Senate debates

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Committees

Certain Aspects of the Queensland Government Select Committee; Appointment

3:42 pm

Photo of Glenn LazarusGlenn Lazarus (Queensland, Palmer United Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to amend general business notice of motion No. 418 standing in my name relating to the establishment of the Select Committee on Certain Aspects of the Queensland Government administration related to Commonwealth government affairs.

Leave granted.

I amend the motion in the terms circulated in the chamber and ask that it be taken as formal.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Is there any objection to this motion, as amended, being taken as formal?

An honourable senator: Yes.

Leave has been denied.

3:43 pm

Photo of Glenn LazarusGlenn Lazarus (Queensland, Palmer United Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Lazarus moving a motion relation to the conduct of the business of this Senate, namely a motion to give precedence to a motion circulated in the chamber to establish a select committee on certain aspects of the Queensland government administration.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

You have five minutes to speak on the motion.

3:44 pm

Photo of Glenn LazarusGlenn Lazarus (Queensland, Palmer United Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Australian Constitution states that there must be a clear separation of powers between the parliament, the executive government and the judiciary in Australia. The separation of powers and functions ensures no single body is able to exercise total authority or to misuse power. This system is considered to be one of the fundamental elements of a fair, democratic and honest government.

In Queensland our parliament consists of one house, the lower house. There is no upper house to provide the critical checks and balances needed for open, representative and transparent governance in parliament. Over the last 18 months, serious issues have been raised across the community regarding Queensland government appointments, judicial appointments, project approvals, use of funds, policies and practices, environmental degradation and various other matters. In fact, on 9 September, at four minutes to midnight, the Queensland government introduced a last-minute amendment to the mineral and energy resources bill to remove the legal rights of land owners to object to mining projects being undertaken on their land. The Commonwealth allocates funds to the state of Queensland and Australian taxpayers need and deserve clarification in relation to the appropriate use of these funds by the Queensland government. The Commonwealth has an obligation to ensure that funds are being used appropriate purposes. The select committee will consult with the Queensland community to undertake these assessments. It is for this reason the chamber must ensure that this motion is established and a select committee on certain aspects of Queensland government administration be considered. Standing orders must be suspended to enable this to happen.

3:46 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a disappointing matter that we are discussing the potential of a highly unprincipled motion which seeks to breach some very fundamental parliamentary procedures and conventions. For those who are entertaining the adoption of the motion, I simply draw their attention to page 77 of Odgers where it is very clearly set out:

The Select Committee on the Victorian Casino Inquiry presented a report … it had decided not to continue its inquiry because of advice provided by the Clerk of the Senate and by Professor Dennis Pearce in relation to limitations on the Senate’s powers to compel evidence from state members of parliament and other state office-holders.

That was a determination made by the Clerk of the Senate in response to a letter I wrote to the clerk on 14 August 1996. Not very long ago in this place we heard about this clerk having always stood to protect the integrity and reputation of this chamber. In his letter to me of 15 August 1996 he made it very clear. 'As a matter of law the power of the Senate to compel the attendance, amongst other matters, of state officials is another reason for Senate committees not seeking to summon such persons.' His advice of 1996 is as true today as it was all those years ago. Just in case you think the 1996 view as expressed by the then clerk was wrong, he gave us a learned paper entitled The Senate's power to obtain evidence, where again he refers to his advice in relation to the Victorian casino inquiry.

I can understand, with great respect, Palmer United, without much experience in this chamber, thinking this might be a good idea, but the Australian Labor Party knows, as a principle called comity, that this is a dangerous track to walk down. It has been tried by this Senate before, in 1996 with the Victorian casino inquiry. That attempt fell flat on its face because of what we know to be the legal principles involved. So I especially call on the Australian Labor Party not go down this route. Once parliament starts investigating other parliaments, or indeed one house starts investigating another house, you could have the ludicrous proposition of the Queensland parliament playing the same game, having an inquiry into a certain matter and then technically, when we as federal politicians arrive in Queensland, the Queensland state government could use its law enforcement agencies to pull us off the streets of Queensland, to bring us before the bar of the Queensland parliament to give evidence. Is that what we want to do, to set that precedent? It is a farce. That is why this convention, which dates all the way back to the United Kingdom and the Westminster system, is very clear. If you want the tit for tat where the parliaments of Australia can act against each other, that would turn this show into a farce.

I can understand that the Palmer United Party does not have long-term experience in this area, but I know that Senator John Faulkner does and I know that Senator Penny Wong does. That is why, in the event the suspension of standing orders get passed, my friend and colleague Senator will move an amendment to the substantive motion to delete 26 March 2012 and insert 21 March 2009, and then let us see whether the Labor Party are willing to support that amendment and whether Palmer United are willing to say that this is not a vendetta against Mr Newman but against all Queensland governments, that they want to see that the money has been responsibly spent. That will test the integrity of those opposite but my greatest disappointment is with Labor. (Time expired)

3:51 pm

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

We will be supporting the Palmer proposition. We believe that this is a house of review and we also respect the rights of all senators to propose inquiries. All senators have the ability to seek advice about the actions they are taking and in terms of letting the process follow through in terms of what has happened. Remember, Mr President, I have been a party to a number of inquiries put forward by this Senate reviewing the Queensland government's actions. In fact, several years ago I was a member of an inquiry that looked at a Queensland government decision to have amalgamations of local government centres. This inquiry was put forward by the then government—as we have now. They incorporated a number of senators and we put forward an inquiry on which I sat. For several months we looked at the issue of amalgamation of local government councils in Queensland under the Queensland government legislation.

