Thursday, 26 November 2015
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
Special Minister of State
That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis) to questions without notice asked by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Wong) and Senator Collins today relating to ministerial standards.
Well, the days of Joh Bjelke-Petersen and his contempt for democracy have not faded in Queensland. The contempt for due process in Queensland, the contempt for the law by politicians in Queensland and the contempt for the parliament by politicians in Queensland are there to be seen from the behaviour of the member for Fisher, Mal Brough, and the member for Longman, Wyatt Roy.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy President, the senator is plainly reflecting upon those two members of the House of Representatives. This is a flagrant breach of the relevant standing order, and he should be brought to order.
Thank you, Mr Deputy President. If there is any view that I am reflecting on the member for Fisher or the member for Longman and breaching parliamentary standing orders, I withdraw. Let me indicate clearly that there is a lineage in Queensland—a lineage that comes from Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Russ Hinze—and that lineage is straight back down into the current Liberal National Party in Queensland. We see how this party has contempt for due process and how this party in Queensland has contempt for the law and contempt for the parliament—the same contempt that Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Russ Hinze exercised in their standing over democracy in Queensland. And we have the same contempt for due process and democracy being seen right now. We have two judges of the Federal Court who have indicated that Mr Brough did conspire in his—
Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. That is a reflection upon Mr Brough. It is also, I take it, an intended reference to judicial proceedings, which, as you know, Mr Deputy President, ought not to be commented upon in the Senate.
The difficulty for me, Senator Brandis, is that Senator Cameron directly referred to a matter before the court and a statement allegedly made by a judicial officer. It is not a matter for me to determine whether that is true or not, and at this point I do not think Senator Cameron is actually in breach of the standing order that I think you refer to, which would be 193(3). So, Senator Cameron, you can continue.
Thank you, Mr Deputy President. I am always very aware of how sensitive this is to Senator Brandis, why Senator Brandis would be so sensitive about the behaviour of his colleagues in Queensland and why the lineage from Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Mal Brough seems to have filtered down quite significantly into the activities and behaviour of current Queensland politicians and the Liberal Party in Queensland. What is going on is quite disgusting. Two of four Federal Court judges found that Mr Brough had engaged in a conspiracy to bring down the federal government through legal action. That is on the public record.
Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order—and, please, Senator Cameron, what I am sensitive about is your contempt for the standing orders of the Senate. Mr Deputy President, rule 193(3) provides:
A senator shall not use offensive words against either House of Parliament or of a House of a state or territory parliament, or any member of such House …
It goes on to say:
… all imputations of improper motives and all personal reflections on—
among other things—
… members … shall be considered highly disorderly.
Senator Cameron has told us enough now for it to be perfectly apparent that he is both using offensive words in relation to Mr Brough and reflecting upon him and casting an imputation. There have been no criminal or civil proceedings against Mr Brough. There have been proceedings concerning the Ashby matter which have been a matter of public record. Having read the reasons for decision in those matters, I can tell you, Mr Deputy President, that neither Federal Court judge who dealt with those matters said of Mr Brough what Senator Cameron has said of him, so he is not quoting the words of a Federal Court judge. He is attributing words to a Federal Court judge which were not uttered by that judge, and in doing so he is reflecting upon Mr Brough.
Again the difficulty I have, Senator Brandis, is that I am unaware of the case and the matters referred to. I do not know whether Senator Cameron is accurately reflecting or not. As you say, in your view he clearly is not. But in any case it is not a matter for the chair to determine the truth or accuracy of statements made by senators. That is a matter for debate.
On the point of order, Mr Deputy President: I accept that. I entirely accept that it is not for you to determine the truth or accuracy. The point I make to you, sir, is that, if a statement that would be within the standing orders because it quotes from a judgement of a federal judge were in fact a misattribution of words to that federal judge so that it is therefore not protected by the standing orders, it therefore falls within standing order 193(3). I can tell you, Mr Deputy President, that no federal judge has said of Mr Brough the words that Senator Cameron has attributed to him. If Senator Cameron wants to be honest with the Senate, he should read from the reasons for judgement.
