Senate debates

Thursday, 7 December 2017


Minister for Employment

9:31 am

Photo of Michaelia CashMichaelia Cash (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

The Senate has asked me to address the claim of public interest immunity made to and accepted by the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee during recent Senate estimates hearings. The principle of public interest immunity is a longstanding principle recognised by the Senate. It recognises that there is information held by government and government agencies, such as law enforcement bodies, that it would not be in the public interest to disclose in particular circumstances. As the Attorney-General stated in his letter of 27 October 2017 to the Senate committee:

… prejudice to law enforcement investigations is a ground of public interest immunity recognised by the Senate.

That position is confirmed by statements in Odgers' 14th edition at page 663, which states:

For this ground to be invoked it should be established that there are investigations in progress by a law enforcement agency, such as the police, and the provision of the information sought could interfere with those investigations.

The Attorney also refers to paragraph 4.6.1 of the Government Guidelines for Official Witnesses before Parliamentary Committees and Related Matters, which relevantly provides:

There are several generally accepted grounds on which a minister or, in appropriate circumstances, a statutory office holder, may rely when claiming PII. For example, PII claims may be made in relation to information and documents the disclosure of which would, or might reasonably be expected to:

…         …      …

(d) prejudice the investigation of a possible breach of the law or the enforcement of the law in a particular instance.

The Senate committee has been provided with the advice from the Australian Federal Police, which states:

The AFP has commenced an investigation into the alleged unauthorised disclosure of information concerning recent search warrants executed in support of a Registered Organisations Commission investigation. As this matter is under investigation, it would not be appropriate to discuss the matter further.

The Senate committee has also been provided with further advice from the AFP confirming that the investigation remains ongoing and that the AFP will make no further comment on it.

Contrary to claims by Labor senators, no matter how many times they repeat them, this is not an investigation into either myself or my office. It is an investigation into the matter identified by the AFP in its advice to the Senate committee. The AFP's advice establishes that there is an investigation in progress and further establishes that provision of information in relation to the matters the subject of the investigation would have the potential to affect the conduct of the investigation. The AFP are best placed to determine the likely prejudice to an investigation. The Senate will also be aware that:

… the courts have recognised that disclosure of matters the subject of an ongoing investigation 'might inhibit[ing] the willingness of persons to volunteer information relevant to the investigation', and that investigating authorities should be allowed to obtain 'the fullest possible information without the persons volunteering such information being inhibited by any possible repercussions which might flow from the disclosure of the information'.

The prejudice to any investigation should be readily apparent to the Senate and, indeed, is a principle that has been routinely accepted by the Senate without question on many previous occasions.

In relation to sub judice, as a generally observed principle, matters of contention that are before civil courts should not be discussed or debated until they are determined by the court. The danger of prejudice to legal proceedings arises from a canvassing of the issues before the court or a prejudgement of those issues. It is a matter of public record that on 12 August 2017 The Weekend Australian published a story about AWU donations to the political organisation GetUp! It is also on the public record that on 20 October 2017 the Registered Organisations Commission decided to commence an investigation into this matter. As the basis for the commission's investigation of this matter is currently being contested before the Federal Court by the AWU, the sub judice principle means that the Senate should respect the process of the court by not engaging in debate on matters which are to be determined by the court. This is to avoid the significant risk of prejudicing or prejudging matters that are to be decided by the judiciary. It is clear from Odgers that the sub judice convention is observed by the Senate, except in exceptional circumstances. There is nothing in this case that takes it beyond the ordinary scope of the sub judice principle.

In relation to the specific allegations in the motion, I know that these matters have been extensively canvassed in four recent Senate estimates hearings, and there has been the opportunity to ask questions of me in 11 subsequent Senate question times since the first estimates hearing. I do note that in relation to these allegations, again, simply making them and asserting them on multiple occasions does not make them true.

In relation to the resignation of Mr Hadgkiss, this is another matter that has been extensively canvassed in recent estimate hearings and that I addressed in detail in an opening statement to Senate estimates on 25 October. For the benefit of senators I advise that the court proceeding which led to the resignation was between Mr Hadgkiss and the CFMEU. The legal proceeding commenced in August 2016 and was resolved in September 2017. During this period of time, it was open to any opposition senator to raise concerns about the allegations against Mr Hadgkiss with me if they considered it to be sufficiently important. They chose not to do so. Up until 12 September 2017, Mr Hadgkiss was contesting the claim that was brought by the CFMEU against him. On 12 September 2017, he signed an agreed statement of facts in which he admitted a contravention of the Fair Work Act. Upon becoming aware of this, the government formed the view that the position of Mr Hadgkiss was no longer tenable. Mr Hadgkiss tended his resignation in writing the following day, and it was accepted.

In relation to the granting of the indemnity to Mr Hadgkiss for his legal costs under the Legal Services Directions, this has also been canvassed in detail in Senate estimates and in the statement I provided on this matter on 25 October and during Senate question time. The claim in the motion that there was not a proper assessment of the grounds for his defence is not correct. As previously stated, I approved the request in accordance with the standard process set out in appendix C of the Legal Services Directions based on departmental advice. It is longstanding practice, maintained by successive governments, for Commonwealth employees and officials to be indemnified when proceedings are brought against them in accordance with the requirements of the Legal Services Directions. In relation to the resignation of Mr Southall, this was a matter for him. He made this decision independently of the government, and I as minister had no involvement.

