Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Regional Investment Corporation Bill 2017; In Committee
by leave—I move opposition amendments (8) to (11) on sheet 8225 together:
(8) Clause 53, page 28 (after line 5), after subclause (1), insert:
(1A) The persons who undertake the review must undertake any consultation that is:
(a) considered by the persons to be appropriate; and
(b) reasonably practicable to undertake.
(1B) In determining whether any consultation that was undertaken is appropriate, the persons undertaking the review may have regard to any relevant matter, including the extent to which the consultation:
(a) drew on the knowledge of persons having expertise in fields relevant to the matters relevant to the review; and
(b) ensured that persons likely to be affected by the matters relevant to the review, including members of the general public, had an adequate opportunity to comment on the matters relevant to the review.
(9) Clause 53, page 28 (line 6), omit "1 July 2024", substitute "1 July 2023".
(10) Clause 53, page 28 (line 8), omit "30 June 2026", substitute "30 June 2024".
(11) Clause 53, page 28 (after line 11), at the end of subclause (2), add:
; and (c) the effectiveness of the Corporation in facilitating the administration of farm business loans, including the ability of the Corporation to assess loans in a manner, and within a timeframe, that facilities the timely provision of loans to farmers in need; and
(d) the ability of the Corporation to achieve national consistency in the provision and administration of loans; and
(e) the effectiveness of the Corporation, in delivering grants of financial assistance to States and Territories in relation to water infrastructure projects, to fast-track particular water infrastructure projects that are considered, by the State or Territory, to be a priority.
Labor's amendments are seeking to strengthen the review of the corporation. The current bill provides no detail about the scope of the review. It is important that the review reflects the objectives currently put forward by the minister as to why this corporation is necessary. It is also important to include detail about who can undertake the review. Again, this requirement is similar to what is detailed in the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Act. To ensure that the corporation's review is independent of political interference, Labor believes that the requirements of the review should be proscribed in the current legislation. Labor further believes that the review date needs to be brought forward so that the work of the corporation can be assessed earlier as to whether it indeed is achieving the objectives stated by the government. Further, the review should be brought forward so that any recommendation of the review can be implemented in a timely manner.
The Greens will be supporting Labor's amendments today because we believe these amendments will make what we see as a particularly bad bill at least slightly better. The fundamental problems with this bill and the setting up of the Regional Investment Corporation are around the issue of governance. We have so much evidence of poor governance in the requirements set out in this bill. We haven't got transparency. There is no ability to ensure that decisions that this corporation would make are transparent, accountable and associated with good governance principles.
In particular, the aspects of the Labor amendments that we support include making the operating mandate disallowable, because this is critical. If you are setting up an organisation where you can just change the operating mandate without it having to go back before the parliament, it just makes a mockery of appropriate processes. Rather than leaving the operating mandate to ministerial discretion, which is leaving the door wide open for things to occur, the operating mandate should contain rules for the eligibility criteria for loan recipients, information about water infrastructure project selection and the location of the corporation. As we heard during previous debate about this, the fact that the location for the corporation was chosen with no process whatsoever is symptomatic of the problems, overall, with this bill.
We are supporting the amendments that would make CEO conflicts of interest transparent and that ensure that the future review of the act is robust, independent and transparently reported. Although we believe that this bill is irretrievably bad due to its departure from good governance principles, in the event that the bill is passed these amendments would go some way towards preventing the most egregious abuses of power by the minister.
In response to the comments from Senator Rice, I'll reiterate what I said before, when this bill was on for debate at a previous time, that the government believes that there is an appropriate level of oversight, given the nature and significance of the directions that are set out in the operating mandate. We don't believe that making it a disallowable instrument is appropriate, as we believe that the way we have set it out is absolutely appropriate.
Specifically, in relation to amendments (8) to (11), which are currently before the chair, and how the review is going to be undertaken and by whom, we believe that the content of the act is sufficient to demonstrate the necessity of the review. We believe that the additional information that is being sought through amendment (8) is unnecessary. We believe the current provision included in the bill is reflective of other such entities and what has been included in their legislation in relation to their review mechanisms, so we believe that that is appropriate.
