Wednesday, 3 August 2022
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
ROBERTS () (): by leave—I move:
(a) the Senate requires the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to attend the Senate at 9.30 am on Thursday, 4 August 2022 to provide an explanation of not more than 10 minutes as to:
(i) answers provided to Senator Roberts after question time on Thursday, 28 July 2022 which appear to have misled the Senate, as detailed in Senator Roberts' letter hand delivered to the Minister on Friday, 29 July 2022,
(ii) the failure by the Minister to bring foot and mouth disease vaccines to Australia ready for an outbreak should one occur, and
(iii) the failure by the Minister to provide suitable biosecurity precautions at Australian airports to prevent foot and mouth disease entering Australia;
(b) any senator may move to take note of the explanation required by paragraph (a); and
(c) any motion under paragraph (b) may be debated for no longer than one hour, shall have precedence over all business until determined, and senators may speak to the motion for not more than 10 minutes each.
Foot-and-mouth disease is a clear and present danger to the Australian livestock industry. If foot-and-mouth disease enters Australia, our exports will be suspended for several years, which will cost the industry $80 billion. This will be devastating to rural communities. Farmers will not survive. Regions will be decimated. The country will suffer as a whole. The federal government will be on the hook for huge social security and assistance packages, as well as for compensation for culled animals. The animals would like to express their desire to not be shot and burned.
This will not only bankrupt farmers; it will negatively impact the affordability of meat protein. If you think meat is expensive now—once we destroy a large part of the Australian beef industry, prices will go beyond the means of everyday Australians to afford meat. This is not a rural issue. Foot-and-mouth disease will affect every Australian through the cost of meat and dairy and through the additional burdens on the taxpayers to meet compensation and social security expenses.
Minister Watt's response to foot-and-mouth disease has been half-baked and, quite honestly, dangerous. He has also, I believe, misled the Senate. I gave the minister a chance to correct and clarify his remarks, in a letter hand delivered to the minister last Friday requesting an attendance by close of business last Monday. The minister ignored that letter. The minister must attend the Senate to explain answers that he has given to my question without notice; they could constitute a misleading of the Senate.
Last Wednesday, 27 July, in questions without notice, my first question was in respect to the foot-and-mouth disease vaccine being held in the UK and read, in part: 'If foot-and-mouth disease arrives in Australia, the short-term response would be to start vaccination.' The minister's reply included the statement: 'The reason you don't vaccinate is that you are then deemed by the rest of the world as having foot-and-mouth disease.'
As a result of that misleading reply from Minister Watt, I have had to contend with suggestions on social media that I was advocating for a measure that would destroy our beef industry. I said no such thing. The minister was given an opportunity to correct the record, and he has not.
Minister Watt also stated that 'what we are actually prioritising in relation to the supply of vaccines at the moment is providing them to Indonesia to keep the disease out, and that is why we want to support the vaccine rollout in Indonesia'. I of course support assisting Indonesia with their foot-and-mouth disease response. They're neighbours of ours. We need to support them. We also need to support them for humanitarian reasons. However, I might make the observation that this response presupposes that we know the strain in Indonesia and can access that vaccine if suitable. If we know the Bali strain, then why are we not placing the same vaccine we are giving to Indonesia here in Australia right now, in case one of the travellers returning from Bali has brought foot-and-mouth disease with them?
Minister Watt went on and made the statement that 'we don't necessarily know what strain of disease we would have in Australia' and that we need to know the strain before we order the vaccine. If we need to know the strain before ordering the vaccine, then what about the million doses we already have in the UK? What strain do they protect us against, and at what cost? I received a call from the minister's office last Thursday advising that we would receiver an answer to the question the minister took on notice regarding how many vaccines Australia has stored in the UK, to which the minister gave an indicative answer of one million. That answer did not arrive, and it's been a week now.
Why are these vaccines being stored in the UK? How much are we paying to store them in the UK, when they should be stored here in Australia? Page 18 of the foot-and-mouth disease AUSVETPLAN, edition 3, states that vaccination is recommended to start within 48 hours of the first detected case, and this may include protective vaccination of livestock in the area surrounding the infection. In question time Minister Watt suggested that the vaccines could be here from the UK in seven days and that this was sufficient. However, the government's own manual indicates that vaccination would be an appropriate response after just 48 hours. Australia is currently holding tens of millions of vaccines for COVID in complete safety. If we are unable to hold foot-and-mouth vaccines in a similar way, then why not? It seems to be proving easier to get a human vaccinated in this country than a cow.
