign. The best the minister has come up with is a Bill Clinton style defence where 'personal connection' apparently doesn't mean 'personal connection'. 'Knowing someone' apparently does not mean 'knowing someone'. He has been caught out, and that is why nothing could be more important than suspending standing orders to deal with this before question time.
Acting Deputy Speaker, I'm quite happy for the member for Melbourne to speak, but I'd like to clarify on what basis. Is he moving a suspension of standing orders, or has he sought leave to move a motion?
One thing I would say to people who are considering which way to vote on this motion is that this is not about whether or not you agree with the government's border policy. It is well known that I have a difference of opinion with the minister about that.
This is not about whether you in fact even agree with the decisions that the minister has made. This is about whether ministers in this government can be trusted to tell the truth to the House. I say to the members of the government backbench and to other members in this place that this won't even affect the numbers in parliament, tightly balanced as they are because the government has decided to leave the people of Wentworth without representation. This won't even affect the numbers in parliament. This is just a clear message that this minister is no longer fit to sit on the front bench. If the minister is not going to take the course that would be the honourable course, which is what you do when you are in clear breach of the ministerial standards, if he's not going to take it himself, then parliament needs to send the clearest possible message. And precedent would dictate that, if this suspension motion is passed, and then the ultimate motion is passed, the minister goes to the back bench. For that reason, we must suspend standing orders right now.
Of course, the government doesn't agree to the suspension of standing orders. We have important business to be getting on with in the House of Representatives, and that's exactly what we intend to do.
The House this morning dealt with the legislation around strawberries to protect Australian consumers and families, and I really welcome the bipartisan approach that the House offered to the very important legislation that the Attorney-General presented and passed this morning. As people would know, it was an unorthodox approach to bring legislation into the parliament and then not let it sit on the table. So I do thank the Labor Party and the crossbenchers for ensuring that what has been a harrowing period for people in the strawberry industry has been addressed by the government as best as we can in one morning of debate in the House of Representatives. But it's an example of what we need to be doing in the parliament—getting on with the business of government.
We are only halfway through the introductions of legislation. In fact, I think the Minister for Home Affairs had introduced a bill. We have significant bills that need to be introduced and passed by the House of Representatives over the course of the spring session: the Higher Education Support Amendment (VET FEE-HELP Student Protection) Bill 2018, the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Omnibus) Bill 2018, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Making Sure Foreign Investors Pay Their Fair Share of Tax in Australia and Other Measures) Bill 2018, the Income Tax (Managed Investment Trust Withholding Tax) Amendment Bill 2018, the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Sovereign Entities) Bill 2018, and so on. There is a long list of bill introductions today.
I'm happy to keep it going, since you want to know. There is the Treasury Laws Amendment (Making Sure Multinationals Pay Their Fair Share of Tax in Australia and Other Measures) Bill 2018, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Black Economy Taskforce Measures No. 2) Bill 2018 and the Excise Tariff Amendment (Collecting Tobacco Duties at Manufacture) Bill 2018.
Listen, Abraham, you're not on television now. It's all right—you can give your 'close-in look to camera' speech later on this afternoon!
It is important to introduce these bills into this parliament so that they can be passed in the spring session and the business of government can be gotten on with. A suspension of standing orders has been moved. When that happens, the business of government stops and a new item of business is dealt with. So the speech that should have been given by the member for Melbourne should have been about why the suspension of standing orders should be supported in order to allow him to move his motion, but I didn't interrupt him on that basis once we'd discovered what he was doing.
We want to get on with the business of government. We have significant legislation to introduce into the parliament and then to debate and pass. We don't agree that the standing orders should be suspended in order to allow a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Home Affairs. We have absolute confidence in the Minister for Home Affairs—absolute confidence in the Minister for Home Affairs. This Minister for Home Affairs has stopped the boats, following on from the good work of the now Prime Minister. He's protected our borders. This government, led first by the now Prime Minister, along with the Minister for Home Affairs, has put national security as one of our very first priorities alongside growing the economy—national security, economic security. He's not running the loosey-goosey approach to the borders that the Labor Party ran when they were in office for six years, when we had 50,000 unauthorised arrivals on 800 boats and at least 1,000 deaths at sea that we know about and thousands of children in detention. We fixed it. We got on and we fixed it.
