Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 February 2010


Suspension of Standing Orders

9:46 am

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion relating to the conduct of the business of this Senate, namely a motion to provide that the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Prohibition of Support for Whaling) Bill 2010 have precedence over all government business until determined.

I note that the government did not give leave for this bill to be brought on for debate—

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern and Remote Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

and I note that Senator Macdonald is effectively giving support to that government point of view. That being said, this is an important issue. The bill, you will note, Mr President, is hosted into this place by Senator Siewert and Senator Abetz. One would expect, therefore, that the motion to give precedence to debating, passing and bringing this bill into law would have the support of the opposition, but I am told that that is not to be the case.

The reality is that whaling is occurring south of this nation today. The disgusting process of a slow death after grenade-tipped harpoons are put into these great cetaceans—these great, warm-blooded fellow mammals of ours—is occurring while the current government, like the previous government, does nothing about it, although we know from the most recent opinion polls that 94 per cent of Australians want action by the government.

What this bill seeks to do is complement Australia’s own decision under the Fraser government in 1978 to end whaling, which led to the consequent ban on whaling fleets entering Australian ports, by making sure that Australians and Australian companies and entities do not give support to this bloody destruction of whales by Japanese whaling ships. This was brought into focus by the news earlier this year that the Japanese whaling fleet had employed, through a New Zealand agency, flights out of Albany or Perth, Hobart and/or Melbourne to track down the gallant Sea Shepherd defenders of the whales so that a ship that was part of the Japanese fleet could peel off and obstruct Sea Shepherd and prevent them from going to the defence of the whales and getting in the way of the whaling fleet—in other words, very clearly aiding and abetting the killing of whales. Now, that is an extraordinary abuse of the sentiment of Australia about this practice and the enactment by Australia of the defence of whales and the end of whaling. This is pure common sense. The bill needs to be enacted now so that we do not get a repeat of that behaviour by the Japanese authorities and whaling fleet, where they are using Australia to effectively help kill whales instead of defend them.

I might add here that one member of the Sea Shepherd group is currently locked up on a Japanese ship, having gallantly tried to get aboard that ship to give the captain a bill for the sinking of the Ady Gil, the fleet boat that was financed by Mr Ady Gil, who is currently in Canberra and should be applauded for the support he has given to Sea Shepherd.

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

The pirates of the sea—that’s what they are.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The opposition say ‘the pirates of the sea’. I think that is a fairly telling comment: it is Senator Abetz that is co-hosting this bill to defend the action of Sea Shepherd, but his colleague just one row back is putting forward this calumny—which the Japanese government will like but the Australian people will not—that Sea Shepherd are in some way pirates. Of course, the pirates are the Japanese whalers who are killing these great whales. And now we have the news that the Australian government might be working out a fix in the International Whaling Commission to legalise the commercial taking of whales, including humpback, in the Southern Ocean. What an extraordinary turnaround on their election commitment on whaling.

This bill is urgent. It is clearly a private senator’s bill that needs to be debated in time for it to have effect. It should be supported by the government and it should be supported by the opposition. It is logical and warranted that this legislation be dealt with now and put into law so that it has the effect that Australians want to see it having.

9:51 am

Photo of Joe LudwigJoe Ludwig (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Manager of Government Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

We have now heard the Greens debating not the substantive reason why this bill should come on but in fact the content of the bill. What we have before us is not an urgent bill. If the Greens were serious about this bill, with the opposition, then there is time on Thursday, during general business, for that to be dealt with. If senators want to debate the bill, it can be debated and argued at that time. That is the appropriate time for this bill to be debated. The time set aside in the program for general business is available. If Senator Abetz and the Greens want to debate this bill then it is entirely appropriate that they use that time for that purpose.

This effort today, of course—an amendment to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999—is a complete stunt to avoid debate on substantive matters before the Senate. The Greens have repeatedly claimed that there is not enough time in the program on sitting days and that the government is at risk of not managing its program. What we now have is a stunt by them to up-end the day so that they can deal with a bill that is not urgent. They do have time tomorrow to debate it, but they are using the Senate time in this way.

What we have on the agenda is the fairer private health insurance legislation, which is very important for two reasons. The fairer private health legislation is an important part of our health reform, it is making the system fairer and more sustainable, and we want to make sure nurses and taxi drivers do not have to subsidise the private health of millionaires and politicians. It will save taxpayers $1.9 billion over the next four years and nearly $100 billion by 2050. That is money we could use for more doctors and more nurses. You would think that the Greens would understand or at least be reasonable about this instead of trying to use the Senate process to up-end the Senate to deal with a bill that is not urgent.

Even if you went to the content of their bill, you would see that it would fail at first instance. It is not one where they have turned their intellectual rigour to ensure that the bill will pass muster in the first instance. Quite frankly, it would not provide the outcome that they are seeking. So you could only conclude that it is nothing more than a stunt by the Greens to use the five minutes—they know it will be defeated in the Senate because of what it is, a stunt—to argue their case. There are many opportunities in the Senate where Senator Brown and the Greens can argue their case about legislation or about particular points. They can use that time rather than take government time where we have a program that has been set.