In relation to the point of order, it is quite clear that what I was doing was discussing and putting forward what two Federal Court judges have indicated in relation to Mr Brough, and I am not surprised that there is a bit of panic in relation to Senator Brandis on these issues.
It is true that simply repeating something that is unparliamentary that is said by somebody else here in the chamber does not make it any less unparliamentary. But I have been listening carefully, and I am not sure—you see, I think I am limited to look at offensive words, and I am not sure—that anything Senator Cameron has said in repeating some of the judgements goes to those offensive words. Going to the issue of improper motives is again asking me to judge whether Senator Cameron is either interpreting or quoting the federal justices accurately, and I am not sure I am in a position to do so, Senator Brandis, but I am happy to hear more.
Thank you very much, Mr Deputy President. I think this is an important point. The word in standing order 193(3) which is, if I might say so with respect, too often overlooked is the word 'imputations'. Imputations, like innuendos, include what might broadly be called suggestions of impropriety. An outright allegation of impropriety is not the operative concept. An imputation of impropriety may be made other than by direct allegation.
How I intend to proceed is that I will now take advice on this matter, and it may be something that the President wishes to give further consideration to and a more substantial ruling on in due course. Senator Cameron, before I take the advice?
I would seek your indulgence in relation to the point of order so that if you are taking advice you have a full understanding of my position on this. I just draw your attention to Thursday, 29 November 2012, when Senator Brandis said in this place, 'You're the ones with a criminal in the Lodge.' That was the position Senator Brandis took in this place, and he defended that position and would not withdraw. So the pot calling the kettle black is a bit rough.
We are now probably moving too far towards debate. Regardless of that matter, Senator Cameron, all I can deal with is the question and the point of order that is before me at the moment. So the Senate might just bear with me for one moment while I take advice. My advice is that I will in fact uphold Senator Brandis's point of order. As I said earlier, it may be something that the President may wish to revisit and make a more substantive ruling on down the track. I simply ask you at this point, Senator Cameron, to ensure that your comments do not impugn the motives of a member in the other place.
Let me go to some statements that were made in the other place by Mr Mark Dreyfus MP in relation to this issue. He said in that place that between 23 March—and he was quoting a so-called visit to Mr Brough's property—
which was actually a raid on Mr Brough's home. It says:
Between 23 March and 13 April 2012, Malcolm Thomas Brough, born 29 December 1961, counselled and procured James Hunter Ashby, being a Commonwealth officer, to disclose extracts from the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Peter Slipper's 2009 to 2012 official diary, and provide those extracts to third parties without authority, contrary to section 70(1) of the Crimes Act …
It also outlined:
Between 23 March and 13 April 2012, Malcolm Thomas Brough … counselled and procured James Hunter Ashby, to access restricted—
Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Plainly, what is now being imputed to Mr Brough is criminality. Senator Cameron is quoting language which he said was used by the shadow Attorney-General in the House of Representatives. But he has not identified the source of the document which Mr Dreyfus was quoting. I believe that the document was a search warrant, which is not a document that constitutes a charge or allegation of the commission of a criminal offence. But the implication in Senator Cameron's remarks is that it is. It therefore is plainly in breach of standing order 193(3).
On the point of order: these are exact words quoted word for word, used in the House of Representatives and not challenged by the coalition in the House of Representatives. I am not imputing anything; I am detailing what that search warrant said.
In any case, let me just say that in quoting a document a senator is not permitted to utter words which would not be permitted under the rules of debate. This principle ensures senators cannot circumvent the rules of debate by simply quoting documents. That is one element of what is being said. But Senator Brandis, do I take it you are arguing that if the origins of the document Senator Cameron was quoting from were clarified, you may not have a point of order?