I will just try and clarify the issue of timing raised in amendments (9) and (10). The reason that we expressly put in July 2024 was that we believe that that is an appropriate time, two years out, for most of the current functions that are being proposed for the RIC—that is, the loans instruments and also the water infrastructure fund. Most of them are extended out to 2026. We believe that July 2024 was an appropriate time in which to review the ongoing functions of the corporation after 2026. The reason we put 2026 in the bill, which relates to amendment (10), was that that is the time when the existing activities that are currently proposed for the RIC are due to expire.
This isn't a matter of bringing it forward or putting it out. There is an express reason why these two particular dates are in the bill, and that is that they coincide, clearly, with a time line that allows us a two-year transition period to be able to work towards the end of the existing activities. That is the drop-dead date on which the current activities end. I'd be keen to hear from the shadow minister opposite as to the basis for wanting to bring forward the date of the completion of the review to 2023 and why it relates to June 2024, when it actually relates to the activities of the corporation post-2026.
The CHAIR: The question is that amendments Nos (8) to (11) on sheet 8225, as moved by Senator Brown, be agreed to.
I move opposition amendment (12) on sheet 8225:
(12) Clause 53, page 28 (after line 13), at the end of the clause, add:
(4) The Minister must cause a copy of the report to be tabled in each House of Parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after its receipt by the Minister.
(5) The Minister must cause a copy of the report to be published on the internet within 30 days after its receipt by the Minister.
This amendment is important to ensure that the government cannot hide the outcomes of the review. The government is asking the parliament to support this bill without proper parliamentary scrutiny and is seeking to keep the review a secret. This is wrong, and Labor urges all senators to support this important amendment. The amendment prescribes that the review report should be tabled in the parliament and made public. It says that the minister must cause a copy of the report be tabled in each house of parliament within 15 sitting days of that house after its receipt by the minister and that the minister must cause a copy of the report to be published on the internet within 30 days after its receipt by the minister.
The government will not be supporting this amendment, because we believe that the future operations of the corporation and the activities in relation to how they wish to handle the tabling or making public of the report should be a matter for the corporation and therefore, to a large extent, a matter for the government of the day.
The CHAIR: The question is that the amendment as moved by Senator Brown, amendment (12) on sheet 8225, be agreed to.
Senator Gallagher did not vote, to compensate for the vacancy caused by the resignation of Senator Parry.
Senator O'Neill did not vote, to compensate for the vacancy caused by the resignation of Senator Nash.
Senator Birmingham did not vote, to compensate for the vacancy caused by the resignation of Senator Kakoschke-Moore.
I wish to remind the chamber that, in her final speech to the Senate, former Senator Jacqui Lambie made the following statement:
I don't know what will happen next, personally or politically, for me. The government may be tempted to use my absence as an opportunity. To do so would be a mistake, because, while I may not be here, the Jacqui Lambie Network should still be represented, just as those who voted for the Jacqui Lambie Network deserve to have their votes represented. That's why I want to let the position of the Jacqui Lambie Network regarding upcoming legislation be known.
She went on to say:
… the Jacqui Lambie Network's position on the Regional Investment Corporation should be taken as that of the Leader of the Opposition.
Accordingly, the opposition expects the government to honour the expressed wishes of former Senator Lambie on the remaining questions on this bill in the same way that two opposition senators will not vote to compensate for the vacancies for the places formerly occupied in this place by Fiona Nash and Stephen Parry.
If the government does not respect the pairing conventions in this place, then I foreshadow that, in the event the pair is not honoured on this question that the bill as amended be agreed to, I will move an amendment to the motion that the report of the committee be adopted. I will seek to add the following words, which have now been circulated:
"And the Senate notes the express wishes of former Senator Jacqui Lambie that the Jacqui Lambie Network's position on the Regional Investment Corporation should be taken as that of the Leader of the Opposition, and is of the view that this be reflected in the usual pairing arrangements on any further questions on this bill."
