Senate debates

Monday, 4 December 2017

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Prime Minister, Registered Organisations

3:51 pm

Photo of James PatersonJames Paterson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

In a moment I'll respond directly to Senator Cameron's continued campaign of intimidation, smears and innuendo—a false campaign based on no or little evidence. But first I want to make one general observation. One of the things that has genuinely surprised me in my short time here in this place is the propensity—in fact enthusiasm—on the part of some colleagues to play the role of commentator rather than participant. In the questions from opposition senators today, we had not one question that went to the substance of any policy or political issue but question after question that went to personalities, that went to personal relationships, that went to leadership, that went to responsibilities—nothing that got to the core of the issues that the Australian people send us here to do.

Colleagues who've been here for a longer time than I have can perhaps advise me of whether or not this is a recent phenomenon. Perhaps those opposite are aspiring, like some of their former colleagues, to a career on Sky News after politics. Perhaps after 10 years of watching Insiders they're frustrated commentators, just waiting to get on the couch. But when Senator McAllister was asking questions about leadership and the Deputy Premier in New South Wales, when Senator Gallacher was asking questions about foreign interference—a worthy and important issue, but through the bizarre prism of Senator Brandis's personal responsibility for different aspects of the legislation—and when Senator Carr was asking Senator Brandis about a royal commission, again an important and worthy issue but again through the bizarre prism of who was responsible for it, not about any of the policy issues at stake, and when Senator Cameron was attempting yet another smear against Minister Cash and Senator Ketter was again asking a very strange question about the royal commission that didn't go to the substance of the royal commission, didn't go to the terms of reference, didn't go to the commissioner, didn't go to the budget, and didn't go to the length of time given to the commission but instead went to which ministers knew about it when—a bizarre focus—it seems to me that some people here wish more to be commentators than they do to be participants. And if they do, there are many career opportunities available to them, and perhaps they could vacate their seats for people who are actually concerned about doing the business of the people.

Coming back to Senator Cameron's contribution—yet another spray against Minister Cash, a minister of great ethics and a minister who has performed outstandingly in this role—we know why members opposite are targeting Senator Cash. They're targeting Senator Cash because she is an effective minister and she has proven time and time again that she can persuade this chamber to put through necessary, needed reforms to the industrial relations system that they oppose because of their narrow self-interest, because of their partisan interest, because of the way in which they are so tied to, so dependent on, the union movement. Senator Cash did not mislead the Senate. Senator Cash gave answers in Senate estimates that she genuinely believed to be true, and as soon as she found out that they were not true she came to the committee and immediately corrected her evidence. That is a better performance than some others in similar situations.

The Registered Organisations Commissioner, Mr Bielecki, and his executive director, Mr Enright, did not make the comments that were attributed to them by a journalist. They made much more mild-mannered comments than were attributed to them, which they told Senator Cameron and other senators who were there on Friday, and he should well know about that.

I find it most interesting of all, though, that Senator Cameron is now raising these decade-old allegations against Mr Enright about his responsibilities in a previous office. Mr Enright has been before the Senate committee that he now appears before probably a dozen times since then, and Senator Cameron has not asked him about this issue once. Labor senators have not asked him about this issue, to my knowledge, on any occasions—certainly none of the occasions when I was present. Yet they're now attempting to raise this issue in an attempt to smear Mr Enright and the commission he works for. It's very clear why they're doing that. They're doing that because the commission is now looking at a potential breach of the law by the Australian Workers' Union, an important union that supports the Labor Party and supports the careers of many senators within the Labor Party who are opposite now and no doubt will be making a contribution to this debate shortly. They have a conflict of interest and they are running a transparent campaign of intimidation and interference to protect the Australian Workers' Union from its alleged law breaking. The Registered Organisations Commission is doing exactly as it was established to do, and that is to investigate breaches of the law.

They are trying to intimidate public servants from doing their jobs. It is a disgrace. They should be ashamed of themselves. If they want to return to the actual business of the people of Australia, perhaps we'll see tomorrow in question time some actual questions on some actual policy issues rather than the attempted smears and intimidation that we saw today.


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