Thursday, 20 August 2015
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister Representing the Prime Minister, Senator Abetz. I refer to the Prime Minister's attendance at this weekend's WA Liberal state conference, which will consider the following motion:
That the Liberal Party of Western Australia oppose any move to recognise a single race to the exclusion of all others in the body or preamble of the Commonwealth Constitution.
Does the Prime Minister maintain his commitment to end what he describes as 'the echoing silence', the omission of Indigenous people from the Constitution?
The position of the Prime Minister is very clear in relation to this matter. What is also very clear is that, within the Liberal Party structure, an organisational body can put forward proposals, it will be debated potentially and a determination made. But, unlike the Labor Party, policy from the organisation is not binding on parliamentary members, because the Liberal Party acknowledge that our first and foremost duty is to the electors and the people of Australia as a whole, unlike the Australian Labor Party who know better but are bound by the Labor Party rules. If they do not abide by the rules they are automatically expelled. I could have got up with a stunt and asked the Leader of the Opposition in this place whether Mr Shorten supports the motion that came up at the national conference of the Labor Party to condemn a former federal president of the ACTU and a former minister—
Mr President, I rise on a point of order on direct relevance to the question. The minister had responded to the question at the beginning of his answer, but now he is going into areas that have no relevance to this question.
The things that the Liberal Party may or may not discuss at its conference—of course, what the Australian Labor Party do not want to discuss at their conference—is the condemnation of a former ACTU president and federal minister, Mr Martin Ferguson. The government is strongly committed to pursuing recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution. The Prime Minister has made that clear. His personal commitment to the Indigenous community in this country is shown very clearly by the way, each year, he goes to an Indigenous community to work there as a volunteer on a regular basis, which he did well before he became leader. (Time expired)
Honourable senators interjecting—
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the Prime Minister agree or disagree with his Liberal colleague, Bill Hassell, who says that constitutional recognition will foster:
… a kind of reverse apartheid, one in which aborigines see themselves as not part of the nation …
The Prime Minister's view is very clear in relation to this matter. What a waste of question time it is for the Leader of the Opposition to get up and ask a question like that! I can ask, rhetorically, of course: does the Leader of the Opposition agree with Bob Carr on the importance of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement? Does Mr Shorten agree with another former Labor leader on the need of the Australian Building and Construction Commission? Does the Labor leader agree with a former Labor Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, on the need for a royal commission and judicial inquiry into the activities of the Australian Workers Union? These are all things on the public record. The good news is that we in the Liberal Party do entertain a diversity of views; they will be given expression to. But at the end of the day it is the government that determine the policy for the government, not the organisation.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Will the Prime Minister finally show some leadership and repudiate these views which undermine that bipartisan commitment to include recognition of the First Australians in our Constitution?
I think the undermining of bipartisanship was displayed just a few moments ago by the Leader of the Opposition's question in this place. In typical Senator Wong style, not even half-way through an answer, you get the sledging and the constant interjection. Why? Because Senator Wong wants unity. Senator Wong wants tolerance. She wants bipartisanship. How does she show bipartisanship? How does she show tolerance? How does she show good behaviour? By interjecting and sledging and interrupting.
Mr President, I rise on a point of order on relevance. I am pleased the minister wants to show me as much attention as he does, but I did ask him whether the Prime Minister would repudiate the views which include a notion that recognition would foster a reverse apartheid. That was the question. Will he repudiate or not?
Having stung the Leader of the Opposition in this place, she now repudiates that she in fact called for bipartisanship in her question. She conveniently airbrushed that out of her point of order, which unfortunately shows the highly political nature with which she approaches this very sensitive topic. (Time expired)