I'd just consider some other points as well. I note that the briefing last week by Minister Watt's staff said that the virus stays for just hours on surfaces. Other sources in the United States reliably say that the virus stays on surfaces for a month. Therefore, if quarantine measures are not adequate—and it means they are not—then we need the protection of a vaccine. This is about food security for the people in this country—fellow Australians. It is about food prices and cost of living. It is about humanitarian support for the Indonesians. It is about support for our farmers, for our whole agricultural sector. As I said, if foot-and-mouth disease breaks out here it will cost us a suspension that is estimated to be around three years, costing $80 billion in lost exports. It also will gut our agricultural sector and tarnish our reputation—all because we are not being told the truth and we are being misled, and that compares with a few million dollars on a vaccine, which is the lowest-cost option for us to protect our farming industry and our farmers.
How much does it cost us to store these vaccines in the United Kingdom? This is about Minister Watt looking good, not doing good—all mouth and no substance.
On Wednesday 27 July in question time I asked a simple, standard, straightforward question of the new Minister for Agriculture, Senator Murray Watt. It was: can the minister confirm how many passengers have passed through Australian international airports from Indonesia since the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Bali was reported on 5 July 2022, and how many of those have been treated with disinfectant foot mats? The minister's reply was: '100 per cent of passengers have been walking through sanitised foot mats.' The minister's answer was wrong. We know it was wrong because the foot mats had only been installed in the major airports in the previous two days. They were nowhere to be seen on 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 July in our international airports, as thousands of returning passengers from Bali were making their way onshore. The minister knew that and was deliberately avoidant, whether he meant to mislead the Senate or whether it was because he was too cocky by half. 'The mats are here. Calm down, hysterical regional Australia. Calm down, hysterical farmers who are incredibly concerned.' And we are reflecting their concern in this place. We are actually reflecting their concern. I am happy for the contributions on this matter in this place and elsewhere from Senator McDonald, who is herself of a beef-producing family, to be on the record, along with those of Perin Davey, Matt Canavan, Jacinta Price, David Littleproud and the National Party more broadly on this substantive issue. We are reflecting the concerns of our constituencies and the industries that underpin our local communities. It's why they sent us here.
We wish you all success, Minister, in stopping foot-and-mouth and lumpy skin disease from arriving here, but you cannot come into this place and deliberately mislead the Senate. That is why Australians were shocked as Channel Nine, I think, was on the ground in international airports on a weekend a couple of weeks ago, interviewing returning passengers and saying 'What biosecurity measures did you actually have when you landed?' The response was: 'Nothing. I told them I'd been on a farm. I got waved through.' 'Foot mat?' 'No, the foot mats aren't here.' That was despite the minister claiming that he had it all under control. Then he walked into the Senate and told us that he had it all under control.
I wrote to the minister to tell him that I thought he had misled the Senate, and I implored him to do the right thing by this chamber, as a senator of integrity who claims to be concerned about accountability and transparency, and to come and explain himself. I asked him, if it was an accident—it was his first question time, and I understand people can get excited and say the wrong thing at the wrong time—to come in and explain, please, because you cannot stand up in this place and mislead the Senate and, therefore, the broader Australian public on an issue of such concern. The convention in this place is that, if you as a minister feel you may have misled the Senate or said the wrong number in question time, you avail yourself of the earliest opportunity to come into the chamber and correct the record. We often see ministers stand up after question time and put the right percentage on the record or ask to correct the record now that they've been alerted to the fact that they may have given an incorrect response. This minister, in his arrogance and his contempt for this chamber, chose not to do that, not just for Senator Roberts and his question but for me, telling Australians that 100 per cent of passengers had been walking through sanitised foot mats since 5 July.
Senator McKenzie is lying as to what I said to this chamber, and I ask that she withdraw that. I don't mind being held accountable for things that I said. I do not want to be held accountable for things that I did not say and for lies that are being said against me.