There have been four hearings of the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee in relation to these matters in the last six weeks. There have now also been 11 Senate question times during the course of which I have been asked numerous questions. The questions have been repetitive and have raised no new issues that have not already been canvassed repeatedly in the four Senate estimates hearings. The use of the Senate to re-agitate issues which have been extensively and repeatedly canvassed is both a waste of the Senate's time and an abuse of its process.

A government senator: Well done.

9:40 am

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

If that is well done, we have got serious problems. This minister has basically trashed the Westminster system. This is a minister whose office is under criminal investigation and, because of her responsibilities, she is under criminal investigation. This goes to the very integrity of our democratic political system. This minister has got no respect for the Westminster system or its conventions. The democratic principle that underpins this is that this minister is accountable to the parliament and the people. There is a convention of ministerial responsibility, and this minister has got responsibility for the conduct of her portfolio, the conduct of her staff who are responsible for the leak, and the conduct of the Public Service that she presides over. She has misled parliament five times. This is normally the basis for ministerial resignation.

The Westminster system determines that there has to be a politically neutral Public Service. Under this minister, the Public Service have been politicised and they are acting against the government's political opponents on a regular basis. Over a period of time there's been an increased number and influence of political advisers. For anyone to argue that political advisers are not an integral part of the political office reporting directly to the minister is unacceptable. There is a political patronage being established in these so-called independent bodies. There is a web of influence of former Liberal political advisers in these so-called independent bodies whose job it is to attack the political opponents of this government. This applies to the Registered Organisations Commission, the ABCC and the Fair Work Ombudsman.

On 15 August, Senator Cash wrote to the Registered Organisations Commission to establish an inquiry into, allegedly, the AWU. This followed a report in The Weekend Australian on 12 August. In that report that was supposed to be about the AWU, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten, received 13 mentions. He received 13 mentions in that Weekend Australian report. It was clear what this was about. It wasn't about the AWU; it was a political attack on the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten. I maintain and assert, unequivocally, that this report was the product of the minister organising this article in The Australian. This is clearly the modus operandi of this government and of this minister—create a story and then react to the story. There were 13 mentions of Mr Shorten in this story. Then we get the letter from the minister to the ROC, referring an article in The Weekend Australian to the ROC. The ROC does the bidding of the minister. The ROC is the organisation established to attack the political opponents of this government. What's been happening is an absolute disgrace. Then we have Mr Bielecki claiming that the correspondence was the only correspondence that he has ever received from the minister on any issue. It's clear that this was a set-up by the minister to attack the Leader of the Opposition. Mr Bielecki conceded he had never received anything like this before, and it was only because it was a political attack on the Leader of the Opposition.

Then we got another article by Brad Norington. Brad Norington was responsible for the first article. There is a link between News Limited, Brad Norington and the minister's office to set up a straw person so that it can be attacked and precipitate this attack on the Leader of the Opposition. Mr Bielecki claims that this was about the AWU, but you only have to look at Brad Norington's article in The Australian on 16 August where Mr Shorten gets 14 mentions by News Limited and The Australian. This is clearly a set-up and an attack on the Leader of the Opposition. Senator Cash herself is quoted five times in this article alluding to the alleged conduct of Mr Shorten. This was clearly a political attack on Mr Shorten and the political opponents of this government, with a public servant being used to conduct the attack on the Leader of the Opposition.

Senator Cash is a minister in disgrace, a minister who has trashed the Westminster system. This is a minister who doesn't know what the Westminster system means. Don't just take my word for it; let's look at the report in The Conversation by Michelle Grattan. No-one here would argue that Michelle Grattan isn't one of the most respected reporters this place has ever seen. What she says in this article on 26 October relates to the opening statement of Mr Mark Bielecki to Senate estimates, when he declared there was a misapprehension about what this was about—that the investigation was not into Mr Shorten; it was into the AWU. Looking at Michelle Grattan's reports, anyone who has any view that this was not a personal attack on the Leader of the Opposition is not politically astute and does not understand what's going on. Michelle Grattan says:

Whatever the Registered Organisations Commission might think or say, there's been no doubt in the minds of the Government what the inquiry is about.

When Employment Minister Michaelia Cash referred the donation to the commission in August, she and her colleagues knew it was all about Bill Shorten.

That is not me saying this; it is Michelle Grattan, one of the most respected correspondents ever in this place. She goes on to say:

Once again the Government was trying to put Shorten in the frame over his behaviour in his union days. Previous attempts have fallen short of hopes.

She goes on to say:

It seemed extraordinary that Cash could have been left in ignorance all day.

This is about the hearing where Minister Cash made five claims that she knew nothing about any leak from her office. Michelle Grattan says it's extraordinary that Cash could have been left in ignorance all day. She continues:

Even more odd was that she (and the staffer in question, David De Garis) attended Malcolm Turnbull's pre-Question Time briefing on Wednesday, when she assured him she had not given the tip-off, but neither he nor others present asked the obvious question: 'what about your office?'