We also did an inquiry—which I was again privileged to be part of—looking at the issues around the creation of the Traveston dam in Queensland. Again it was a motion put forward in this place by Queensland senators. We went to Queensland and had a range of inquiries there on the issue under the Queensland government—

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Commonwealth legislation. It was the EPBC Act!

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

It actually did have a link to the federal government, I take your point, but the issue was around actions of the Queensland government. So, in terms of the process, we have a proposal here that is looking at actions that are happening in the Queensland government currently. We believe that this inquiry will be able to continue. Of course, it will be taking advice as it continues about appropriate processes to take part and also what issues would be important in the proceedings of said inquiry. That happens as we go through the process. Labor will be supporting this proposal. We will continue working in this way and we will see how it goes.

A government senator interjecting

A technical term, Senator. We will look at what happens and the procedures will be taken care of as it operates. We will be supporting the Palmer proposal.

3:53 pm

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Lazarus, the motion that you have moved is unlike any motion that has ever been moved in the 113-year history of the Senate. And there is a reason for that, Senator Lazarus. The reason is that the motion is a gross abuse of the process of the Senate, is probably unlawful and is likely to attract a constitutional challenge in the High Court.

Senator Moore, you have been a member of this chamber for many years. You and those around you have the experience of this chamber to know better than this. You know that a motion like this is an abuse of the power of the Senate. You seek to justify it by saying, 'There have been inquiries before into a variety of topics that bear upon the jurisdiction of the states.' That may be so, but what this motion seeks to do—unlike the motions to which you have made reference—is to have a comprehensive inquiry into the entire administration of the government of a state. As you well know, Senator Moore—you are visibly embarrassed to have been traduced into supporting this motion—that is an abuse of the process of the Senate.

The device of this motion is, in seven paragraphs, to find a tenuous link between a Commonwealth interest and a state policy. So tenuous are some of these interests that they are non-existent. Take, for example, subparagraph (b):

The administration of the Queensland courts and judicial system insofar as it relates to cross vesting arrangements, with particular reference to judicial independence and separation of powers;

In the first place, that is an invitation for the Senate to have an inquiry into the entire judicial arm of the Queensland government. Secondly, just by the way, the tenuous link insofar as it relates to cross vesting arrangements is incompetent, because the cross vesting arrangements were struck down by the High Court in Wakim's case as long ago as 1999. So the motion as framed is incompetent, apart from being an abuse of process.

We know where this comes from. We know it comes from the member for Fairfax's vendetta against the Queensland government and we know the commercial interests he seeks protect. And we must wonder why it is that he has put up those senators, whom he controls, to perpetrate upon the Senate the imposition of creating a constitutionally improper inquiry to serve his commercial interests and to prosecute his political vendettas. If there were to be any doubt about that, when is the reporting date of this vaunted inquiry? The reporting date is 'on or before 31 March 2015'—just by coincidence, the expected date of the next Queensland state election.

Then we see the composition of the committee. It has always been the practice of this Senate that the composition of Senate committees should broadly reflect the political composition of the chamber. Mr President, do you know how many government senators there are to be on this committee? There is to be one. There are 76 senators, 33 of them are government senators, but there is to be only one government senator on this inquiry. That is a violation of the bases upon which Senate inquiries are constituted.

Might I close by referring, as my leader did, to advice by the distinguished former Clerk, the late Harry Evans. When something—though on a much more modest scale than this—was contemplated in 1996, Mr Evans said: 'If the matter were litigated, the High Court would be likely to have regard to the possibility of the system of government being brought to a halt by the Commonwealth and state houses establishing inquiries into overlapping subjects and summoning a large number of each other's officers. The same officers could be summoned by different houses to appear at the same time. An implied immunity might well be seen as necessary to preserve the system of government itself. In any event, the undetermined legal question is less important than the matter of comity between the houses of parliament and between the Commonwealth and the states. It is a parliamentary rule that houses do not summon each other's members and officers. (Time expired)

3:59 pm

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

The Queensland government is infringing on civil liberties. It has left thousands of public servants jobless, and it is attacking our environment left, right and centre. There is a real and urgent need to look into the actions of the Queensland government, and that is why the Greens are supporting this inquiry.

The Greens are pleased to have ensured that the inquiry's terms of reference now include specifically Premier Newman's numerous attacks on the environment. Premier Newman has rolled back state protections for native vegetation, for coastal areas, for wild rivers; he has allowed grazing in national parks and logging in areas earmarked for conservation.

Just this month, a few weeks ago, the Queensland government passed a bill through the state parliament—at four minutes to midnight—without any public announcement or parliamentary debate and moved a motion to that effect, which this Senate has condemned. The bill removed the right of anyone—landholders, neighbours, environment groups—to object to the environmental impacts of coordinated projects, the biggest mining projects in Queensland.

The Queensland government is trying to silence the community in order to let the big mining companies run riot. The Queensland government has consistently put the big mining companies ahead of the people of Queensland. This is why it makes no sense for the Abbott government to be trying to hand off environmental federal approval powers to the Queensland government or to other state governments. Australia's most iconic natural places and wildlife must have national protection.

The Greens will also make sure with the inclusion of those additional terms of reference that the inquiry also examines the regulation of Mr Palmer's businesses, including his proposed mega coalmines and his Yabulu nickel refinery, which threaten the climate and the reef.

4:01 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Those listening to this may not be aware that this debate at this time is on why standing orders should be set aside to deal with this motion today. There has been no argument advanced by anyone on the other side as to why this is an urgent matter to be dealt with today and not in the normal course of events.

