Senate debates

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Committees

Certain Aspects of the Queensland Government Select Committee; Appointment

3:46 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | Hansard source

It is a disappointing matter that we are discussing the potential of a highly unprincipled motion which seeks to breach some very fundamental parliamentary procedures and conventions. For those who are entertaining the adoption of the motion, I simply draw their attention to page 77 of Odgers where it is very clearly set out:

The Select Committee on the Victorian Casino Inquiry presented a report … it had decided not to continue its inquiry because of advice provided by the Clerk of the Senate and by Professor Dennis Pearce in relation to limitations on the Senate’s powers to compel evidence from state members of parliament and other state office-holders.

That was a determination made by the Clerk of the Senate in response to a letter I wrote to the clerk on 14 August 1996. Not very long ago in this place we heard about this clerk having always stood to protect the integrity and reputation of this chamber. In his letter to me of 15 August 1996 he made it very clear. 'As a matter of law the power of the Senate to compel the attendance, amongst other matters, of state officials is another reason for Senate committees not seeking to summon such persons.' His advice of 1996 is as true today as it was all those years ago. Just in case you think the 1996 view as expressed by the then clerk was wrong, he gave us a learned paper entitled The Senate's power to obtain evidence, where again he refers to his advice in relation to the Victorian casino inquiry.

I can understand, with great respect, Palmer United, without much experience in this chamber, thinking this might be a good idea, but the Australian Labor Party knows, as a principle called comity, that this is a dangerous track to walk down. It has been tried by this Senate before, in 1996 with the Victorian casino inquiry. That attempt fell flat on its face because of what we know to be the legal principles involved. So I especially call on the Australian Labor Party not go down this route. Once parliament starts investigating other parliaments, or indeed one house starts investigating another house, you could have the ludicrous proposition of the Queensland parliament playing the same game, having an inquiry into a certain matter and then technically, when we as federal politicians arrive in Queensland, the Queensland state government could use its law enforcement agencies to pull us off the streets of Queensland, to bring us before the bar of the Queensland parliament to give evidence. Is that what we want to do, to set that precedent? It is a farce. That is why this convention, which dates all the way back to the United Kingdom and the Westminster system, is very clear. If you want the tit for tat where the parliaments of Australia can act against each other, that would turn this show into a farce.

I can understand that the Palmer United Party does not have long-term experience in this area, but I know that Senator John Faulkner does and I know that Senator Penny Wong does. That is why, in the event the suspension of standing orders get passed, my friend and colleague Senator will move an amendment to the substantive motion to delete 26 March 2012 and insert 21 March 2009, and then let us see whether the Labor Party are willing to support that amendment and whether Palmer United are willing to say that this is not a vendetta against Mr Newman but against all Queensland governments, that they want to see that the money has been responsibly spent. That will test the integrity of those opposite but my greatest disappointment is with Labor. (Time expired)

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