When media are being alerted, it is rarely by a call from the minister—it's done by the media adviser. Everyone at the briefing would have known that. Assuming we're hearing the truth, failing to ask was sloppy at best.

She goes on to say:

But even before this week, her reputation had started to tarnish, when the head of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), Nigel Hadgkiss, had to resign after admitting to breaching the Fair Work Act while in his previous position. Cash was aware of the civil proceedings against him when he took over the ABCC.

…   …   …

The government—which, incidentally, is on a jihad against GetUp, a campaigning body far too effective for its liking …

Further, she says:

But the government’s obvious attempt to use the recently established Registered Organisations Commission for political purposes is an abuse of power …

That's what we are witnessing—an abuse of power. Michelle Grattan went on to say that that abuse of power was potentially damaging to the fledgling organisation. I disagree with Michelle Grattan on that—it is fatally damaging to this organisation. We know what is going on. She says that this matter was more than a decade old and she asks whether it would have been referred if it had not involved Bill Shorten.

Even conservative commentator Andrew Bolt—I don't often quote Andrew Bolt in this place—wrote that the raids 'seem part of a disturbing pattern of the Liberals using state power to persecute a political enemy'. Andrew Bolt is no friend of the Labor Party and no friend of the trade union movement, but he has nailed this minister; he has nailed this government. They are using political power and political institutions to attack their political opponents. He goes on to refer to 'the Liberals' astonishing record of dragging Labor leaders before commissions and royal commissions created—at least in part—to humiliate them'. That's what we see from this government. We know what it's all about. This minister can get up and claim public interest immunity and read out Odgers all she likes. We know what this is about. This is an attack on her political opposition, an attack on the Labor Party, and she is using public resources to mount that attack. She's the one who created the story, her office created the story, and then it was used to create an investigation.

Then we have this so-called independent organisation where Mr Chris Enright, a former Australian Crime Commission officer, compiled a secret dossier on a minister, the minister that he reported to—a dossier that made comments about the nationality of the minister's wife and a dossier that made comments about the drinking habits of the minister. It is a document that talked about his political allegiances. It is a document that clearly involved a breach and clearly took a partisan position. It was a secret report, and when it became public the Ombudsman then reprimanded this officer—yet he gets appointed to the Registered Organisations Commission and claims he has a 40-year good record. Well, Nigel Hadgkiss claimed the same thing, and we found out what Nigel Hadgkiss was up to.

This is clearly an organisation that is partisan and political. BuzzFeed reports that, when the opposition were trying to disrupt questioning in an estimates hearing, Mr Enright said, 'This has been a very productive half hour', and Mr Bielecki replied, 'It has.' These are supposedly independent officers. This is really a demonstration of the lack of independence and the control and political position this government takes with its so-called independent organisations. BuzzFeed further states:

BuzzFeed also heard ROC and FWO officers say "I could do this all day" and Labor was "getting pretty desperate" during the committee break.

This is clearly a demonstration of what's going on here: use your political power, use so-called independent organisations to attack a political party—the Labor Party.

With regard to this so-called document from the AFP saying that they should not deal with the issues because there's an investigation, the document doesn't say that at all. The document doesn't go anywhere near that. The best you could take out of this document is that there is a criminal investigation taking place into the minister's office and the minister, and that the matter is under investigation and it wouldn't be appropriate for the AFP to discuss the matter with the minister, or the minister's office, any further. That's the basis of the claim. It's an absolute nonsense to say that this is the AFP making a claim for public interest immunity. If the AFP want to make a claim for public interest immunity, they should do that, but the minister and this government shouldn't be using that document, which is not a claim for public interest immunity, to try and hide the involvement of this minister and the involvement of this minister's office in misusing public authorities and misusing their power.

We've got the minister claiming that advertisements for job vacancies in her office between 1 August and 27 October should be subject to public interest immunity. There is the claim that the arrangement with the Fair Work Ombudsman director of media to take up a role should not be discussed. What's that got to do with this document? There is the decision of the Fair Work Ombudsman director of media on 28 October not to take up a job in the minister's office—these are political apparatchiks who are moving from one so-called independent body to another to exercise influence, to exercise the will of the government to attack their political opponents. The Fair Work Ombudsman, the Registered Organisations Commission and the Australian Building and Construction Commission are acting purely on the basis of political intent to damage the enemies and the opponents of this government. Why should contact between the minister's office and the Fair Work Ombudsman director of media be subject to a claim for public interest immunity? Why should contact between the minister's office and the Prime Minister's Office be the subject of public interest immunity? Why should question time briefs relating to the ROC on each day between 20 and 26 October be the subject of public interest immunity? Why should correspondence between the minister and the ROC relating to any inquiry and any investigation on matters under assessment or the opening of a file be subject to public interest immunity?