Close. The point I was making was this: Senator Cameron did not, until his intervention a moment ago, make it clear that what he was quoting from was Mr Dreyfus quoting from a search warrant. As I think all honourable senators know, for a person to have a search warrant executed on their premises is not an allegation against them of criminality. By quoting words from the search warrant—
By quoting words from a search warrant without identifying the document from which he was quoting as a search warrant, Senator Cameron was imputing guilt against Mr Brough in respect of the language that he quoted without identifying the source.
Just to clarify the situation even further, I seek leave to table the search warrant.
This is a member of parliament who has indicated that the police visited his home. If we want to talk about being accurate: according to Mr Brough, this was a 'visit' to his home, but really it was a search warrant being implemented at his home. This is a situation where we have a Prime Minister who has appointed an individual to one of the most important offices in this country—that is, minister of state. The Special Minister of State is supposed to act with integrity and is supposed act completely in line with the rules and regulations that apply to that office. This is a real problem for this government. This minister should resign. (Time expired)
Mr Deputy President, on a point of order: I am being accused of innuendo and my position on this is clear. I am not putting forward any innuendo on this. I was dealing with the facts that are in the public arena. The minister should withdraw that allegation against me.
I am not sure that an allegation of an improper—
Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting—
I am not sure that making innuendos breaches standing order 193(3). That is my reading of it. I do not think it does. But I am going to listen very carefully to what Senator Brandis says, and senators should feel free to take points of order if they wish.
The innuendo from Senator Cameron against Mr Brough is that Mr Brough has been guilty of wrongdoing. In fact, at the very end of his contribution Senator Cameron actually explicitly said that. He actually explicitly said that for some unspecified reason Mr Brough should resign from the ministry. That is plainly an allegation of wrongdoing. What I want to do is expose the paucity of Senator Cameron's allegations against Mr Brough, because all Senator Cameron was able to do—although he did not identify it until pressed—was to quote from a search warrant. It is, as Senator Cameron acknowledges, a matter of public record that Mr Brough, and other individuals as well, were the respondents to search warrants executed by the police in investigating what has been called 'the James Ashby affair'.
Let me put this as simply as I can. For a person to be the subject of a search warrant by the police is absolutely no indication of wrongdoing. None whatsoever. The bases upon which the police may apply for a search warrant are well known. They are, to use layman's language, circumstances which might assist the police in identifying material or a document which may assist an investigation. If the police believe or reasonably suspect that there is such material located at a particular premise, they may seek a search warrant and execute the warrant at that premise. It does not for a second, not for a moment, suggest that the occupier of that premise is guilty of the crime or the offence or the wrongdoing which is the subject of the investigation, merely because a search warrant is executed upon their premises. What Senator Cameron did first by innuendo and ultimately by explicit assertion was to submit in the debate that we should conclude from the fact that a search warrant was executed at premises of which Mr Brough and his family are the occupants that Mr Brough is somehow guilty of wrongdoing. That does not follow. That does not follow, and I am sure Senator Ludwig, who is a member of the Queensland bar, if he contributes to this debate—
Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order in relation to the allegations that are being made here against what I have been doing. This is a minister—not Senator Brandis but Minister Brough—who was asked: did he procure copies of Peter Slipper's diary, and he said, 'Yes, I did.' That is illegal, and the minister should stop trying to colour what did happen. This minister tried to procure diaries illegally.
Mr Deputy President, on the point of order: that again is a plain, flagrant breach of standing order 193(3). He has just accused Mr Brough of acting illegally. He has quoted some words Mr Brough used and then stated the conclusion that Mr Brough has acted illegally. That is a matter for a court to determine in the event that the matter comes before a court.
Mr Deputy President, on the point of order: again I am being positioned unreasonably. What I put was clear—that Mr Brough actually conceded the point publicly. He conceded the point that he did try to procure Peter Slipper's diaries, publicly.
Again, it is not for the chair to determine the facts of these matters. It is really only a matter for me to judge, in this case, on standing order 193(3). But that applies both ways and people cannot accuse other senators of having improper motives with their contributions either. To be honest, I am not even sure what I have been asked to rule on now.
