House debates

Tuesday, 7 February 2023



12:02 pm

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll be brief in my comments here, to try to make sure that those who have different views on this motion have a chance to speak, given the time-limited nature of the debate. I move the motion in the terms in which it appears on the Notice Paper:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the following proceedings at the conclusion of the Matter of Public Importance today:

(1) a Minister presenting documents pursuant to the Migration Act 1958, then immediately moving a motion in relation to the instrument of designation of the Republic of Nauru as a regional processing country;

(a) including the Minister's speech, debate continuing for no longer than one hour, at which time any questions necessary to complete consideration of the matter being put without delay; and

(b) if required by a Minister before the expiration of time allocated, debate on any question provided for under paragraph (1)(a) being extended for a further period specified by the Minister,

(2) immediately following proceedings on the instrument of designation, the private Members' business notice relating to the disallowance of the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Amendment (Annual Members' Meetings Notices) Regulations 2022, made under the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993 on 1 September 2022 and presented to the House on 5 September 2022, standing in the name of the Member for Fadden, being called on;

(a) including the mover's speech, debate continuing for no longer than one hour, at which time any questions necessary to complete consideration of the matter being put without delay; and

(b) if required by a Minister before the expiration of time allocated, debate on any question provided for under paragraph (2)(a) being extended for a further period specified by the Minister; and

(3) any variation to this arrangement being made only on a motion moved by a Minister.

We have two time-sensitive issues that we have to deal with, and so, rather than do it through separate motions on the Notice Paper, I've dealt with both together. The two time-sensitive issues that we have to deal with are a disallowance relating to superannuation and a Nauru instrument that people would be aware has appeared on the Notice Paper today from the Minister for Home Affairs. The reason for the time-limited debate on both is that I'm trying to make sure, given the need for issues to be resolved today, that we're able to do so well within the time before 6.30 pm, after which we have no further divisions, to make sure that these issues don't kick over beyond today. Provision has been made, depending on how quickly we get through the MPI, that, where there is flexibility for the minister to allow a further extension of time, that would be possible. But both issues are time-sensitive, and, if we have a long debate—and, I appreciate, given the nature of the issues, many members would like to be able to speak on them—there will be real-life consequences if we're not able to deal with these issues today. I commend the motion to the House.

12:04 pm

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy) Share this | | Hansard source

I move, as an amendment to the motion moved by the minister:

(1) Omit subparagraphs (2)(a) and (b);

(2) Omit paragraph (3); and

(3) Insert new subparagraph (2)(a) as follows:

"that the question on the disallowance motion not be put until such time as every Member wishing to speak on the question has spoken as provided for by the standing orders".

In speaking to the motion that the Leader of the House has just moved and to my amendments, can I start by issuing the normal public safety warning that I issue in these debates, which is that, whenever the Leader of the House comes into this place and adopts his most reasonable tone, those who are minded to be sceptical ought to be put on notice. In the words of that great American president, trust but verify. That's a very good principle in international relations. It's also a very good principle when dealing with the Leader of the House. The Leader of the House sought to give the impression to the House that there were two matters of urgency that had equal weight when it came to their importance and that it was urgent that the two matters be dealt with quickly. Therefore, in a wholly reasonable way, he was putting forward this motion that would allow the House to deal with its urgent business.

Let me start by saying that the opposition certainly accepts the proposition that there is absolutely a degree of urgency in relation to the question of the designation of the Republic of Nauru as a regional processing centre. Let's be clear about why there is urgency. It is because this government has absolutely and hopelessly dropped the ball on a matter which is of considerable importance to our national security. The relevant opposition spokespeople, including the shadow minister for home affairs, will address this when the matter comes to be dealt with substantively, but I make the point that the opposition accepts that there is a need to deal with this urgently. It's highly regrettable that the government has managed this so poorly as to create this urgency, but as the shadow minister for home affairs will explain, we accept that this matter needs to be dealt with urgently.