Of course, on the substantive matter we do have, yesterday the Greens took up further time with a wasteful censure motion. We had a number of hours wasted during that period.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Abetz interjecting

Photo of Joe LudwigJoe Ludwig (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Manager of Government Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Abetz makes a good point: this is a waste of time. I will not take up my five minutes to deal with this issue. This is a matter that should not be supported. There is ample opportunity to deal with this private senator’s bill if the opposition want to assist Senator Brown and the Greens during general business tomorrow.

9:55 am

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

If ever the Australian people needed a reason why the Greens should not be given the balance of power in this Senate or indeed in the Tasmanian parliament, we have a clear example of that here today. Sure, there is no doubt that the issues raised in the EPBC Amendment (Prohibition of Support for Whaling) Bill 2010 are important, but the issue is of balance and common sense. With the Greens, everything they do is vital—it is the most important thing for the day; it is absolutely important. I still remember the passion with which Senator Brown spoke in this place about whether senators had to wear jackets or not. It is the same sort of passion that he uses to speak about whales. There is no sense of balance. There is no sense of priority. I remind the Australian people and the Australian Greens

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President Hutchins, I raise a point of order. Senator Abetz is straying from the matter to talk about a debate on jackets. I would remind him that that was a successful debate and made a very important and innovative change for the Senate.

Photo of Steve HutchinsSteve Hutchins (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! There is no point of order.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

If the Australian people needed another example of why the Greens should never be allowed to control the Senate or the Tasmanian parliament, it was that interjection and alleged point of order by Senator Brown. I remind the Australian people and the Australian Greens that, when an issue of genuine importance came up before this place in August 2009, when my very good friend and very capable colleague Senator Bernardi sought precedence for the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Enhanced Child Protection from Predatory Tourism Offences) Bill 2008, Senator Brown voted against giving it precedence. Here we have today in the Senate an example of the fact that the Australian Greens see protecting whales as a more important issue than protecting children from predatory tourism. That is their sense of community consciousness. That is how warped their priorities are. If it is not their idea, it is not good and it does not deserve precedence. But if it is about jackets, if it is about whales or whatever, if it is their thought, then of course it deserves precedence and everything else has to be swept aside.

The Australian people should look very carefully at the exercise we are witnessing today. I support the general thrust of the bill. Indeed, as Senator Brown indicated, it bears my name. But I then have to ask the question: is the provision of supplies and support to whaling vessels—and I abhor whaling—a more important, burning issue than protecting innocent young children from the abhorrent practice of so-called child sex tourism? What a terrible sense of priorities the Australian Greens have brought into this place today. They are on the record as opposing precedence for Senator Cory Bernardi’s request that young children, especially in Asia, be protected from those abhorrent criminals that seek to use them and destroy their lives. But the Australian Greens say, ‘No, that is okay. Sweep the kids aside. We want our five minutes in the sunshine to pull a stunt on whales and show people how warm-hearted we are.’ These mammals, I think Senator Brown said, have warm blood flowing through them. Can I tell you, Senator Brown, so do the kids in South-East Asia. But you thought they were of no consequence.

We in the coalition approach all these things with a sense of balance. We say that the bill co-sponsored by Senator Siewert is a good bill, and we do support it in general terms. But the question is: where should it fit into the scheme of priorities? I make no apologies on behalf of the coalition in saying that, if there is a choice between bringing precedence to a piece of legislation that seeks to protect children from the evil of so-called child sex tourism and supporting whaling vessels, it will be the children that win each and every day, and heaven help this country if the Greens ever get control of this place or the Tasmanian parliament. (Time expired)

10:01 am

Photo of Steve FieldingSteve Fielding (Victoria, Family First Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Australian public do care about protecting whales, but, again, the Greens are showing how wacky they are by trying to give precedence to this motion before every other piece of legislation. It is just a common theme that they seem to have with their wacky ideas.

It is interesting to know that the coalition are now saying they want to move on this issue, when in 10 years or so not a lot was actually done. I am trying to work out whether Greg Hunt wants to be the new whale rider, sailing the seas, seeking out the big dragons and making sure they are not killed. But I think you have to be fairly careful about how much they want to give precedence to this issue as well. At the end of the day, protecting whales is important, but it is crazy to think that we are going to give this bill precedence before we look at other issues in this parliament. It is crazy and I will not be supporting it.

10:02 am

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

It is interesting to note that the opposition spokesperson for the environment, Mr Hunt, said on Monday that the government should show it is serious about stopping whaling by supporting a bill in the Senate this week. He went on:

This week is the opportunity for Mr Rudd to support direct action to half Japanese whaling.

Then he went on to say—and he is talking about Mr Rudd:

Why will he not support the bill to end spy flights in support of Japanese whaling from Australian airports?

I, and I think most Australians, would interpret those comments to suggest that Mr Hunt was in favour on Monday—that is just two days ago—of our debating this bill in the Senate this week. Things have changed since Monday. It is interesting to note that two days ago the opposition thought this bill should have precedence, but on Wednesday they do not think that it deserves precedence anymore.

