Senate debates

Thursday, 7 December 2017


Suspension of Standing Orders

10:41 am

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to give precedence to a motion relating to condemning the government for not following their own disclosure regime.

As I have just said in my previous speech, I think section 44 is archaic. I think it needs to be a changed. It's a relic of a bygone era. We need to change it. The Greens have said we would support a referendum or a change to Australian law. In a modern, multicultural Australia there is no place for part of the Constitution that seeks to exclude so many Australians from backgrounds from right around the world. But the truth is we're stuck with it. We are stuck with it. It's true that previous parliaments dodged a bullet. They have been very, very lucky. I suspect there are many previous parliamentarians, including ministers and possibly even prime ministers, who were dual citizens and got away with it. But we can't continue to hide from the fact now that we have to deal with this issue.

We've had successive recommendations from previous parliaments and a number of committees that have said, 'It's time to fix it.' Unfortunately, successive government have failed in their responsibility to take this on, and here we are stuck with a major problem. There is no question that this is a constitutional crisis right now, because we don't know if the government has a constituted majority on the floor of the lower house of parliament. So the fact is we're stuck with this and we need to deal with it. We need to deal with it so we can get on with the business of what we're paid to do, to actually get on and make laws that advance the national interest. But we can't do that while this shadow hangs over this parliament; we just can't. This is where leadership comes in. We've seen a complete failure of leadership from the Prime Minister of this country, who, rather than taking this on and addressing it through a comprehensive, independent audit of all members of parliament, has sought to delay, to deny, to confuse and, of course, yesterday, to act in an appallingly partisan manner. So this thing will drag on well into next year.

We should have had an audit. The Greens called for it. We understand that the government decided not to do it because it was worried about the implications for members of its own team. But what's followed has been disgraceful. We had the episode where the former President of the Senate stood up and made referrals for a number of other MPs knowing that he himself was ineligible—and being told by senior ministers to keep his head down and shut up. We saw the double standards with Senator Canavan and later Mr Joyce and Senator Nash—one stepping down from their ministerial responsibilities, the other two continuing to act as ministers.

In lieu of the comprehensive independent audit, the government, with the support of the opposition, proposed a disclosure regime. Now, on the last day of parliament, the government is refusing to comply with its own disclosure regime and is seeking to hide over the Christmas period and subject Australians to more months of this debate when we return in February. Leaders lead. Sometimes circumstances are beyond their control. This is one of those moments. A problem landed on the desk of the Prime Minister and he was given an opportunity to either lead or try to save his own hide, and he chose the latter. Rather than to engage in this process, rather to end the uncertainty over this parliament and rather than to end what is a constitutional crisis that is engulfing the nation—which people are sick to the back teeth of—he's chosen to let this drag out over the Christmas period. And now we have to recognise that this will consume the following months when we return to this place.

The Prime Minister had an opportunity yesterday to act in a non-partisan way and accept referrals of members of the opposition and members of his own team, where there are legitimate question marks, and instead he chose to run and hide. This is a Prime Minister who is prepared to trash the institutions that underpin our democracy through his attacks on unions and civil society and now through his willingness to ignore the Constitution, the founding document that lays out what it means to live in a democracy, and, in an effort to try to save his own skin, he's prepared to trash the principles that underpin the Westminster tradition. This is cowardice from a Prime Minister who is no longer fit to govern.


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