Let me turn to the second matter, which the Leader of the House has sought to bundle with the first matter, trying to adopt, perhaps, some of the approaches we see, for example, in the US Senate or House of Representatives, where completely unrelated matters are bundled up in an attempt to achieve political objectives. Very clearly, the government has an absolutely explicit political objective here, which is that it wants to have as little discussion as possible about the fact that it is trying to kill off transparency and scrutiny of the way that superannuation funds deal with their members' money. The shadow Assistant Treasurer removed a disallowance motion some time ago in relation to regulations that had been made by the government the effect of which would be to relieve superannuation funds of an obligation they had under the law as it stood under the previous government under provisions that we introduced and were proud to introduce because of the important policy objective to which they gave effect. That objective is that members of superannuation funds and the broader community are entitled to know if superannuation funds are making political donations and making donations to unions. Regrettably, this is an activity which many industry funds engage in very enthusiastically. The money trail, the paper trail, has been well documented. Of course, the Albanese Labor government is very keen to avoid scrutiny of what is an extremely touchy issue for it. The simple fact is that superannuation funds are set up for a specific purpose, which is to manage the money of their members, money which, it must be remembered, members are required by force of law to provide to a superannuation fund. The job of trustees is to manage that money to provide for the retirement incomes of those members. It is not to take a portion of that money and to donate it for political reasons to a union or to the Labor Party or to engage in other kinds of exotic activities.

That is the reason the previous government put in place disclosure obligations and requirements in relation to superannuation funds, including industry superannuation funds. Disclosure—transparency—is something we are told repeatedly that this government is very committed to. When it comes to superannuation funds, when it comes to anything to do with industrial arrangements, they are very keen to avoid transparency and scrutiny. So they don't like this disallowance motion that was moved by the shadow Assistant Treasurer.

We've seen a series of efforts by the Assistant Treasurer—himself a former union secretary, something that could be put into the biographies of half the people on the other side of the House—who is jumping to the tune of his union masters and very keen to avoid scrutiny. He gave a series of increasingly threadbare and ludicrous reasons as to why he feels that this scrutiny isn't necessary. Well, on this side of the House, we're not having it. Nor are we having this attempt by the Leader of the House to suggest that this is an issue of public policy importance that must be dealt with urgently in the same way as correcting the mess they've made in relation to the national security issues in relation to Nauru.

What the Leader of the House has sought to do with the motion that is on the Notice Paper is to provide that there should be a time-limited debate on the disallowance of these regulations made by the Assistant Treasurer that would have the impact of protecting superannuation funds and trustees from the highly desirable scrutiny, visibility and transparency required under the laws as passed by the previous government. This government has very little desire for this matter to be ventilated. They don't want the sunlight here at all. They want this all done in darkened backrooms. They want to get rid of a law that they see as inconvenient and that reveals truths they don't want to have revealed. And they're using every possible parliamentary tactic to seek to achieve that aim, including the Leader of the House's 'oh so reasonable' suggestion that this is a matter of urgency that needs to be dealt with quickly and that he's attempting to be facilitative et cetera.

Let's be clear: this is nothing more than an attempt to cover up a special deal the Labor government is seeking to do for its union masters. The appropriate role of the parliament is precisely to subject these kinds of deals to appropriate and proper scrutiny and transparency, and that is the effect of the amendment the opposition has moved. We have no objection to having this debate. We're delighted to have this debate. We simply say, let this debate occur according to the normal rules, the normal standing orders of this place, and any member who wishes to contribute on this matter ought to have the opportunity to contribute at length.

There are a lot of facts that need to be shared about the extent to which union-appointed trustees of superannuation funds are engaging in consistent efforts to divert the money that rightfully belongs to members, that rightfully is there to provide for their retirement. But we see, regrettably, this pattern of particularly union-appointed trustees of superannuation funds enthusiastically wanting to divert that money for a range of political purposes. It is a very serious issue. It is something that, on this side of the House, we have consistently objected to, and it needs the full sunlight of transparency. That is what, in a grubby fashion, this government is trying to avoid. The amendment we are proposing would allow the full sunlight of transparency—a debate on this matter that is not constrained by an artificial time limit.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

12:14 pm

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party, Shadow Minister for Trade and Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to second the amendment moved by the Manager of Opposition Business regarding the suspension of standing orders that the government has moved. This amendment is very important to debate, as the Manager of Opposition Business has said. I acknowledge the number of crossbenchers who are here for this debate. This is a really important discussion that we're having this morning, so I acknowledge and thank you for contributing to this debate.