Mr Deputy President, the point I make to you is that to assert, as I do, that Senator Cameron is in breach of standing order 193(3) is not to accuse him of an improper motive; it is merely to ask you to rule on whether or not remarks he has made are against the terms of that standing order.
I think the best I can do right now is again remind senators of the standing order. I will listen quite carefully. Senator Cameron, I remind you that you are not to make imputations of improper motives or personal reflections on members of the other House.
I have not breached the standing orders. I have simply quoted documents and facts that are on the public record in relation to allegations and admissions from Mr Brough on his behaviour.
Thank you. To sum up, Senator Cameron has done two things. He has quoted from words in a search warrant that he did not initially identify as a search warrant though ultimately he did. He has quoted from some words which, I believe, Mr Brough used in a television interview. On the basis of those two sources, and those two sources alone I might say, he has asserted that Mr Brough is guilty of wrongdoing. The points that I simply make to the chamber are: firstly, the fact that a person has a search warrant executed on their premises is no indication whatsoever, none whatsoever, that they are guilty of wrongdoing and, secondly, to quote the words that were attributed to Mr Brough in a press interview is not an admission either. It is not an admission. It does not produce the conclusion, which Senator Cameron, who of course is not a legally trained member of this chamber, asserts that it supports. The innuendo and the claims against Mr Brough are disgraceful.
Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Again, the Attorney-General is reflecting on me. That is in breach of standing orders. All I have done is clearly indicate the actual words that Mr Brough himself said, and what Mr Brough did was concede that he tried to procure the diaries of the former speaker, and that is illegal and a breach of law.
The fact is that Senator Cameron cannot, without violating standing order 193(3), keep asserting that Mr Brough or any member of the House of Representatives has broken the law. He can quote what Mr Brough said in a media interview. He can invite people to draw whatever conclusions they may wish to draw, but to assert on the basis of those words, assuming it is an accurate quote from a media interview, that Mr Brough or any member of the House of Representatives has broken the law, when they have not been charged with any offence at all and where the only process to which they have been subject is the execution of a search warrant, which, for reasons I explained before is no indicator of culpability or guilt at all, cannot be other than a breach of standing order 193(3).
I rise to speak on the same matter. One can understand why Senator Brandis is so sensitive to this issue, because, after the question that I asked in question time today, one piece of evidence of his knowledge or involvement emerging in the current police investigation or any subsequent proceedings ends the career of the Attorney-General. This is why he is so sensitive. It reminds me, since he referred to his tedious time-wasting interventions here, of the occasion when he sought to do far worse but very similar when the issues around Senator Sinodinos were first raised in the Senate.
As I recall, a statement that I was making during what is now called senator's interests was interjected, or points of order were made, to the extent that at that point in time I did explore the standing orders over what were tedious time-wasting interventions, because Senator Brandis demonstrated his excess, and I would encourage any senator to look at the coverage of it. He was slathering in the coverage on that occasion. So now we see him being very sensitive over the discussions around what should occur in relation to Mr Brough and the confessions that he has made. I remind the Senate that the discussion we are having now—
Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. It should be remembered by the way that Senator Collins was in the chamber for the entirety of the last half hour, so she has heard what you have had to say in relation to the points of order taken concerning Senator Cameron. The use of the word 'confession' in this context is utterly inappropriate, because it is the plainest of innuendos that Mr Brough has confessed to a wrongdoing which he has not done and nothing is alleged against him.
On the point of order: the confession that I was referring to was the one that was made on 60 Minutes, which Senator Cameron referred to also, which was that Mr Brough confessed that he sought to procure Mr Ashby's diary. I make no further point.
I was just about to go on to my point, which was to remind the Senate that this debate is actually about ministerial standards, not the time wasting and the tediousness of Senator Brandis's interventions. The discussion is about ministerial standards, so let me remind the senators of some of the issues that led to the raised eyebrows of many who follow these important issues when they looked at the ministerial appointments that occurred from Prime Minister Turnbull.