I foreshadow that I will move that motion, because it seems that the government is suggesting that convention provides otherwise. For the crossbench, I want you to understand that the government, in suggesting that they have that as clear and solid advice, is simply not accurate. There is only one precedent on this issue, and that is Bob Day. Bob Day gave no indication at all as to his voting intentions, as opposed to Senator Jacqui Lambie, who clearly did. I recall her final speech, as indeed I think almost every senator in this place will. It's an issue of principle. It's an issue of convention. And the government's suggestion that convention has been established by just that one incident in relation to Bob Day is simply wrong.
I completely reject the proposition that has just been put. The chamber has been going through a debate on the Regional Investment Corporation, and none of us in this chamber could possibly know what the view of either former Senator Jacqui Lambie or the Jacqui Lambie Network would have been after considering the arguments that were put during this debate. The time to make a judgement is the time when a vote is taken.
The government, in good faith, paired former senators Ludlam and Waters, and we've paired others, where there is a clearly established party position. And of course the same happens on our side. In relation to the Jacqui Lambie Network, there is no capacity for us to know what the view of the Jacqui Lambie Network would have been at the conclusion of the debate. Everyone who has been in this chamber, even for a short period, knows that positions, in particular on the crossbench, can move in different directions, depending on how the debate evolves and depending on what amendments are put forward. And there is absolutely no capacity for us to establish the position of a senator who resigned from the Senate on the basis that she was ineligible to sit in this chamber.
The situation in relation to the Greens was quite different because the Greens continued to be represented in this chamber. It is quite easy for the chamber to identify what the position of the Greens is right now, after the debate has taken place. It is quite easy for us to identify what the position of the Nick Xenophon Team is. That is why we are pairing Senator Kakoschke-Moore. It is impossible for us to know what the position of former Senator Lambie or the Jacqui Lambie Network would have been, given that she was not here to participate in the debate. The government always respects pairing arrangements, but we are not in a position to provide a pair in relation to somebody who wasn't eligible to sit in this chamber and who doesn't have any other party representation in this chamber.
I first want to apologise to the chamber for my attire. I was trying to do some exercise. They're all laughing at me, behind me, but I'll remember that!
I want to make clear to Senator Cormann that, on a range of issues where Senator Lambie had not indicated her vote, the opposition had accepted that there was not agreement in the chamber, particularly with the government whip, for her vote to be paired. But we have previously made it clear, and I again make it clear now: on those issues, Senator Lambie gave a very clear indication as to what her position would be, in the speech she gave. I will just remind the Senate that it was not always a vote with the Labor Party. There were occasions—I think there was a vote with Senator Hinch, and with the government, on various bills. And, while you may refuse to accept that, the opposition will reconsider the current pairing arrangements. I make that utterly clear. What goes around comes around. I've made that clear from day 1. I do not expect the government to behave like this in a chamber where conventions around pairing have always been honoured.
This is an entirely uncalled for intervention. The government, in good faith, respected the pairs of the two Greens senators that were absent from this chamber—including on votes that went against us—on that basis. We consistently, and all the way through, respected the pairs of the Greens. We continue to consistently respect the pair of Senator Kakoschke-Moore on the basis that these are Senate positions held by respective parties for which it is possible for the chamber to know what the position of that party is on a particular question after the debate has taken place. There is no capacity whatsoever for us to know what the position of an ineligible senator, of a party that is not represented in this chamber now, is after the debate has taken place. The debate has only just finalised. Nobody in this chamber can possibly know what the position would've been if there had been full participation by that senator who has resigned from the chamber in the debate that has just taken place. I'm disappointed that Senator Wong, who I hold in high regard, made that threat, because the government consistently acted in good faith in relation to all pairs, with the exception of a request for a pair, which we've never accepted, in relation to a party that right now is not represented in this chamber. It is completely unreasonable to expect that the government would act in recognition of a pair for somebody who resigned because of ineligibility and whose party is not here to indicate a party position.
