Senate debates

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Business

Senate Temporary Orders

9:31 am

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I condemn that proposal in the strongest possible terms as it amounts to an attack on democracy, restricts debate and free speech and undermines the important work of the Senate in advancing policy, constituent and transparency matters, and I ask that general business notice of motion No. 705 be discharged from the Notice Paper.

Leave not granted.

Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me from moving a motion relating to the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to give precedence to a motion relating to general notice of motion No.705.

What we saw yesterday was the two big parties not even speak to anyone on the crossbench about their collusion in seeking to shut down the crossbench's ability to do its job to hold the government and, at times, the opposition to account. What's being proposed, in a cosy little deal between the two big parties, is to limit our ability, as senators, to move motions to just one formal motion a week. That includes motions to disclose documents—orders for the production of documents. For example, this week I moved a motion for an order for the production of documents pertaining to yet more election rorts by this government—the community development grants—but I also moved a motion calling for a federal corruption watchdog. Both were transparency measures. Under this proposed change, which both big parties support, I wouldn't be allowed to do that; they wouldn't give me permission to use my ability, as a senator, to represent Queensland and to push for more transparency and democracy in this place. They would be the arbiters of what the crossbench can do and when we can use our power to hold them to account. They did not even have the decency to consult. They didn't consult with the Greens, they didn't consult with Centre Alliance, they didn't consult with Senator Lambie and they didn't consult with Pauline Hanson's One Nation. This is absolutely a move to shut down the democratic right of senators on the crossbench to do our jobs, and we will oppose it with the strongest possible powers that we have. We will do that today and we will do that on the next day of sitting. We will do it on every day of sitting until these people come to the table, like adults, and discuss possible improvements to the program. But that didn't happen. It was just yet another cosy deal between the two big parties to change the way the democracy of this chamber works.

We know they don't like transparency. That's why we still don't have a federal corruption watchdog, despite the fact that the government agreed 18 months ago to create one. We know they don't like being held to account on their policy positions. I've got news for you: sometimes it is inconvenient for you to be held to account on your policy positions, but it's also democratic, and the convenience of the two big parties should not be running this place. We have a job to do here to represent our constituents, to further the public interest and to work in the nation's interest, and the two big parties are sick of the inconvenience of the crossbench.

I've got some more news for you: there is a reason why the vote support for the big parties is the lowest that it has ever been in history, and it will continue to drop with this sort of antidemocratic behaviour. You don't want to be held to account for your policy positions. I move motions, for example, about protecting the reef and giving coal workers a future in clean energy and other industries. You don't want to be held to account.

We all know the massive donations that flow into the coffers of both the big political parties from big business, from vested interests, from people who want to buy policy outcomes. We draw attention to that because we think it's cooked. What's your answer? You don't want to be held to account. You're embarrassed by that and you should be embarrassed by that. The mature response is to have a debate about how the program can move more smoothly, but, no, there's just an absolute glass-jaw approach from both sides of the chamber here.

We will oppose this with everything we've got, and I believe I speak for the crossbench in saying that. Senator Lambie and Senator Patrick, I'm sure, will have contributions to make, and I imagine Senator Roberts and perhaps Senator Hanson might also share and join in in contributing on these views.

Motions perhaps might sound a bit procedural to anyone that might be listening, but they are crucial and they have delivered things like the banking royal commission. They have led to things like marriage equality. They have led to the disability royal commission. Moving motions is not just some jaunt that we undertake to draw important issues to the attention of the big parties and to let the populists know about where we all stand. Motions get things done and they can lead to legislative reform. Yes, they're inconvenient, and yes of course you don't want to be held to account by having to vote on what your actual policy positions even are—except of course if you're the Labor Party, as you don't have any policy positions as yet because they're under review, so it's not clear what you stand for. Well, the public deserves to know what you stand for. This chamber of democracy has a very strong crossbench. We deserve a voice, and we will continue to fight for it.

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