This is a cover-up. This is a cover-up the likes of which I have never seen in the almost decade I've been in the Senate. This is a misuse of public interest immunity. This is a minister who has lost all credibility. This is a minister who stands in this place day in, day out, attacking individuals, using unsubstantiated allegations to trash the reputation of individuals. This is a minister who is using her office and the public commissions that she oversights to attack her political opponents. This is a minister whose office illegally tipped off the press to be at the AWU office to take pictures of what was happening to damage the Leader of the Opposition, the trade union movement and her political opponents. This minister is a disgrace. This minister is in hiding on this issue. This government has not made proper public interest immunity claims, and it should provide the documentation and be open.

Again I call on the AFP, if it wants to make a public interest immunity claim, to do so. This minister should stand aside. This minister has got no credibility. This minister has got no capacity to stand here and lecture anyone. This minister has got no authority to take any claims against anyone while she is under criminal investigation, when her office is under criminal investigation, when she misuses her power, when she trashes the Westminster system. This minister should resign. This minister should go. This minister is an absolute disgrace. She is unacceptable in that position. (Time expired)

10:00 am

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

If anyone in this chamber—the few who are here—or any of the even smaller group who might be taking any interest whatsoever in this whole debate wanted an example of the misogynistic bullying that we know is rife in the union movement, they've heard it today in the last speech.

I hear from those opposite about misogynistic bullying and I laugh. Let me tell you who has been in the chamber from the Labor Party during this whole sorry occasion, this waste of one hour of the Senate's valuable time on the last day of sitting for the year, when there is a lot of business to be done. Let me tell you, when we talk about misogyny, who was in the chamber on the other side. The Labor Party in the Senate always prides itself on the majority of its senators being female. Let me tell you who was in the chamber when Senator Cash made her statement. There were eight Labor senators who happen to be male and there were three Labor senators who happen to be female. Immediately after Senator Cameron started to speak, two of the females left, and we had eight males and one female in the chamber. That female, bless her soul, was either asleep or very much involved in her device. She quickly left the chamber when Senator Cameron indulged in his misogynistic, bullying speech against Senator Cash, one of the most honest, most competent and most capable ministers that this parliament has ever seen.

Those eight Labor senators who happened to be male stayed for a little bit of Senator Cameron's speech, but immediately, after about two minutes, two of them had had enough and left. So there were five Labor senators left in the chamber, all males, and two of them had to be here because they hold the positions of manager and whip. This is the great matter of public importance that the Labor Party, with the help of the Greens, moved in order to waste one hour of valuable time on the last day of sitting in this chamber. For this matter of great public interest, not even the Labor Party could get half of their members here to hear Senator Cameron. They couldn't even get a quarter of them. Their leader, Senator Wong, a female, sensibly stayed away from the debate.

I say this is a typical Labor bullying, misogynistic speech, and who would need evidence of that? But I'm going to give the Senate some. It's well known. Do you remember Mr John Setka, the mate of all of those on the other side? He's a member of the CFMEU. This is the union movement that controls and runs the Labor Party, that funds the Labor Party, that provides all of their workers on election day. This is the union movement that Senator Cameron is so close to and defends continuously in this chamber. This is what Mr Setka said:

Let me give a dire warning to them ABCC inspectors—

public servants—

be careful what you do.

…   …   …   

You know what we’re going to do? We’re going to expose them all.

We will lobby their neighbourhoods. We will tell them who lives in that house. What he does for a living, or she.

…   …   …   

Their kids will be ashamed of who their parents are when we expose all these ABCC inspectors.

…   …   …   

He also said: 'They say there's two things you can't avoid; I say there's three. One of them is taxes, one of them is death and the other one is the construction unions, because, when we come after you, you'd better be careful.'

This is the sort of bullying, misogynist—because a lot of those inspectors were female—attitude you get from the union movement, and it is the union movement that Senator Cameron continuously defends in this place. Senator Cameron well knows the union movement and knows the corruption and graft that goes on. He well knows my namesake, the former New South Wales Labor member of parliament, Ian Macdonald, who is currently serving time in jail for bribery and corruption. He's a mate of Senator Cameron's. I'm not sure whether it was Senator Cameron who saved his preselection or whether it was Mr Ian Macdonald who saved Senator Cameron's preselection. Senator Cameron knows all about this corruption and graft in the union movement. He knows that my namesake just happened to give a coalmine worth $5 million or so to a union mate for the obvious kickback. I could take more than 20 minutes going through historical evidence. It is not me saying it. These are actual facts about corruption in the union movement. Labor senators were silent when the CFMEU threatened to rape children—rape children!—on the Oaky North picket line in Queensland.

Senator Cameron interjecting

See! Senator Cameron now, as he did then, defends them! And he has the gall to come here and try and attack a female minister, who is one of the most competent, one of the most honest, that this nation has ever had the good fortune to have serving it. Mr Acting Deputy President, let me tell you what this vendetta against Senator Cash is all about. It's pretty clear. Here is a minister who continues to expose the graft, corruption, thuggery and criminality in the union movement. The union movement represents only 10 per cent of workers in private industry and only 44 per cent in the public service—a total of 17 per cent of workers. This is the union movement—the thugs, the criminals that Senator Cash exposes all the time—who own and control the Labor Party. There isn't a Labor senator sitting opposite here who is not a product of the union movement—not one of them. At every election the union movement funds and mans the campaign for the Labor Party. The union movement represent no-one—it is 17 per cent of all workers in Australia—yet they own the alternative government.

