Senate debates

Tuesday, 22 November 2016


Suspension of Standing Orders

3:47 pm

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Pursuant to contingent notice 2, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Di Natale moving a motion relating to the conduct of the business of the Senate, namely a motion to give precedence to general business notice of motion No. 115 relating to the US alliance.

I move this motion very reluctantly. What has emerged here in this chamber is a consensus between the government and indeed the Labor Party that foreign policy motions can no longer be discussed in this chamber. It has not always been that way—we have consistently, during the time I have been here, been able to talk about issues relating to foreign policy. Let us remember, there are very few opportunities for us as a Senate to do this. We understand that some of these issues are difficult and complex, but so too are many of the other motions that are discussed in this chamber. Just think about it—we were denied leave only a few short weeks ago to condemn the extrajudicial killings that are going on in the Philippines right now under President Duterte. We were denied motions regarding the bombing of medical facilities in conflict zones. In the case of the US alliance, this denial is particularly egregious because this is one of the few opportunities we have to put forward a position and make statements about it. What we have now is this consensus between the Liberal Party and the Labor Party to shut down debate—the old duopoly is at it again.

We were here till nearly 3 am last night debating legislation that could have been debated during ordinary business, yet here we are making a very active decision that we cannot have an open, frank and mature debate about the status of a really critical piece of foreign policy, and that is the US alliance. Many Australians have had conversations about this. They are concerned about what lies ahead for Australia's future under President Trump and what his election means for our chance of handing a livable climate to our kids. They are concerned about whether we are at risk of war and what he will ask of us as an ally.

We want to put forward a simple proposition to the Senate to be able to debate and vote on, yet—despite the overwhelming interest of the Australian people in what a Trump victory means to Australia—we have been shut down. The motion that has been put forward—and it is a sensible one—has been shut down. Again, we have the two old parties teaming up to deny us the chance to talk about it. We do expect this from the coalition, but it is disappointing the ALP has fallen in right behind them. Let me say that from this point onwards when we are denied leave to put a motion to this Senate we will use every means available to us to be able to put our position on the record. If that means suspending standing orders because you are consistently denying us formality, then we will do so.

Let us remember that we are the only party in this place pushing for an exchange in ideas in the context of what has been a seismic shift in global politics. We are saying that if the coalition and the Labor Party do not allow us to have this debate, well, who knows where that might lead? Are we going to be enmeshed in another misguided conflict? Are we going to be forced to increase our defence spending in line with the demands of the president-elect? What does it mean for US bases here on Australian shores? Let us have that discussion. Let us put forward that motion. If people want to seek leave to make a statement and put their position on the record, they can do so. But to deny us the opportunity to even have a vote on one of the most critical areas of foreign policy, which should be entertaining the minds of all people in this chamber, just highlights that this place has become an opportunity for the coalition to railroad legislation through the parliament, as it did last night at nearly 3 am. We have a critical motion, a motion that allows us to at least put on the record our position on issues around the US alliance, and we are being denied that.

You have commentators suggesting that the US election could very well mark a fundamental shift in world order. The Brookings Institution has said:

No other election has had the capacity to completely overturn the international order …

Yet what is the response? Australians being dudded by their elected representatives. Foreign policy issues are critical and we should be able to put motions to this chamber relating to such issues.

3:53 pm

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

The government does not support a suspension of standing orders, in line with the government's longstanding view—and this includes when Labor have been in power and when we have been in power previously—that motions that cannot be amended or debated should not deal with complex foreign policy matters. Australia's relationship with the United States is based on enduring national strategic and economic interests as well as close people-to-people ties developed through business, culture, tourism, trade and education.

What we actually see with this motion today is that the Greens are the sooks of Australian politics. They are the party that do not respect the democratic process. We saw it with their appalling treatment of Senator Hanson and the other One Nation senators. The point of democracy and the point of elections is that sometimes people may get elected who you may disagree with; sometimes people may get elected who you do agree with. But when you come to this mighty chamber, this state's house, it is, at the very least, common courtesy and good manners and, at the very most, a hearty respect towards our democratic traditions that when people are elected and you oppose their views—as diametrically as you are opposed to the views—you respect them.

What we see with the motion, here, is that our good friends, our good allies, the United States had an election, a few weeks ago, a very exciting election. Sadly, for the Greens and the travellers on the left, their preferred candidate was not elected. To their shock and horror the great people of that great American democracy voted for someone they disagree with. It is not up to the Greens to use this chamber, in the manner that they are doing today, to move this motion to dissect the relationship between Australia and the United States.