I completely reject the position that has just been put by Minister Cormann. We have had the grand total of half an hour of extra debate on this since former Senator Lambie resigned—half an hour, in the last half an hour, on Labor's amendments. Former Senator Lambie made it very clear that her position on the Regional Investment Corporation should be that of the opposition. Given that the only debate that has transpired since Jacqui Lambie resigned has been debate on Labor Party amendments, it is quite appropriate that her position, which was very clear at the end of that debate—we've only had half an hour of further debate since Jacqui Lambie resigned. I think it's appalling for the government to basically be completely disregarding the views of Jacqui Lambie and completely going against the conventions of this place of pairing when it comes to representing the views of former Senator Lambie and the Jacqui Lambie Network.
The fact of the matter is that we do not know what the view of the successor to former Senator Lambie would be in this place. We cannot know in this place and at this time what the view of the Jacqui Lambie Network would be, because the Jacqui Lambie Network is not represented in this place at this time. The proposition that is being put forward by those opposite is that any view expressed before former Senator Lambie left this chamber should be adhered to. If you follow that to its logical conclusion, then former Senator Lambie would be entitled to reach out beyond ineligibility into this place, by way of an email each day on each and every motion, on each and every vote and on each and every procedural motion, to express her view. Are those opposite saying that we should accept former Senator Lambie's view as expressed by email each day, or are they saying that, no, you should only accept the views of former Senator Lambie as expressed when she was in this place, which she was not eligible to sit in?
Temporary Chairman Ketter, I'm having a great deal of difficulty in finding the thread of consistency from the view expressed by those on the other side. The pairing arrangements which we have in this place relate to situations where the party of a senator who is no longer in this place is, nevertheless, represented so that there is able to be determined a view of a political grouping in this place. That is not the case in relation to former Senator Lambie. Are we seriously suggesting that former Senator Lambie should be able to send an email in here each day saying, 'If I were there, which I'm not, and if I were eligible, which I wasn't, this would be the view that I would hold.' That is something which is completely untenable.
It's no secret that I'm opposed to this bill. I think it's wrong. I'm trying to reflect on the principle which is being argued here. I do not believe that it is appropriate for a senator who was never duly elected, as the High Court has found, to rule from beyond the political grave. That's essentially what people are trying to argue with Senator Lambie's final statements to this place. I'm acutely aware of the pairing arrangements. We should be mindful that, between the major parties, the pairing arrangements have survived enormous constitutional crises—right through the Whitlam supply issues. They survived that in the Senate. I think that's a really very important point to make. I also know how accommodating both the opposition and the government can be with respect to providing pairing arrangements in circumstances like the Xenophon Team find themselves—
Senator Hanson-Young interjecting—
or the Greens, for that matter—where there are, absolutely, some representatives of the party. The reality is that Senator Lambie was never Senator Lambie. Senator Lambie did not get elected to this place, because she wasn't eligible to serve in this place. We also know that Senator Lambie's running mate no longer wants to represent the Jacqui Lambie Network, or whatever it's called. These are the circumstances we find ourselves in. It is a matter of principle, Mr Chairman, that I think the government is actually right in this circumstance. I know that may cost the outcome of the bill—something to what I'm opposed to.
Senator Hanson-Young interjecting—
Just excuse me for a moment. Why don't you grow up? You are such a child—and an ugly, ugly, internalised hatred.
I shouldn't reflect on the lack of emotional intelligence and the internalised hate that some senators feel, including Senator Hanson-Young—
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Sorry—excuse me, Senator Bernardi. Sit down. On the point of order, just to rule: if Senator Hanson-Young is going to make interjections, she should do that from her chair.
It is like a Twitter feed going off in my ear. It's of no consequence at all. No-one really pays any attention to it. Senator Hanson-Young can sit there and talk away all she likes. It makes no difference to me.
