Senate debates

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Australian Water Holdings

3:11 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment) Share this | Hansard source

What we have seen in this chamber today is a complete and utter abuse of question time, as those opposite sought to establish some type of kangaroo court. They came in here devoid of any sense of due process and devoid of any sense of relevance to the public policy issues before Australia today and simply tried to slur the good name of a good and hardworking member of this Senate.

The behaviour we have seen from those opposite is outrageous. It is so outrageous in fact that they spent most of question time in complete defiance of the usual standing orders and practices of this Senate. How humiliating and embarrassing for the opposition to come in here and have no fewer than five of their questions ruled out of order by their own President—by the man they appointed as President. Any president would have done so, because the questions were so transparently out of order. How humiliating for long-serving senators like Senator Wong and Senator Collins, who I note have slunk out of this place. How humiliating for them to come in here and not understand the rules that have effectively been in place in this Senate for the bulk of the 113-year life of this Senate. How humiliating!

The President rightly quoted on a ruling from the 13th edition of Odgers by former President Kerry Sibraa, dating back to 30 August 1988, when he said:

Questions may be put to a minister relating to the public affairs with which the minister is officially connected, to proceedings pending in Parliament, or to any matter of administration for which the minister is responsible in a personal or representative capacity…This is an overriding rule: that a question must seek information, or press for action within a minister’s responsibility. The chair will disallow any question where it is clear that it is not within a minister's responsibility.

Clearly, those opposite have never bothered to sit down and look at the standing orders. They have never bothered to look at Odgers. They have not even listened when past rulings have been given. It is so embarrassing and humiliating, especially to see the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Wong—a former Leader of the Government in the Senate, somebody who has been here for 12 whole years—who apparently has so little knowledge or capacity to be able to frame a question so that it is within orders.

Colleagues in the Labor Party of Senator Wong, Senator Collins and Senator O'Neill must be embarrassed by what they have seen today, particularly colleagues like Mr Albanese and Dr Leigh, who just today had been very public in their view that there is a proper place for the examination of these matters, that there is a proper way to treat these matters. Indeed, they are right. There is a proper time and a proper place, and it is not through the Labor Party attempting to establish some kangaroo court process here; it is through proper processes, the same proper processes that people like Mr Greg Combet and Senator Doug Cameron fronted up and gave their cooperation to and which Senator Arthur Sinodinos has said he will turn up and give his full cooperation to. He will give his full cooperation just like Senator Cameron did, just like Mr Combet did. That is the right time and right place for these matters to be addressed. That is where they will be addressed.

I am proud to have Senator Arthur Sinodinos as a colleague. He is a fine Australian. He has served this country with distinction as chief of staff to our second longest serving Prime Minister, as a former Treasury official, as a senator, as today a minister. He is somebody who has done wonderful things for this country and will continue to do so into the future. The reality is that those opposite are coming in here and attempting to besmirch his reputation with questions that are based on matters that occurred before he was in the Senate. They are attempting to suggest that because it is out of order for him to answer those questions here there is something to hide. He will answer those questions in the right place at the right time, where it is appropriate, not here and back down to the bullyboy tactics of those who seek to establish this place as some kangaroo court rather than a parliamentary chamber. (Time expired)


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