Absolutely. Mine is a direct quote from an answer. I will quote you the question again and I will quote you the answer. My question on the day was whether the minister could confirm:
How many passengers have passed through Australian international airports from Indonesia since the foot-and-mouth outbreak was reported … on 5 July 2022?
Subsequently, I asked:
How many of these … have been treated with disinfected foot mats …
The minister's response is on Hansard. I quote:
A hundred per cent of passengers have been walking through sanitised foot mats.
I'm happy to withdraw the word 'lie', but Senator McKenzie repeatedly misrepresents what I said in this chamber, and I'm going to pick her up on it every single time.
No disrespect. We represent the people in this parliament.
Instead, the next day, 28 July, the minister wrote back to me and still did not respond with the answer to my question. I gave him the opportunity. I implored him in my letter to, if he'd misled or if he wanted to add to his answer, actually give me the answer that I asked for. How many passengers arriving at Australian international airports had walked across the foot mats from 5 July when the outbreak was announced in Bali? Let me know the number, Minister. That was in the letter. The minister chose not to answer the question again. Instead, he chose to dig himself in further and further, deeper and deeper. In the letter to me, the minister conceded, and I quote, 'Sanitised foot mats started being installed in international airports on Monday this week.' Hoisted by his own petard.
Misleading the Senate—knowingly giving false information to the Senate, seeking to sidestep your way around being accountable—is a very serious issue. It's a simple question. You could have said, 'Actually, we got the mats in on Monday; 1,500 have gone through in Sydney and 800 yesterday morning in Melbourne.' But you chose not to do it, because it showed how flat-footed you'd been on your response to calls by industry for foot mats for many weeks before they actually arrived.
I understand the minister is sensitive about tardiness of action and the fact that tens of thousands of passengers had arrived home from Bali without having their shoes, thongs or sandals sanitised. In fact, as we speak right now, we don't even know if their luggage is being screened for meat products. Industry has been very clear that the most likely way that this catastrophic disease will enter our country will be through meat products being imported, getting into our food supply chain, probably through the pork industry. So we need to be vigilant. There is still more to be done. Just because it's not on the front pages of tabloids or the Courier Mail doesn't mean this minister or the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment still do not have more work to do in ensuring this threat is actually dealt with in an appropriate manner.
I again invite the minister to answer the question. Please answer the question. How many passengers returning from Bali from 5 July have actually walked through a sanitising foot mat? That is the question I asked. You refused to answer it on the day. You chose to sidestep and mislead the Senate instead. I wrote to you requesting you to update the Senate in an appropriate way, to answer my question, and, in your response to me, you again refused to.
So today I stand. I know you're going to have an opportunity to respond during this debate, to answer the question, not just for me but for every cattle producer and regional community in Australia, every sheep producer, goat producer, livestock producer and abattoir worker that would be impacted and devastated, and the veterinarians that would have to deal with the outbreak. I spoke to veterinarians on the weekend who had flown over to assist the UK in their response. They are still devastated by the magnitude of the impact that they are to deal with on the ground in the UK, decades later.
This will have not only an economic impact, as you know now, Minister. You are taking it much more seriously, I think, than your earlier comments on the outbreak portrayed in June. But the impacts will be economic. They will be social. They will be emotional for those that will have to deal with this should it reach our shores. We wish you all the best and all strength in dealing with this. We want you to succeed. But you actually need to treat this chamber, the people of Australia and the industries you're privileged to represent and work with as a minister with respect and, when you're asked a question, to answer it to the best of your knowledge and not sidestep.
I very much welcome the opportunity to yet again put on the record this government's strong biosecurity response to foot-and-mouth disease. I will reserve most of my remarks until tomorrow morning, when Senator Roberts has asked me to appear in the chamber. I am glad to see that he is still here; I wasn't sure whether he was. So I will come back with a formal answer to the motion tomorrow.
But I did want to take the opportunity to make a few brief remarks to remind the chamber of the Albanese government's response to foot-and-mouth disease, which, as I have said many times, is the strongest response we have seen from any Australian government to any biosecurity threat in our national history. It is far stronger than any biosecurity response we saw from the former government, whether it be about foot-and-mouth disease—which, we might remind them, first got to Indonesia when they were still in office—or any other biosecurity threat.
