Thursday, 17 March 2016
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016; In Committee
I would like to take the opportunity to respond to the minister, given the nature of that contribution. You see, Minister, sure, time lines have been tight, but they have been tight on everything. They have been extremely tight on the committee inquiry! As I pointed out earlier, I think Labor had—if I am generous—maybe three lots of five minutes in the section where we had the AEC before us. As I recall, at that time the chair even tried to block me at one point from asking any questions.
But what we have been very light on is the policy rationale. Do not worry; we will get to the issues of substance, but we are going to have a very lengthy look at what has occurred in the process here because that process stinks. It has been part of an inappropriate fix between the government and the Greens, and you are obviously very sensitive to the issues of the return to order. The first time, in part of your response, you referred to how you pride yourself on being timely. And, yes, indeed I have had limited responses in a very timely way. It does not really satisfy me much, Minister. You might as well just write back to me and say no, and then you can stand here and claim timeliness. The response that you tabled I did in fact receive. I received it and considered that when we looked at Senator Moore's second reading amendment, because we simply were not satisfied with it.
The minister should know, given his pride and experience in these issues, that his response should cover what harm it is proposed would result from the disclosure of that information. It really is not adequate, Minister, for you to suggest that there was some reference possibly to some harm to commercial operations of contractors used by the AEC, as your blanket response here now. You have had opportunities for that return to order. In fact, I think Senator Moore's motion is the third one for you to deal with the issues of what harm it is that you are proposing.
To just characterise my comments to Senator Ludlam as an attack on him I do not think is reasonable. I did point out to Senator Ludlam that I noticed, I noted and I acknowledged that this has been a key area of interest of his—fairly respectfully, I thought. But I did highlight that I was surprised that as part of this fix—this is one of the many things that I have been surprised that the Greens have been prepared to just tolerate, because these are principles far broader than just the consideration of this bill. Parliamentary accountability of the government of the day is, as you have said, an issue of significant importance. The public interest immunity arguments are those that allow senators—whether they are in the crossbenches, the Greens or the opposition or you in opposition—to highlight government inadequacies and to talk about dissatisfaction that the government is not able to be held to account.
Why you have such a glass jaw about me highlighting that—other than that fairly glib reference to the Hansard of the AEC, and if I burrowed away in there somewhere I might find them having talked about commercial interests of work that they outsource—it really still is an inadequate answer from government—
Senator Cormann interjecting—
Here we now have the minister doing exactly what he claimed he was not doing. He says: 'Don't interject on me. I'm polite.' He then insults me, and now he sits there doing exactly the same. I am sorry, but it is 7.30.
You are really going to have problems here, Senator Cormann.