Barry says 'hello', by the way, Sarah. I go back to the point. The point is of principle here. What you use for your political advantage at one particular time will come back to haunt you. Senator Wong is absolutely right in that respect. I just can't justify how Senator Lambie should have a pair in this place, given the circumstances.
If I may respond to that interjection, I would say that Senator Nash should have a pair because the government has a series of pairs that are allocated to them that stand the test of time. That is the principle that is attached to this. No amount of interjections or hysterical shrieking is going to change that. If it comes to a vote, I will support the government on this even though I'm opposed to this bill.
I'll just make a couple of points. Senator Bernardi is right in this regard—there are principles here. The government's point reflects the fact that until more recently, with the exception of Senator Harradine and some other notable exceptions, the majority of senators in this chamber were from larger political parties, and pairing arrangements have reflected that. We are in a situation where we have to reflect on how we deal with a pairing arrangement where there's a party that will replace its senator, but there is no-one in the parliament yet to indicate the position of that party. That's the position. And the matter of principle that—
May I, please, Mathias? I'm in my tracksuit. Can you let me talk. That is the question: how does the Senate reflect its will, notwithstanding a vacancy, notwithstanding an absence in the count that we undertake? For example, the opposition has lost amendments during this debate because of Senator Nash's pair. Senator Nash, who was ineligible—and there is a countback—was ineligible ab initio; in fact, for many years. We've reflected her pair in the vote, as we should.
Well, actually, Senator Collins makes a good point. The point here, though, is when we have a single senator who is a member of a party—so she's not elected as an Independent; there is a party—how does the Senate appropriately reflect the will of the Senate, bearing in mind that the best available evidence is that that position will be filled by a member of the same party? We should have turned our minds to that before Senator Lambie left. Our view was, and I think there was some discussions with others, that the best way to try to deal with it was for Senator Lambie to indicate the position of her party on various matters. Frankly, some of the disdainful remarks from the Manager of Government Business—
Some may say 'disingenuous', but I'm feeling charitable for the moment. Some suggest, 'It's just a personal view,' and that she can email a vote. That isn't what happened in this chamber. She had been elected, regardless of the views we may have whether the Jacqui Lambie Network is the same sort of political party that we might be part of, and she indicated the position of her party on specified bills. The opposition has not sought to give effect to that until today. On previous occasions, there was the superannuation legislation, which has not come to a vote, and marriage equality, where, really, the conscience vote character of that debate meant the party arrangements for pairing were not observed.
We do think there's a matter of principle here—and it may become more relevant in the future. To the crossbench: what the government is saying to you is they want a pair for the man who sat in the President's seat, knowing that he was at risk of having British citizenship, that a cabinet minister had to be referred and kept quiet about it. Despite some suggesting that the morality of those circumstances ought to mean we deny a pair, we did not do so. We think the conventions which enable this Senate to reflect the will of the chamber, notwithstanding vacancies, ought to be observed. I really encourage the government not to go down this path. We will not be in a position where we can continue to provide the entirety of the same courtesies which have been provided to date for the reasons I have outlined.
I make this point again: if you look at the list of specified matters—and it's not an enormous list; seven including marriage, so six—Senator Lambie specified where her position would be; Senator Hinch's party would indicate the vote in respect of the drug-testing bill; the government would indicate where the vote would be cast in respect of first home saver; and NXT in respect of veterans' affairs. This is not a Labor Party plot; it's actually about making sure that, for the people in Tasmania who voted for that party, the democratic process reflects that vote in this chamber. It is precisely the same principle as is applied to Senators Parry, Nash and others.
