Tuesday, 23 November 2021
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Birmingham. In early November, Mr Morrison leaked private text messages from French President Emmanuel Macron. Why did Mr Morrison leak private text messages from President Macron and betray the trust of an ally, just to score a domestic political hit?
I thank Senator Wong for the question. I'm sure everybody is aware of the public commentary, news coverage and comments that had been made at the time in relation to awareness of discussions between Australia and France on matters leading up to the decision that was made by our government, in the national interest, to cancel the contracts in relation to the procurement of the Attack class diesel-powered submarines in favour of pursuing an alternative pathway, through the new AUKUS strategic partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom providing for procurement of a future nuclear-powered submarine alternative.
Everyone—and especially Senator Wong—I'm sure, is aware that there were suggestions that at some level France was unaware of elements of Australia's concerns about the type of program that we would need and the type of capability that we would need for the future—
Senator Wong, I think you would fully appreciate that what the Prime Minister when he landed in the UK sought to do was outlined very clearly, in response to some of that public commentary—precisely the type of engagements that had happened in the lead-up to that announcement and the type of discussions that had been had in relation to ensuring that the context in which all of those discussions were made was better understood in the public discourse surrounding that. We believe these were important national security decisions that firmly are in the national interest.
Yesterday Mr Morrison tried—and failed—to use private text messages exchanged with the Leader of the Opposition to blame-shift his way out of trouble. Why is Mr Morrison making a habit of revealing private text messages?
I think those questions have been dealt with, in terms of the previous questions that I had and the question just before. I'd refer to those answers. But, again, it comes back to those opposite wanting, as always, to play the man—
Opposition senators interjecting—
I have two points of order. The first is direct relevance. It's not relevant what this minister thinks about what the opposition might or might not be doing. It is a question about Mr Morrison's behaviour. The second point of order goes to the leader's continued refusal to ever turn and address you, Mr President, and to always face the chamber. It is customary for us to address the chamber through the chair. Now, I agree that—
Government senators interjecting—
Are you going to let me finish?
A government senator: No.
Would you like to speak, Senator Birmingham?
Senator Wong, you've had the opportunity to bring the minister—
Honourable senators interjecting—
Senator Wong, on the first point of order, you've had the opportunity bring the minister's attention back to the question. I'm listening carefully to the minister. On the second point of order, I don't believe there is a point of order. Minister.
I haven't finished my point of order, Mr President. I'm asking you to not allow question time to so depart from conventions and from the standing orders. Please pull this minister up.
Mr President, on the point of order: Senator Wong wants to interrupt as I'm midway through making a quote. She doesn't know where it finishes, or perhaps she's been looking a little bit more carefully at their advertising brief than I expected. They want to ask questions that go to personal character assessments of the Prime Minister. I think activities that may well point to the fact that Labor have a plan, a tactic in this regard, and that their approach is all about personalisation are indeed directly relevant. If they want to ask questions that are personal character attacks on the Prime Minister, then it is entirely appropriate to refute those.
Senator Wong, on the point of order, I am listening carefully to what the minister is saying. I will bring the minister back to the question. However, I do not know where the minister is going with a particular statement. I cannot know what's in the minister's mind. Minister, I'll bring you back to the question.
The opposition will consider its position on your ruling, and I would ask you to be very clear, after you hear the next part of the answer, what your ruling is, so the opposition can consider its position on your ruling. Am I being crystal clear?
Senator Wong, you have made your point. Resume your seat.
Government senators interjecting—
Order on my right! I am listening carefully to the minister, as I always seek to do, particularly when the chamber is not disorderly. Minister, you have the call.
As I said in the opening sentence in response to this supplementary, where I referred the senator to the answer to the previous questions that were asked in relation to earlier text messages, where I referred the senator to my answer to the primary question, they directly address the question that was being asked. I was then seeking, Mr President, to go on—indeed, to address the broader theme that underscores the Labor Party question. I appreciate that Senator Wong is very sensitive about that broader theme, but I was very clear in the opening sentence what the answer was. (Time expired)
This is the pattern we have from the Labor Party, in terms of it being all about the personalisation of conduct and the personalisation of the Prime Minister. No, we're not, so Senator Wong can't say that I might not answer the question. No, we're not, to answer that part of the question. Those opposite are clearly running a clear campaign. The quote I was giving before was the Labor Party creative brief: 'We want to create authentic and engaging content to create awareness on our overarching theme.' Guess what their overarching theme was. Was it the Labor Party's values? No, it wasn't. Was it the Labor Party's policies? No, it wasn't.
The minister did. Allow me to rule, Senator Gallagher.
Well, then, don't interrupt please. The minister directly addressed the question at the beginning of his answer. He is now expanding. I am listening carefully to what he says. You have had the chance to bring him back to the question. Senator Wong, is this a different point of order?
I'm asking, in relation to what I think is your ruling, to have the opportunity to take advice from the Clerk, including the rulings by Senator Ryan, which indicated very clearly that a directly relevant answer did not ground compliance with the standing orders of freewheeling thereafter. I would respectfully ask, Mr President, that you return to the chamber with that ruling after you have the opportunity to take advice.
Thanks, Mr President. To close it off and bring it to the point of direct relevance to the overarching theme of Labor's question—what is Labor's overarching theme? It turns out it's Scott Morrison. It's not anything to do with their policies or their values or their approach. They put it in writing in their own advertising brief that their overarching theme is only about Scott Morrison, not about anything they themselves have to offer.