Senate debates

Thursday, 10 December 2020


Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020; Consideration of House of Representatives Message

8:37 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

I'm just rising to perhaps look at this from a slightly different perspective. I actually don't understand the reason for a vote on the motion not to insist on the amendment, because, in effect, the government's asking us to vote to remove a power from one of its own ministers to exercise a discretion. And, actually, we've heard a few things about different ministers. Minister Ruston is one of the ministers that I wouldn't suggest would abuse a power, would abuse a discretion.

People might recall that, when I rose to talk on the valedictory about Senator Cormann, I talked about relationships. I want to talk about Senator Ruston over the last few weeks as she has stepped up into the role of Manager of Government Business in the Senate. It's been pretty hectic. We've had some controversial bills. And, look, some mistakes have been made. I don't think anyone can be blamed. It's a complex task. Minister Ruston has to run the chamber as the Manager of Government Business in the Senate but also has to deal with her own legislation. She has been dealing with some controversial legislation over the last couple of days.

Notwithstanding that I don't agree with the proposition that has been put forward by the government, what I can tell you is that her engagement with me personally in dealing with this legislation started probably a month or more ago, when Minister Ruston took me out to show me the technology provider for the cashless debit card and organised a cashless debit card for me. She sat down and ran me through all of the legislation. People might note that I asked about 50 questions on notice last week, which were returned really quickly. She's been available at any point in time to answer my questions. I think people appreciate that, after a heavy week in parliament last week, she gave up her weekend. She came with me to Ceduna and she showed me around, basically pushing her bill.

And I can tell you that there have been a number of conversations taking place between me and Senator Ruston, between Senator Ruston and Senator Lambie, between Senator Lambie and Centre Alliance, between Senator Ruston and Centre Alliance, and between the opposition and Senator Ruston, and those conversations have been taking place at all hours of the day and night. Minister Ruston looks tired. Minister Ruston looks a bit battered! I watched your facial expression today when you realised that you actually didn't have the numbers. Whilst people here have to vote on the merits of legislation, I actually felt a little bit sorry for you, noting the couple of weeks that you've had.

The point I'm trying to make is that the Prime Minister, in picking his cabinet, has to pick good people and then he has to empower those people to make decisions. And I'm very disappointed that, after Minister Ruston made a decision and made a commitment to Senator Wong, which Senator Wong then transmitted to the crossbench, the Prime Minister didn't stand by Senator Ruston's decision. That, to me, is disrespectful. Whatever you might think about the legislation that has been before the chamber over the last couple of days, the passing of that particular bill was very difficult for the government, and we all got snookered. When, finally, the numbers weren't available, Senator Ruston had a backup plan and she out-snookered all of us. So, whilst I'm not in any way suggesting that her managing to get the bill through the Senate is a good thing, I think she did a good job and I think it is hugely disrespectful, her having made a decision in this chamber, for that to be overturned by the Prime Minister. I think that's the wrong thing to do.


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