The weakness in the opposition's argument here is that we all have stood here at various times, including senators from the Labor Party, and said that Barnaby Joyce should not have voted because he was under a cloud and that Senator Nash should not vote because she was under a cloud, and praised Senator Canavan when he stood down from his portfolio and said he wouldn't vote—all of those things. The bottom line here is that Jacqui Lambie is not a senator anymore. She resigned. And she was a one-man band. It is the same as if I had resigned. I doubt whether you'd give me that sort of credibility. She is not a senator. She was not legally elected as a senator and, therefore, what she feels and what she thinks should not apply in this chamber anymore. It's cruel. I'm very fond of Senator Lambie, as I said in my tribute to her, but the bottom line here is that Jacqui Lambie is not Senator Jacqui Lambie and she should have no say and no power in this chamber.
Just briefly, I would like to add a contribution on this as somebody who previously spent over 10 years in this chamber. I do think it's a significant precedent that's potentially being set here. When you're talking about conventions, they are obviously, by definition, fragile things. The conventions around pairing have managed to survive for, as far as I know, over a century, despite always being conventions. Once they are broken or fractured, even in the way that is being proposed, it is a dangerous path to go down.
I understand the argument that's been made by Senator Bernardi and Senator Hinch, but it does need to be said, firstly, that Senator Lambie was elected as part of a ticket, as part of a team, as part of a registered political party, under the Electoral Act, and in that sense she is no different from any of us here. In the coalition and the Greens, we all have the opportunity, under our parties' rules, to exercise conscience votes, to vote separately. So who is to say, with any of the individual senators who have resigned, or have been ruled ineligible for various reasons, that they would have voted exactly the same way as their party on every single issue? We do not know for sure. But, as Senator Wong has said, it's the best we can do and very close to a good representation, with a good expectation of ensuring that the Senate reflects the genuine view of the chamber, in the same way as we had a recommittal earlier today because there was a view that the vote that was recorded did not reflect the actual view of the chamber, of all of the elected representatives—which, again, is as close an approximation as we can get to the representative view of the people who elected us to be here.
The very nature of our being elected as representatives is as close an approximation as we can manage to thinking what the public might want. This is another mechanism we use. We don't know how every single coalition senator would have voted on every single piece of legislation. There is a 99 per cent chance they would have all voted the same way. But, as we know, occasionally—including even in the few weeks I have been here, on a couple of votes—coalition people have sat on opposite sides. Should we stop giving a pair to the coalition because sometimes they will vote on the opposite sides on a particular question? No, we don't, because we're trying to ensure that the chamber's decision will reflect, as closely as possible, the view of the chamber as elected by the public.
It is worth saying, with Senator Lambie, that she resigned because she believed she was ineligible. She actually hasn't been ruled ineligible yet. On her election, as far as this chamber is concerned, the decision of the High Court has not actually ruled that she is ineligible. I think this is a very significant precedent. It's particularly relevant, as Senator Wong said, for the crossbench and particularly for those who are individual, single members of a party. Senator Wong referred to Senator Harradine, an Independent. I do recall that time. But I also recall we had Senator Len Harris, who was a single, individual representative of the One Nation party for a term—I think he was elected in 1998, for that six-year term—and I remember periods when he was not here for various reasons, and he would presumably phone in his pair. I was always a bit curious as to how that process worked, because his pair seemed to often favour the government, but he wasn't here some of the time, and his pair was still recognised. We're actually starting down a path of saying, 'Well, for an individual person, if they're not here, how are we going to know how they are going to vote?' That is a very, very dangerous precedent. That's certainly not in any way a threat, and I don't speak on behalf of my own party or anybody else. I just would like to highlight that if you start to unpick the so-called logic that is trying to be applied here, or the so-called principle, it is a very dangerous one for every party, frankly.
Let's not forget that the Constitution does not recognise political parties. We are, as the High Court has demonstrated repeatedly recently, declared elected as individuals. If you actually want to break down that convention, you could just say, 'We're all a bunch of individuals. How can we ever 100 per cent guarantee how each of us are going to vote on every single question, if we're not here?' That's where this path leads, and I think it is a very dangerous one. It might work in the government's favour on this particular occasion. Again, I will say that Senator Lambie did not need to resign; she could have waited the whole way through until the High Court made its ruling. We would have had that replacement overnight. Again, what this would potentially lead to is people saying, 'I can't resign my seat, even though I know I'm not eligible, because how do I know my views will be reflected and the views of the people who elected me will be represented in this chamber on votes?'