President-elect Donald Trump and vice-president elect Pence have not taken office. They will not take office until 20 January 2017. It is premature, at the very least, for the Greens to be moving such motions when the President has not taken office. What would be more beneficial for the relationship between Australia and the United States than moving a motion like this would be to sit down and respect the American people for the decision they made several weeks ago in the election of their President.

I say to the American people: good on you for choosing President-elect Trump, because if you believe in democracy—I suspect the Greens do not believe in democracy unless it is the type of democracy where it is a Greens one-party state, where the only views you can have are those of the Greens and the only people you can vote for are the Greens; otherwise, you do not like the outcome and you do not like the views that have been expressed.

What is disappointing is that you talk a certain talk but you never deliver that, in terms of your treatment of the One Nation senators here in this chamber. I am not here to defend One Nation. They can look after themselves. But I think there should be a certain courtesy in this place, a respect we give towards the democratic process and a respect we give to our American cousins who, only two weeks ago, elected Mr Trump to the great office of President of the United States. That is so complex and wonderful it cannot be dealt with in a motion moved here today.

3:58 pm

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The opposition will not be supporting this suspension of standing orders motion currently before us. I should say in response to Senator Di Natale's criticisms of the Labor Party, in relation to how foreign policy matters are handled in this place, that we were happy to deal with and vote on the motion today. We were not going to deny formality.

I would also add that we were going to vote against the motion, but we also respect the right of the government to deny formality. We were not going to deny leave. You are putting us both in the same basket, in the comments you made, Senator Di Natale. We were happy for the motion to be taken as formal but we do accept the decision of the government to deny formality. Foreign policy matters judged, in this case, by the government as complex or contested should not be dealt with through formal motions where there is no scope for debate.

I will take the opportunity that is provided to me, here, to make a short statement on Labor's views on Australia's relationship with the US. As the shadow foreign minister, Penny Wong, wrote last week, there is and will continue to be strong bipartisan support for the US alliance. Labor supports the alliance as a critical element of Australia's foreign and defence policy. For Labor, however, the US alliance has never meant that we agree with every aspect of American policy, and the fact that we share an alliance does not mean that we trade away our values. Labor will continue to advocate for our values and for an independent foreign policy that reflects Australia's national interests within the alliance framework.

In terms of the matter before the chamber today, we were happy to deal with the motion. We were going to vote against the motion. But we will not be supporting the suspension of standing orders here today.

4:00 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in favour of the suspension of standing orders today. I think this is an important debate that we need to have. Of course, it goes to a bigger issue in this place, such as outlined by Richard Di Natale, the Leader of the Australian Greens. Every time we have an issue that the Labor Party or the government the day, the coalition, do not want to deal with, they deny formality. Over and over again on issues of foreign policy, issues that relate to Australia's place in the world, we see that it is all too complex to have a discussion or indeed to make a stand in this place on these issues.

Often we hear the argument that there is not enough time to debate the motion. How about putting aside some honest time to have a discussion in this place about something no more important than Australia's relationship with the United States? Only today we saw President-elect Donald Trump say that on day one of him becoming President he will dump the Trans-Pacific Partnership arrangement. This will have a significant impact on Australia, especially given that we have a Prime Minister here in this country, Malcolm Turnbull, who is, despite all of the science, continuing to flog a dead horse. How about we have that debate? How about we have a discussion about what our relationship with the United States will be or what we want it to be going forward, given the significant change that has happened in that country, which is now having ripple effects right across the world?

Whether this government likes it or not, Australia is a member of the global community, and it is dangerous to pretend that some kind of isolationist position (a) will be good for free trade; (b) will be good for peace and security in our region; and (c) will in any way put us in good stead for a secure economic future. We need to have these discussions, whether they are about our alliance when it comes to armed conflict, when it comes to peacekeeping or when it comes to what types of standards we accept under various trade arrangements.

I want to touch on how frustrating it must be for many in the Australian community today when you have the President-elect of the United States saying that the US are not going to move forward with the TPP. We now have our own Prime Minister almost begging at the table, yet of course we will not have an honest discussion about what our relationship with the US is going to be in months and years to come. We know that this issue is only going to grow. Donald Trump dumps the TPP—which, I must say, is one of the few things I agree with Donald Trump on, not perhaps for the same reasons but because I am sick and tired of seeing big corporations have power over the people in these arrangements. These deals are not about what is good for Australia. These deals are not about what is good for Australian consumers or Australian farmers or Australian workers. They are all about what is good for the big corporations. What corporations are going to benefit the most out of this deal? US corporations. Big pharmaceutical companies are going to be pushing up the prices of cancer drugs—they have a monopoly on cancer drugs. Big corporations are going to be able to sue governments here in Australia as well as in the region. These deals are for big corporations and not for the people.