On this occasion, the Minister for Home Affairs has been the fixer. He fixed it, along with the now Prime Minister. It is a very significant part of government policy because not only is it important to protect our borders and to stop deaths at sea; it also saves the Australian taxpayer billions and billions of dollars. When you open 17 new immigration detention centres and processing centres, as Labor did, it costs an extraordinary amount of money. So, on every single level, the work of the Minister for Home Affairs in protecting our borders has been absolutely outstanding. And that has been not only in protecting our borders. As the Minister for Home Affairs, he has also ensured we have a rigorous visa-processing system. He is not allowing bikie gang leaders, drug runners or sexual offenders to simply stay in the country, as Labor allowed to happen for six years. He has cancelled over 3,000 visas of criminals in the time that he has been the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and the Minister for Home Affairs. He has been acting and getting on with the job, which is what this House wants to do. My sense, hearing from my colleagues, is that they want to get on with the business of the House, because that's what good governments do.
Not only has the Minister for Home Affairs protected Australians and protected our borders; he's also ensured that we have an absolute world-class approach to stopping terrorism in Australia. He's protecting Australia and putting the safety of Australians first. He has protected them from terrorism, extremism and radicalism in the approach that he has taken as the Minister for Home Affairs and before that as the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. That is one of the most important things, if not the most important thing, any government can do.
Yet the Labor Party and, unfortunately, some of my friends on the crossbench—certainly the member for Melbourne and the member for Denison—want us to stop having our focus on the safety of the Australian public. They want us to take our focus off the safety of the Australian public. They want us to focus instead on these political games. The Australian public are thoroughly sick of it. We had a Senate committee report handed down last night. The committee had a majority of Labor and Greens members on it. Amazingly, it found against the Minister for Home Affairs—shock, horror! Who would have thought? There wasn't one Labor or Greens member who chose to back the government. It's never happened and it's not going to happen—surprise, surprise! There has not been one shred of evidence presented by the Labor Party—or the Greens, for that matter—as to why this motion of no confidence should be carried on the Minister for Home Affairs. That is why the government will not support a suspension of standing orders to facilitate this motion.
A motion of no confidence in a minister—or a government, for that matter—is one of the most serious things that a parliament can consider. So serious is it that, from memory, we didn't move a motion of no confidence in the Gillard government in the entire 43rd Parliament. We moved a few suspensions of standing orders, but we never moved a motion of no confidence in the government, because the most serious thing a parliament can do is consider such a motion.
Oh, well, you, the Labor Party, dispatched her anyway, which is not to your credit. In fact, you started all the instability in the last 11 years. It's the Labor disease.
We have absolute confidence in the Minister for Home Affairs. He is a fine individual who has spent the better part of his working career working for the Australian people in Dickson and representing them in the parliament with absolute integrity. He is beyond reproach. Labor and the Greens are yet to present any credible evidence that would suggest to the government that there is any reason why the Minister for Home Affairs should have a motion of no confidence passed on him. In fact, Labor's attacks on the Minister for Home Affairs in the last two weeks have been utterly shameful and humiliatingly bad. You really need to get the member for Isaacs back on the tactics committee—he's been off it—because it has been a hopeless performance from the Labor Party. They have not landed one glove on the Minister for Home Affairs or anyone on this side of the House over the matters that have been raised by the member for Melbourne in this debate today. The prosecution, so-called, of the Minister for Home Affairs has been woeful. Of course, that's not the reason we're voting against the motion, but it does speak volumes about how little credible evidence the Labor Party has been able to find to impugn the good character and name of the Minister for Home Affairs, who has served the people with distinction for the last 18 years as a minister and, initially, as a backbencher. I am very proud to call him my friend and colleague.
The opposition will be supporting the motion that's been moved by the member for Melbourne. I think everybody now knows after that recent speech that, if you're ever in trouble, there's one person you don't want to be charged with defending you, and that's the Leader of the House. That was extraordinary. He claimed there was urgent business that the House had to deal with and then said, 'Can someone please hand me a copy of it?' because he had no idea what it was. I've got to say that, if this government ever wanted to argue that there was urgent business before the House, they lost the right to do that the day they shut down the parliament. They shut down the parliament because of the person they're now in here defending—at his request, we were told.
There will be lots of arguments that go back and forth in this House about the Minister for Home Affairs, but today we deal with one issue, which is that ministers must not mislead the parliament. That's it. The Leader of the House says, 'But what evidence has Labor provided?' Well there are two things here: first, is that an important principle, and, second, did the Minister for Home Affairs breach it? Is it an important principle? It's listed in the Practice as one of the reasons a minister would have to resign. It was stated in 2015—more extreme language than I'd probably use—and I quote, 'If you mislead parliament, that's a cardinal sin.' That was said by the Minister for Home Affairs in a radio interview. That's his view on how serious this is.
Let's work out whether or not that has happened. There's one question here: did the minister tell the truth to the parliament? He was asked a question by the member for Melbourne, and that's why it's appropriate that it's the member for Melbourne bringing the issue to the House today. The question he was asked was this:
Can you categorically rule out any personal connection or any other relationship between you and the intended employer of either of the au pairs?
