Senate debates

Wednesday, 5 March 2014


Assistant Minister for Health; Censure

4:17 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | Hansard source

I guess I would call this approach to discourse in this place a Conrovian approach. Those opposite do need to pause and they do need to think very carefully before they make charges against people, whether they be witnesses at estimates hearings or ministers in this place. You must think very carefully about the words that you use and that you choose to level against people in the conduct of the parliament.

I think there are examples of genuine misconduct in public life—genuine misconduct in the form of the Australian Labor Party before an election saying that they would not introduce a carbon tax. I think that is serious political misconduct. And they did—we know they did. Before another election, they promised that they would be abolishing the carbon tax, and they have opposed that. I refer to those two examples because, as I say, the debate before us is about character. The charge that is being levelled at Minister Nash is that she has failed the test of character in her conduct as a minister, which I reject. I level the charge at the other side that they have failed, collectively, the test of character in public life with their repeated misleading of the Australian people before subsequent elections. I make the charge that Senator Conroy has failed the test of character in his conduct as a frontbench member.

Senator Wong has said that if this motion passes, she thinks that Senator Nash should resign. We have got to see it for what it is—it is a trumped up charge, and no such thing should happen if this motion passes. I think Senator Conroy should resign for his conduct. If we are talking about failing character tests, he has failed clearly, absolutely and utterly.

At the heart of the allegations made in the censure motion is the accusation that there has been a vested interest of some sort at play in Minister Nash's office—again, I have seen no evidence of this. However, on the other side of politics we see vested interests at play each and every day. We see them at play in the cheek by jowl relationship between the Australian Labor Party and various trade unions—not all trade unions; there are some good trade unions, but there are some trade unions that are not so good, and one of those is the HSU. If we want examples of vested interests inappropriately at play in public life then we need look no further than the relationship the Australian Labor Party has with certain trade unions. We have also seen some very curious relationships between the Australian Greens and certain individuals who give money to the Australian Greens. There are vested interests at the heart of the activities of the Australian Greens.

Senator Nash is a person of the utmost integrity. Those of us who know her well have no difficulty in trusting in her appropriate execution of the roles and responsibilities of a minister. Those of us who know Senator Nash have no difficulty trusting that she appropriately fulfils her obligations as a senator and—even more importantly—that she fulfils her obligations to this chamber, that she is accountable to it, that she is answerable to it, and that she answers each and every question put to her. We have seen her do that day after day.

We need in this place to be very careful before moving censure motions. As I say, words have meaning; words have power. They are not to be used lightly. We have seen a pattern emerging from those opposite where they will say anything about anyone for political advantage. Senator Conroy is exhibit No. 1 in that regard. I would urge those opposite to take the opportunity to pause and step back from this motion. It is not justified. It is not warranted. The charges against Senator Nash have not been proved. She has taken every opportunity to account for herself. As far as I am concerned, the fact that Mr Furnival has now left Senator Nash's office means the matter is closed. I do not accept for a second that there was an issue at play, but the fact that Mr Furnival has now left the office puts beyond any doubt that there is any matter that remains to be addressed.

I would urge colleagues not to support this motion, I would urge the Australian Greens not to support this motion and I would urge Labor senators not to support this motion. It is one of the gravest allegations that can be levelled against a colleague—that they are deserving of censure. Senator Nash is not deserving of censure; she is a person of integrity, she is a senator of integrity and she is a minister of integrity. She has given tremendous service to this place and she will continue to give tremendous service to this place, not only as a senator but also as a minister, for many years to come.


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