We know that the latest the former government was advised about the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Indonesia was on 9 May, when former Minister Littleproud first tweeted about it. We also know that the only thing he did in response to that news was to send a tweet. Did we see foot mats put in airports? No. Did we see foot mats even ordered for airports? No. Did we see biosecurity response zones declared in international airports, as we have done? No. Did we see an increase in biosecurity officers in airports and mail centres? No. Did we see any of the measures that the Albanese government has put in place in response to the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak when Minister Littleproud was the minister, when Senator McKenzie was in cabinet, when Senator Cash was in cabinet, when Senator Scarr was in the government, when Senator Canavan was in the government? When any of these people were in government, did they do any of those things that the Albanese government has put in place to deal with the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak? The answer is no, not one. In fact, Senator McKenzie was so concerned about the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak reaching Bali or reaching Indonesia that she didn't say a word about it.
We have had a look at Senator McKenzie's social media to discern exactly how concerned she was about the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. Did Senator McKenzie put up anything or express any concern when foot-and-mouth disease hit Indonesia in May, when her government was still in power? Well, she certainly wasn't concerned enough to say anything publicly about it or to put anything in her social media. In fact, when did Senator McKenzie first bother to express concern about foot-and-mouth disease in Indonesia? It wasn't until 19 July. So the outbreak had been in Indonesia for over two months before Senator McKenzie expressed concern. She comes in here, pretends to be the friend of farmers, pretends to be concerned about these issues—she was so concerned about it that she remained absolutely silent for more than two months. It was only when there was a Labor government in power that was taking action about biosecurity and foot-and-mouth disease that she felt concerned enough to even get her thumbs out and send a little tweet or make a little Facebook post.
So don't give me this rubbish about how you people are the people who are concerned about this outbreak. You were the government when this outbreak first got to Indonesia. You didn't do foot mats. You didn't even order foot mats. You didn't do biosecurity response zones. You don't employ extra biosecurity officers. You didn't check every mail package coming in from Indonesia and China, which we are doing. You didn't make the changes to SmartGates, which we are doing. You just sat on your hands, and only one of you sent a tweet.
If you want to have a chat, Senator McDonald, we had a look at your social media. When did Senator McDonald first express concern on social media about this outbreak? Her first post was 14 July. So, Senator McDonald, who likes to claim that she is the guardian of the interests of the cattle industry, was so alarmed by this that she didn't send any posts in May, when the outbreak first got to Indonesia. She didn't even send anything in June. She waited until 14 July before she put anything up on social media. That's how concerned they were. So, while these people were all lounging and having post-election holidays, who was acting to deal with the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak? It was me, and it was this government. That's who was actually doing something. You all went on your holidays. You didn't bother doing any social media. You didn't bother doing any consultation with industry for more than two months, and then you finally woke from your slumber, got your thumbs out and sent a couple of tweets. Job done. Wow, what a big job that is!
that there were a number of personal reflections made accusing my colleagues of being lazy, of being on holidays and of not consulting with constituents or stake bodies. I am 100 per cent sure that those personal reflections are unsustainable.
Sure. I note that Senator Scarr didn't bother to jump when various personal reflections were made against members on the side of this chamber, but that's a member for you, Senator Scarr.
As I said, I welcome any opportunity to get up and talk about the strong biosecurity response from this government. I've already listed the things that we did which the former government didn't bother doing in any of the time that they were in office. Not only did they not take any of these actions in response to the outbreak in Indonesia, they never took action in any way, such as this government has done, about any of the foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks that occurred during their time in office. They were in office for nearly 10 years. In response to any of the 70 outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease across the world in the time that they were in power, did they put down foot mats? No. Did they order foot mats? No. Did they declare national biosecurity zones? No. Did they do any of the things that we did? There were 70 outbreaks across the world, and not once did they do any of the things that this government has done. As I said the other day, this government has done more on biosecurity in nine weeks than the former government did in nine years. It's no surprise, then, that industry has had a fair bit to say about the government's response and about the way the opposition has handled this matter.
It's disappointing that we continue to see members of the opposition continue with the alarmist rhetoric that they were carrying on with last week. I know that you've all heard the calls from industry, asking you to pull your heads in. I know that. You know that. You've all had the calls saying, 'You are damaging our reputation overseas through your alarmist rhetoric.' I know that you have had the same calls that I have had from industry saying that overseas customers are watching what you are saying and it is already impacting on our trade. I know you've had those calls. I've had the calls as well. You really need to reflect on what you're doing and on your continued hysteria around this very serious issue.