I'd encourage the government to think about it closely, but it's particularly relevant for the crossbench and particularly those who are individual representatives of their political party. We've seen with One Nation that they vote separately quite often, or some of them vote and others don't. How can you guarantee a pair in that circumstance? Again, I'm not threatening anything. I'm just saying that, if you start using this logic, that is where it's going to lead.
I'm incredibly disappointed, in particular, that Senator Bartlett would make this contribution just now. Since the middle of July, when sadly—and I say sadly with all sincerity—former Senator Ludlam and former Senator Waters had to resign in the circumstances that we all know about, immediately and without hesitation the government said, 'Of course, we will pair their positions until such time, as through the official process, their positions are filled again on the basis that we respect that the Greens Party in the Senate will be able to determine the position of the Greens.' We've done that even though, on a number of contested issues and votes, that meant that we were in a weaker position and we were not able to get the government's agenda through. We did that absolutely in good faith, in the same way as we're doing it absolutely in good faith in relation to Senator Kakoschke-Moore on exactly the same basis.
Senator Lambie resigned. Senator Lambie didn't write to the government to formally ask for any pairing arrangements in the way this normally happens, consistent with convention. She walked into the chamber and put—
Yes, but she came into the chamber, putting on the record a position that she expected the government to respect after she left. That is not the way this works. I will tell you something else. Senator Patrick, you might want to listen to this very carefully, because this is going to be a matter which I understand is of interest to you. As Senator Lambie was preparing to resign, because she realised that she was ineligible to sit in the chamber, she approached the government asking for the government to do a deal with her before she resigned. That was in order for us to secure her pair for this bill. You know what the government said? The government said, 'We can't negotiate with you on the basis that you have already admitted yourself that you are ineligible and that you are about to resign. We can't possibly, as a government, negotiate a vote with you in relation to that when you are no longer going to be in this chamber.'
Senator Pratt interjecting—
Opposition senators interjecting—
What I'm putting to you is that if former Senator Lambie was still in this chamber, the government would have continued to engage with Senator Lambie and we would have been talking through the issues that she wanted to raise with us. But she is no longer here, so we weren't able to do it. Nobody in this chamber has any capacity whatsoever to identify what Senator Lambie's position would have been at the end of this process. That is the truth of it.
In terms of convention, now that the Greens sit pretty and have their representation back under control, and now that Labor are happy because the Greens, who mostly vote with them, have their full representation, we get threats that your pairs are going to be pulled when we, when it disadvantaged us, consistently respected those pairing arrangements, consistent with convention. I think it is entirely dishonourable. I think it is entirely dishonourable to suggest that pairs should be pulled against the government when all the way through when it disadvantaged us we respected, consistently, those pairing arrangements, as we continue to respect them in relation to Senator Kakoschke-Moore.
The position in relation to former Senator Lambie is quite different. Former Senator Lambie, as far as the government is concerned, did not have a concluded position.
No, she didn't. I would be prepared to swear an affidavit that on the day, minutes before she walked into this chamber, she asked for the government to do a deal with her. And we said, 'No; we can't possibly do a deal with you as you are about to resign and as you are telling us that you're not eligible to be in the Senate.' That is the reality. So we can't possibly know what her position would have been. There is absolutely no basis on which the Senate could possibly identify what her position would have been at the end of this process.