Senator Watt interjecting

The Acting Deputy President:

Order! Senator Watt. Senator Watt, you're not helping.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

But you can tell, Mr Acting Deputy President, whenever the truth comes out, the bullies on the other side think they're at a union movement. They think if they shout loud enough, threaten loud enough, they can call down their opposition. Senator Watt well knows this. Senator Jan McLucas was the only female senator in Queensland for the Labor Party—one who came from the north of Queensland, outside Brisbane—and Senator Watt used some of the skills he learnt in the union movement and working for the Labor Party to get rid of her—knife her in the back. He got rid of her. She was the only female senator in the Labor Party from Queensland, and the only one who was based outside the Brisbane capital city. Senator Watt knows what this is all about. He is well skilled, well practised.

Let me say this about Senator Cameron. I confessed—and I said this would come back to bite me—that outside of this chamber, when he is being a normal person, Senator Cameron is not a bad sort of fella. He is good company to be with. But as I said recently, Senator Cameron's history in finance is that he was an apprentice in a place in Scotland. He finished his time with the company and came out to become a tradesman there and the company closed its doors a week later. So he came to Australia and spent two years as a fitter at the Garden Island shipyard. Then he spent seven years as a maintenance fitter up at some coal mine in the Hunter Valley. I'm sure he was a very good maintenance fitter. That was his experience in life, and then he became a union official. Then, suddenly, he ends up as a director of a multibillion-dollar superannuation company, earning big fees as a director. I raise no implication of impropriety, but one might question how someone with seven years' experience in the workforce as a fitter can somehow become a director of a multi-billion-dollar finance company, whose expertise on the board, one would hope, would be international finance, banking, superannuation, and all those sorts of things.

Senator Cash is a minister who calls out this thuggery and criminality in the union movement. The union movement doesn't like it, because, for the union movement, the honesty and accountability that Senator Cash is trying to bring in to the union movement is such that when it succeeds—and her work and the Turnbull government's work will succeed—it means the unions are finished, because they represent only 17 per cent of the people. They will then no longer be able to use bullying, standover and criminal tactics to get their way. The unions know that, and so does every member opposite. That is why there is this concerted attack on Senator Cash. They think they picked an easy mark because she is a woman, but they should know by now that Senator Cash is tougher than any of them ever will be. But she does it in an honest and straightforward way. She doesn't hide behind anything. The accusations! Almost every word that Senator Cameron mentioned in his 20-minute ramble was not accurate. It was a mistruth and, if it weren't the Senate, I would call it for what it really was. He talks about Senator Cash being under criminal investigation. He knows that is not correct, yet he continues to peddle the lie because he thinks, as the union movement thinks, that a woman can be bullied into succumbing and getting off their back and not exposing them for the criminality that they indulge themselves in.

Senator Cameron is one of those who protected Luke Collier. Remember Luke Collier, the CFMEU official who had several convictions in the courts of the land? Senator Cameron and his mates continue to protect Luke Collier. This is the guy who threatened a Fair Work building inspector at the Barangaroo construction site. This is the Luke Collier who was charged with bashing his partner. This is the type of person that Senator Cameron defends and that Senator Cash exposes, and the union movement do not like it, because they know that, when Senator Cash succeeds, their type—these thugs and bullies who run certain elements of the union movement—will be out of a job and will not have the power that they exercise over the alternative government, with the measly 17 per cent of the Australian workforce they happen to represent.

This is a matter of life and death for the union movement, and it is a matter of life and death for the Australian Labor Party, which is controlled, owned and operated by the union movement, that little group of people who represent only 17 per cent of workers in Australia—and that's not the whole Australian population but just the working population of Australia. The union movement knows that if Senator Cash succeeds, if the Turnbull government succeeds, in exposing the criminality and thuggery in this little group of people—who, through their influence on the Australian Labor Party and those who sit opposite here, can control the alternative government, as they control the government in most of the states at the moment—it is a matter of life and death for them. When you get the ABCC exposing the thuggery and criminality, workers—genuine workers—in Australia will leave the union movement in droves, as they have been doing over the past years. No matter how much Senator Cameron follows the lead of these union thugs in attacking independent public servants, who can't answer back, it will get them absolutely nowhere.

Now, Senator Cameron mentioned Mr Enright, who I'd never met or seen before until I went to an estimates committee the other day. Here again today, as he did in that estimates committee, Senator Cameron personally attacks a public servant doing his job. But Mr Enright is a public servant answering to parliamentarians—and I have to say those public servants still give respect to the institution of parliament and to parliamentarians. But they cannot fight back, they cannot answer back; they have to sit there and be subjected to inaccurate, lying attacks by Labor senators about their credibility. Mr Enright, who I'd never met, as I said, until the—

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Macdonald, would you please withdraw the term 'lying'.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, I didn't raise it in relation to any particular person. But, if that's your ruling, I will do it—

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

and perhaps rephrase and say that, at the estimates committee, Mr Enright and other public servants were subjected to a continual barrage of mistruth and personal accusations which they as public servants were never able to respond to. The main plank of Senator Cameron's massive attack today was supported by, now, three of his colleagues, two of whom have to be in the room—so Senator Cameron's great support mechanism in this vicious attack is one senator who doesn't have to be here.

