Senate debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020



9:33 am

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to move a motion relating to the consideration of the National Integrity (Parliamentary Standards) Bill 2019.

Leave not granted.

Pursuant to contingent notice standing in my name, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to provide that a motion relating to the consideration of the National Integrity (Parliamentary Standards) Bill 2019 be moved immediately and determined without amendment or debate.

This week we've heard some revelations about activities that many people have known for a long time have gone on in this building. It is long past time that women in this building are safe and that exploitative relationships between ministers and their staff end. We've called on the Prime Minister to show some leadership and to take action. All we've heard is that this isn't his problem, that these issues are in the past and that there's a process. We took a good look at that process, and it's full of holes. The process does not have any implications for the alleged abuser. There is no power for the finance department to discipline a member of parliament or a MOP(S) Act employee who is found to have sexually harassed, bullied or intimidated an employee in this building. This government has held up a process that is entirely inadequate and does not protect women.

Sadly, there is a legacy of poor behaviour in this building, and it's not just about sexual harassment. We've seen sports rorts and dodgy, doctored documents. The list of conduct, which is either corrupt or getting pretty close to it, is as long as your arm. That is not only why we need a federal integrity commission—which this Senate agreed with and passed my bill on more than a year ago, which has been languishing on the House Notice Papers—but also why we need an integrity commissioner and some parliamentary standards. At the minute, those ministerial standards are not only weak but discretionary. The Prime Minister chooses to turn a blind eye on so many occasions. They're not independently administered, and so frequently no consequences flow. That is why we need a code of conduct that is independently enforced, that has teeth and that actually applies to all MPs and their senior staff.

We have a suggestion—the process set out in the National Integrity (Parliamentary Standards) Bill 2019, which has been inquired into by this Senate. Surprise, surprise! The big parties said they didn't think it was needed. The government even went so far as to say, 'We should look at the existing process, and, if there are gaps, we should fill them.' The gaps are obvious. The gaps are that women have no recourse, their careers are over and they don't get to work in this town again. The MPs often get a promotion, and the women get blacklisted. The process that currently exists is weak and is an insult. It is making the problem worse.

We would like the Prime Minister to show some leadership and to fix the process. We've seen nothing from the Prime Minister this week—no leadership, no proposals and no acknowledgement that there is even a problem. We've put forward a suggestion for the Senate to consider. It's gone through inquiry. It would address not only sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse; it would address those other dodgy conducts that are not quite dodgy enough to be considered technical corruption, because our other bill will address that. So this is a sister bill to clean up the conduct of MPs in this building. We would like this matter addressed.

For too long, MPs have gotten away with abusing their power. So often it's the young female staffers that suffer the consequences. It's their careers that end, not the MP's. This building is not a safe workplace. We even saw the head of the ACTU yesterday describe this building as a high-risk workplace. The Prime Minister refuses to acknowledge there's even a problem. The process that does exist is discretionary because the Prime Minister's ministerial standards are completely up to him to enforce and they only apply to ministers. The Department of Finance's complaints process doesn't lead to any outcomes. It doesn't have any implications for MPs, because it's beyond their jurisdiction. This is a process that's been through inquiry, could be rolled out and would help address the cultural problems in this building. It would help clean up this toxic workplace and make sure that the standards that apply in other workplaces apply here too. It's not too much to ask. This is the parliament's 'Me Too' moment, and it's incumbent on all of us to be part of the solution. I hope that this national integrity bill, which is a counterpart bill to my ICAC bill, is taken seriously and I hope that we see the Prime Minister acknowledge the problem and do something about it.

9:39 am

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

Serious issues have been raised in the course of this week. Serious issues deserve serious investigation and serious consideration, and there are processes in place to deal with them. Sadly, all too often in this building when serious issues are raised, people also seek to turn those serious issues into political opportunism, political stunts and political tactics, and that is what we are seeing from the Greens this morning. Rather than respecting processes that are in place for individuals to work through—the Department of Finance or other legal avenues and opportunities that are available to individuals—if they so choose, instead, based on some media reporting, the Greens decide that it's time to pursue political opportunism.

The government won't support the Greens in their politically opportunist approach. The government won't support the Greens when they choose to simply grandstand on issues. The government won't be bowing or buckling to the idea that the Australian Greens have some sort of moral authority that is superior to everybody else in this building.

Senator Waters is trying to change the government program for the day, and the government program for the day includes legislation important to the nation. The first order of business for the day is the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Strengthening Banning Orders) Bill 2020. I note the fourth order of the day—the Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill 2020. These are important policy issues, and important issues that affect all Australians who look outside and beyond the politicking of this building and who look outside and beyond the types of gestures that we get from the Australian Greens; these policy issues actually deal with helping the day-to-day lives of Australians.

