Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Suspension of Standing Orders
Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to give precedence to general business notice of motion no. 549.
I am not surprised that the opposition has sought to not allow a determination on this motion. It will be, of course, treated with some insincere and, I think, non-serious contribution, but Senator Harradine ought to be back in the chamber to contribute to this debate, because he was a person who stood by goodwill being a marker of the difference in the way in which this chamber conducts its affairs.
Order! Those senators not wishing to stay in the chamber and participate or listen to debate, and who are having private conversations, please leave the chamber. Otherwise, be silent so Senator Brown can be heard. Senator Brown, you have the call.
Senator Harradine told me shortly after I arrived here that this chamber is different to the House in that there is a sense of goodwill here that does not always prevail in the House. Whichever side of the issue you were on yesterday, a hugely important piece of legislation for this nation—that is, the carbon package—had its eventual passage through the Senate. I just did an interview with the BBC and my colleague Senator Milne has been talking with media in New Zealand. It has been written up in today's New York Times. The impact of this legislation is globally important.
Yesterday, when the final vote was taken on the legislation, you will know, Mr Deputy President, that the press gallery had more than 40 members—something I have not seen since the passage of the goods and services tax more than a decade ago. It was a major and historic moment for the Greens, and there were quite a number of cameras in the press gallery. Senator Heffernan got from his chair and walked down and stood in front of the contingent of Greens to obscure the cameras making a record of that event as we shook hands and generally were happy that the passage of that legislation had taken place. I am not particularly miffed about whether or not we get coverage obscured, but it was a churlish and childish thing for Senator Heffernan to do. He frequently invades other people's press conferences, other people's moments, book launches and so on. It was rude, if not to the Greens, to the photographers in the gallery, to the cameras here and to the watching and listening public, because it obscured their right to see the events taking place in this chamber.
I know that there has been some debate in the other house about similar moves by members of parliament to obscure cameras. I do not understand, frankly, what motivates people to do that, but I think it is below the simple dignity, the reasonableness and the maturity of this chamber to have a senator behave in that fashion. He may—
Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. In Senator Brown's motion there is no suggestion that the action of which he complains was deliberate. But now he is seeking to impute improper motives to the senator about whose behaviour he complains, and I would ask you to invite the senator to withdraw the reflections—because it is not in the motion.
Which is, of course, the matter under discussion. If we do not deal with this today, in circumstances in which the opposition has moved to obstruct a vote on the matter in the chamber, then it will not be relevant to deal with it at some future time. Generally, the behaviour in this chamber has deteriorated rapidly.
Opposition senators interjecting—
Mr Deputy President, I cannot hear myself speak at the moment.
Opposition senators interjecting—
There is a huge amount of noise, interruption, disruption and infringement of the standing orders and it is increasing in this chamber. I am simply making a stand against that in favour of a more decent way of all senators behaving towards all other senators. That is what this motion is about. If you simply ignore an event like that that happened yesterday then you are partly responsible if it recurs. The part of this motion at the end which calls on the opposition to ensure it does not recur is the active part, and I hope they would be in concord with that.