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


Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm talking about people in the Labor Party, but that may well include you, Senator Hinch, from some of your activities. Senator Cameron's main attack today depends upon allegedly some reporting by a journalist who I've never heard of, representing a news organisation that I think most Australians have never heard of. Senator Cameron uses some allegedly private conversations, which, I have to say, have been denied by the officials involved, so it shows how good the journalist was. But Senator Cameron keeps raising those as his major attack, an attack on honest public servants who can't fight back. That's the sort of bullying you get from Mr Setka, it's the sort of bullying you get from Mr Collier and it's the sort of bullying you get from members of the Labor Party in this chamber who are here only because the likes of Mr Collier and Mr Setka put them here.

To add absolute insult to injury, Senator Cameron then starts attacking the Australian Federal Police. Now, I don't know a parliamentarian, regardless of their political persuasion, who thinks that we are not very well served by the independent Australian Federal Police, ASIO, ASIC and all the security agencies, yet Senator Cameron uses this chamber to attack the Australian Federal Police and start lecturing them about what they should and shouldn't be doing. These people have served governments of all persuasions over many years without any suggestion of bias or of doing anything but their proper public duty, which they discharge so very, very well. Yet Senator Cameron—with his one supporter now left in the chamber—attacks the Australian Federal Police.

Senator Cash is, I am pleased to say—it is not just my opinion; everywhere I go, people mention it—a forthright minister. Everyone who sees her says how direct and honest and open and accountable she is. She has done a wonderful job in all of the portfolios she has been involved in, but particularly in this one, because she is doing what every Australian wants her to do, and that is to expose graft and corruption and criminality wherever they occur, and she does that in spades in relation to the union movement, because that is her portfolio. It's important for Australia. It's important for all of us. Everyone who wants a job and wants to live in this country peaceably needs to know that there is not a group like the union movement who get there because of their bullying, their thuggery and their criminality. I might say that's not all unions, and I acknowledge Senator Ketter, Senator Farrell and the unions they represent, who are, I have to say, more reasonable in their approach. But, in relation to the unions Senator Cameron and my namesake in New South Wales support, the thuggery in the union movement has to be exposed. Senator Cash knows that.

I note in passing that Senator Cameron's major attack on the government is now supported by three other male senators, one of whom has to be here because he's the whip. This shows that not even the Labor Party are serious about this attack. The sooner we can get on with the real business of this Senate, the better this nation will be served.

10:20 am

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

Well, what a remarkable spray we've just heard from Senator Macdonald—Senator Macdonald seeking to give the opposition a lesson on misogyny! To paraphrase a former Prime Minister as you walk out the chamber, Senator Macdonald: if you want to know what misogyny looks like, get yourself a mirror. What a remarkable spray we just heard from Senator Macdonald!

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | | Hansard source

You should address your comments to the chair, Senator Di Natale.

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

Through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, to get a lecture from Senator Macdonald about misogyny beggars belief. He is a senator who in this chamber has shown himself to be unfit to represent the state of Queensland.

Let's name what is going on here. What we've seen is an orchestrated raid on a union office, at the behest of a partisan organisation, the Registered Organisations Commission, where the cameras arrived before the police. The cameras were there to film the raid on a union office before the police arrived—utterly remarkable. What you have seen there is an assault on democracy, and this is part of a broader attack on democracy from this government. Whether it be unions, whether it be charities or whether it be its response to the constitutional crisis engulfing the government right now, this is a government with no regard for democracy.

Let's look at what happened here. We had this raid on the union office. We had the media there, tipped off so that they could film the raid, which was effectively a piece of theatre orchestrated by the government. On Tuesday, the minister indicates that she has no knowledge of it. We hear on Wednesday, through a Senate committee, that the minister again, five times, denied having any knowledge of it. She sits in a meeting with the staffer who allegedly has been involved in this incident and with the Prime Minister, again indicating that she has no knowledge of the events that have occurred. And then suddenly we have a staffer falling on his sword—utterly remarkable. Here we have a staffer of a minister sitting in meetings with the minister while the minister denies to the Senate on five successive occasions that she has any knowledge of what's going on, and then conveniently we have the resignation of a staffer.

If she was confident that that was the passage of events then why would she refuse to release information that supports her claims? The minister has consistently refused to release information to support claims that her office and she herself weren't involved in tipping off the media on what was effectively a raid on an office and a piece of theatre for the evening news. If she had that degree of confidence then she'd be cooperating with the investigations and she'd be providing all relevant information.

