Senate debates

Tuesday, 20 June 2017


Parliamentary Privilege, Global Security, Velji, Mr Harish

8:33 pm

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to highlight what I think has been an egregious misuse of parliamentary privilege during the committee process of Senate estimates. Parliamentary privilege is an important tool which we parliamentarians have access to, and it is an important tool that we make available to those who give evidence through the Senate committee process. I believe it is an important tool that allows us to have the free-flowing debates that we need to have and that allows people the opportunity to give the type of evidence that we need to obtain. I also feel that while the Senate has gone to extraordinary lengths to make sure there are protections and controls around how it is used, those who have it available to them have a responsibility to use it reasonably. I have to say to this chamber: the action by Mr Bill Morrow, who is the CEO of NBN Co, during the Senate estimates on the NBN, in what became a very personal attack on Mr Laurie Patton, was inappropriate, offensive, rude, hurtful and defamatory.

Mr Patton has taken it upon himself to use the rights that are available to people who believe that things have been said about them inappropriately through that process. But let's just think about this for a moment: Mr Morrow is paid millions of dollars of taxpayer money every single year. For Mr Morrow—in an estimates process, when asked legitimate questions about someone like Mr Patton, who runs Internet Australia and who has been a legitimate critic of NBN—to turn around and refer to him as 'a troll' on one occasion and as 'a liar' and then go on to talk about his character as an individual, is a low, despicable act. That is a misuse of parliamentary privilege. While I do not question Mr Morrow's right to be able to use parliamentary privilege to do this, the idea that someone getting paid millions of dollars to run a giant organisation like NBN Co would resort to smears and personal attacks on legitimate critics of the NBN I think highlights everything that is wrong with the NBN at this point in time.

Tonight we found out that NBN Co is withholding individual internet speeds. NBN Co has details of achievable internet speeds for every home it has connected but refuses to release the information despite the confusion of customers trying to connect. This is the culture of this organisation now, and it is best expressed and explained in the way in which they deal with their legitimate critics. People are allowed to complain about NBN Co's data speeds. People have a right to complain and highlight their legitimate concerns, especially when they are running an organisation like Internet Australia. But it is not for them to then use parliamentary privilege that is afforded to committee witnesses to attack those individuals with things—which, frankly, when I look at the details, do not even stack-up—that are just slanderous, like going around calling people liars. We have a principle that we apply in this chamber where we do not call other senators liars, and there is language that we do and do not use. What Mr Patton was highlighting turned out to be completely true. It was Mr Morrow who has been wrong. It is Mr Morrow who has been giving the wrong information to the Senate committee.

I note that Mr Laurie Patton has used the processes available to him to highlight the fact that he feels he has been slandered, and that is certainly his right. But I believe the Senate should be aware of this, and I believe Mr Morrow has a much greater responsibility that he is not meeting and that he has failed to meet, and that needs to be brought to his attention. I intend, at the next opportunity at Senate estimates and through the committee process, to continue to highlight this. I have to say: public servants and those who run organisations like NBN Co should, when they are giving us evidence, have the same right to parliamentary privilege that senators have, but they should also bear the responsibilities that come with that. Frankly, Mr Morrow's behaviour has been nothing less than disappointing, and he is clearly someone with such glass jaw that he cannot take this smallest amount of criticism.

Finally, I want to take the opportunity to touch on two matters very quickly. The commentary in the past few weeks coming out of London really highlights both the best and worst of human society. I have already spoken in this chamber before about events that I was around at Borough Market on 3 June. I want to say this: terrorism is terrorism, regardless of the person who is conducting it. The challenge here, and the challenge for all of us, is how we deal with extremism. We need to call out extremism where it is. Just as we have a responsibility to call out fundamentalism when it comes to Islam, we should also call out fundamentalism when it comes to white and other types of nationalism. Extreme nationalism is as much a problem as Islamic terrorism when it is being conducted in the way we have seen in London in the past week. All of us in this chamber should be prepared to call it out equally when it occurs. Just as I stood in this chamber and called out what I thought was a horrendous, weak, pathetic attack on Londoners on 3 June, the attacks this week are equally horrendous, horrible and despicable. Good people should be prepared, regardless of where you sit in politics, to call out this behaviour whenever it occurs and whoever has conducted it.

Finally, I want to take this brief opportunity to say that tomorrow is the 60th birthday of a very good friend of mine, Mr Harish Velji. He looks like he is still in his thirties, but he is finally turning 60. I was thinking to myself, 'What do you get a good friend who is turning 60? I cannot sing, so I was not going to write him a song. I am terrible with presents, so there was nothing really to get Harish. I thought that the only gift that I can give Harish is a few words in this chamber. So with the indulgence of the Senate, Harish, have an amazing 60th birthday. I am so proud to call you a close friend. I know the journey will always continue. I believe that Harish has finally bought a suit. The first time he wore a suit was in 1986, for his wedding. The second time was in 2013. I believe that for his 60th birthday he will finally be getting a suit. Senator O'Neill would like to associate herself with those remarks.