Our government is getting on with dealing with the day-to-day issues that affect Australians. In the midst of a global pandemic, Australia has managed to stand tall. We've responded with a health response to keep Australians safe. We've managed to stand tall with an economic response to ensure economic security for Australians. Just last night we were dealing with, again, cheap politicking from the Australian Greens, and at that time the Labor Party as well, in relation to support we were providing to try to get young Australians into work, into jobs. What all of these issues—our health response to the pandemic, our economic response to the pandemic, the JobMaker program, NDIS legislation, and recycling and waste reduction legislation—have in common is a government focused on policies that matter for Australians.

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Women's safety matters to Australians.

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll take Senator Waters's interjection, because women's safety matters enormously to this government as well. That is why our government has invested significantly in support for all Australian women in terms of the type of policies that have been pursued by Senator Ruston and by Senator Payne in their respective portfolios, which I am sure Senator Ruston will seek to touch on in this debate. It's why, throughout the pandemic, we have been mindful of providing additional financial support and services. When we saw there was a potential risk of domestic violence or other circumstances arising during lockdown phases, during high-stress phases for Australians in the pandemic, we provided the extra mental health support and we provided extra assistance. We were proactive in addressing those types of issues.

We take issues raised in relation to the operation of this building seriously as well. They're not to be dismissed, but nor for the sake of supporting political points should they be elevated, as the Greens propose to do, above the issues that are important to Australians in their day-to-day lives. We as a government will continue to pursue all of our policies in relation to supporting Australian women in the workplace, to supporting them in their homes and to supporting Australian families, but we're not going to be distracted in this place by insider tactics ahead of our NDIS legislation, recycling legislation or other matters of great importance.

9:44 am

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

Labor won't be supporting this suspension this morning. If I can just address that point first: we were advised by the Greens at about 9.28 this morning that they were intending to do this. That didn't allow us the time, or the respect, frankly, to deal with the issue they have raised and the argument they have put this morning.

That leads me to agree with the government that the decision by the Greens isn't actually about dealing with the substance of the matter but is more about getting a five-minute speech up to show that they are the only ones taking this issue seriously. That is a problem, but it says everything about the Greens in this place—the fact that they don't give courtesy to the people that they need to work with in order to successfully get this up; they decide at the last minute to do this and then they seek to take an issue that has caused some considerable distress to people who work in this building this week and choose to deal with it this way. I think that is really unfortunate, because the Greens will have had the same conversations that we have had this week in light of the issues that have been raised. They will know that there are people who work in this building who have not found it to be a great workplace at times. That is the issue that all of us in this place should be looking to resolve and to improve upon.

For the Greens to think that they can deal with the issue seriously through a suspension of standing orders at the last minute on the final day for a bill that they could list for substantive debate says everything about the Greens, unfortunately. I do like working with you, Senator Waters, but this has really disappointed me, because as someone who works in this place, you will understand what the allegations this week have done. The message to me is to look at how we can we work as leaders in this place to make sure that our workplace is the best it can be. I don't think the way to deliver that is through a political stunt by suspending standing orders. I actually think there's a more serious discussion that we should be having and that we should be taking the lead on—not necessarily us, as women, but all of us in this place, as colleagues who employ people in a large workplace. We should be dealing with it. There are many other ways to progress that and I would welcome the engagement.

I know that there are discussions happening across the building about how to deal with it—not to pretend that there aren't issues in this workplace, because there are, and we all know about them. That is the issue we should be dealing with, not manufacture and create some kind of stunt—and I'm trying to look for another word, because I hope it's not a stunt, but that's what it looks like to me—as a way for the Greens to grandstand and pretend they're the only people standing up for integrity, 'The major parties this and the major parties that, they never stand up for you'. It's just simply not true. We have supported, and do support, a national integrity commission; we have supported legislation in this place and we do believe the government is dragging its heels on that. But the Greens have tied that to an issue about workplace culture and standards, tagging it to the Four Cornersprogram and using it for political expediency. I reject that.

I would welcome a discussion with you, Senator Waters, about how we can actually deal with some of the issues and make sure this workplace changes, and changes for the better. It is a serious message that was sent through the Four Corners show, and one that challenges all of us. We shouldn't just sweep it under the carpet and pretend that there's nothing going on. I don't agree with that. I think we should be responding to it, and responding to it in a way that gives hope and confidence to the people who work in this building—that they can come to work, be safe and be treated with respect. I think that, for the large part, that is what happens in this workplace. But, where there are outliers, we need to be dealing with those and putting in place a framework that ensures that this workplace is the best in Australia and that it sets the highest standards. Bit is that going to be delivered by this suspension? No, it's not, and it was never intended to be. It was intended to give the Greens 10 minutes to try and point the finger at everybody else.