I think that the best way to characterise these, although it is not as funny as this suggests really—it is quite a serious matter—is the commentary today about 'nudge, nudge, wink, wink' and the new 'nudge unit' in the Prime Minister's office. To me, in one sense, that says it all about the discussion during question time today. It is very, very rare for me to side with Senator Sinodinos, who is now my counterpart, but let us look at the double standards that apply to Senator Sinodinos. When I made that statement in the Senate some time ago about his involvement with Australian Water Holdings, I was not making any allegations. I was going through a series of concerns that had been aired publicly and calling on the opposition of the day to respond. What we saw ultimately—and it took an awful lot of time—was that Senator Sinodinos was required to respond to the very serious concerns that were being aired about his role at Australian Water Holdings. He had to stand down.
Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. In rising to take note of answers to questions, Senator Cameron indicated to you that he wanted to take note of answers by the Attorney-General to questions from himself and from Senator Collins. Senator Collins's questions related to the Ashby affair, what knowledge the Attorney-General had beyond it and whether the Prime Minister stands by those statements. Senator Collins is now venturing into topics associated with Senator Sinodinos which caused nothing of the questions asked by Senator Collins to the Attorney-General in question time. I ask that you bring Senator Collins back to the topic upon which she asked the Attorney-General questions.
Mr Deputy President, there is no point of order. Senator Collins was making her comments in relation to the questions that were asked today in question time. There is no point of order.
The motion is to take note of the answers to questions asked by Senator Wong and Senator Collins, so, as long as the discussion is in relation to the question and/or answer, I think it is well within the standing orders. As the debate continues on, senators introduce more and more into the debate, which entitles other senators to respond to those things, so we actually have this diversion—
Senator Payne interjecting—
Well, an expansion of the realm, as things are introduced. Senator Collins, you have the call.
The point I was making was about the double standard that applies between the current Turnbull response to this situation and what was required of Senator Sinodinos. I know we have seen his resurrection, even though we have yet to see any report from ICAC on the matters that affected him. But the other questions raised, I think, are the questions about some of the other appointments. The raised eyebrows were at the time about the appointment of Mr Brough as Special Minister of State, given that there was a general understanding, even aside from some of the more recent issues raised, about his participation in the Ashby affair. That was the raised eyebrow that I was referring to and comparing to the double standard that applied to Senator Sinodinos.
But it was not the only raised eyebrow. There are a range of appointments where the 'nudge, nudge, wink, wink' principle applies. People are astounded that Senator Brandis is the Leader of the Government in the Senate. He is the only minister I know who has united non-government senators in a censure motion. People can see from the debate today why that is so. He frustrates us. He seeks to make tedious interventions in debate and waste time when we are addressing important issues. But, worse than that, today he refused to answer Senator Wong's question. He did not take on notice to check with the Prime Minister what assurances he had sought around these critical appointments, particularly that of the Special Minister of State. Instead, he made just a blanket glib assertion that it would have been okay—'Nudge, nudge, wink, wink'. (Time expired)
I will just pick up on what Senator Collins basically said here, that this debate today is about ministerial standards. I would like to take the Senate to that basic point that should be the subject of this motion to take note of answers to questions. Mr Brough is cooperating with the police, and there is nothing, I think, at this stage to suggest that he should stand aside in accordance with the Statement of Ministerial Standards. I think in any situation like this, any investigation should be allowed to take its course. I remind the Senate of the statement which Mr Brough made and issued on 19 November:
I can confirm reports that the AFP visited me on Tuesday requesting any documentation relating to allegations involving the disclosure of diary notes of Mr Slipper.
I can also confirm that I provided the exact same material to the AFP as I previously provided to the Federal Court.
Furthermore I advised the AFP that I would be happy to meet with them at any time in the future if need be.