The man who has led demonstrations with big banners to block people out of sight and the man who has led demonstrations making a lot of noise to drown out other voices is the man who, in Pecksniffian manner, comes into this place complaining that somebody stood in the way of a camera. I know that this senator allegedly had an interest in the art of photography but I never knew that his interest in the art of photography only related to photographs of himself. What a vain, petulant speech we have just heard. We were told that this was a matter of national significance. Was the government's view blocked? No. Was the view of the President, the most important person in this chamber, blocked? No. Even that of a humble leader of the opposition? No. And that of the National Party? No. Senator Xenophon's? No. Senator Madigan's? No. So what was this important group in the Senate that was being blocked? Not the government, not the opposition, not some Independents—oh, it was the Greens! I would suggest to Senator Brown that he be very careful with that glass of water in front of him, because if he stares in it when the light is shining in it he might see a narcissistic type reflection—and this is what this is all about. This is a window into the vanity of the Leader of the Australian Greens. This is a window into the petulance of the Australian Greens. This is a man who complains that somebody walked over to talk to the Australian Greens. Have a read of the motion and see it does not impute any improper motive to the senator. It says:
… notes that:
… after the final vote on the … bills, Senator Heffernan crossed the chamber to stand in front of the crossbenches and the Australian Greens’ senators …
Who are the crossbenchers in this place? How big is Senator Heffernan's body? He went over the gap, over the crossbenches of Xenophon and Madigan and the Australian Greens. I always thought Senator Heffernan was as skinny as a beanstalk. Now you are trying to say that he is bigger than a Mack truck. How on earth could a senator standing there block out the crossbenchers and the Greens all at the same time? It is a physical impossibility. Senator Brown was not concerned about the crossbenchers; he was concerned about himself, as is always the case. He goes on to say:
… this action obscured vision of cameras and the press gallery observing the proceedings for the Australian public; …
The whole Senate chamber was available for them to photograph—but who might they miss: the Australian Greens and the Leader of the Australian Greens. How petulant and how vain. Where does it suggest any improper motive? He then calls:
… on Senator Heffernan and his colleagues—
I assume that includes the Australian Greens—
to reflect on this … behaviour and take appropriate steps to see that it does not recur.
Is the senator actually trying to tell us and the Australian people that this is a matter of such great import that it needs the suspension of standing orders in this place as we need to discuss the fact that Senator Brown could not get his photograph taken because somebody who is about as slim as anybody else in this chamber, Senator Heffernan, happened to walk over to the Australian Greens to discuss the vote? This is petulance writ large and this is vanity writ large. But do you know what it also is writ large? The Australian Greens and, in particular, Leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Brown. I have been around this joint for about 17 years and I have never seen or heard such a vain or petulant motion being put forward by any backbench senator, let alone somebody who claims to be the leader of an Australian political party. Mr Deputy President, I suggest that we dispense with this nonsense of Senator Brown's and get on with the important business of the Senate.
Opposition senators interjecting—
You have quite rightly made my point, Mr Deputy President. You see that when it is not a conservative senator speaking in this Senate, the conservatives have absolutely no concerns about shouting, interjecting and being rude and abusive, as we evidenced by Senator Macdonald only last week—who still has not apologised to Get Up!, I might add, for his appalling references. This morning he was interjecting about the Prime Minister in a very offensive way, and I understand the chair was not aware of it then. Yesterday, we had a situation where the coalition were heard in silence by the government and the Greens but, when it came to us speaking, the coalition behaved appallingly. Then, when we went to the divisions yesterday, we had people deliberately leaving the chamber so that the bells had to be rung for four minutes instead of one minute.
The point I am making, for the benefit of the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate—who cannot seem to grasp the idea, so I have to tell him again—is that they deliberately set up a puerile strategy to frustrate the debate, knowing full well—
Opposition senators interjecting—
that in fact a number of people around the country were waiting for the vote. That was extremely childish behaviour which does not reflect well on this place. I think it is about time—
Opposition senators interjecting—
And we are still hearing the same kind of rabble behaviour and interjections. What we need in this place is respect for the standing orders and respect for the—
Senator Abetz interjecting—
As we now are hearing again, Mr Deputy President, we need respect for the standing orders. That people are deliberately setting out to frustrate others does not reflect well on this place.
As my colleague said, this is not the first instance. There are several examples from press conferences and other events here where a conservative senator has thought it amusing to disrupt other people's events. If that is something that he spends his time doing, and he is entitled to, and the people of New South Wales think that is an appropriate way for their elected representative to behave, it is up to them to express that when they get to the ballot box. But I do think it is appropriate that we expose some of the double standards of the conservatives.
Don't bother telling people, Mr Deputy President, that the conservatives respect the rules, because they do not respect the rules. They go out of their way to frustrate the rules, to absolutely abuse the standing orders and to behave in the most appalling manner. They put that on display for the whole of Australia yesterday in the broadcast that went out from the Senate. This motion is asking that the conservatives reflect on the behaviour that they exhibited in here yesterday, and I think that would be appropriate. I am disappointed that the government does not think it is appropriate that the conservatives reflect on the appalling behaviour they exhibited to the nation.