Turning to the false claims of both Senator Roberts and Senator McKenzie about the way I have responded to these issues, if you'd actually bothered to look, you'd see I came into the chamber the other day and provided answers to Senator Roberts's questions and Senator McKenzie's questions. Those answers have already been provided. You like to get up and say that we haven't responded to things. Those answers have been provided, so maybe you should go back and have a look at your own inboxes to see what's there.
In the process of making these accusations, Senator McKenzie in particular has verballed me on at least two occasions. I have never accused farmers of being hysterical about the response. The people I have accused of being hysterical are members of the National Party and other members of the opposition. That's who is being hysterical here. If you don't want to believe me on this, refer back to the comments from one of the leaders of NSW Farmers last week, who said that he was disgusted that this was being politicised and that certain people were fanning the flames. I wonder who he was talking about. So if you want to think about who is being hysterical here, have a good look in the mirror. It's not about farmers. Farmers quite understandably have concerns about this risk, and their concerns are being escalated and wound up by people who are playing politics, by people who are being labelled by the industry as playing politics. That's who is being hysterical here.
Senator McKenzie keeps making the claim that I have misled parliament. It is absolute bollocks. She continues to quote selectively from answers that I have provided to the chamber. I can direct her to the Hansard of the day we're talking about where I was very clear. I will read out what I said to the chamber: 'I will confirm yet again—I'm probably up to five times, six times, seven times'—I actually think I'm probably up to about 28 times now. For the 28th time, I can confirm 'that 100 per cent of passengers since the foot mats were in place on Monday and Tuesday' have walked through those foot mats. That's what I said. You know it and you continue to verbal me.
If anyone wants to question my integrity, and put it up against Senator McKenzie's, I would welcome that, because we all know Senator McKenzie has got a few issues, which I've always had the decency to not raise, around her administration of former portfolios which go directly to her integrity.
The queen of sports rorts wants to argue with me about integrity. Really?
Point of order, Deputy President: the senator is reflecting on another senator. He's claiming I'm sensitive. I think those that know me well would find that odd.
As I say, I'm very happy to provide a full response to Senator Roberts's motion tomorrow, and will take yet another opportunity tomorrow to talk about the strong biosecurity response of this government.
The only thing I will say, in closing, is that I don't know why anyone would listen to Senator Roberts on matters involving vaccines. Senator Roberts is one of the people who've been pedalling conspiracy theories for the last two years about COVID vaccines, and now he wants to come in here as the so-called expert when it comes to animal vaccines. I don't know why anyone would listen to Senator Roberts.
We all know about Senator Roberts and his so-called empirical evidence, which he seems to get out of the dark web. I don't know where he finds it. I don't why anyone would listen to Senator Roberts on any matter to do with animal vaccines, plant products or human vaccines, but if he wants to continue asking questions about vaccines, I am very happy to provide him with factual, science based evidence.
Senator Hanson and Senator Roberts, I know you struggle with science and I know you struggle with evidence, but I'm happy to keep providing it to you because I genuinely hope that you, like me, have a deep concern about making sure that Australia remains foot-and-mouth-disease free, which we are, and that we are properly prepared for an outbreak if one were to occur. That is certainly what I'm working on. I hope that you join with me, as I hope the opposition joins with me, in that regard.
I, too, rise in support of the motion moved by Senator Roberts. I think the chamber would be well aware of a former prime minister who once said, 'When they start attacking you personally, they have run out of any argument when it comes to policy.' What we have seen today in the speech that was just given by no longer Senator Murray Watt but now Minister Murray Watt is that Senator Murray Watt seems to have forgotten that he now has 'minister' in his title. Having 'minister' in his title means that he must be accountable not just to the Australian Senate but to the Australian people.