On that same day, the Prime minister indicated—as Mr Brough has stated, and I have got no reason to doubt him—that the material that they have received is the same as has been already made public, so there is nothing new in that. There is an ongoing inquiry, and the answer is: yes, I do have confidence in Mr Brough, but of course there are rules relating to ministers and cabinet ministers. However, there is at this stage nothing to suggest that Mr Brough should stand aside or do anything of that kind. Naturally, he is providing complete cooperation in the investigation as he should.
The conduct in question occurred prior to Mr Brough's return to the parliament and his appointment as Special Minister of State and Minister for Defence Materiel and Science. The statement on ministerial standards provides that ministers will be required to stand aside, if charged—and I underscore 'charged'—with any criminal offence.
So let's go back to the appalling way, I have to say, that Senator Cameron this afternoon is seeking to prosecute this situation. As the Attorney has indicated, the simple fact that a person's premises are searched as a consequence of a search warrant does not lead to any conclusion. One cannot draw the assertion of any allegation of criminality but, I think, that is what Senator Cameron is seeking to do here. He is coming to this place, casting an aspersion on a member of the other place by saying, 'This person has had a search warrant issued against them. The police have come to search his premises'—the innuendo being that an imputation of criminality has occurred, which is absolutely wrong. Having listened to the debate earlier, I think that Senator Cameron certainly is sailing very, very close to the wind in relation to section 193(3).
I want to reiterate the comments made by the Prime Minister in the other place earlier this afternoon:
The facts and circumstances of this matter, all of which occurred prior to the last election and have been well known for considerable time …
As I have indicated, there are ministerial— (Time expired)
What is clear in the debate we are now having is that there are questions to be answered by this government and by Mr Brough in the other place as to what involvement he has or has not had in respect of the matter.
I know and understand that the statement Mr Brough has made has been quoted at length but it remains to be seen as to what actions were done, what his involvement was in what has come to be known as the Ashby affair. What is required, particularly for the important that role Mr Brough plays as the Special Minister of State, in holding a ministerial portfolio, is more than a statement in response to the issue raised. We see that with the question in the other House by Mr Dreyfus, who put the question very bluntly to the Special Minister of State. He said:
How does the minister respond to the following words contained in an AFP search warrant, which I quote in part:
Between 23 and March and 13 April 2012, Malcolm Thomas Brough counselled and procured James Hunter to access restricted data, namely the former Speaker of the House of Representatives … official diary, contrary to Section 478.1 of the Criminal Code 1995 …
The answer given by Mr Brough was:
I refer the member for Isaacs to my statement of the 18th. I have nothing further to add, and what you are referring to are of course allegations.
What is important in this place is, if there are allegations raised, that they are dispelled. Mr Brough has all of the opportunity to go into the House to make a full explanation of the circumstances. As always, I am not making any criminal allegation against Mr Brough—nor would I, in this place. It is not up to me to do that. What is important though for Mr Brough is to make a fulsome statement about what his involvement is in the Ashby affair so that we do not jump to conclusions and try to make assertions that could be considered in this place.
It is clearly a case where Mr Brough should come into the parliament and make a full explanation of what his involvement is or was not in respect of the Ashby affair, because we only have snippets from his own statements, which are reported in the paper. I do not know whether they are accurate statements of what he did or did not say. I can only go on what has been reported.
In an interview last year, the journalist Liz Hayes asked Mr Brough:
Did you ask James Ashby to procure copies of Peter Slipper's diary for you?
To which Mr Brough responded:
Yes, I did.
This information is also contained, as I indicated, in the Australian Federal Police search warrant.
I cannot say—and nor would I—that that is a clear admission of any criminal activity. It would be wrong of me to say that. The Leader of the Government in the Senate has said, you could not make that statement at all—to which I agree. As I understand it, Mr Brough is offering to cooperate with the Federal Police in that investigation—and so he should. We should all do that. It is important to uphold the principle in this place and, if he is cooperating with the Australian Federal Police in relation to an AFP investigation, he should—as has been done many times before—stand aside while the AFP conduct their investigation. I am not saying that he should; what I am saying is that that opportunity is there for him to do that. (Time expired)
Question agreed to.