Senate debates

Wednesday, 3 April 2019



9:43 am

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak to Senator Wong's amendment. As Senator Wong has indicated, the government does have before the chamber a primary motion that seeks to deal with, in an orderly fashion, the business that's expected, that we as colleagues will transact. Senator Wong has moved an amendment to seek to bring on three particular motions. I want to speak briefly as to why the government doesn't support these.

First is Senator Wong's motion No. 1430. Let me be absolutely clear, the coalition senators have absolutely no truck with racism, extremism and hate speech. And that could not have been more thoughtfully or eloquently displayed than by Senator Birmingham yesterday in question time. Senator Birmingham spoke on behalf of all coalition colleagues when it comes to matters of racism, extremism and hate speech. It is not for this chamber to speak to and to seek to determine matters that are for the electoral determination of party organisations, which is the other part of that particular motion that Senator Wong is seeking to bring on. Electoral determinations are for party organisations; they are not matters that should be sought to be determined by the Senate chamber.

On (ii) of the amendment that Senator Wong seeks to bring forward, in relation to Senators Watt and Cameron and Senator Cash, Senator Cash has addressed time and again every one of the matters that have been put to her in this forum and in Senate estimates committees previously. What this amendment seeks to do is establish a new precedent whereby estimates committees could seek to call ministers who don't actually hold portfolio responsibility for the matters that the Senate estimates committees address. Senate estimates committees, budget estimates, seek to address expenditure by government, and to do so by portfolio agency. Senator Cash does not hold portfolio responsibility in these areas; she is therefore not the appropriate minister to appear before that committee. This amendment would seek to establish a precedent which we haven't previously observed.

And in (iii), Senator Wong seeks to bring forward, on behalf of the opposition, a motion in relation to the foreign affairs legislation committee sitting as a budget estimates committee. Now, this is extremely concerning, because it seeks to establish a precedent where a private business can be called before an estimates committee, where the CEO of a private business can be called before a budget estimates committee, and where a former employee of a private business, who would appear to have some issues with his former employer, can be called before a Senate budget estimates committee in order to talk about the issues that he has with his former employer.

The purpose of budget estimates committees is to call forth Commonwealth government agencies and the officials of those Commonwealth government agencies, and to inquire into Commonwealth government expenditure. It is not a forum to call forward private businesses. It is not a forum to call forward former employees of private businesses and to canvass the issues that they may have with their former employers. There are appropriate forums for individuals who have issues with their former employers to pursue. There is Fair Work Australia. There are the legal recourses through the courts. They are the appropriate forums for an individual who has a matter in relation to a former employer. To have Senate budget estimates committees used as forums for former employers to raise matters, and to do so under parliamentary privilege, would establish a very unusual precedent. This is not the appropriate forum for those matters, and I think Senate colleagues should think very, very, very carefully when looking to establish what would be a new and unusual precedent—one which I think would undermine the purpose and intent of Senate budget estimates committees and would be an abuse of the Senate budget estimates committees processes.

With those observations, I indicate that the government won't be supporting Senator Wong's amendment, and I would encourage Senate colleagues to take account of what I've outlined on each of those propositions.


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