What we have going on here is very clear. As the Manager of Opposition Business just said, there are two things happening this morning. One is government incompetence with the situation in Nauru. We acknowledge their incompetence and will help rush that through today. The other one, as the Manager of Opposition Business just said, is that, again, we have a lack of transparency happening here. As the Manager of Opposition Business just said regarding what the changes to the superannuation funds will do, super fund members will no longer be able to see how their funds are spent, in the sense of political donations or other transactions that are suddenly there. Why are they doing this? This is their behaviour, and it's starting to be a trend that I'm noticing and I know a lot of people are noticing. It's sneaky behaviour. It was never mentioned during the campaign that they were going to do this. These types of policies were never mentioned.

I'll tell you some other sneaky things that this government have done. And this is obviously about unions. This is about the unions in control of the industry super funds. This is one of the sneakiest things this government did: they have passed extreme industrial relations laws that were never mentioned during the campaign. Could you imagine the outcry of all of the left-wing political commentators in this country if we, as the previous government, had won the election and then brought through legislation that we didn't mention during the campaign? Let's repeat that: would the left-wing media in this country, of which there are many, have accepted us as a government passing legislation that was quite extreme that we'd never mentioned during the campaign? Because that's what the government have done. They never mentioned the multilevel bargaining processes that they passed through parliament. They never mentioned that during the campaign. It takes us back to Whitlam-type industrial laws. It takes away some of the reforms that the Hawke-Keating government did with enterprise bargaining. So that, again, is a very sneaky thing that this government has done.

Now, the crossbenchers will be aware of this—one of the other very sneaky things that this government did. We were rushed back, as you know. We all came back to parliament. We spent a day here late last year when the government put their gas and coal price cap legislation through parliament. Were you told? Were you, crossbenchers, told that there would be up to $1 billion in compensation paid to coal-fired power stations? Because parliament wasn't. The Prime Minister said there was nothing to see there. Anastasia Palaszczuk, the Queensland Premier, contradicted the Prime Minister in public comments about what would happen there as well. Dominic Perrottet, the New South Wales Premier, said, 'No, that was all part of our negotiations.' It was never mentioned that day. Nothing to see here! Again, it is sneaky behaviour.

Even the ISIS bride issue—was that mentioned during the campaign? Was it mentioned that they were going to change the policy and bring these families back? It was all very secretive that they had done that. It was an alleged leak from the department while we knew that was happening. Then families were placed in communities—all very secretive. Again, it was a sneaky type of behaviour.

It's even getting down to just language, which is just misleading—again, sneaky. The prime minister went to Woodford; he wanted to do a sort of Bob Hawke re-enactment up there at the music festival. There he said that we, as the previous government, 'chose to stop speaking to China'. That is just misleading language. I, as the shadow trade and tourism minister, have quite a bit to do with the trade minister, Don Farrell, who I think is doing some very good things, and I'm happy to acknowledge that. I'm happy to acknowledge some of the things that the minister has done in that space. When we see the government do things that we think are good for our country or good for our people, I think we as an opposition do and should compliment that. But how could the Prime Minister speak to an audience like that and say that we chose not to? It's exceptionally well-documented that China put 14 conditions on us that we would have to adhere to for us to start dialogue. We never wanted to stop speaking to them. The Chinese government chose to not speak to us. So, again, it was sneaky behaviour. What the government is doing today is sneaky. This is about lack of transparency, and I appreciate the crossbench contribution to this.

12:19 pm

Photo of Zoe DanielZoe Daniel (Goldstein, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

With respect to the Leader of the House and his most reasonable voice, I will use my most reasonable voice to say that this is unreasonable. This crossbench, as I recall, voted in favour of changes to procedures to allow time limited and urgent debate when that was required. This is something that has been sprung on the parliament today. I fail to understand how there could not have been advance warning so that members could rightly look at what we are actually analysing and voting on. Together with that, pieces of legislative amendment have been bundled, to the extent that we have an issue around offshore detention in Nauru and an issue around complex superannuation changes being put together, and we're expected to navigate that in order to debate it in a time managed way this afternoon.

