Thursday, 14 September 2017
Deputy Leader of the Nationals
At the request of Senator Chisholm, I move:
That the Senate—
(a) notes that the Senate has referred a question as to the eligibility of the Minister for Regional Development (Senator Nash) to serve as a senator to the Court of Disputed Returns for resolution; and
(b) resolves that until that question of eligibility has been resolved, Senator Nash shall not exercise the following procedural rights provided to executive senators by the standing orders:
(i) move a motion connected with the conduct of the business of the Senate at any time without notice,
(ii) move that a bill be declared urgent and, if the motion is agreed to, move further motions concerning the time allocated for consideration of the bill,
(iii) move at any time that the Senate adjourn,
(iv) move for the adjournment of debate, having spoken in the debate,
(v) move that the question be now put on more than one occasion, and after having spoken in the debate, and
(vi) present documents.
The government opposes the motion. The motion flagrantly disregards the basic principle that a person declared elected and sworn into parliament is entitled to all the rights, privileges and powers of a parliamentarian unless and until the Court of Disputed Returns declares otherwise. The Labor Party had 40 days after return of the writs at the last election to challenge Senator Nash's eligibility. It did not do so. Now Labor illegitimately seeks to pre-empt a decision of the Court of Disputed Returns on a reference made as a result of Senator Nash's own honesty in bringing her circumstances to the Senate's attention.
I support some of the opposition's motion on this affair, but I can't vote with it. I believe that Senator Nash and the Deputy Prime Minister—Barnaby Joyce, the member for New England—should have been stood down by the Prime Minister in the way that Senator Canavan morally and ethically stood down. Senator Canavan had the Attorney-General standing alongside him as he took that proper action. I think what the government has done and is doing, maintaining the Deputy Prime Minister and Senator Nash in their positions, is wrong. But while they are there, it should now be left for the High Court to decide.
NXT will not be supporting this motion. Senator Nash has been declared elected. She has an obligation to her New South Wales constituents to perform her duties as a senator for New South Wales and any other higher office that she has been appointed to. Until some competent authority decides that Senator Nash is ineligible to hold office as a senator or minister, she should continue to hold those offices. In supporting the referrals of questions about a number of senators' eligibility to the High Court, the Senate has acknowledged it is not a competent authority and we should not double-guess the learned justices who sit on the bench of that court. She should continue to carry out her Senate and ministerial duties, supported by the de facto offices doctrine that essentially says that, in the event that the High Court does make a decision of ineligibility, her decisions cannot be challenged on the basis of ineligibility, only on merit—as is the case for any other minister.
I won't be supporting this motion. I simply believe it is now in the court's hands and it is up to the court process to determine who is in and who is out. I can tell you now that there is enough instability in parliament, and we cannot afford a situation where the Deputy Prime Minister or another minister is put on the sidelines. That is not going to help with business confidence or anything else in this country. So I will not be supporting this motion.