I must say, the thought of an inquiry into Queensland has its appeal. I think the first witness would be Hedley Thomas from The Australian. If this goes ahead I will make sure that Mr Thomas is suggested as a witness, because I am sure he could contribute a lot under parliamentary privilege. We would also perhaps have an investigation into the Cayman Islands situation and just which prominent Queensland businesspeople might have associations with Cayman Islands, and where certain aircraft are registered. Perhaps the committee will get a trip to Cayman Islands.

I notice with interest that the mover of the motion is appointing himself as president of this committee. Senator Lazarus, if your salary is in such need of topping up that you have to put yourself as chairman of a committee, you will have to get rid of your two-door Mercedes that I see you park in the Senate car park.

I have been in this chamber a very long period of time and I have never seen anything as outrageous as this particular motion.

Senator Moore—and I know she is embarrassed—raised the Traveston Crossing inquiry. That was an inquiry that was welcomed by the then Queensland Labor government because it was about the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act—completely different to this particular motion.

Should this matter go ahead, I will be moving another amendment to suggest that the reporting date be in March 2016. If the proposers are so keen to have a thorough inquiry on Cayman Islands and what Mr Thomas might be wanting to talk about, then we should have an expanded inquiry. We can have a couple of years to look into this—not rush it forward in the next six months or so, which coincidentally happens to be the same period of the Queensland election.

This is a farce in the highest degree, and I cannot believe that the Labor Party are party to this. I suspect, from what Senator Moore said, that they are going to allow this to go through, and they will get a bit of legal advice later on and indicate that they are pulling out. But why go through this farce now, Senator Moore? You know that this is an outrageous abuse of the parliamentary process.

Should it go through, perhaps I will move a similar motion that we have a look at the appointment of the Deputy Premier or Treasurer or whatever he is in the South Australian government. It might be interesting to see what inducements were offered there, if any.

Perhaps we could have a look at the ACT government and some of the questionable things that happen there. Do we want this parliament and every parliament around Australia embarking on the farce of looking at other governments? I appeal, at this late stage. The Greens are always so principled but you know their principles only go as far as agreeing with the Labor Party on anything. I am surprised that Senator Siewert is part of this, because I always expect better things from Senator Siewert—not from the rest of her team—Senator Siewert is usually a sensible, mature and honest contributor to the debate. How Senator Siewert can be involved in this, I am not sure.

But, Senator Moore, it is not too late. You know better than me how absolutely farcical this is, and how farcical it will be when we start looking at the ACT and the South Australian governments. In a more serious vein I urge the parliament to hear what both Senator Abetz and Senator Brandis indicated. This has questionable legal standing. It is clearly a farcical situation.

I repeat that I would not mind having Hedley Thomas give evidence under parliamentary privilege. That would be fascinating. In fact, I am almost inclined with that in mind to support the motion. But I will not, because it is a farce. I look forward to the trip to Cayman Islands.

4:06 pm

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Firstly, the people of Queensland made a decision, Senator Lazarus, at the last election in terms of who they wanted to govern the state. There were no surprises. The government laid down its agenda. It was led by the now Premier of Queensland, Campbell Newman. To refresh your memory: it produced the most outstanding electoral result, pound for pound, anywhere in the Western world. In the full history of records in relation to free, open and democratic elections, the Queensland government swept the pool and depleted Labor to seven people—seven members of the state parliament or the state legislature. This is all about that. I, too, will not be directing my comments largely at the members of the PUP until we get into debating the substantive motion because I want to talk about the abuse. They can be forgiven and they can plead some ignorance, but members of the Australian Labor Party cannot.

There has been another election; there has been a another test of people, and that was back in last September. At that point in time the people of Australia—a much bigger referendum—decided that 43 per cent of the representatives who sit in this place here, in this Senate—the vehicle that is going to be used for this inquiry—come from the coalition: from the government. And yet, those opposite are going to use some numbers to put one of them—of 76 senators in this place—onto this inquiry.

In contrast, members of the Palmer party: I know that these are uncomfortable facts and figures but if you want to talk about equity, the Palmer party represents two per cent of the members in this Senate. Two per cent! Yet they will occupy 40 per cent of the positions on this inquiry. This is an absolute abuse in relation to the decisions that have been taken.

And as if we could not be offended more—as if Clive had some fig leaf draped across—

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Clive who?

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator O'Sullivan—Mr Palmer, please.

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry, my apologies. I go back a bit further with Mr Palmer than anybody in this place.

I think the fig leaf fell away today when Senator Lazarus moved the amendment. Clive was not sure that he had an iron grip on your mob. He just was not sure, so—

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Ex-lovers—even worse!

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

No, Glen! You wait—I hope you are on the committee. You are going to learn some lessons, my friend. I can take you out and fast-track you on what will happen, or you can go and endure three or four months on the road with Mr Palmer.

As if his intentions were in doubt, Senator Lazarus cleared that up with this motion amendment to appoint as the chair the Leader of the Palmer United Party in the Senate. Mr Palmer just did not have an iron grip, so now he has to take the chairmanship of the committee to see that he has it fully under control.

Senator Sterle, do you know the day this deal was done?

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I know the day it was done. It was the day that Mr Palmer came to the bar of the Senate and indicated to Senator Wong to meet him in the foyer—the day they had lunch together. That was the day this motion was first put forward. A deal was done here in the dining room—

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You haven't got the winner of the third at Flemington, have you?

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Hold on—I have not finished. I have 54 seconds left so you will just have to sit and endure it, Senator Sterle—through you, I should say, Mr President.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

How did I get into this?

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I did not think that Senator Sterle and his colleagues would need the education on these matters but clearly they do!