No wonder this government is so gutless and so scared to debate these issues in this place. It does not want to talk about it, because it does not want people to know how weak it has been and how treacherous it has been. In fact, it does not want any attention on it at all. What you see is the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, now begging to have this deal rushed through, not prepared to be honest with the Australian people and not seeing the writing on the wall. People are speaking up. They are sick and tired of these arrangements between countries and governments being done behind closed doors, in the interests of big corporations and without the public having a full picture of what is going on. Silencing dissent is not going to help you.

4:05 pm

Photo of David BushbyDavid Bushby (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A little bit of clarification: what are we actually doing here? We are currently—

Photo of Kim CarrKim Carr (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister Assisting the Leader for Science) Share this | | Hansard source

That is a good point. What are we doing here?

Photo of David BushbyDavid Bushby (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, we might teach Senator Carr a thing or two. He has been here for quite a few years, but he does not seem to understand. What we are doing here—

Photo of Kim CarrKim Carr (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister Assisting the Leader for Science) Share this | | Hansard source

Why are you wasting time? You have nothing else to do.

Photo of David BushbyDavid Bushby (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Through you, again, we did not move the suspension motion. We are responding to the suspension motion. Where we are currently at today is formal motions. What we are dealing with is formal motions. Formal motions are a part of the day that was developed in order to put through motions that can be dealt with without debate. That is inherently what we are looking at here at the moment. That is the very reason why—

Senator Di Natale interjecting

I can hear Senator Di Natale, who has moved the suspension motion, out over to my right objecting. He stood up earlier and, in his five minutes, talked about the weighty issue that this motion deals with. We can have a separate debate on the weightiness of the issue. His very point that these issues are, as he claims, 'weighty' in the subject matter that they are dealing with is the very reason why they should not be dealt with by a formal motion. It is the very reason why the government and the opposition for many, many years have had the position that complex foreign affairs motions should not be dealt with formally without debate. They deserve to be properly debated and not dealt with in a formal fashion.

Senator Di Natale interjecting

That is a separate issue, Senator Di Natale. For you—

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Bushby, do not take the interjections. Direct your comments through the chair.

Photo of David BushbyDavid Bushby (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, it is a separate issue as to when you might deal with debate. There are all sorts of opportunities for private senators to raise things: in adjournment debates, in senators' statements or in private senators' time. There is a matter of public importance every day. There is general business on Thursday afternoon, where there are a number of hours available for members of the Senate who are not from the government to be able to raise an issue like this and debate it properly. But the time to do it is not formal motions, which are specifically designed and specifically included in the program for the day to deal with issues without debate.

As I said, Senator Di Natale talked about this potentially being a fundamental shift in the world order. If it is a fundamental shift in the world order, would you deal with it by moving a motion and not debating it? Surely when the parliament of Australia is dealing with issues which Senator Di Natale says 'constitute a fundamental shift in world order' you do not deal with that without debate. You look for another opportunity, and I have mentioned the other opportunities. There are other opportunities where you can do that. You do not deal with it with a formal motion in the Senate. The Senate would be neglecting its duty in dealing with such weighty matters without looking properly at the issues surrounding those issues and dealing with them.

Looking at the motion itself, it starts off and talks about the election of Mr Donald Trump raising concerns with the Australian community, including amongst Australia's foreign and defence policy experts. That is a blanket statement that has been made in this motion. In my view, when you are dealing with something which constitutes a fundamental shift in world order, those sorts of statements need to be tested in debate. It is an assertion that is not backed up by any evidence. It needs to be tested. You do not deal with that in a formal motion. The motion goes on to talk about how Australia is the only country to have joined the United States in every major military intervention and that Australia's security and prosperity is inextricably linked to who it actually maintains ties with. These are issues that need to be properly tested and debated; they are not issues that should be dealt with by a formal motion and without debate.

Senator Di Natale also talked about the fact that you can have one-minute statements, which is a practice that has developed recently. But that practice, once again, is not in place and has not been developed in order for people to debate the issue or even to talk about the merits of the motion they are putting forward. It is more to explain the position that they might be taking in response to a motion that inherently does not have a debate. So, if the Greens move a motion, it gives the government an opportunity to say, 'We're not going to support this, and this is why.'

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion to suspend standing orders be agreed to.