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

It's on the agenda so they don't sweep it under the carpet like they want to—

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order. Senator Waters you've had your opportunity to contribute.

9:49 am

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie Network) Share this | | Hansard source

I am glad we are talking about respect this morning. I am going to show my respect to a very important woman who lost her son, who was a veteran, through suicide. As I was saying, Julie-Ann Finney was here in this building to make sure that the 20 years of service her son, Dave, gave to this country—

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Lambie, I do need to ask you to speak to the motion before the chair, which is Senator Waters's motion to suspend standing orders to deal with this particular motion.

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie Network) Share this | | Hansard source

I will be supporting the motion of the Greens this morning on respect and women. As I was saying about Julie-Ann, showing respect to another female, she deserves every bit of it. She has earnt that. I can tell you now she has been hit down by many of those men out there. It has been very difficult for her, not only losing her son but what she's been through and the abuse she has been through on social media from men and some of those who have served and are serving. Yesterday she wore a yellow armband to remember her son and remember those veterans like Dave who have lost their lives and been lost to the war at home on home soil. She was here yesterday to serve as a living and breathing reminder of what we are supposed to mean when we say, 'Lest we forget.' Did we forget yesterday, or did we remember but decide not to acknowledge it anyway? When you say the ode in this place and you do that out of respect and you say these words, 'We will remember them,' what do you mean by that? While you were busy in here yesterday hurling insults at each other, nobody bothered to put up a motion for Remembrance Day. I'm not saying this to shame you. I'm saying this because I hate the fact that Julie-Ann and many others, including veterans, saw what happened in here yesterday and I, as an Australian senator, am absolutely ashamed and embarrassed by it.

So, out of respect, I say to all the men and women who have served this country in military uniform that I want to thank you for your service. I'll say what they didn't say in here yesterday, out of respect to you men and women—lest we forget.

9:52 am

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I suppose in rising today to speak on this motion I just want to express my extreme disappointment at the fact that, at the commencement of Senator Gallagher's comments, she noted the fact that the Leader of the Greens in the Senate, who moved this motion, had raised this matter with her before the matter was actually raised in this chamber. I would have thought that one of the most important conventions that exist in this place is making sure that we build everything on the basis of respect. I would like to draw to the Senate's attention that at no time prior to moving this motion this morning did the mover of the motion, the Leader of the Greens in the Senate, Senator Waters, even bother to raise this matter with me as the Manager of Government Business. Senator Waters, I have never given you any reason to suggest that I would not take seriously any request the Greens put forward. I as the Manager of Government Business have never ever done anything but engage respectfully with you, and yet you didn't think it warranted even raising this with me this morning. However, you did raise the matter with the Manager of Opposition Business in this place.

I would also draw to the attention of the chamber this morning that a second action happened this morning, prior to this action, which once again was seeking to undermine the integrity and respect that I believe this place operates on and has operated on for as long as I have been here. It is disappointing that I as the Manager of Government Business had a request this morning just before the chamber opened from a senator who expressed the desire to make a contribution in relation to Remembrance Day yesterday. Given that the person who requested it had been a serving member of the Defence Force, and I know how passionately she feels about matters that relate to that, I said to the senator if she wished to make a short statement in relation to Remembrance Day I would let her do that. Instead, she did not make a statement about Remembrance Day. I think it is timely to remind everybody in this chamber the best way for us to make sure that we run a reasonable chamber is actually by having discussions.

Senator Lambie interjecting

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Lambie, you were heard in silence.

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I would draw to Senator Lambie's attention that I have always treated her with respect, and I would just like to put on the record in this place that I would really appreciate it if maybe she would treat me with some respect. We don't always have to agree. In fact, I'm quite happy for us not to agree, but a little bit of respect would go an awfully long way.

In relation to the substantive motion before the chamber on changing the order of business today to facilitate a virtue-signalling stunt by the Greens, an extremely important issue for all Australians is being debated. The safety of people in workplaces is of paramount importance, and I can assure you, as a member of this government, there is nothing that we take more seriously than workplace safety and making sure that everybody has the right to feel comfortable in their workplace. That is why this government—

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator Waters has been a great advocate in relation to domestic violence. But, Senator Waters, if you were for real in relation to your actual commitment to this, you'd be working with me instead of coming in here and trying to politicise these issues. Because, as we all know, domestic violence and family violence is a particularly serious issue in the Australian economy. It absolutely devastates people's lives. It devastates families and it devastates children. We put in place the largest commitment and the largest amount of money behind domestic violence programs with the $340 million that was put behind the Fourth Action Plan. In addition, we immediately jumped to put money to support the frontline services to help women and their children who found themselves as victims of domestic violence through this COVID pandemic. I find it really quite disingenuous to have to be standing here today and, hopefully, voting down this ridiculous stunt that seeks to do nothing more than virtue signal on behalf of the Greens and puts nothing in place that's going to help Australian women in the workplace and Australian women who are victims of family and domestic violence. Instead, we are sitting here and wasting half an hour of really important time to debate really important legislation.