The speech that was just given by Minister Watt had excuse after excuse after excuse for the Albanese government's failure in relation to foot-and-mouth disease. Excuses are one thing, but when you have to resort to personal attack after personal attack after personal attack—guess what—the Australian public might be interested to know. There have only been four question times since the Albanese government came to office. And in those four question times, I am aware that Senator Murray Watt, now Minister Murray Watt, has been written to on not just one occasion, by Senator Roberts; but on a second occasion, by Senator McKenzie; and on a third occasion, by me. Do you know why we had to write those letters, despite the fact that there have only been four question times since the Albanese government came to office? Because, when Minister Watt stands up and responds to questions, he misleads the chamber. As Senator McKenzie has said: if you mislead this chamber, convention dictates you come into this place at the earliest opportunity and you correct the record.
It's little wonder that, just four question times into the Albanese government's parliamentary foray, those on the other side in government—not on the side of the chamber; I don't believe on the crossbench; it might be the Australian Greens, but they can stand up if it is them—have coined the phrase, I kid you not, 'Misleading Murray'. At question time last Wednesday, at question time last Thursday, at question time on Monday of this week, at question time on Tuesday of this week—
Obviously that is the whole point I am making: it is now Minister Watt. But those on the other side seem to have conveniently forgotten that they are now in government. And guess what? When you are in government you get to assume responsibility. You do not get to come in here in response to questions and mislead the chamber. I don't know whether any minister in the history of the Australian parliament, in his first four question times from three different senators, has ever received three letters stating that he has misled the Australian Senate and the Australian people. But that is what we have seen.
Minister Watt, who is now accountable under the Albanese government's Code of Conduct for Ministers—he might want to actually read the code of conduct, because at section 4, responsibility, it actually says this:
Ministers are expected to be honest in the conduct of public office and take all reasonable steps to ensure that they do not mislead the public or the Parliament.
That is directly what Senator Roberts's motion goes to: misleading the Australian parliament, and in this case misleading the Australian Senate. The Albanese government's Code of Conduct for Ministers then goes on to say:
It is a Minister's personal responsibility to ensure that any error or misconception in relation to such a matter is corrected or clarified, as soon as practicable and in a manner appropriate to the issues and interests involved.
And what do we see from the Minister Watt? I'm going to get to the letter he wrote to me shortly in relation to the issue that I raised on misleading the Australian Senate and the Australian people.
What we have seen to date is an excuse, another excuse, blaming the former government, personal attacks on Senator Malcolm Roberts and personal attacks on Senator Bridget McKenzie. Again I go to that very well-known former Prime Minister who said words to the effect of, 'Once they have to attack me personally, I have won the policy debate.' Given the phrase that is now being utilised in relation to Minister Watt by those on the other side, 'Misleading Murray', I can only assume that he agrees that he has misled the Senate, because he only has excuses and he only has personal attacks.
Foot-and-mouth disease entering this country, on any analysis, is a very, very serious issue. When you look at the impact on the Australian economy, it is estimated, I think, that the potential impact to our agricultural industry is around $80 billion. Minister Watt comes in with excuse after excuse after excuse and personal attack after personal attack after personal attack but still fails to actually answer the questions posed by Minister Robert and Senator McKenzie. The Australian people deserve answers from this government. Interest rates—good grief!— rose yet again yesterday. Can you imagine, if foot-and-mouth disease gets into this country, what it will do to the cost of living for the Australian people?
In relation to answers provided to me in question time on behalf of the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and the reasons given by the Albanese government for the abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, I also had to write to Minister Watt, and I had to raise with him the following: 'in question time on Wednesday, 27 July 2022, in response to a question from me in which I asked the following'. And I quoted:
What consultation did the minister have with the construction industry and/or the Australian Building and Construction Commission prior to and in relation to the snap announcement on Sunday, 24 July 2022, that the ABCC in its powers will be pulled back to the bare legal minimum as of yesterday?
I then quoted back to Minister Watt his response. In part, he said this:
That is because we have seen a gross waste of taxpayers' funds prosecuting workers for stickers on their helmets and flags on their worksites.
On any analysis, that statement is misleading. Why? Because, colleagues, guess what: it is legally incorrect. The response was misleading. Let me tell you why. Journalists may be interested that one of the prime reasons that the Albanese government are running around saying they have to get rid of the tough cop on the beat in the building and construction industry is that it has 'seen a gross waste of taxpayers' funds prosecuting workers for stickers on their helmets and flags on their worksites'. Let me enlighten colleagues as to why this is misleading the Australian Senate. In the first instance, the Australian Building and Construction Commission has never—never—prosecuted a worker or a union for workers wearing stickers on their helmets or flying flags in their worksites—strike 1. There has never been a prosecution by the Australian Building and Construction Commission in this regard. Not only that but, in relation to the Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work, which was in place before it was neutered just recently, guess what: it actually didn't enable—there was no legal basis—the Australian Building and Construction Commission to take an action against a union or a worker. Why? Because the code specifically applies to code covered entities.