When we get into the substantive motion you should not leave this place. Do not leave this place—hang in, because when we get into the substantive motion I intend to spend 20 minutes on the settlement terms that Mr Palmer tried to negotiate with the state government. When he failed—I have them here, and I will table them—this idea was germinated in the lift of the executive building in Brisbane as he went down to the ground floor. So I would get around: I would phone a friend and I would get all your mates in here, because it will be entertaining in the substantive motion debate. (Time expired)

4:11 pm

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

No-one has mentioned the word 'urgency'. We are trying to set aside standing orders here because it is an urgent matter and no-one has talked about urgency. Why do we need to do this? What is the rush? No-one has explained that.

It is because it is not about urgency. What this is about is a dodgy deal between Labor, PUP and the Greens. It is a menage a trois. The Greens, Labor and PUP have got into bed together because they want to think, 'How can we take down Campbell Newman?'

They did not beat him in an election so they wanted to set up an inquiry into Campbell Newman. It is an outrageous, dodgy deal between Labor, PUP and the Greens. It is a sordid, squalid deal. It would make the madams of Hay Street in Kalgoorlie blush in terms of the approach you guys are taking to politics here.

It is the first front of the Queensland election campaign. The Queensland election campaign is going to be in March or February next year and this is all about taking Campbell down. But it is also about the 'P' word, ladies and gentlemen. It is about 'preferences'. We know that Labor will do anything for preferences. We know what the Greens are like: they will show a bit of leg and they will lift their blouse a bit sometimes, because they will get into bed with Labor—

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I beg your pardon!

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I believe that the senator has gone too close in those last couple of comments and I would like you to draw that to his attention. My point of order is about inappropriate comments in the parliament. In terms of the process, I believe that Senator McGrath's last comment is actually impugned the processes of the Greens party in his statement.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, I doubt that you need my assistance to determine this point of order: it is clearly not a point of order. It is something the Labor Party do all the time, and if what Senator McGrath has done is wrong then the Labor Party should have a look in the mirror.

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We do not make sexist comments! You're the specialist in that!

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! I believe that Senator Moore has raised a point when she said at the opening of her point of order that Senator McGrath may have gone a bit too far. Senator McGrath, I believe you are sailing close to the wind. It would assist the chamber if you withdrew that comment and continued with your remarks.

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will clearly withdraw if people have been offended by that comment. But what they should be offended by is not what I am saying—it is what they are actually doing here today in terms of this deal and in terms of the principles that it offends.

The main principle that it offends is that one parliament should not investigate the actions of another parliament. What we have here is a parliament that was set up in 1901 deciding to investigate the actions of a parliament that was set up in 1859.

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Palmer United Party) Share this | | Hansard source

One house, no accountability!

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will take that interjection from the senator from Tasmania. It is up to the people of Queensland to decide who shall be in their government; it is not up to a senator from Tasmania. If the people of Queensland do not want Campbell Newman to be Premier and the Liberal National Party to govern they can vote them out at the election next year. They could also vote them back in again. We live in a democracy. We do not live in a system where one government can say, 'I don't really like what this government is up to,' because of different reasons.

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Palmer United Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is our duty.

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is not your duty.

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Palmer United Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is our duty to hold people accountability.

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You are breaching a principle of comity. I would make a suggestion to the honourable senator. You did not understand what sharia law was the other day and you probably googled it afterwards on Wikipedia. I would encourage you to also google comity—spelt 'c-o-m-i-t-y'. Look at that. If you are unhappy with the Queensland government, come up and campaign. I would love you to come up to Queensland and campaign. Please come up. Come up to Queensland and campaign.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Can I just indicate—and you are not the only offender, Senator McGrath—that all senators should address their remarks to the chair and not across the chamber, and interjections must cease. Senator McGrath, you have 42 seconds left.

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, I am very apologetic. I am still new to this place. But, if we are going to do this—have this mutually assured destruction; if that is what this is going to be—let's look into the Tasmanian Labor government and the dodgy deals they did down there. Or let's look at the South Australian government and the inducements, bribery and corruption there. Let's look at the Northern Territory and the murky land deals between the unions and the Labor government up there. Or let's go to New South Wales, with the most corrupt government since the Rum Rebellion. Let's investigate Bob Carr. Let's do that, honourable senators. That is what we should be doing, not investigating the Queensland government.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for the debate has expired. The question before the chair is that the motion to suspend standing orders, moved by Senator Lazarus, be agreed to.

4:23 pm

Photo of Glenn LazarusGlenn Lazarus (Queensland, Palmer United Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That general business notice of motion No. 418, as amended, relating to the establishment of the Select Committee on Certain Aspects of Queensland Government Administration, be called on immediately, moved and determined without debate.

4:24 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

I move the following amendment to the motion:

To omit the words 'moved and determined without debate' and substitute the words 'and have precedence over all other business today until determined'.

In speaking to this amendment, it is absolutely and vitally important that we as a Senate understand the consequences of the path that is being sought to be gone down. For Palmer United to now move a motion to say that we should go down this unprincipled and unprecedented path without any debate whatsoever indicates the paucity of argument in favour of this motion. Indeed, let's be very clear as to what this—

Honourable Senators:

Honourable senators interjecting

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Sterle and Senator Heffernan, could you remove yourselves from the centre of the chamber, thank you, and could other senators either leave or resume their seats.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

Let's be under no misapprehension as to what this motion is about, because the Leader of the Palmer United Party in the Senate has described it himself in his motion, which is 'the establishment of the Select Committee on Certain Aspects of Queensland Government Administration'. That is what this is all about. Let's be very clear: the motion miraculously has the date of 26 March 2012 and requires a reporting date before 31 March 2015. What occurred between March 2012 and March 2015? That would just happen to be the first term of the Campbell Newman LNP government in Queensland.

