Senate debates

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Committees

Appointment

4:47 pm

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

And he interjects and says he is sick of talking about it. Excuse me? That is exactly what happened last week—not a single word was spoken in favour of the motion, and I can understand why, because there should be embarrassment all around this place at the complete abuse of the Senate by a majority of senators to pursue a political vendetta in the state of Queensland. Last week we went through, chapter and verse, all the Senate procedure which says, 'Don't go here.' This is an abuse. It goes against the principles of comity. It goes again principle per se. It goes against convention. It goes against precedent. Why is that? Because over the centuries the wisdom of our forebears has told us that it is singularly unwise to try to have these stand-offs between various parliaments in the Westminster system and between the houses within the Westminster system. That is why, in 1996, this was canvassed at great length in this place in relation to the Victorian casino inquiry. The Labor Party had the numbers. They foisted the Senate inquiry. Then, when they started to examine the consequences, they quite rightly raised the white flag and said, 'No, genuinely, this ought be a no-go zone and we will not pursue it.' The Labor Party know that what they are doing in supporting the Palmer United motion is wrong in principle, because they were there some 18 years earlier. They know this is wrong in principle—as do, might I add, the Australian Greens.

Last week and this week there has not been a single word spoken in favour of this motion. But the reason we are now given is that we are sick and tired of talking about it. Well, what is the reason for this motion? I think it is pretty clear: the only rationale is that the Leader of the Palmer United Party has a personal vendetta against the Premier of Queensland, Campbell Newman. Why has this motion been rushed in today without notice, with no forewarning and with a suspension of standing orders? I suppose it would not have anything to do with the latest Newspoll out today, showing that the people of Queensland are now recognising that the Queensland Premier and his government are in fact doing a good job. They are now riding at I think 54 per cent approval, and guess whose vote is collapsing? Mr Palmer's vote in Queensland. So this is a rushed hatchet job to try to recover lost ground in Queensland. That any senator should be willing to come into this place and use these forums for the purposes of fighting their personal battles in the various states is an abuse of this place.

As I said last week, I accept that Palmer United may not be across all the precedent and detail of Odgers, but the Labor Party is and the Australian Greens ought to be as well. The only reason this motion has come up again today is that, clearly, some sort of deal has been done with the Greens and the Labor Party. During the suspension of standing orders debate, I heard Senator Waters from Queensland telling us that one of the reasons we needed this was that they were allowing grazing in national parks. Oh, my goodness. So we have got grazing in national parks

They allow that in Victoria as well. Why don't we have an inquiry into the Victorian government for the same reason? They did not think of that, did they? Consistency has never been the strong suit of the Australian Greens.

If grazing in national parks is not bad enough, judicial appointments were nominated by somebody from Palmer United. They do not like judicial appointments in Queensland. If you do not like judicial appointments in Queensland, then run for the Queensland parliament and effect the change there. You will not affect the change through the forum of the Senate. Reading through the motion, it is basically a bitch session about Queensland. It is a moan about detention, about administration of prisons, about environmental matters and about Commonwealth funds. Any potential complaint about the Queensland government is grabbed and put into this motion.

Not only is this motion bad on principle, as I tried to say in the suspension of standing orders debate; you could have a situation where the Premier of Queensland—and I would advise him to do this—could countermand any Queensland official from appearing before this committee. So what is the Senate going to do? Arrest them? Bring them before the Senate committee? If that were to occur, I wonder if the Queensland parliament might then do the same and have an inquiry into certain matters from the previous Labor-Greens government in Canberra and require officials to appear before it; and, if they were set foot in Queensland, have them arrested as soon as they got out of the airport and have them brought before the bar of the Queensland parliament. The precedent is absolutely appalling; it is shocking.

If that is not bad enough, in this place, out of 76 senators, the coalition enjoys a representation of 33. Some foolish people might think that that might require the coalition to have at least two people on the committee! But no, the break-out of democracy in this motion will give us 20 per cent—one senator. What an absolute abuse of the numbers in this place. Especially for a minority party, I say to you—as some of the older Labor senators were willing to say many a time: 'What goes around comes around.' If you want to use the opportunity just because on one occasion you can grab a majority of senators to achieve an outcome, be very careful, because if there are other unprincipled senators willing to do the same thing then in the future they can say, 'No Palmer United senator on any committee from now on.' That is the sort of terror that you will allow to arise in this place if you follow this absolute abuse of numbers. Be very careful of what you are going for.

If you think, 'The government is given at least one senator, surely one voice ought be enough,' it is not, because of a very devious little clause right over the back.

Senator O'Sullivan interjecting—

No, no. It is paragraph 13, which says:

That the committee has power to appoint subcommittees consisting of 2 or more of its members …

There is nothing stopping two subcommittees hearing and meeting at the same time and denying the government representation on one of those subcommittees. The Labor Party know that and the Greens know that. If this is the way you want to run the Senate, so be it. It will be on your heads. It will be revisited, undoubtedly, sometime in the future. I do not know who the smart alec was who drafted this motion only giving the government one senator and then allowing subcommittees to split off and say to the one government senator, 'You have a choice, buddy, you either sit on this one or that one, but guess what? You are not going to get a vote on this other subcommittee when we are meeting.' I suggest that if the movers of this motion are genuine in relation to clause 14—that is, that the committee be provided with, amongst other things, specialist knowledge for the purposes of the committee—that they seek to avail themselves of the specialist knowledge of people such as Professor Dennis Pearce and former Clerk of the Senate Harry Evans, who wrote quite extensively in Odgers and in a learned paper since he retired from this place on matters of comity. If you want specialist knowledge, avail yourself of it. It is there, black on white, in Odgers. Start at page 77 and you will get an eyeful of it based on very good precedent. But no, they do not want specialist knowledge, because they are out to do somebody else's dirty work: a vendetta on the Premier of Queensland and the LNP.

