Senate debates

Wednesday, 4 December 2019


Consideration of Legislation

9:58 am

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

I thank Senator Griff. In the short time remaining in the suspension of standing orders, can I make this point: it appears that there's been a deal done to repeal medevac. That's what it looks like. The Australian people want to see the deal. This Senate wants to see the deal. I've seen enough—we've all seen enough—of this government to know that they ram through legislation without any concern for transparency. They don't care if people have seen what we're voting on—and this legislation is about the lives of vulnerable and sick people. It appears to have been decided in secret and out of public view, away from any scrutiny. Certainly that's consistent with the way this government operates. It's not a government that likes scrutiny. It's not a government that likes transparency. We've seen that in the Prime Minister's persistent, stubborn, obstinate refusal to answer questions about Mr Taylor's behaviour, and Minister Taylor's refusal to answer questions.

It is up to this Senate, regardless of our views on the substance of matters, to insist upon scrutiny and transparency. That is what this chamber is for. In this chamber it is usually the case that the government, the executive, doesn't have the majority in its own right, which means we're the only chamber in this parliament that can ensure there is scrutiny. So I say again: show us the deal. Show the Australian people the deal. If the deal is so great, why don't you come out and tell us what it is?

I will say this to Senator Lambie. I regard her as a friend. I have a lot of respect for her. She is a straight shooter. We don't always agree, but she is a straight shooter. I would say this to you publicly, Senator Lambie: do not let them require you to vote for legislation with a requirement of secrecy around the deal. It is not a reasonable proposition for the government to put to you, and it's not a reasonable proposition for someone who is as straight a shooter as you are to say, 'I'm going to be part of an arrangement which I'm not allowed to make public and on that basis I'm voting for legislation.'

I say to the government: this is a deal which should be subject to the scrutiny of this Senate and the scrutiny of the Australian people. None of the claims that the government has made about medevac have been backed up by facts—none of them—so why would Australians now say, 'But it's fine; we're just going to accept the claims the government makes about some deal we can't see'?

This is fundamentally about transparency and scrutiny. Senators may come to a different view about the substance of the legislation. Labor senators have made clear our view about the substance of this legislation—why it is unnecessary, why it is wrong and why Minister Dutton continues to mislead Australians about the effect of it. But, ultimately, this is not just about the substance; it's also about the role of this chamber and it is about whether policy can be made in the shadows or whether it is subjected to some sunlight. This is the only part of the parliament where you actually get a bit of sunlight. It's the only chamber where you get some sunlight. We know how this government works. We know how this Prime Minister works. He always wants to duck and weave, obfuscate and tell people, 'That's in the bubble; that's gossip.' He's always got a way of avoiding accountability. This is the same tactic. Senators in this chamber, whatever their views on the substance, should not allow that tactic to prevent the Senate from doing its job.


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