There is a lot of suspicion and assertion that this motion is purely and utterly motivated by a personal grievance by one member of the other place against the Premier of Queensland. I do not know whether that is the case, but I think the dates in the motion tell us that that is in fact the case. We will find out whether that is or is not the case when my good friend and colleague Senator Mason moves an amendment to delete '26 March 2012', which was the date of the election of the Newman LNP government in Queensland. We seek to insert the date 21 March 2009, which would allow the examination of the Bligh Labor government in Queensland as well. I am not hearing a chorus of support from the Australian Labor Party on this, nor from Palmer United, so I am just wondering: what is the principle that started on 26 March 2012 and will somehow be gone by March 2015? This is purely and cruelly only designed to spoil the chances of the re-election of the LNP in Queensland.

I say to the member in the other place and to those who are motivated to see the destruction of the LNP government in Queensland: the government is doing a fantastic job in cleaning up a Labor legacy and a Labor mess. That aside, if you want to do so, do so by all means. Go to Queensland, go and campaign, knock on the doors, stand at the street corners and advocate the cause for re-electing a Labor Party that so destroyed the state of Queensland. Be my guest. That is the way we operate in Australia. That is what freedom of speech is about; that is what a robust democracy is about. What a robust democracy is not about is flouting the precedence of centuries of Westminster convention, which says that one parliament does not seek to investigate another parliament, that one House of parliament does not seek to investigate another House of parliament.

As I said earlier in a shorter contribution—in the event honourable senators did not hear it—on page 77 of Odgers there is a very clear statement, and that which I have just stated is the principle. Indeed, allow me to quote the whole paragraph:

The Select Committee on the Victorian Casino Inquiry presented a report on 5 December 1996 indicating that it had decided not to continue its inquiry because of advice provided by the Clerk of the Senate and by Professor Dennis Pearce in relation to limitations on the Senate’s powers to compel evidence from state members of parliament and—

this is the important bit—

other state office-holders. The committee’s report provided a comprehensive analysis of this matter and copies of the advices.

Being somewhat long in the tooth in this place I sat on that committee and I actually wrote to the Clerk of the Senate at the time seeking his advice. I wrote to the Clerk of the Senate on 14 August 1996 and he was good enough to respond the very next day, 15 August 1996. That full letter is part and parcel of the Senate committee report that was then tabled in this place. It is there for each and every senator to read, digest and understand.

Indeed, I have every confidence that our friends in the Australian Labor Party know that this is the wrong track to go down. That is why the normally very considered and proper Senator Claire Moore made such a very, very short contribution in relation to the suspension of standing orders. She had to say Labor had agreed to the suspension, but she could not find many reasons to justify it. It was the Labor Party decision, so she did the right thing by her party to tell us why. But the paucity of argument gave the game away. This is the Australian Labor Party hoping to be able to piggyback on this Palmer United motion to help them win state government in Queensland.

We all know that politics, from time to time, makes people do things that they would not normally do. But can I simply say especially to the Australian Labor Party: do not go down this path because, if you do, it is fraught with danger. Parliamentary committees have the power to compel witnesses. If the Queensland government were so minded, it could set up an inquiry into the activities of certain senators in this place. Looking across the chamber at random, I see Senator Wang. I wish him all the best with his first speech later today and I am sorry that the name of Palmer United has been so sullied by the moving of this motion on a day that should have been his day. If Senator Wang were to go to Queensland to campaign, the Queensland authorities, acting on the advice of the Queensland parliament, could take Senator Wang off the street and to the bar of the Parliament of Queensland and require him to answer questions. Is this the sort of farcical path that we want to go down?

Senator Lambie interjecting

Senator Lambie seems to agree that yes, she would like to. Senator Lambie, I have a fundamental disagreement with you because I do not think it is healthy for the reputation of our institutions in this country. Let us just remember that democracy is a very fragile flower. It is a beautiful flower but it is fragile. And its fragility is based on the fact that people behave responsibly, within convention and according to principles. We have no less an authority than Odgers and the former Clerk of the Senate, Harry Evans, whom we all eulogised a few days ago saying he was a man who put the reputation and principles of the Senate first and foremost on every single occasion. Well, if those who contributed to that debate actually believed that which they said, they would not be voting against that which the then Clerk of the Senate strongly advised the Senate all those years ago in 1996.

Let us make no mistake: in relation to this particular motion, we are being asked for this Senate committee to look at the administration of the Queensland courts and judicial system. I would have thought that was clearly within the province of the state parliament of Queensland. We are then asked to look at the extent to which Queensland state government policies and practices are consistent with Australia's obligations. Well, let us have a look at what Australians obligations are and, if there are Australian obligations internationally, then it is for this parliament to legislate. Why must we have this ridiculous ruse of suggesting that we need to investigate the Queensland parliament, especially in circumstances where we know that the officials should not be compelled and, chances are, cannot be compelled and, in the event that it were ever contested in court, would not be compelled.