You might say 'Well, Michaelia—Senator Cash—you're ideological when it comes to the ABCC.' I'm actually not; I just believe in a tough cop on the beat and I believe in the building and construction industry. But, when you actually have a minister coming into this chamber and giving a statement that is legally incorrect—because (a) there has never been a prosecution and (b) there is no legal basis for the Australian Building and Construction Commission to actually undertake such a prosecution—you would think that the minister would write back to you, colleagues, and just admit it. Instead, the answer that I have received from Minister Watt—and I'm more than happy to table it if people would like to read it—makes every excuse in the world as to how the Australian Labor Party justify the statements they are making but does not go anywhere near the fact that there has never been a prosecution by the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
As to the actual case they keep referring to, the Lendlease case, they failed to tell the Australian people that it was actually brought by Lendlease, not the Australian Building and Construction Commission. It was brought by Lendlease. The union intervened to support Lendlease. The ABCC were required to give evidence. Let's now turn to the judgement of the court. Of course, those on the other side say they actually respect the independence of the judiciary, but then they fail to acknowledge that, in 91 per cent of cases, the judiciary have actually found in favour of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. And, in the Lendlease case, guess what? The judiciary found in favour of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
So, again, when I look at Senator Roberts's motion, when I look at the fact that in this place there have now been only four question times, when I look at the fact that, in relation to those four question times, those on the other side have now coined the phrase 'Misleading Murray' in relation to Minister Watt, the fact that Minister Watt has now received three letters—
The Act Ing Deputy President:
Thank you, Senator Urquhart.
Thank you, Madam Deputy President. I was referring to the minister by his correct title. I was then referring to comments that have been made by those on the other side in relation to the nickname that they have now given him.
Senator Cash, to proceed, it would assist the chamber if you would now withdraw—
Let me deal with this matter, Senator McKenzie. Senator Cash, if you would withdraw, that would assist the chamber, and then I'll give you the ruling on the second part.
The Acti Ng Deputy President:
I indicate that I accept your request to review—
Thank you very much. Would you clearly withdraw for me, Senator Cash? I'm just trying to do this in a nice orderly way because people expect it to be done properly. Senator Cash, please, could you stand and withdraw?
As I said, the motion that has been moved by Senator Roberts is actually a very, very serious motion. On day 5 of the actual sittings of the parliament—not counting the ceremonial sitting that we had on Tuesday—a motion has already been moved in relation to a minister that clearly states that comments have been made and responses have been provided which appear to have misled the Senate, as detailed in Senator Roberts's letter, hand-delivered to the minister on Friday 29 July. I too have had to write to the minister in a similar vein in terms of allegations of misleading the Senate. Senator McKenzie has also written to the minister. One might say there is a pattern of behaviour here, when the minister is asked a question.
I would rather the minister take a question on notice, to be honest with you, and actually provide the chamber with the correct answer. But, what we saw today, in the response to this chamber by Minister Watt to Senator McKenzie's address and to Senator Malcolm Roberts, is excuse after excuse after excuse. It's one thing to make excuses, but, when you then have to move to personal attacks, again I go to that very well-known former Prime Minister who used to say words to the effect of, 'Once they have to attack me personally, I know I've won the policy debate.'
If there's ever an example of the famous saying, 'today a rooster, tomorrow a feather duster,' it's this debate that we are experiencing here in the Senate this morning. It's great that the school kids can witness how far the Liberal and National parties have fallen since they were in government for nine years. Seriously, we are wasting the Senate's time on a debate about—
Opposition senators interjecting—
You claim it's biosecurity, Senator—I'll take your interjection. Firstly, two significant things happened last week. The Senate behaved as it should. We had a briefing. We got together and requested a briefing from the agricultural minister on this very serious issue. Those of us who cared and those of us who had responsibilities in this area went to the cinema and we had a comprehensive briefing from a number of professionals. I notice that a lot of the things we were told were conveniently ignored by Senator McKenzie in her contribution this morning.