In his answer, the Minister for Home Affairs said:
The answer is yes.
And then added something even stronger than what the question said. He said:
I don't know these people.
He said that back on 27 March. Was he telling the truth when he said that? To answer the question as to whether or not that was a true statement, let's not go to my words or my evidence; let's go to what the Minister for Home Affairs said later about the same matter. On 3 September he was asked in a press conference in Brisbane:
Minister Dutton do you now concede that you knew the man from the police force, who you assisted with the visa for the au pair?
To which he said, 'I've never denied that'. I reckon 'I don't know these people' is a denial that you knew them. The claim that he has never denied it was made by the Minister for Home Affairs. The statement that he denied that he knew them was made by the Minister for Home Affairs right there at that dispatch box in March in answer to a question from the member for Melbourne.
Never once, in all the issues that the Leader of the House just danced around, watching the clock as he went—it was as though the member for Higgins was making a speech; the clock was being watched for the entirety of the speech as the Leader of the House gave that answer—did he deal with the issue as to whether or not the minister had misled the House, because we all know he had. You don't need the Labor Party to tell you that, you don't need a Senate inquiry to tell you that, because the Minister for Home Affairs has told us that. He answered a question in the House and said, 'I don't know these people,' then when asked in a doorstop interview whether or not he knew those people, he said, 'Well, I've never denied that.' He did. He denied it.
You will often get accusations about whether or not a minister has misled the House. You will never get one as open and shut as what is in front of us today. Of all the evidence that you get misled on, you rarely get the minister himself or herself saying, 'I've never denied that,' when the denial is what was stated in the parliament. (Time expired)
Central to the Minister for Home Affairs' defence is that he receives hundreds of requests from members of parliament and from senators to intervene in individual cases, and that's all he did in the case of the two or three au pairs. What he misses when he gives that defence is the fact that those hundreds of requests for intervention are genuinely for people on humanitarian grounds. There is no way in the world that the Minister for Home Affairs can lean on the defence that the intervention in the case of the au pairs was on humanitarian grounds. That is patently bunkum. And how offensive is that to all of those who care about the people who are locked up in our overseas gulags on Manus Island and Nauru? How offensive is that? How wrong is it for the manager of government business to defend the Minister for Home Affairs by saying, 'He's kept us safe,' and we don't want to keep us safe. Of course we want to keep us safe, but we also want to act like a legal country, with integrity.
It is outrageous that there have been countless children now who have been desperately sick and the Minister for Home Affairs has refused to have them brought to Australia, and it's been left to the Federal Court to issue orders to bring those people to Australia. On one hand, it's okay to be intervening on humanitarian grounds for au pairs to come to this country, but it's not okay for the minister to intervene in numerous cases. For example, just this year the Federal Court issued transport orders for a 10-year-old boy on Nauru who attempted suicide three times and needed surgery. The Federal Court had to order the repatriation to Australia of a young girl who attempted suicide three times on Nauru. The Federal Court had to intervene in the case of a 14-year-old girl who doused herself in petrol and set herself alight on Nauru. The Federal Court had to intervene in the case of a 17-year-old boy who suffers from psychosis and needed to be reunited with his mother. The Federal Court had to intervene in the case of an adolescent girl suffering major depression and traumatic withdrawal syndrome. The Federal Court had to intervene in the case of a critically unwell baby. The Federal Court had to intervene in the case of a 12-year-old boy on Nauru refusing fluid and food for nearly two weeks. The Federal Court had to intervene in the case of a 17-year-old girl on Nauru refusing all food and fluid and diagnosed with resignation syndrome. The Federal Court had to intervene in the case of a 12-year-old girl on Nauru who has attempted suicide several times, also setting herself on fire. The Federal Court had to intervene in the case of a 14-year-old boy on Nauru, suffering major depressive disorder and severe muscle wastage after not getting out of bed for four months. But the minister says it's okay to intervene in the case of two or three au pairs on humanitarian grounds when we've got at least 30 children on Nauru who doctors say should be brought to this country for urgent medical attention. Then there's the case of all the people on Manus who are effectively detained there. It is a complete nonsense.
It's deeply offensive to all of us in this parliament when we're accused of being weak on national security. We're strong on national security but we're also humanitarians. When we go to the minister and ask him to intervene, it's for genuine humanitarian grounds, because we believe we should start acting like a law-abiding country, with integrity. There's no integrity in claiming humanitarian reasons for bringing nannies into this country for his mates once or twice removed. There's no integrity in that.
I'm happy to support this motion by the member for Melbourne. I will be deeply disappointed if there aren't some members of the government who will join us.