Tuesday, 28 March 2006
Tarkine Aboriginal Rock Art
by leave—The division on general business notice of motion No. 403 was in fact called at two minutes past four. Unfortunately, I did not look at the clock before I did the pairs list. Two of our cabinet ministers were in fact paired from four o’clock. As I have explained to Senator Brown, they were not listed as paired because, with all of those divisions, I did not notice that we had passed four o’clock. We are asking that the motion be put again to enable a vote which reflects the will of the Senate.
by leave—Well, the clock does tick over. Of course, as mover of the motion, I want to see a vote which reflects the will of the Senate and I will allow a recommittal. But what a failure this is by the coalition, which has the majority in the Senate! What a particular snub it is to Aboriginal Australia that the government should take its eye off the ball, forget about the clock ticking over and fail to have the numbers in here so that accidentally a motion gets through requiring this government to take responsibility for Indigenous cultural icons in this country! We are talking here about ancient stone carvings on the Tarkine coastline of Tasmania which were vandalised by rednecks. They took drills into the area around Christmas and crossed out these ancient circles which some say are as old as Stonehenge or the pyramids.
Of course I shall. It is an extraordinarily serious matter, which I brought to the attention of the Senate because it is of national significance. The problem here—and let me get right to the chase—is that the government did not want clause (e), which reads:
... the Senate ... asks the Commonwealth to take all due action to uphold the Burra Charter—
the international charter for the protection of cultural sites, and:
... to bring those responsible for this outrage to justice and to prevent any recurrence of such destructive behaviour against Australia’s heritage.
The office of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, contacted me a number of times this morning to ask me not to persist with that clause. This national government felt that its responsibility for protecting extremely important, world heritage value Aboriginal art sites should not be expressed in the Senate. Yet the minister got a pair this afternoon and was away when this vote was taken.
Mr Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: Senator Brown is debating the substance of the statement. He was given leave to make a short statement and he is breaching both of those conditions with this continued address.
There should be a debate on this. The government should have brought on a debate. It should have been scandalised by what has happened in Tasmania, and the Minister for the Environment and Heritage should not have been paired for this; he should have been here to debate it—but he was not.
Mr Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: the minister was paired because he was at a cabinet meeting. As I have explained to the Senate, it was two minutes past the moment that he was paired. It had nothing to do with whether or not he believes that this is an important matter. I think Senator Brown knows that, so it is improper of him to mislead the Senate in that way.
I ask you to allow me to make that statement adequately, Mr Acting Deputy President. I have been in this chamber long enough to have seen this exact same debate in the past, in which senators have failed to be here when they ought to have been for a vote and there has been a very long debate. I do not want this truncated today.
Mr Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: the two ministers we are referring to in fact should not have been here. As Senator Brown knows, they were paired from two minutes before, so it is improper to suggest that they were not here when they should have been. They were already paired. The mistake was mine; not theirs.
I agree that there is no point of order. This is a total failure by the government, and the minister compounds it by saying that a cabinet meeting takes precedence over the sitting of this Senate. That is a constitutional impertinence by this government: that it cannot have its cabinet meetings at proper times without disrupting the proper debate in this parliament. This minister and this government failed this afternoon. It failed this nation, it failed the Indigenous people and it failed this nation’s heritage because it did not care about that. It was absent when it should have been here for the vote. What a failure by this government. What an indignity for the government. But that is not what matters—it is the slight on Indigenous Australia and its cultural heritage that the government not only did not care enough to be here to vote but also did not care enough to vote for this motion. Now it wants to vote down the motion to protect this area in the future.
Mr Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: you have asked Senator Brown to conclude his remarks and he is wilfully disobeying your request. I raise the point of order again that, by doing so, Senator Brown is canvassing your direction by his disobedience of it. I really think he must now conclude.
Mr Acting Deputy President, I ask you to note that had I not given Senator Ferris leave, we would have had a full debate in here this afternoon. So the courtesy that I have given to the government is far greater than any extended in my direction. In concluding, I note that we will now see the government vote down this motion about its responsibility to these ancient rock carvings on the Tarkine coast of Tasmania.
In respect to the position of the opposition, we accept that the will of the Senate needs to prevail at the end of the day. We thank Senator Ferris for coming into the chamber and explaining what happened. It is a situation we accept can happen from time to time. But it has not always been the situation where the government has come in and given us an explanation. If my memory serves me correctly, last time this happened, on 2 March, we were given no explanation. There was just a motion to recommit a vote. That has not happened this time. We thank the government for that, but there is clearly an expectation from the opposition that if these occurrences happen in the future that there will be a proper and full explanation given to the Senate before the Senate is put to the difficulty of recommitting a vote.
I seek leave to revisit notice of motion No. 403 and to recommit to a vote the motion standing in the name of Senator Brown relating to Tarkine Aboriginal rock art.
That the motion (That the motion () be agreed to.