It is an extraordinary thing when the worst fears of the Australian people are confirmed by the vainglorious and narcissistic motion that we have before us. It is offensive to the Australian people that this parliament seems to have nothing better to do than debate the pious and sanctimonious words put forward by Senator Bob Brown and Senator Milne because they missed a photo opportunity. In the last 3½ or four minutes, we have heard all about upholding the standing orders, from the party of hypocrisy—the party that will not acknowledge the magnificence of the chair in this chamber when they enter and leave, the party that will not acknowledge people's formal titles in Senate inquiries and hearings, the party that will not acknowledge standing orders. For the benefit of this chamber, let me put this to you:
A resolution of the Senate allows the media to photograph any senator in the chamber provided that they have the call.
Might I remind Senator Bob Brown that yesterday he did not have the call. He stood up and was champing at the bit, trying to grandstand by cuddling with his cabal over there, who have sent this country down a path from which there will be no return while they remain in power. But let me remind them that it is in breach of standing orders.
Senator Bob Brown has come up with this confected outrage and some contrived complaint against Senator Heffernan, who because of his generosity and magnanimous heart was simply going across there to acknowledge that we had been defeated in a challenge. But, in the rudeness, the shrillness and the smugness of the Greens party, they refused to acknowledge Senator Heffernan. I saw him. I watched him. He turned around and looked at the chamber; he looked to the chair and he acknowledged the chair humbly. I can only imagine what he said to himself: 'Why won't they talk to me? I'm just trying to be generous.' But what has happened as a result? We have this hypocritical, vainglorious and narcissistic motion come into the chamber. It is only right that the Australian people would be questioning why this is happening. If there has been regrettable activity in this chamber, might I say much of it rests with the Greens party.
If you want to know about bad behaviour in and out of this place, we need look no further than Senator Bob Brown himself. This is the man who feigned bankruptcy or impending bankruptcy to collect money from the public for legal bills, around $300,000—
Mr Deputy President, on the point of order: Senator Bob Brown might reflect that, when it was put to him that he was not actually going to go bankrupt, he amended the Greens website using words to the effect that he might not necessarily have technically gone bankrupt. So he did amend his language after those matters were drawn to his attention.
I withdraw unconditionally. But it did not stop Senator Brown, being the ecomillionaire, from collecting nearly $1 million in order to pay about $300,000 worth of legal bills. Anyone with any integrity who was not so consumed with hubris and ego would have said, 'No, I've got my charity from the public; they can keep their money for themselves.' This is a shameful stunt by a man who thinks the rules should apply differently to him than to anybody else.
This is a man who condemns political donations to any political party yet whose own party takes $1.6 million donations. I ask myself, and I am sure the Australian people will ask themselves, 'Why was it that a line of questioning in this chamber by the Greens was directly related to the business interests of the person who made that donation?' It is a proper and right question for this chamber to consider. It is a proper and right question for the Australian people to consider, Senator Brown. Might I also say that the question you are putting to the Australian people today in this chamber is simply inappropriate and improper. There is a dignity that should be maintained in this place. We should not sink to the lowest common denominator and debase it to the level that Senator Brown and the Greens wish to take it to. If we are maintaining the standing orders, if we are serious about maintaining the traditions and the other things that make the Senate such a special place in which to work, we cannot debase it by putting motions like this, by not acknowledging the chair and by showing flagrant contempt for standing orders whenever it suits. That is exactly what this does. We should not be surprised by it, because we have experienced it again and again from the Greens party.
Senator Brown and the Greens cannot handle any scrutiny—they have a glass jaw. That is why, when their policy position is examined, when there is any critical questioning of their own conduct and behaviour, their response is: 'This is the hate media; this is persecution. The Greens are different. We're separate. We're isolated from the world.'