The truth is we don't have a government with any regard for democracy. No-one's taking responsibility for this turn of events. She's hiding and refusing to comply with orders from the Senate, and of course the consequence of that is that we have the situation that's unfolded right now. The minister is either incompetent or lying—or potentially both. We don't know, because she refuses to comply with orders from the Senate. Now that the staffer's gone to ground, we don't know any more. I suspect they'll pop up at some point in a cushy role with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or be looked after in some other government-appointed position. That's where most Liberal Party casualties—martyrs—end up. That's effectively the way of rewarding people who are prepared to subvert our democracy rather than stand up for it.

We have a government that has no regard for democracy. And it's not just through this orchestrated raid of a union office. We're seeing it time and time again. There is a creeping authoritarianism from this government, through its attacks on unions and civil societies and its lack of integrity when it comes to upholding our Constitution. Just look at the government's recent reform that it proposes to end foreign interference in Australia. The Greens absolutely support an end to foreign donations to political parties; we've been leading the charge on that front. We need to go further. We need to ensure that there's an end to corporate donations as well as foreign donations, because it's that corrosive influence from huge multinational corporations that is a far bigger problem than influence from foreign entities. But, of course, the government couldn't help itself. Rather than just limiting its proposal to donations to political parties, it's decided to attack non-government organisations and charities, doing everything it can to prevent the influence of people advocating for better rights and conditions for workers, for stronger environmental protection, to increase our international aid budget and to increase funding for medical research.

This is a government that wants to use the apparatus of the state to silence dissent. That's what it's doing through its attack on charities and non-government organisations—restricting the right of ordinary people in this country to advocate for a better world, not vested interests arguing to line their own pockets—no, that's okay. That's why they're not going to touch the massive corporate donations that come from their donors and line the pockets of the Liberal Party. But when it comes to individuals who argue for an increased aid budget, so that we do something about global poverty, or when it comes to individuals who understand that climate change is a global challenge and requires global solutions—and there are individuals in every corner of the world who want to contribute to the effort to fight climate change—then no, the government wants to silence those voices. When it comes to leaders in the aid sector who want to ensure that we increase our commitment to international development, the government wants to silence those voices—groups like Oxfam and World Vision, who are arguing to end extreme poverty, not to line their own pockets. What's this government's response? 'Let's try and shut them up. Let's try and restrict the influence of donations on the work that they do, the advocacy that they do, to help the world's poor.'

And we know that these attacks will go further. They've already said that they want to remove the tax deductible status from community organisations that advocate for policy outcomes that would make the world a cleaner place, a safer place, a more equal place. Just think about what this government's proposing through its changes to foreign donation laws for an organisation like Oxfam, who stands up and says, 'We run programs that we know address global poverty.' I know myself; I've worked in some of those programs—rolling out HIV prevention programs in India so that kids as young as 12 don't contract HIV. If part of my work was to argue for more funding so that we could roll that work out on a bigger scale, this government would be hitting us through its proposed changes to foreign donations law. For organisations arguing for greater investment in medical research, doing the medical research is fine, but if they wanted to expand that the government would say: 'No; you stick to your knitting. You let us clamp down on all of those areas of civil society that we don't like.' It's utterly remarkable.

If you want to see this government's approach to democracy, look no further than the way it's handled the constitutional crisis that is engulfing it right now. There is no more serious a charge that could be levelled at a government than whether it has legitimacy—whether it has the numbers on the floor of the lower house of parliament to constitute a majority. No more serious a charge could be levelled at a government than that.

We don't like section 44 of the Constitution; we've said that on a number of occasions. I think it's a relic of the past. We need to reform it, as successive government committees have indicated needs to happen. We need to make sure that what we have is a process that allows people from a wide variety of backgrounds to represent the diversity of the Australian community. That's why section 44 needs to change. But we are stuck with it and, while we're stuck with it, we can't have one set of rules for the coalition and another set of rules for everybody else. That's not a democracy; that's not the way a democracy works. We could have addressed the problem that's landed on this parliament; we could have addressed it quickly and swiftly. When two of our Green senators realised that they were dual citizens, they sought legal advice and resigned within a matter of days. Here we are, five months later, with the government being dragged kicking and screaming to a disclosure regime that it won't comply with. We're heading to Christmas and about to leave and we'll start this parliament in the New Year without knowing whether this government has a constitutional majority and whether the decisions that this parliament makes are, indeed, constitutionally valid. This is remarkable stuff.

The government's approach to democracy is to attack its opponents and use silence and cover-up to make sure that its own mistakes aren't disclosed. Look at what happened to the President of the Senate. He came forward and confided in colleagues, saying, 'I'm concerned I'm a dual citizen.' What was the advice from senior ministers in the government? It was: 'Keep your head down, shut up and hope the whole thing goes away.' But, of course, it hasn't. What about the standards of ministerial responsibility? When the first minister went down in the dual citizenship crisis, what did we see? We saw a standard adopted that said, 'While there's a cloud over your head, you need to step down from your ministerial responsibilities.' Suddenly it happens to the Deputy Prime Minister, and then it was: 'No, we'll adopt a different standard for Mr Joyce. We'll adopt a different standard for Senator Nash. We'll continue to hide and cover up and hope this thing goes away. We'll refuse to support an audit.'

