Senate debates

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

National Security, Foreign Donations, Workplace Relations

3:35 pm

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | Hansard source

The motion to take note of answers moved by Senator Carr made reference to Senator Sterle's question. I take a point of difference with Senator Hume when she suggests that Senator Sterle was less than serious or was putting a bit of theatre into it. I have no doubt that Senator Sterle feels very passionately and strongly on behalf of truck drivers. I have no doubt that his concern for their welfare is very genuine. I do not agree that increased rates of pay or somehow resurrecting the RSRT will make the circumstance which he described today any better, notwithstanding the fact that I understand how difficult it is that a man who was suffering from cancer had to fulfil his contractual obligations.

I would like to make this point, and it is a serious one for this chamber: the minister may have been giving an answer that Senator Sterle didn't appreciate, but, during her answer, multiple points of order were taken, although there were some directly relevant responses. Senator Sterle took one himself, and I think that was reasonably genuine. Senator Cameron took a point of order as well. I think Senator Sterle took another one, and there could have been Senator Wong also. I'm not sure whether she took one. But there were three, four or maybe even five points of order, which meant the minister wasn't even able to get out a response that might have illuminated the matter. I think those were spurious points of order. They didn't assist in our ability to get the answers that Senator Sterle was, I think, quite genuinely seeking.

There was a repeal of the RSRT last year by the government. That was due to a change of mind by the Nick Xenophon Team. I recall that Senator Xenophon, when it was introduced, invoked that same sort of emotive response, about someone who was tragically killed by an out-of-control truck whilst they were changing a tyre on the side of the road. Anyway, after examining the merits of it and recognising that there really is no correlation between road safety and rates of pay when it comes to truck drivers, the Senate, in its wisdom, changed the legislation. I supported that, because, notwithstanding the emotions and the personal commitment that Senator Sterle and others have in this space, I don't think it's entirely relevant to the Tip Top contractual obligations that were raised today.

I guess the point is that, if we want to get answers to questions, and there is a requirement for direct relevance in this space, then it is incumbent upon all of us to not raise multiple points of order seeking to score political points, because then the person answering the questions might not be tempted to score political points themselves and might actually come within cooee of responding to the question.

I also make the point that yesterday, in taking note of answers, there was some discussion about national security issues, and this was something that Senator Carr also moved a motion about, in response to Senator Brandis's concerns. The concerns about national security are not confected. They're absolutely serious. There is a quite genuine need for reform in this place. It's on both major parties, who have taken donations from individuals whom ASIO have warned them about. We have the circumstance with Senator Dastyari, who has warned an individual that they may be under surveillance and they should go outside to discuss it, free of the authorities' listening devices. I find that extraordinary, and I find it extraordinary that it's defended on that side of the chamber, because I know that even Senator Dastyari's close friends can't defend it. They were giving him counsel and advice, which is completely contrary to what Mr Shorten, Senator Carr and others are saying in this place.

If we're serious about trying to restore some faith and confidence in the body politic, if you're serious about wanting to ensure that people have at least an understanding that we're trying to act in the national interest here, you cannot defend the indefensible. You've got to put aside the tribal message and you've got to call it out when it's wrong. Senator Dastyari is completely wrong in this space, and I think anyone that defends him here is completely wrong. The Australian public know it. As Graham Richardson, a former Senator, says, 'The mob will work you out,' and the mob have worked this out pretty quick. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.


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