Indeed they are different, they are separate and they are isolated from the world. Unfortunately, they have their hands on the tiller of government, and that is a shame for this country. (Time expired)
What the Senate is being asked to do this afternoon is suspend its standing orders to debate this motion, general business notice of motion No. 549 which, amongst other things, deals with the behaviour of Senator Heffernan at the time of the passage of the package of clean energy bills yesterday. I would submit that Senator Heffernan and his behaviour are not more important than debate on the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Bill 2011 and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2011, which is a time limited debate, the time expiring at 5.30 this afternoon. Nor do I believe that considering Senator Heffernan or his behaviour in this chamber is more important than debate on the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011, which is also an order of the day for government business later this afternoon.
There is an iron law of the Senate: never get between Senator Heffernan and a television camera! Never do it. He acknowledges that that is the case. Senator Heffernan has never seen a bad microphone yet! Of course, I do not think it will be news that Senator Heffernan did at the conclusion of the debate yesterday what he tried to do in question time today: take a point of order of no substance at all to see if he could score a little bit of time on the television. The truth is that you will not have to hold the front page, I can assure you, to debate the behaviour of Senator Heffernan trying to get his scone on television. He does it all the time. There is no news in the fact that Senator Heffernan is a narcissist. We know that. There is no news in the fact that Senator Heffernan is egomaniacal. We know that that is the case. There is no news in the fact that self-aggrandisement is what Senator Heffernan is all about. I have in fact been unkind enough at times to suggest he is a little bit barmy about these things. I have said in the past that he is quite bonkers when it comes to this obsession with getting himself in the media, which has involved interrupting people's doorstops and trying to take over a properly convened press conference. It is no different inside the chamber from outside the chamber.
But the issue we are debating here this afternoon is: should the Senate's legislative program be overturned for debate on this motion? It should not. As far as I am concerned, there is no news in Senator Heffernan's quite odd behaviour. I think Senator Heffernan came into this parliament—you can correct me, Senator Heffernan—in late 1996. Is that correct?
He has always been like this. Nothing is ever going to change. Senator Brown can move as many motions as he likes. What you get with Senator Heffernan is what you saw yesterday afternoon in the Senate, what you saw in question time today and what you will see as long as he stays in the chamber. I think the Senate should get on with its real work.
What more really needs to be said after that speech, except perhaps to defend Senator Heffernan and say what an effective representative, in every sense of the term, he is for the people of New South Wales. Senator Faulkner is correct. We are debating a motion to set aside the whole program of the Senate so that we can debate and vote on this ridiculous motion from Senator Brown.
Senator Brown's talk about anyone disobeying the rules is so hypocritical it makes me almost breathless. Senator Brown of course made his career by breaching the law. Even as recently as the Convoy of No Confidence came down from the north and from all over Australia, Senator Brown was reported as saying what a hopeless lot they were: 'They have not blockaded anything.' According to Senator Brown, unless you are breaking the law you are no longer relevant.
I have been here long enough to remember when it was a requirement to wear jackets into this chamber. Senator Brown would continually come in here without a jacket for no other reason than to break the law. It was drawn to the attention of the chair—
Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I ask that any suggestion that I have come in here deliberately or otherwise to break the law be withdrawn. But I would also remind the chair that the chair ruled that there was no requirement for a jacket to be worn in this place and that the senator is quite wrong in his assumption about that matter.
Of course not. That simply shows the pettiness and petulance of a precious person who thinks that he has rights and privileges that nobody else has.
I want to draw to the attention of the Senate another instance of Senator Brown's direct conflict with the rules of this Senate. The rules of this Senate quite clearly say that the chair must be acknowledged. Senator Brown has never acknowledged the chair at any time. But there was an occasion a few months ago when that was drawn to the attention of the chair.
On the occasion that I am talking about, this behaviour was drawn to the attention of the person in the chair. The chair politely said to Senator Brown: 'Yes, that is the rule. You must understand, Senator Brown, that you do have to acknowledge the chair under the standing orders.' Senator Brown on three occasions subsequently walked out the door and deliberately did not acknowledge the chair.
This particular motion from Senator Brown is beyond the pale. It shows what sort of person is leading the Greens political party at the present time: a person who has made his career out of defying the law, the lawmakers and the rules of the game. For him to bring this motion is absolutely despicable. It would be laughable if it were not so tragic that one of our members should have the sort of disposition that means he has to be photographed and, if he is not, he complains.