So why are we going down this track? Regrettably, it is, it would appear, because of the vendetta of a person in the other place who has representatives in this place who are willing to move this motion. I can understand why that has occurred. They have only appeared in the parliament since the last election. Reasonably, they would not have been aware of Odgers, the Victorian casino inquiry of 1996 and the correspondence to which I have referred. Reasonably, one could not expect them to have known. But the Australian Labor Party know. They were there. Senator John Faulkner, who likes to hold himself out as the great doyen of the Senate and Senate practice and a great historian, knows about the Victorian Senate inquiry. We might even forgive Senator Wong because she was not in this place at the time. But there are long-term senators sitting opposite who actually do know the various convolutions the Senate went through in dealing with this issue. It was not pretty. It did this place no credit and, thankfully, we extracted ourselves in a relatively dignified way in the circumstances to which the former clerk refers to in his commentary in Odgers as 'the principle'.

If the view is that we are just going to throw out Odgers, the conventions and the principles, then we are saying that the basis of the Westminster system, which we rely on in this country, can also be thrown out. This is a very fundamental threshold issue and it is why we as a government put up speaker after speaker in that short 30-minute period on the suspension of standing orders, because we will fight this all the way on the basis of the fundamental principle—the overarching principle—which is so vitally important in relation to this matter.

You then get into the tawdry politics. We have read in the newspapers about a member in the other place having a personal feud with a Premier of Queensland. If they want to have that feud and carry it on in Queensland, that is fine. Be our guest. But do not subvert the Senate and its processes in the execution of that feud. The Senate, its principles and its precedents are just so much more important than subverting them all for the purpose of pursuing a petty vendetta.

As I indicated earlier, my colleague Senator Brett Mason will be moving an amendment later on to change the date of the terms of the inquiry, to commence with the election of the Bligh government. In the event that the Palmer United Party are genuinely concerned about how Commonwealth funds are used in Queensland, why are they only interested in the use of those funds during the term of the Newman LNP government? Why would they not be interested in how these funds may have been expended during Labor's term of government? Because if we were to change the date to that which my colleague is going to move, namely, 21 March 2009, we might be able to investigate the basis and the background of a press release, dated Friday, 6 August 2010, which was a statement by former Premier Anna Bligh:

Premier Anna Bligh, Treasurer Andrew Fraser and businessman Clive Palmer have today reached a settlement after mediation over defamation action brought by Mr Palmer.

Wouldn't that be an interesting little inquiry as to the use of government money? It will be very interesting to see whether the Palmer United Party will agree to such an amendment. Having said that, lest there be any doubt, in the event that that amendment is carried, we as a coalition will remain absolutely true to our principles by voting against the substantive motion. Make no mistake about that: we are putting up this amendment to test those opposite, especially in the Australian Labor Party, as to whether they believe it is appropriate to have a Senate inquiry into state governments—plural—or just a Liberal-National Party government. That will be their test and that will expose them for what they are in relation to this debate.

As for the Australian Greens, they always protest about the integrity of parliament. They join in with Labor each and every time—42 bills guillotined through this place, without a single word of debate, and then they say, 'It's important to have transparency. That is why we want this inquiry.' Give me a break! The hypocrisy of the Australian Greens in these matters is there for all to see.

Can I again say, especially to the Labor Party: you know what this is about. It is about a personal vendetta—the absolute abuse of the Senate and its procedures to help in a personal vendetta. As to the conclusion date for this inquiry, why March 2015?

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Election day!

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

I think you have done it, Senator O'Sullivan. How funny that I did not think of that! But there you go. I reckon you might have hit the jackpot there. What is all this about? An inquiry from the election of the Newman government to the next election? That is all this is about. Is there any genuine basis, any genuine meat, any specific allegations—

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

None have been put forward thus far and that is why they do not want a debate because, if we have a debate the Palmer United Party would be forced to put up the evidence to suggest why we need this inquiry. But so shamed are they by the lack of any evidence that they are now seeking to run away from the debate, by simply saying, 'Let's deal with all this without a debate.'

Can I say that, in general terms, when this sort of motion for an inquiry is put up, an actual argument is put up as to why we need an inquiry. What are the circumstances? I understand that somebody did not get their wish in relation to a particular development in Queensland. I can understand the gentleman's disappointment. But that is a matter for him to pursue. If it was illegal in the courts—and I understand he has some understanding of how the court system works; he is not a stranger to that process and I would invite him to engage in that—or if he thinks it is a government not worthy of the people of Queensland, let him spend money in a campaign for the next election in Queensland.

I plead again, in these final seconds, especially to the Leader of the Opposition in this place and the Australian Labor Party: do not subvert the principles and the long-established precedents of this place to allow somebody to pursue a personal vendetta.

4:45 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

The opposition will not support the government's amendment. I note, for the information of those present and those listening, that as a consequence of Senator Abetz's motion the Senate will grant precedence to this inquiry reference over the government's national security legislation. Labor says: 'Let's get on with the important business of the chamber.'

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Let me let you in on a secret. I made a mistake earlier today. I understand why Senator Lazarus moved the motion he did today. I do not support it, but I understand it. I even understand why the Australian Greens supported Senator Lazarus' motion. I understand it; I do not support it. But like Senator Abetz, I cannot believe that the Australian Labor Party—Australia's oldest political party and the alternative government—is also supporting it.

I have had some big debates in this place against Senator Cameron and Senator Wong over the years but that is politics. As Senator Abetz has pointed out, this is principle. I have an even greater authority then Odgers, Senator Abetz. I have been here long enough to remember Senator Robert Ray in full flight. The thing that annoyed Senator Ray more than anything else was when the privileges of the Senate were taken for granted. He always said, 'You do it to us, we'll do it to you. You set a bad precedent, we'll set a bad precedent.' Do not do it. The Australian Labor Party should know much better than this.

