Tuesday, 11 February 2020
Statement by the President
Could I make a brief statement about issues raised in question time yesterday. I reviewed the Hansard. I said I would come back to the chamber. The first matter was about the direct relevance of a question from Senator McAllister to Senator Cormann. In short I have reviewed the Hansard,and part of the question did ask about the government's position. I believe the minister was being directly relevant to the question with the material he outlined in his answer.
The second issue was raised during question time and then at the end of question time by Senator Watt. It referred to claims made by a number of senators about comments made that may have been unparliamentary. I have reviewed the Hansard and consulted with the Clerk. I do not find anything in the Hansard that is an unparliamentary reflection or an unparliamentary imputation. There are highly contestable matters recorded in the Hansard. Obviously the Hansard does not necessarily record everything said in the chamber. I would ask senators to be mindful of standing orders when matters are, in a disorderly way, interjected across the chamber.
This is probably not the time to dispute some of that ruling, but I do want to place on record the opposition's concern with two aspects of it. First: in relation to the indication that a reference to the government's position can somehow render subject matter germane or directly relevant, I'm inferring that that only extends to subject matter that is somehow germane to the topic under debate.
Thank you, Senator Cormann. The second point I make—I'm not moving anything, but I am putting on record our concern with the ruling in respect of Senator Reynolds. It is an imputation to suggest that a senator is using loss of life for political purposes. In fact I can think of fewer more egregious imputations. They were her words, and I would ask you to reflect upon that. We have a longstanding position of respect for the President's position, but to allow a minister to suggest that a senator in this place is using someone's death for political purposes—that is a highly egregious position for her to take. It is unbecoming of a minister—an indication of a glass jaw, if I may say. I am reflecting to you, Mr President, from the opposition's perspective, substantial concern with the second aspect of your ruling. I take it no further than placing it on the Hansard.
I appreciate the discretion you've exercised there, Senator Wong. I'm happy to take submissions on specific words. The words I have in front of me in the Hansard, on which I have consulted with the Clerk, don't reflect the exact words you said there. There were different words used which, in my view, are highly politically contestable—some may consider them highly unpleasant—but that I don't necessarily consider to be an unparliamentary reflection. If someone used the exact words you used there, Senator Wong, I may come to a different conclusion.
I appreciate the support of the chamber. I remind senators that this doesn't arise if we all are a little bit more careful with our language.