This is not due process. This is not the way this parliament should operate. The Nauru issue, to my mind, is controversial given, much as the government might think it's standard, how much we spend on offshore detention, and I think that our communities would expect that we would give it due consideration. We haven't been given the time to do that, therefore I will be voting against this.

12:21 pm

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I add my voice to those on this side to say that I'll also be voting against this motion today, and I want to record that, once again, we're being asked by the Labor government to limit debate in this place. In fact, we've been asked twice in the same day. Limiting debate on such important issues—particularly as sensitive an issue as offshore detention—to just one hour is absolutely unacceptable. There's no way that issues of this gravity can be debated in such a short period of time. Indeed, in this family friendly new parliament that we have, I don't think the intention to halt debates till 6.30 pm is about pulling the doona up over proper debate on such important issues.

I note also the exquisite irony that we're being asked to limit debate today on something as sensitive as offshore detention when Behrouz Boochani has, historically, just been in this Parliament House speaking to us about offshore detention. I find this an excruciating and exquisite irony, actually. The other thing that I would say is that I found giving us notice last night that this motion would be brought forward, after what was a pretty quiet sitting day yesterday, rather disturbing, I have to admit, and I think the process is really, really poor.

Now, I was in the last parliament and I heard my colleagues who are now in government but were then in opposition make considerable noise about gagging debate, and I'm very disappointed, to be truthful, that we're in this position again today. I spoke in this House when the motion was put by the Leader of the House to change standing orders around urgent matters and I asked the question then: what would be considered urgent? To my knowledge, from what I've gleaned in the very short period I've had time to consider it, this issue of the Republic of Nauru has been known about for some months and, indeed, expired in October, so, having found this out last night and been asked to ram this through today with limited debate, I will be voting against this motion.

12:23 pm

Photo of Monique RyanMonique Ryan (Kooyong, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to also oppose this motion. I'm really proud to stand with my crossbench colleagues on this matter today because it's something which matters to all of us. On 21 May 2022 the Australian people told us that they wanted a government of transparency and integrity. Giving people bills with less than 24 hours notice—bills that matter, about important things like offshore detention—is not governing with transparency and integrity, especially when we now find out that this is a matter that the current government has been aware of for some months. Their protests of urgency don't add up. We, our constituents and those 65 individuals on Nauru deserve an opportunity for us to discuss this important matter at length. Bundling up this bill on Nauru with a bill on superannuation, which also has implications with respect to transparency, is egregious and perverse. I don't think I could find any way that I could support this motion, and I suspect that many of my colleagues feel the same way.

12:25 pm

Photo of Kate ChaneyKate Chaney (Curtin, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I will be supporting the amendment and voting against the debate management as well. It is clear that neither of these matters is actually urgent, and putting these two issues together, I think, goes against the good faith that the crossbench has engaged in in accepting the debate management approach. The first issue on Nauru is possibly a bureaucratic oversight. It may be symbolic, and it is unknown whether it has any legal impact, but we've not been given enough time to actually form a decent view on those issues. Managing the debate is contrary to the spirit of transparency that the community wants, especially on issues relating to refugees.

The second issue also relates to transparency. There has been a great desire from communities to have increased transparency when it comes to political donations. Limiting this goes in the face of that community expectation. My community certainly wants to know where parties' funding comes from, and that applies to superannuation funds just as it does to other donors. These are issues on which we need to be able to have an open discussion so that our communities understand why, and if, there is a good argument for putting any limits on the transparency of political donations. I side with my crossbench colleagues and the opposition here on saying this is not an appropriate use of debate management.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for this debate has concluded. The question is that the amendment moved by the Manager of Opposition Business be disagreed to. There being more than one voice calling for a division, in accordance with standing order 133 the division is deferred until after the discussion of the matter of public importance.

Debate adjourned.