In the last couple of seconds I just want to reinforce that we take the substantive issue very, very seriously, but we are not going to play stupid games like those at the end of the chamber.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order, Senator Ruston.

9:57 am

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to start by responding to the incredible accusations that have been levelled against Senator Waters and the Greens by Senator Birmingham, Senator Ruston and Senator Gallagher. Honestly, to describe this as a stunt, to describe this as virtue signalling, just goes to show how out of touch you are. We are putting forward here a constructive proposal that has been inquired into by this Senate, that presents us the opportunity to collectively endorse a framework and a code of conduct that has teeth—a framework and a code of conduct that can be independently applied. And today we have heard that neither of the major parties are going to support this. As Senator Waters very accurately pointed out, the gaps in the current frameworks are abundantly obvious, and to suggest that somehow we are doing this out of a political motivation is completely and utterly wrong. What we are doing here is offering you the opportunity to join with us in endorsing a solution that will significantly improve the culture of this workplace, a solution that will allow for complaints to be assessed independently and a solution that will benefit women who, ultimately, are overwhelmingly the people who pay the price for the toxic workplace here in Parliament House. I want to say thank you to all of the women who've spoken out so bravely on this issue over this week: the women outside this parliament who bravely and courageously told their stories to the ABC and more recently through other outlets, and the women in this place who have taken the lead here. But I want to say something now about men's responsibility. We men in this place have a responsibility to show leadership, and, in doing so, we should pay tribute to and be inspired by the women of this place who have taken the lead. But, as men, we need to man up, we need to take responsibility and we need to acknowledge that, overwhelmingly, it is men who are the problem here and, overwhelming, it is women who are paying the price for men's behaviour. And we're not going to fix this problem unless we men man up in this place and accept responsibility for the way men are behaving and play our role, with the women of this place, in providing solutions.

That is what the Australian Greens are trying to do today. We want all the men and all the women of this place, no matter what party we represent, to join with us in solutions, because what we've seen this week is a Prime Minister who simply tried to kick the can down the road. We have seen a Prime Minister who is not prepared to act. We want to give the opportunity to all senators to join us in trying to fix the toxic workplace culture in this place that impacts so grievously and overwhelmingly on women. This is a constructive suggestion by the Greens. It is as far from a stunt or from grandstanding or from virtue signalling, whatever that means, as you could get. It is a constructive proposal that would allow us to come together and address the problems that have been exposed so terribly about how it is for women who have to work in this building, and in politics more broadly in this country. This is an opportunity for everyone to join with us. We want this to be a collaborative and constructive process, and we are taking a collaborative and constructive approach.

10:02 am

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, here we go again! Is there any topic that is not safe from a Greens stunt? We see it over and over again. We see it on climate change issues, we see it on refugee issues, and now the Greens are willing to stoop so low that they will pull a stunt around very serious issues involving the sexual harassment of female employees in this building.

As many speakers from all sides, including Labor, have made clear over the last couple of days in particular, these are extremely serious issues that need to be dealt with seriously. Labor have taken various steps on these matters within our party. We're told the government has. I don't know what the Greens have been up to as we know they've got issues they haven't dealt with properly. But rather than deal with those issues seriously, what the Greens do is revert to type and think, 'How can we pull a stunt that supplies our next meme material?' That's all they care about; the meme will be going out right about now, I'd say. Rather than actually deal with these issues, they pull another stunt. They told the opposition about this stunt about two minutes before they pulled it. That's how serious the Greens are about dealing with these issues properly.

If the Greens were serious and genuine about trying to deal with these issues, don't you think they'd come and talk to people whose votes they knew they needed more than two minutes before they pulled it? But that wasn't what this was about. This was about gaining half an hour to speak so that they could all cut their little social media videos and pump them out into every inner-city location around Australia, being the only locations around Australia they actually care about. It was all a platform for more Greens grandstanding, more Greens stunts, rather than taking the serious action that needs to be taken in relation to these issues.

Labor's support for a national integrity commission is well known, has been in place for a number of years now, and we are disappointed that the government hasn't taken action on this. But I think to try to use a national integrity commission as part of a stunt around sexual harassment issues tells you all you need to know about what the Greens are really about. They are not sincere, they are all about stunts, they are not serious. (Time expired)

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by Senator Waters to suspend standing orders be agreed to.