Can I say that I'm absolutely astounded that, at this stage in this debate, the government has sought to exercise precedence to prevent discussion of this issue and to try and impose its view of convention in relation to pairing. So I thought I would take a moment to share with other senators in this place some of this former government's history on pairing. I was in the Senate when Senator Dominic Foreman was denied a pair by the Howard government because it suited their purposes. And I think Senator Dominic Foreman's family and others would be pleased to have this on the record now. Fortunately at the time, Senator Harradine said, 'I will not play this game.' That's what Senator Harradine said. He said, 'I will not vote with the government if you deal with convention in that fashion.' The issue for Senator Dominic Foreman was he had a heart condition and he had medical advice that he could not fly. And this crowd would deny him a pair. So I'm not going to stand here and listen to Senator Mathias Cormann carry on about convention because I know what this crowd has been prepared to do in the past.
But let me calm down and reflect on the important issue of convention in pairing. Every senator in this place knows they don't want to end up like the other chamber. We know the consequences if you start playing games with that type of convention. We know how impossible allowing the Senate chamber to function would become were that the case. So we know these issues, we know these problems. I would suggest that the government use overnight to seriously reconsider its position on this matter.
So far we have had the government build advice from the clerks to suggest it says that, 'No; there's a different convention.' We know that advice is false. There is one precedent, as I said earlier. Remember, senators: we're not talking about an Independent senator here; we are talking about the Jacqui Lambie Network party. If Senator Cory Bernardi suggests that that party may not be a party, I haven't seen anything to reinforce that position, and none of the Tasmanian senators that I have heard from have suggested that either. I don't know if Senator Bernardi is doing a bit of recruiting here or whether he's had discussions I don't know about or has read something that I haven't seen, but we are indeed talking about the Jacqui Lambie Network party. Let me say one thing to the smaller parties or, indeed, the crossbench in this place: if you allow convention to be eroded in the way this government is attempting to do in relation to the position clearly indicated by former senator Jacqui Lambie, the same will happen to you.
We're not running a position that suits our purposes solely in relation to this bill. This is the position that Labor will take in relation to every matter that Jacqui Lambie clearly indicated in her last speech in this place. It's a position that she quite clearly indicated after she had sought advice about how best to represent her party's position in her absence and after the government refused to negotiate, as Senator Mathias Cormann just appraised us, but none of that's actually news. Former senator Jacqui Lambie sought advice on how to proceed. She followed that advice in the chamber and clearly indicated her position. I thank other senators who've made the point that this debate hasn't changed anything in the position that Jacqui Lambie indicated.
The amusing anecdote I'd add to this debate is Senator Cory Bernardi's position here. One day Senator Cory Bernardi was a member of the Liberal Party and the next day he wasn't. Are we now, following Senator Fifield's burrow, suggesting that every day we must check that every senator who is paired is still within the party that they were in when the pair application was accepted? Of course we're not saying that sort of rubbish, Senator Fifield. To suggest the extension that you have in your contribution is simply ridiculous. What it shows is the desperation of this government.
It's not the only thing that shows the desperation of this government. I'm not sure whether it occurred to any of the other senators today when they looked at the red—the number of bills that the government introduced today! Because tomorrow Senator Fifield wants to get up and say, 'We're still doing business!' We all know that is meaningless. We know that introducing a bill onto the Notice Paper does not meet any reasonable assessment of outcomes. We know this government's been bogged down. We know the problems that the current Prime Minister has. But to let all of that deteriorate into the situation we're facing now is very, very alarming.
There's about a minute and a half before we move to the adjournment. I would suggest to the government that they take the time overnight to seriously reconsider this issue and seriously consider whether they do want to maintain convention, because I was here when it deteriorated in the past. The only thing that saved the Senate on that occasion was Senator Brian Harradine saying, 'I'll take my vote back from the government unless you deal with the situation in relation to Senator Dominic Foreman with integrity.' That was the only thing that helped convention survive on that occasion.
I've now spent pretty much as much time as I'm able to talk on this debate so that we do not vote on it tonight. I would encourage another senator, if necessary, to talk for about 30 seconds to ensure that that's the case, because the government needs to seriously reconsider this issue. Your representation of convention is confected, and senators on the cross bench need to seriously consider how they want this chamber to operate in the future. (Time expired)