I understand that break-ups, from time to time, can be somewhat ugly. Clearly, there has been a break-up between Mr Palmer and the LNP in Queensland. I invite the Palmer United Party, but especially the Australian Labor Party in this place, to ask themselves a simple question: do you want to use the forum of the Senate for this purpose to allow grievances of very much a personal nature—albeit dressed up in public policy—to be aired in this sort of manner and in such a cavalier fashion in denying the government its rightful number of senators and its capacity to have a person sitting on each subcommittee of the committee? Is this really the game the Australian Labor Party is entertaining?

The reason the Labor Party is supporting this, and I am sure it is against the advice of people such as Senator Faulkner and Senator Wong, is that Mr Bill Shorten is driving this. That is the only reason the Labor Party has come to this position, and it is a very sad reflection on Mr Shorten and the current leadership of the Australian Labor Party that they should come to such a deal.

If you remember, last week, when there was the suggestion that this Senate inquiry might actually reach back and look into the Bligh government, you could not see the Labor Party for dust. This high principle that the Senate should look into the past activities of the Queensland government should start and finish only with the Liberal National Party. When I waved a media release suggesting it would be of interest to see how Ms Bligh had settled a certain court case with Mr Palmer and that that should be part of the inquiry, and hence moved the amendment, which I will move again today, proposing that we bring the period forward to encompass the Bligh government, the Greens agreed to it. It will be interesting to see if the Australian Greens will agree to it again today. Once that amendment got carried you could not see the Labor Party for dust, which goes to show how unprincipled the Australian Labor Party is under the leadership of Mr Shorten. 'Yes, we'll abuse the Senate to try to get one over the LNP,' but all of a sudden matters of principle come into play if it might happen to look at the Australian Labor Party. That is how two-faced and hypocritical the leadership of the Australian Labor Party is today.

This is a stitch-up job. It is an abuse. It offends against every practice and precedent in this place. It is an absolute raw abuse of numbers. Consider the allocation of questions in this place. If we could get a majority of senators in this place—and keep this in mind, Senators—on this precedent the same majority could potentially seek to deny every government from ever again asking a question, because there would be the raw numbers here to effect such an abuse.

In this place we have always sought to do things on the basis of proportionality. That is the fairest way. That is what represents the will of the Australian people. But the Labor Party, Palmer United and the Greens will today, it appears, come together to ensure that the will of the Australian people will not be reflected in this committee or on this committee. You have to ask why. Why would you not want true, fair representation?

Just keep in mind that one of these days the numbers may well turn around. When we had a majority in the Senate from 2004 to 2007, did we then use the numbers to say, 'Right, the Labor Party does not get any questions. We have the numbers and we can abuse our power. We will not allow the Greens any questions. We will not allow the Greens to sit on committees, because we have the numbers.' No, we did not. Do you know why? Maturity, principle and convention—all of those things that seem to be so sadly lacking from those opposite in this debate. What is not being considered is the consequences and the principles that unfortunately will be put on the practice book of the Senate chamber.

I now move the following amendment to the motion:

That in paragraph 1(a) omit the date '26 March 2012' and insert the date '21 March 2009' in its place.

What that does is simply change the date from the election of the Newman government to reach back to the election of the Bligh government so that there can be a genuine compare and contrast. Indeed, in relation to paragraph 2, where it refers to the 'oversight of the approval of coal-seam gas projects', it will be interesting to see what the Bligh government did in relation to matters coal-seam gas. So, let us see if there is a genuine will in this place to do a compare and contrast.

Having said that, this motion is wrong in principle. As a result, even if our amendment were to get up, as it did last week, we are absolutely committed to voting this motion down, because it is wrong in principle, in convention and in precedent. It offends every principle of comity, which has now been well and truly established in the Westminster systems of parliament for centuries.

I once again invite senators to reflect on whether they want to demean themselves and their parties to allow themselves to become puppets of what is clearly another agenda designed to get even, because somebody did not get their wish in relation to, ironically, a resource development in Queensland. It is very sad that we have come to this and that we are debating the matter again. I had hoped that this place had come to a good landing on the issue last week, where common sense had finally prevailed, the rush of blood to the head had dissipated, and people said, 'Enough is enough.' Let us now move on to the real business of the Senate, which is to deal with matters of national security, the budget, workplace relations and our real core business. But here they are wanting to pretend to be the alternative government in Queensland, trying to embarrass the government of Queensland. And what is the concluding time for this Senate inquiry? Oh, it just happens to coincide with the Queensland election. It is a demolition derby against Campbell Newman, and if they cannot succeed by the time of the next state election, it is all over and out and they will give up. This is not the way you use the Senate. (Time expired)

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