Senate debates

Thursday, 7 December 2017


Suspension of Standing Orders

10:41 am

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

I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to give precedence to a motion relating to condemning the government for not following their own disclosure regime.

As I have just said in my previous speech, I think section 44 is archaic. I think it needs to be a changed. It's a relic of a bygone era. We need to change it. The Greens have said we would support a referendum or a change to Australian law. In a modern, multicultural Australia there is no place for part of the Constitution that seeks to exclude so many Australians from backgrounds from right around the world. But the truth is we're stuck with it. We are stuck with it. It's true that previous parliaments dodged a bullet. They have been very, very lucky. I suspect there are many previous parliamentarians, including ministers and possibly even prime ministers, who were dual citizens and got away with it. But we can't continue to hide from the fact now that we have to deal with this issue.

We've had successive recommendations from previous parliaments and a number of committees that have said, 'It's time to fix it.' Unfortunately, successive government have failed in their responsibility to take this on, and here we are stuck with a major problem. There is no question that this is a constitutional crisis right now, because we don't know if the government has a constituted majority on the floor of the lower house of parliament. So the fact is we're stuck with this and we need to deal with it. We need to deal with it so we can get on with the business of what we're paid to do, to actually get on and make laws that advance the national interest. But we can't do that while this shadow hangs over this parliament; we just can't. This is where leadership comes in. We've seen a complete failure of leadership from the Prime Minister of this country, who, rather than taking this on and addressing it through a comprehensive, independent audit of all members of parliament, has sought to delay, to deny, to confuse and, of course, yesterday, to act in an appallingly partisan manner. So this thing will drag on well into next year.

We should have had an audit. The Greens called for it. We understand that the government decided not to do it because it was worried about the implications for members of its own team. But what's followed has been disgraceful. We had the episode where the former President of the Senate stood up and made referrals for a number of other MPs knowing that he himself was ineligible—and being told by senior ministers to keep his head down and shut up. We saw the double standards with Senator Canavan and later Mr Joyce and Senator Nash—one stepping down from their ministerial responsibilities, the other two continuing to act as ministers.

In lieu of the comprehensive independent audit, the government, with the support of the opposition, proposed a disclosure regime. Now, on the last day of parliament, the government is refusing to comply with its own disclosure regime and is seeking to hide over the Christmas period and subject Australians to more months of this debate when we return in February. Leaders lead. Sometimes circumstances are beyond their control. This is one of those moments. A problem landed on the desk of the Prime Minister and he was given an opportunity to either lead or try to save his own hide, and he chose the latter. Rather than to engage in this process, rather to end the uncertainty over this parliament and rather than to end what is a constitutional crisis that is engulfing the nation—which people are sick to the back teeth of—he's chosen to let this drag out over the Christmas period. And now we have to recognise that this will consume the following months when we return to this place.

The Prime Minister had an opportunity yesterday to act in a non-partisan way and accept referrals of members of the opposition and members of his own team, where there are legitimate question marks, and instead he chose to run and hide. This is a Prime Minister who is prepared to trash the institutions that underpin our democracy through his attacks on unions and civil society and now through his willingness to ignore the Constitution, the founding document that lays out what it means to live in a democracy, and, in an effort to try to save his own skin, he's prepared to trash the principles that underpin the Westminster tradition. This is cowardice from a Prime Minister who is no longer fit to govern.

10:46 am

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to indicate that the opposition will be supporting this motion for suspension, and we support it for very good reasons. One of the things that Senator Di Natale didn't refer to is the responsible and brave way in which, over the last 24 hours, the Australian Labor Party has dealt with the outcomes following this issue of releasing the details on citizenship. When Senator Gallagher's eligibility was raised because of her links with Britain, she very bravely yesterday, at the first opportunity that she had, got up and indicated that she was referring herself to the High Court. It is worth pointing out that the consequence of that action, to some extent, overcomes the total unwillingness of the Turnbull government to make a series of referrals in the lower house. Senator Gallagher knew that she had British citizenship, and she did exactly what she was expected to do—that is, to make an application through the appropriate sources to renounce that citizenship. She did all of that prior to her nomination at the last election to the Senate. But, because of a delay at the other end with the British government, her renunciation letter didn't come in until after her nomination. By referring herself, as she did, she will determine, I think, the issue in respect of a number of other members of parliament, and I think it's appropriate to describe that action as brave and sensible in the circumstances.

Yesterday, Senator Feeney—a former senator in this place and a very, very fine man—was honest enough to concede that, although he understood that, when he first ran for parliament in 2007, he had renounced both his Irish citizenship and his British citizenship, he's been unable to find the renunciation letter in respect of his British citizenship. Rather than raise questions about how this should be dealt with, he did the right thing and immediately referred himself to the High Court.

I ask you to note the sequence of events of yesterday afternoon. It was the aim of the Labor Party and all of the crossbenchers in the lower house to refer anybody with a question mark over their citizenship to the High Court. This matter has been dragging on and on and on. It's been like pulling teeth to get the government to do anything about this matter.

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

What about the Labor Party?

