Tuesday, 25 August 2020
Senate Temporary Orders
No. In accordance with contingent notice of motion No. 2 then, I move that so much of the standing orders be suspended as to allow me to make a short statement of five minutes on the temporary order relating to general business notices of motion.
The government and the Labor Party have gagged the crossbench. They have finally got what they want and they’ve done it by stealth, without any warning and without any consultation. The Liberals have finally steamrolled us and the ALP have let them do it. It's the decision of the Labor Party to deny me the ability to force the government to cough up documents it doesn't want the public to see. It's the decision of the Labor Party to say that I can't bring forward issues to the Senate that matter to the people that elected me.
You guys may not realise this, but not everybody votes Labor. Those voters deserve just as much of a look-in as anybody else. You know how two weeks ago Teddy Sheean got a Victoria Cross? The review that found he deserved one came about because of the work I did as an Independent senator. The explanation from the government as to why Teddy didn't deserve one came out because of the work I did as an Independent in the Senate. It's the decision of the Labor Party to strip me of the ability to do what I did to keep the attention of the Senate on Teddy Sheean. It's Labor saying that I should not be able to do that anymore. They'd rather I sat down and shut up. They want the people who support me to wait their turn before I represent them. They want to drip-feed me the chance to do my job.
I'm just one senator asking the Labor Party if it's okay if I do my job every now and then. This is where we're at in this chamber. I don't really understand it, to be honest. I get why the government doesn't want me to be able to compel the production of documents, because that's usually embarrassing enough to them. But why is Labor working with the Liberals to weaken the Senate's ability to actually do oversight? What are you here for? You're stopping me from doing my job as a senator for the people of Tasmania. That is the situation that we are currently in. It was the coalition and the Labor Party who landed us here. It was a half-baked plan from the start. Now that we're two days into trying to live within it, it's clear how much of a mess we're already in. I'm already banging my head up against a wall. I only get one opportunity each week to move a formal motion. If I miss my turn, I'll most likely have to wait until the next sitting week to get another go.
This week I will seek formality on a motion to tidy up Liberal and Labor's dodgy new system. Ironically, I've been hamstrung by the existing temporary order. First there was confusion about the word count. I had to strip back the text of my motion significantly to get it under 200 words. It took time to do that without changing the meaning of what I wanted to propose. That meant I was a few minutes late getting it in. No worries, right? I can always ask for leave on the floor to hand it in later. Well, the ALP yesterday nearly prevented me from getting leave to put it in. Why should they be the gatekeepers? Who actually gave you the job of deciding whether I get to use my one motion this week? Now I've since found out, I actually didn't have to worry about the word limit. The whole thing is just ridiculous. That is where we are at and we are on day 2.
I understand that we've had problems with some senators abusing formal motions in the past. I want to work with the major parties to find a fair solution to that problem. That's why Senator Patrick and I have proposed a sensible compromise. But we are still waiting for someone to get back to us to tell us whether or not they agree it's a sensible compromise or to just tell us the truth and say: 'You know what? Don't bother. What's been set in cement stays that way. This is the way you are going to be treated from here on in.' That's not letting me be a fair representative as a senator for the state of Tasmania. As a matter of fact, I would call it bloody unconstitutional. You're nearly telling me what motions I can put in and when I can put them in? Is this where this chamber has got to? Are we not a democracy anymore? Are we now a dictatorship?
Quite frankly, the people of Tasmania are outraged. I may be only one but that doesn't mean they shouldn’t have a set time when their voice should be heard in this parliament. This is absolutely ridiculous. I encourage you all to come back to the table and work with all of us on the crossbench and have a good look at what we have proposed, because, if you are not going to do that, I can tell you now: we're on day two, we are going to run into problems and we haven't even got through the trial two weeks. Let's use some common sense here, let's use some democracy, and give us a fair go.
I rise in support of Senator Lambie and urge the government—and, indeed, the opposition—to consider certain aspects of the motion that was passed in the last sitting. It was a motion that was generated by only major parties sitting together in the room. They didn't have the right perspective across the chamber. So I would encourage, as Senator Lambie has, that there be some consideration as to the changes in the way the current motions resolution is operating.
I rise to observe that the collusion between the government and the opposition is in fact designed to stitch up the crossbench, and the Coles and Woolworths of Australian politics are at it again. Motions provide the capacity for all senators to bring incredibly important issues for their communities into this place to have decisions made and to require parties to put their positions in regard to those issues on the record. I urge the government and the opposition to work collaboratively with the crossbench to find a way through this issue. I want to say to Senator Lambie: we are still taking advice on the effect of the motion she has on the books at the moment, and we reserve our position on that motion.
I thank the chamber, and I note the observations made by Senator Lambie and others on the crossbench about the importance of a continuing discussion about the workability of these provisions. I understand that the operation of the current temporary order is under review by the Procedure Committee. One thing the chamber may wish to consider is referring the matters raised by Senator Lambie to that review. There is a review at the moment to look at how well this works. It seems to me this is a matter that might sensibly be considered in that process.