Senate debates

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Statement by the President

Members of Parliament: Staff

9:31 am

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

I table a statement from the Presiding Officers in response to questions regarding searches of sign-in registers. The same statement is being tabled in the other place.

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

I seek leave to make a short statement, of no more than two minutes, in response to the statement that you've just tabled.

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

Leave is granted for two minutes.

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

We've waited a couple of weeks to get an answer on the question of who signed Brittany Higgins's rapist into the building. This is after the rape that is alleged to have occurred in Minister Reynolds's office. We've waited those two weeks and we've had this response which you've just now tabled, which says you think it might be privileged information and you're going to send it to a confidential committee to advise on whether that's the case and how to proceed. Well, it looks an awful lot like sweeping this under the carpet and sending it to a committee that is not conducted in public and that presumably can't be spoken about publicly. I also question the fact that advice will be sought from the Clerk. Well, you could have asked the Clerk for advice a couple of weeks ago, and we all could have benefited from the response to that advice. I'm concerned at the lack of transparency that will now be associated with this process.

I also asked some questions about the event that the alleged rapist was in the building to attend. Those questions didn't pertain at all to who signed him in. They in no way concern privileged information and should have been answered. I acknowledge you've said you've still got a couple of weeks to respond to those, and I really look forward to the answer to those questions, because, at this point in time, people not only want to know that their workplaces are safe around the country but they want to know that everything is being done in this workplace to keep young female workers, and all workers, safe. I'm very concerned that this process is now being sent to a confidential committee. The Greens will participate in it, but it feels deeply inappropriate to send this off with no date for when a resolution will occur and with limited ability for this to be then publicly spoken about. I really don't think this is going to go down well, and we will continue to seek answers to these questions of who signed the rapist into the building.

9:33 am

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

by leave—Senator Waters, I understand your concerns. We have to respect that the Presiding Officers are bound by decisions made through the various procedures of the parliament and do need to act in accordance with those. The government has sought and will continue to seek to cooperate as fully and as expeditiously as possible in terms of information requested. When you first asked these questions, we provided a swift response, with the cooperation of the Presiding Officers, in relation to whether or not a pass had been issued. That was capable of being done within the rules that were established, noting that the technology and records in relation to the allocation of passes enabled a swift answer to be provided.

The manual and physical process of signing individuals in is obviously governed through different arrangements, but it also creates additional difficulties in terms of physically ascertaining that information. I'm not aware that there's any particular information that says the individual has ever been signed in. The government will continue to cooperate as best we possibly can through all of these processes to get swift answers to these matters, but I would stress that to date we have provided as much information as is actually available in relation to passes and access, and will continue to do so where we can.

9:35 am

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

Senator Waters, I wasn't aware that you were going to make those particular comments that, in my view, unfairly impugn my motives or actions over the last few weeks. When you have asked questions, those answers have been provided. This statement was drafted in response to a specific question that was raised in the other place. I've consulted with you privately and given you the courtesy of explaining the approach we were taking over the last two weeks.

This involves matters under the administration of both houses; it's not something that I can do unilaterally. I am advised that the committee to which it is being sent is the appropriate committee to first look at this matter. That is set up by this Senate; it is not a committee set up by me. I operate under the rules that this entire Senate imposes on me. I might also say that I think it is only appropriate, after this decision was reached by the Speaker and myself, that we seek advice from the Clerk and, in my case, the Clerk of the Senate. I think it would be inappropriate of me to make such determinations without seeking such advice and providing it to the committee which, as you said, you are free to participate in. That is one of the reasons that it is the appropriate committee.

With respect to the question on notice you have asked: we are still within the window and, as I indicated to you privately, I am seeking to answer that question. I will do so in consultation with the advice that the committee receives from the Clerk. But I do reject the motives or implications that you said in your statement then, given that, at all times with respect to your questions, I think I've acted in good faith towards you and the questions you have asked.