Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Matters of Public Importance

Ministerial Conduct

4:49 pm

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I am pleased that Senator Cameron welcomes a royal commission into sleaze and corruption and grubbiness because, indeed, I can announce to Senator Cameron—and I am sure it is no surprise to him—that there will be one into the union movement in this country. And that is brought about by the sleaze, grubbiness and disgraceful conduct that we continually and repeatedly hear about. But I do not want to pursue that too diligently today.

This is one of those most difficult days. It is difficult for me as a politician because I find that the gruelling aspects of public life are enough without having to deal with the smear, the innuendo and the character assassination that have been trumped up and that we have seen thrown at Senator Sinodinos today.

I would also like to put on the record that Senator Sinodinos has done the right thing and the honourable thing. When spurious allegations are hurled at you, you can answer them but then you have to make a decision that is in the interests of your party and in the interests of the people of Australia and, if you are a frontbencher, you stand aside until they can be cleared and dealt with. Senator Sinodinos is an honourable man and he has done exactly that.

But that is in stark contrast to those on the other side, those who ran the protection racket, as Senator Birmingham referred to before, for Craig Thompson. He was a man who was entitled to the presumption of innocence but, in the face of overwhelming evidence, it was galling to hear his defence rather than to hear those on the other side say: 'He should stand aside or separate himself from the parliament to answer these allegations.'

Similarly, we can talk about the references to Ms Gillard when she was Prime Minister and her alleged involvement in a union slush fund in which money was misappropriated—that is the appropriate word. She facilitated the misappropriation of that money through the establishment of a slush fund. There is an ongoing police investigation into this. But we were told that it was misogynistic to inquire into that and that it happened such a long time ago.

Let me make this point to you, Mr Acting Deputy President, and to the people of Australia: criminal conduct, notwithstanding that there may be a statute of limitation, is inexcusable under any circumstances and every politician and every member of the public should, in a legal sense, be held fully to account for their conduct when they are in this place and before they come into this place. If they have done the wrong thing, then bang, hit 'em up for it.

But what strikes me is that not one person, either at ICAC or in this chamber under parliamentary privilege, has levelled an allegation of any substance against Senator Sinodinos. Somehow they object to how much he was allegedly paid or supposedly paid to chair a business and an organisation. Somehow they are condemning him and his ability to be a frontbencher and a valued member of the coalition team on the basis that he was involved in an organisation which was tainted by Labor Party members of parliament. We are talking about that guy Eddie Obeid, the guy who has successfully destroyed the New South Wales Labor Party. He has bubbled up all the uncomfortable excesses and all the excrement that has been hidden underneath by the New South Wales Labor Party for far too long.

You can go back to: where were they when Mr Paul Keating as Prime Minister was allegedly making millions of dollars out of the piggery? Where were they saying 'Stand aside' then? Where were they when there were allegations against former Senator Richardson with suggestions that he was involved with prostitutes and bribes and all sorts of things like that? Where were they saying 'Stand aside' then? Where were they with Ms Gillard? There was a protection racket. It is ingrained in those members of the union movement and the Labor Party to protect their own. On this side of the parliament I will protect my own too when I think they have done the right thing and I will be scathing of them, just as people have been scathing of me when they think I have done the wrong thing.

The point I want to make is this: there is not one substantive allegation that has been put—not one suggestion that Senator Sinodinos has done anything whatsoever inappropriate. And this is before he got into parliament. I support Senator Sinodinos in standing aside. I think it is important that he gives evidence to ICAC. I am sure he will get a good character reference from ICAC, just as Senator Cameron claimed that he did. But the point is this: we have had trial by character assassination and it is unbefitting of this parliament to score political points simply to try and destroy a political opponent inappropriately. (Time expired)


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