I have had debates in this place ranging over all sorts of issues over many years. As Senator Brandis said earlier today, I have never, ever come across the motion quite like this that traverses and, indeed, trashes Senate principle. When you have the idea that a parliament of this country can sit in judgement of another parliament—not a government, but another parliament of this country—you are setting a precedent and hell knows where it will go. I have never in all my time, Senator Cameron, come across this from the Australian Labor Party, for all the arguments we have had over the years—and there have been a few, I accept, and I have not won all of them.

This is an issue of principle. I am really surprised that people like Senator Ludwig, Senator Moore and others would come at this because this leaves the door open in the future. I may not be around to—how shall I put this?—secure action against the Australian Labor Party or others in the future, but if I was so minded I would have a very good precedent now. This should never happen and I am surprised that the Australian Labor Party—the alternative government—has let this happen. It is cynical. It is totally and utterly cynical. The idea that the Senate, its powers and procedures, should be used to settle a personal economic and fiscal score is absolutely outrageous.

I do not know about Mr Palmer's dispute with Mr Newman. I have no idea about it. My friend Senator O'Sullivan has a much better idea. But the idea of hauling the upper house of the Australian parliament in a direction it should not go in pursuit of personal fiscal and economic satisfaction is absolutely outrageous. I have never seen this in my entire time in the Australian parliament. The idea that the Palmer United Party would do this I can understand, but the idea that the Australian Labor Party would adopt this stance is virtually unbelievable.

Let me go where Senator Abetz started to go before: if you have a look at the motion itself, it has all the cogency of a dartboard. It is a miscellany of misgivings. I am not a very good lawyer and I am certainly not up to arcane Senate procedure, as you well know, Mr President, but I will do my best. The idea of the motion is that there would be a select committee established to inquire into the amount of Commonwealth funds allocated or paid to Queensland, with particular reference to the purposes for which the funds were appropriated by the parliament. Do you know what? How those funds were appropriated is a matter for the Commonwealth parliament, and we were elected last year to do that.

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

They're audited!

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Not only is it audited, Senator O'Sullivan—have a look at the budget papers. You might get some understanding of what is going on in (1)(a) from the budget papers.

Secondly, on 'performance measures in relation to Commonwealth funds paid to the State of Queensland'—

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is there too.

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Oh, that is there too—there are performance measures as well. The ultimate performance measure, as Senator McGrath said before, is an election. But there are, in fact—

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Department of Finance performance measures; indeed, they differ depending on what the money is granted for, whether it is GST or whether it is for the national road system, school funding or hospitals. It all varies. If you go over the page to part (iv) you read: 'the proportion of the Queensland State budget derived from Commonwealth funds'—again, you can find that out from the budget papers. We are supposed to have an inquiry into something that is on the public record. This goes on and on.

I know the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis, and Senator Abetz touched on this before. They spoke about part (b): 'the administration of the Queensland courts and judicial system insofar as it relates to cross vesting arrangements'. Yes, that probably is incompetent; but more than that, it is not the subject of proper attention by the Australian Senate. Again, it is a miscellany of misgivings. It is a fig leaf for an attack on the Queensland Premier and the Queensland government.

I turn now to part (c). This is important. It reads:

(c)   approval process for the development of projects for the export of resources or services insofar as they are administered by the Commonwealth or under a bilateral agreement with the Commonwealth …

So we have a bit of an examination, do we, of the private arrangements, the private interests, of a Queensland individual, through the course of a Senate inquiry, under part (c)? That is what could happen. Again I say to the Australian Labor Party: is that really what you want? I cannot believe that you do. I understand that the Palmer United Party would want that. And the Greens—well, who cares? But you are the alternative government. You are setting the precedent here. I cannot believe you would want the Senate specifically to be looking at that matter.

And it goes on. Part (f) reads:

(f)   the extent to which Queensland State Government policies and practices are consistent with Australia's obligations under international human rights instruments, with particular reference to:

(i)   the administration of prisons, and

(ii)   detention without trial …

Again, I am not the lawyer that Senator Brandis is or Senator Abetz is, but even I know that a Senate inquiry is not the place for that. The extent to which the Queensland government is complying with the law is a matter for who? For the courts, isn't it? Isn't it? So why are we having an inquiry into this? If there is a complaint then surely it is a matter for the Australian judicial system, not for one parliament sitting in judgement of another parliament—for the federal parliament to sit in judgement of a state parliament, Senator Lazarus. I understand your concerns, but this is not the right way to go about it. This is bringing in all these extraneous matters, where there are many other forms of accountability. And what we are going to do is to set an awful precedent for the future, whether it is the Department of Finance, matters for the Australian court system, or a matter solely for the Queensland parliament—these are not matters, principally or even at all, for review by the Australian Senate.

Finally, I suppose the big doozy is part (g):

(g)   any other matter the committee considers relevant.

Again, I am not a good lawyer at all, but one of the very few things I remember from law school was this. I think they used to call it, Senator Abetz, the general warrant. When those evil kings in medieval Britain did not know what they were looking for, they had what was called a general warrant. It was what today might be called 'drift-net fishing'. So you just go through everything if you can't find it. It is an investigation into everything but nothing in particular—that is what part (g   ) means. Again, I have never claimed to be a very good lawyer, but I know, Senator Lazarus, that that umbrella is far too broad and far too inconsistent to possibly have standing in the Australian Senate. It is ridiculous.

If we are frank about this, the only sentiment binding together this entire motion, this miscellany of misgivings, is nothing to do with Queensland government administration. It is not to do with the operation of the courts or human rights. It is not even to do with fiscal accountability. They are just the fig leaves for an attack on the Premier and the Queensland state government. That is what this is all about. So we end up here today debating this motion in the Australian Senate, and on we will go, talking about the Australian Senate reviewing Queensland government courts, administration and financial capacity.