This is a substantive issue, Senator Ludwig, and it is essential that Australia does everything it can to stop the abhorrent practice of whaling in the Southern Ocean. It is essential that Australia amends its legislation as soon as possible to ensure that Australian resources and services are not used to support Japanese whaling. The government knows the Australian population is totally behind Australia’s policy of not supporting whaling in this country.

The bill is a fairly simple, short bill, which the opposition have signed onto. You will notice that Senator Abetz’s name was not on Senator Bernardi’s bill, but it is on this bill. He thinks that it is so important that he will put his name to a bill that the Greens put forward. He is prepared to overcome traditional rivalries to put his name to a bill that we have come up with and support, but he is not prepared to debate it. This is a fairly simple amendment that means that Australian services do not support whaling—something that nearly all Australians support. We could have a short, sharp debate and we could fix the bill now to ensure that next summer this does not happen again.

It is all very well for the government to say that they could debate it on Thursday afternoon, but the government and the opposition—but particularly the government—know that they always speak out bills on a Thursday afternoon. We never get to vote on the bills. They just keep them there on the Notice Paper and they never get finally dealt with. That is why we needed to suspend standing orders and bring this bill in and give it precedence. That way we could have a proper debate. We could make it short and sharp. We know Australians support this. We know it makes sense. We could have a debate about it. We could then have a vote on it. But if we were left to deal with this on Thursday afternoon in general business, in the limited time we get to debate, they would talk it out and we would never get to vote on it. That is why we need to bring it on now. If the government were prepared to deal with these private senators’ bills properly then we would not need to seek precedence to debate this sort of bill. That is why, Minister, we bring it on now—so that we can actually deal with this properly instead of it being shuffled off to Thursday.

This government is not serious about dealing with whaling. Just yesterday a small group of the International Whaling Commission released its report that effectively will commercialise whaling. And, just by chance, the Prime Minister has said he is going to take legal action in November. Knowing full well that this report would basically allow commercial whaling, he says, ‘Oh, well, we are going to take legal action in November.’ This will not be dealt with before the next whaling season—so that will be another whaling season, another nearly 1,000 whales taken and slaughtered. Not only that, he knows the rules might change so he might not even be able to take legal action at that stage. His government are basically now talking to other governments about trying to commercialise whaling. How disingenuous is that! They will not support changing this bill. They are working with other governments to effectively commercialise whaling. They are not taking legal action until it is too late and another 1,000 whales are killed.

That is why this issue is urgent. That is what Australian people are also saying. In an online survey that we did, in just a few days we got 3,500 signatures supporting our stance on this. It is a simple amendment. If the government and the opposition were dinkum about ensuring that Australian services and resources do not support whaling in our Southern Ocean, they would support this. So instead of having to have this debate about precedence, we could actually have a debate about the issue. (Time expired)

10:07 am

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I indicate that I support Senator Brown’s motion. In relation to Senator Abetz’s contribution, I have genuine regard and respect for Senator Abetz, but that was not Senator Abetz’s best contribution. I think it is quite disingenuous for Senator Abetz to somehow imply that the Greens are not concerned about child sex exploitation. I think that was a pretty shameful contribution. It is a pity that Senator Abetz is not in the chamber now. I think he was fundamentally wrong to try to characterise it like that. It was the basest of base politics. I am disappointed in Senator Abetz and the way he has tried to characterise it.

The fact is, what is before us now is whether this particular motion has precedence. Senator Abetz has co-sponsored this legislation—and I congratulate him for co-sponsoring it. I think it is a good piece of legislation—it is simple; it is straightforward. We could have dealt with this expeditiously in the course of an hour or two at the very most if there was the political will to do so. To put this in context, just two days ago the opposition spokesperson on this, Greg Hunt, was saying that we should be supporting this bill in the Senate. I have heard Mr Hunt’s advocacy of this issue—and good on him for the way he has advocated this on behalf of the coalition—highlighting inaction on the part of the government in relation to the issue of whaling. I find it incredible that we have a situation where just 48 hours ago the opposition were saying, ‘Let us get on with this in the Senate,’ and now they are opposing it. It does point to a serious structural problem in the way that the Senate does its business in the context of dealing with private senators’ bills. I know that in my time in the Legislative Council in the South Australian parliament, we had time set aside to deal with private members’ bills, and those bills would be brought to a vote. If it got to the second reading stage, the committee stage would then be held and we could actually deal with it. I think that this place, of all chambers, could have a set of standing orders in place to make a difference so that we can actually deal with these issues expeditiously and in the way that matters of public importance and matters of public interest should be dealt with.

For the record, I can say that I did support the suspension of standing orders for Senator Bernardi’s bill because I think that, as a matter of course, issues of importance ought to be dealt with expeditiously by the Senate. In terms of the contributions so far, again with respect to Senator Abetz—and I do have high regard for him—I expected better from him. We can do more than one thing. We can tackle important legislation on a whole range of issues and we ought to change the standing orders so that that can be facilitated. I urge the government and the opposition to come to the party so that the Senate can do what it is meant to do, and that is not just to scrutinise legislation and be a watchdog for the executive arm of government but also to initiate legislation that is clearly in the public interest and ought to be debated and voted on in this chamber.

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Bob Brown’s) be agreed to.