The Greens said, when this occurred months ago, 'This is something that just needs to be sorted out, and sorted out quickly. Let's have an audit. Let's put this nonsense behind us and get on with the business we're paid to do. Let's get on with governing for people, and not looking after our own interests.' What was the government's response? It was: 'No, we're satisfied that we have no issues with our members. We're going to implement a disclosure regime that's inadequate and that we won't comply with.' We now have members of the government who won't even comply with their own disclosure regime. So here we are, about to break for Christmas, with a government that can't confirm it has the legitimacy to govern and that has a shadow hanging over its head.

This is part of a much bigger pattern. What we are seeing is a retreat of democracy. What we are seeing is a government that is prepared to do anything to silence dissent—those unprecedented attacks on union officers informing the media, orchestrating some theatre for the television news, refusing to comply with orders of the Senate to disclose who knew what when. We know enough; we know a minister on five successive occasions said she wasn't involved and then, when a brave journalist stood up and outed her, she threw a staffer under the bus. Cowardly! Gutless!

It is about time that those of us who support democracy—whether we're on the progressive or conservative side of politics; whether we're democratic traditionalists or democratic activists—stand up and recognise that we have a responsibility to support our democratic institutions, to acknowledge the Westminster traditions that underpin this parliament and to prevent these attacks on that precious privilege we have in representing the community in this place called our parliament. It starts with ministers stepping up and accepting responsibility for their own actions. It starts with strengthening civil society, rather than quashing it. It starts with recognising that when you've got a constitutional crisis on your hands you take responsibility, you show leadership and you sort it out and let the cards fall where they may.

10:35 am

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

Let me say from the outset that I have supported a lot of the government's industrial legislation—I've had Senator Cameron shout, 'Shame, Senator; shame,' at me across the chamber—but, on this issue, I want to go back to the estimates committee hearings and why I supported having Senator Cash come here today. On her road to Damascus after the dinner break, she came back and said that she has misled the Senate five times. She said that one of her staffers, David De Garis, had, in fact, got information—a tip—from a media source and had then passed it on to other media. She hadn't done it but she'd found out that a staffer had done it. We knew then that, in a way, the fix was in, because he did not get the information from a media source. The implication was that, yes, maybe De Garis got a phone call from a journo. Or someone up in the press gallery, walking along the corridor—a television reporter, a radio reporter or a newspaper columnist—just happened to mention to him, 'Hey, there's going to be a raid on the AWU,' and he passed it on to other media. That's not true. From what we're gathering now, the media source was not the mainstream media; the media source was a media adviser from another government agency—a totally different thing. The feeling was that, yes, he a bit recklessly without telling his own minister, he got a tip-off from a journo—'Shucks, it's good news; it's interesting news. I'll pass it on.' He ended up with the media getting there 20 minutes before the Federal Police got there.

The minister has said today that she is not under an investigation, and yet she has been hiding behind the idea that if she gives us information it will affect an AFP investigation. How would it affect an AFP investigation for the minister to tell us how long the staffer had worked for her? How would it hurt the minister to tell us whether we can expect any more of her staff to leave during the Christmas-New Year break? How can it affect an AFP investigation if, in a small office, one of her media advisers was overheard telling another media adviser—or getting information from somebody else's media adviser—what was going on? I keep going back to this media source thing because I've come to the reluctant conclusion that this was a deliberate decision by the minister and her department to use the term 'media source' rather than a ROC media adviser, a Fair Work media adviser or a senior media adviser. It was done deliberately—to say 'media source'—to throw the senators in those estimates hearings off the track. If it was a tip-off from a journo in the press gallery corridor, that's one thing. Somebody might have thought, 'A bit of gossip; I'll pass it on,' but it wasn't that at all. It was something that was given, allegedly, to David De Garis. Since then, we haven't been able to find him. The AFP can't find him. It was information deliberately given by an independent agency to somebody in Senator Cash's office. Something's rotten in the state of Denmark.

10:38 am

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I only have a couple of minutes left, so I won't go into too much detail. Senator Cameron has set out in detail the opposition's arguments in relation to Senator Cash. We remain completely unsatisfied by the answers that she has provided in numerous estimates hearings and in question time. Even before the Australian Federal Police began investigating her office—and we don't know whether it's one staff member, two staff members, her entire office, whether it might even be herself or the Prime Minister's office that are under investigation from the Federal Police—Senator Cash refused to answer very important questions which went to the nature of these leaks and who was involved.

On multiple occasions she has refused to answer whether any other staff member in her office knew about the leak of this police information prior to it occurring. She has refused to answer whether anyone in the Prime Minister's office knew about the leak, whether anyone in Minister Keenan's office, being the minister responsible for the Federal Police, knew about the leak prior to it occurring, or whether anyone else in any ministerial office knew about the leak. So, for all we know, it may well be that Minister Cash's entire office was in on this, or that the Prime Minister's office was in on this. But she has refused to answer questions and then has, conveniently, used the fact that her office is under investigation. I mean, that shows you how much trouble she's in. She has decided to say, 'I can't answer questions because my office is under investigation by the police', rather than tell us about what involvement her office had. There are so many more questions for this minister to answer. This is a massive cover-up. We are not going to let it go.

Question agreed to.