Just take a second, Senator Lazarus, to think about the precedent you are setting. You can see what will happen, constitutionally. This will mean that, from now on and forever, you will have a situation where one democratically elected parliament in this country will sit in judgement of another. And perhaps, Senator Lazarus, a state or territory parliament will sit in judgement on us. I do not think that this is a good idea—this idea that somehow parliaments of this country, state or Commonwealth, sit in judgement of each other. As my friend Senator McGrath said, the people who stand in judgement of parliaments in fact are the people, not other parliaments.

The cynicism of this entire motion is easy to see. It is political; it is personal; it relates to business interests. As to the election date in Queensland: the reporting date, I note, is 31 March 2015. Is that right, Senator O'Sullivan?

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is.

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

That happens to be very likely just after the Queensland state election. I might not be that smart, but I picked this up! The entire Queensland government will be under the microscope of the Australian Senate right through the election campaign—right to the end of this year and right through to March of next year. That is the aim. This is not about Queensland government administration. This is about getting the LNP electorally and, in particular, the Premier, Mr Newman. It is so, so cynical.

It even goes to the membership of the committee. I cannot believe it. It says:

(3)   That the committee consist of 5 senators, 1 to be nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate

So 20 per cent is to be nominated by Senator Abetz as the Leader of the Government in the Senate, and he represents the government of this country. Is that appropriate? Again—and I am looking at the Australian Labor Party—think of the precedent that is being set.

I am disappointed, Senator Lazarus, that, under subsection (6), we read:

(6)   That the committee …

(a)   appoint as chair the Leader of the Palmer United Party in the Senate and,

(b)   elect as deputy chair, a member elected by the committee.

So the deputy chair, on those numbers, will not be from the coalition—no way. They will be from the Australian Labor Party or, worse, from the Greens. It is an absolute fiasco. Again, it breeds what? Cynicism. And again I urge you—I urge all the Palmer United Party and, in particular, the Australian Labor Party—to think of the precedent this sets.

A government senator: Be careful what you wish for!

Exactly. You may get the numbers, you may get this up, just remember that some senators will be around a long time and this is not the precedent you want to set. If we are really concerned about the expenditure of Commonwealth moneys by Queensland governments, if we are really concerned about Queensland government administration, and let us just assume we are for a moment, why don't we look at the conduct of the Queensland government since 21 March 2009? That is when Ms Anna Bligh was elected in her own right. Then you might sort of argue that we are looking more broadly at Queensland government administration. But, in fact, it is not about that at all; it is a deliberate attack on the Premier of Queensland and the Liberal National Party government.

The disgrace of this is not the Palmer United Party doing this because I expected it—in fact, my colleagues all expected it. I made a grievous error and I will admit it. I will let you in on a secret: I thought the Australian Labor Party would be far too responsible to enter into this sort of arrangement. That is what really disappoints me. They are so much better than that—the alternative government, the oldest political party in this country, a party with a proud tradition and proud leaders have embarked on this road. I know none of them are proud of it. Look at them—they are hardly going to be jumping out of their pants when this is passed. This is a disgrace.

In the future, over the next few years after this precedent just scrapes through the parliament, I think we will be able to find all sorts of precedents from state, territory and Commonwealth parliaments. If this becomes part of the manner of governing in Australia, if this becomes normal government practice in Australia, the nation will suffer. Forget about Mr Newman for a moment, as much as he is a great Premier—the precedent this will set will mean that every Premier, every state government, every territory government and every federal government will be in line for examination by another parliament. They could all be in the fray, every last one of them.

Senator Wong interjecting

Senator Wong, I am surprised. For all our arguments over the years, and I admit we have had a few, you have never, ever taken a stand of principle like this. What Senator Brandis said earlier on, that he has never come across this in his time in the Senate, is true. I have been here 15 years and I have never, ever seen anything like this. It is not so much this instance; it is the precedent that it sets. In the future, the democracy of our country and every government and every parliament will be traduced by this. The powers and the privileges of parliaments will be compromised by the powers and the privilege of other parliaments. That was never part of the constitutional compact of this country. The Federation of this country was never founded on this sort of constitutional trashing.

Senator O'Sullivan interjecting

Senator Wong interjecting

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator O'Sullivan and Senator Wong!

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

The Federation of this country was never founded on these sorts of constitutional arrangements. Nowhere in the constitutional debates will you find any reference to a state or a territory government being held to account by a Commonwealth government—nowhere will that be found.

The Labor Party will live to regret this. Senator Robert Ray, for all his faults, was right about one thing in politics: what goes around comes around. What is going to happen in the end is other places and other parliaments—

Senator Cameron interjecting

It is true, Senator Cameron—other parliaments, at other times and in other places will adopt this precedent and when they do our democracy will be weaker. And it will have started right here today. That is what gets me—I understand why the Palmer United Party are doing this, I understand why the Greens are doing it, but for the Australian Labor Party, Australia's oldest political party, to fall for this constitutional travesty is an absolute disgrace. The Federation debates that your party participated in never, ever foresaw this.

Senator Wong interjecting

Senator Wong, you never foresaw this. You will wear this, the Australian Labor Party, because it is an important matter of constitutional principle. You have given up the principle of probity of parliaments. You have given up a constitutional prerogative and a constitutional assumption. You have given that up. You have given it up for a cheap and pathetic motion on a Tuesday afternoon in the Senate. You are prepared to mortgage principle for that. It is an absolute disgrace and God help the Labor Party in the future.

Debate interrupted.