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I will take that interjection. If you wanted to act responsibly, there was a way to do it. I notice Senator Fifield is sitting next to you. What happened?

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You are directing your comments to the chair, I assume?

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you for that helpful reminder. Mr Acting Deputy President, let's look at Senator Fifield's role in this. What happened? That very fine man who used to occupy that seat that you're now sitting in, Mr Acting Deputy President, came to Senator Fifield with some concerns about his own citizenship. What did Senator Fifield do about it? He is a minister of the Crown. He was made aware there were some issues regarding Senator Parry's citizenship—Senator Parry having referred off a whole range of people. What did Senator Fifield do about it? Did he tell his leader? Did he tell the Prime Minister, 'I think we've got a problem with the President of the Senate'? No, he didn't do that. Did he tell any other ministers? Perhaps he told the Attorney-General, who had been handling all this? Apparently he didn't do that. (Time expired)

10:52 am

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

The Labor Party really has no shame. For months Bill Shorten misled the Australian people into believing that everything was fine inside the Labor Party: 'We have this perfect vetting system. We know that none of our members and senators have any problems at all.' We now know that that was a lie. We now know that Bill Shorten is nothing more than a dishonest, sanctimonious hypocrite. We now know that not only were there Labor members and senators that were dual citizens when they nominated for the last election—even though they certified on their nomination form that went to the Electoral Commission that they were not—but also there are people on the Labor side that are still dual citizens today.

On the coalition side, same as the Greens, when it became clear some of our members and senators were in possession of information that indicated that there was a citizenship problem, people came into this chamber and took action: Senator Canavan resigned from the ministry and referred himself to the High Court; Senator Nash referred herself to the High Court; John Alexander resigned; and Stephen Parry, former President of the Senate, resigned. Throughout all that time Bill Shorten was holding out. Now he's saying, 'Because we're now having an another batch of referrals, in order to keep it fair, even and bipartisan, not only should we be referring Labor members and senators that have clearly demonstrated problems with their citizenship status but we should also be referring people who manifestly do not have citizenship problems.'

Yesterday the Manager of Opposition Business put forward a motion listing people like Nola Marino, even though Nola Marino had advice from the government of Italy that she is not, and never has been, an Italian citizen. They wanted to refer Alex Hawke, even though he had advice that he isn't, and never has been, a Greek citizen. Incidentally, that is the same advice on which the Labor Party relies not to refer Tanya Plibersek. We are not suggesting that Tanya Plibersek should be referred, incidentally, but all she relies on is advice from the Slovenian embassy, which indicates that she was never a Slovenian citizen.

What is good for the goose is good for the gander. If the Labor Party is now suggesting that, despite and in defiance of official evidence from a foreign government that somebody is not a citizen of that country, we should still refer them—on the basis of what? What have we got on the Labor side? We have got Justine Keay, the member for Braddon, and Josh Wilson, the member for Fremantle, who are in the precisely the same position as Senator Gallagher.

I've got a lot of sympathy at a human level for Senator Katy Gallagher. I like her a lot. I'm disappointed for her, as I was disappointed for former Senator Nash and as I was disappointed for all of my other colleagues. Senator Kakoschke-Moore, Senator Ludlam, Senator Waters—I was disappointed for all of them. The truth is there is no difference in status between Senator Gallagher and the member for Braddon and the member for Fremantle.

Even worse, David Feeney clearly is still today a British citizen. If he had any honour, if he had any decency, he would have made the same decision as John Alexander and resigned. The only reason he hasn't resigned is because Labor knows that they would lose the seat to the Greens. That's why he's not resigning. This is backfiring on Bill Shorten at 100 miles an hour.

And then we've got Susan Lamb. She is in precisely the same position as former Senator Malcolm Roberts. She sent the wrong information to the wrong people at the wrong time, which is why the renunciation of her British citizenship was not effective. And Labor, as it always does, wants to muddy the waters. Bill Shorten has held out for months, lying to the Australian people, saying, 'We don't have any problems.' Guess what? You tell me—it's a matter of public record now: Bill Shorten knew for more than a week that David Feeney had a citizenship problem. What did he do? Nothing.

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

What did Fifield do?

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Farrell says: 'What did Fifield do?' On Labor's desk, Labor dragged Senator Fifield in front of the Senate's Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, so maybe we should be dragging, on your standard, Bill Shorten in front of the House's Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, because that is precisely what he did. When is Bill Shorten going to explain why he did nothing in relation to Mr Feeney. Mr Feeney is one of the puppet masters that put him into the position along with 'Shanghai Sam'. That is why he's not doing anything. He's weak. He's— (Time expired)

10:57 am

Photo of Derryn HinchDerryn Hinch (Victoria, Derryn Hinch's Justice Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I stand here today and say that, once again, Hinch's hunch is wrong because last night I expected overnight we would hear that Christopher Pyne and Tony Burke had got together in a non-smoke-filled room, sorted this out and referred everybody who needed to be referred to the High Court, as the Court of Disputed Returns, would be referred to them. Unfortunately, it didn't happen. I think, for the government ranks and cabinet, this is political suicide. For you to let this drag on, through Christmas, until we get back here in February is absolute political Noddyland, and I'm surprised you're going along with it. I can say that, because I'm standing here as the person it all started over. I was the original target six months ago. Poor Scott Ludlam was collateral damage, when I'd done the homework, got myself a renunciation certificate and got out of it.

I feel sorry, as I have said before—I said it yesterday—for people like Jacqui Lambie and Skye Kakoschke-Moore having to resign and leaving. That is why, Senator Cormann, as you know, I supported you and I supported the government on not pairing Senator Lambie—ex-Senator Lambie. Personally, I would not have paired anybody for these reasons. I think pairs are a great idea and should be used for personal reasons—if your family's sick or you're away at a committee meeting. That should be it. But when you are no longer a senator, when you are an ex-senator, then I think you should not be paired.

Frankly, this whole thing about ex-senators, who are still getting a vote in this chamber, reminds me of the Monty Python pet shop skit. Back then, we talked about the dead parrot. When Mr Praline says, 'This parrot is no more. He has ceased to be. He's expired and gone to meet his maker. He's a stiff. Bereft of life, he rests in peace. If you hadn't nailed him to the perch, he'd be pushing up the daisies. His metabolic processes are now history. He's off the twig. He's kicked the bucket. He's shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleeding choir invisible. This is an ex-parrot'—the same way that Jacqui Lambie is an ex-senator.

10:59 am

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Manager of Government Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I think it is worth pausing for a moment and just going through what each individual colleague and former colleague in this place and the other place has done. Former Senator Ludlam brought himself forward and resigned. Former Senator Waters brought herself forward and resigned. Former Senator Nash brought herself forward and referred herself to the High Court. Former Senator Canavan brought himself forward and referred himself to the High Court. Mr Joyce brought himself forward and referred himself to the High Court. Former Senator Parry brought himself forward and resigned from this place. Mr Alexander brought himself forward and resigned. Former Senator Kakoschke-Moore brought herself forward and resigned.

Now we get to Mr Feeney. What did he do? Did he bring himself forward? No. He was flushed out by the register. He knew that his circumstance was going to come to light because of the register. He did not bring himself forward. He was flushed out. What did he do once he was flushed out? Did he do what Mr Alexander did when he brought himself forward and resigned from the House of Representatives? No, he did not. He did not resign. If he had been following the standard of House colleagues such as Mr Alexander, he would have resigned from the House of Representatives. He has not done so.

Senator Gallagher—and, just as Senator Cormann indicated, I have a very high regard for her—has referred herself to the High Court, as is appropriate. But that presents a very stark contrast to Ms Lamb, Mr Josh Wilson and Ms Keay in the other place. They are in very similar circumstances, where it appears that at the time of nomination they were still citizens of another country. Have those three individuals in the House put their hands up and said, 'It's appropriate that we be referred, as was the case with our Senate colleague earlier this week'? No, they haven't. Has Mr Shorten said in the other place that that is the appropriate thing to do, as Senator Wong did in this place? Senator Wong said, 'Our colleague Ms Gallagher is doing the right thing.' Has Mr Shorten said that in relation to Ms Lamb, Mr Wilson and Ms Keay? No, he has not.

What we have observed from this place, as we look across the way to the other place, is the bizarre proposition that, because there are real issues in relation to three Labor members of the House of Representatives, therefore, in order for there to be fairness and equivalence, you randomly pick three or four members of the coalition. As Senator Cormann made clear—just taking one example—Ms Marino has produced documentation from the relevant country saying that she is not now and never has been a citizen of that other country. She has done that, yet some of those in the other place are saying, 'That doesn't really matter; forget the documentary evidence,' and that there is this concept of fairness and equivalence and that, if you've got three or four from one side, you've got to nominate three or four from the other side, without looking at the merits of the individual case. That is absurd. It is precisely the merits of each individual case that should be examined, which is why it's appropriate for Ms Lamb, Mr Wilson and Ms Keay to be referred to the High Court.

The coalition colleagues in the other place that the Australian Labor Party sought to incorporate into a motion are in very different circumstances and they have attested in the register to their circumstances and they have produced appropriate evidence. But the Australian Labor Party say, 'No; because we say there's a question about them, therefore there's a question about them.' No. You've actually got to look at the individual circumstances, which is why we contend that Ms Lamb, Mr Wilson and Ms Keay should do the same as occurred with Senator Gallagher in this place, where she voluntarily referred herself.

Question agreed to.

11:05 am

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

I move:

That a motion relating to condemning the government for not following their own disclosure regime may be moved immediately and have precedence over all other business today.

I also move:

That the question be now put.

Question agreed to.

I move:

That the Senate—

(a) notes that a number of Members of the House of Representatives—the chamber where Government is formed—may not be eligible to sit in that House under section 44 of the Constitution;

(b) expresses its deep concerns that the number of members lacking legal clarity in their eligibility means that the Government can no longer legitimately guarantee a majority in the House of Representatives;

(c) condemns the government for not complying with their. disclosure regime thus continuing this crisis; and

(d) urges the House of Representatives to refer all members whose eligibility is in question to the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, to ensure that we do not have an illegitimate government.

Question agreed to.