The second thing we did, as mature adults elected by the Australian people to do our job and scrutinise the minister, was to get up a Senate inquiry into this exact issue. We worked together to get that so that the National Party and the Liberal Party could chair that through the rural and regional affairs committee, and we've begun the process to scrutinise the minister's response to this issue. We will be taking comprehensive evidence from witnesses and stakeholders right around the country. That's our job—that's what we were elected to do.
It's fascinating for me this morning to see what you have become. I won't say it's sad, but it's fascinating. What is sad is seeing you play politics with this issue. We were told by the department officials at the briefing that it is dangerous for you to play politics with this issue. It is dangerous for the reputation of the farmers you purport to represent in here. It's dangerous on many levels—for our trade negotiations and deals that we have with other countries, for our reputation and for our image internationally. It's dangerous for you to continue down this road when we're already doing our job to scrutinise the minister. I ask you here this morning to consider exactly what it is you are doing. You are coming in here—
Senator Whish-Wilson, I remind you to make your remarks to the chair. The term 'you' does change the nature of the debate, so if you could refer to the speakers through me rather than directly, I am sure that will help the tenor of the debate.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDEN T: It's all new for us.
We are scrutinising this issue. That's our job. The minister has come in and provided responses. The minister has said he will come in tomorrow and provide a response to One Nation. So, I genuinely ask the Liberal and National parties to reflect on their behaviour in this chamber this morning and what it is that they are trying to achieve by coming in here and politicising this issue.
I know why One Nation are coming in here to politicise this issue. They are searching for relevance. Senator Hanson was nearly knocked off by the Legalise Cannabis Australia Party, which would have had a delicious irony to it, had it happened, and there were many of us glued to the screen during those final days of the count in Queensland. We would have genuinely welcomed the Legalise Cannabis Australia Party to this chamber. We understand why One Nation are doing this—they have no power in this government anymore and their votes are no longer relevant or necessary to this government in this parliament. I understand why they're doing it, but I still say to Senator Hanson that it's very dangerous what you're doing. Reflect also on your behaviour and what you are trying to achieve here. Are you representing the best interests of Australian farmers in doing what you're doing now? We all accept the government needs to be scrutinised. We all accept the government needs to be put under pressure. That's how it works in here, but that's exactly what the Senate is doing. The Senate is already having a comprehensive inquiry into this issue, the government's response to it to date and, more importantly, what else needs to be done. You'll get the chance for a contribution very shortly, Senator Hanson, I'm sure.
This inquiry is also looking at an outbreak of varroa mite in this country, which I haven't heard the National Party asking any questions on in here. Another four outbreaks were announced in New South Wales on this yesterday. This is a very serious issue that's also being looked by the inquiry—a very serious issue not just for the bee industry but also for those in the agricultural industry that rely on the pollination services of bees. It couldn't be more critical, but I don't hear anything from you about this issue at all. So there are lots of other priorities.
I know you're struggling to find a reason to put the government under the pump, but, really, please reflect on your behaviour. Be mature adults. And let's get on with doing the job that we were elected to do.
The government gave leave to Senator Roberts. The reason I gave leave was that the motion I had before me said that he was going to give notice of a motion for the next day of sitting; that was the version I had. We gave leave because we want this chamber to work more collaboratively than it has in the past. I didn't expect that there would be then an extended political attack and debate—not really about the substance of the motion, which the government is happy to agree to. The minister has made it clear that he is happy to come in and follow the sentiment of the motion, or to attend the Senate tomorrow. But we are not supportive of having the whole morning spent on this and then the whole morning tomorrow spent on this, which is essentially what the motion, as it's being conducted in this place, is going to mean: we're going to have an open-ended debate this morning of unrelated contributions from those opposite and then we're going to have a repeat of this tomorrow morning.
Now, the approach the government is taking is: we want to work with people in this chamber. We would appreciate notice—not just walking into it—and I've spoken to Senator Roberts about that. If you are going to move a motion like this, it is common courtesy that, if you're advising other people in this chamber, you advise everybody and give people a little bit of a heads-up. We would ask for that, because that assists us in whether or not we give leave to allow for certain motions. So we would request that.
The minister has spoken. We have allowed two contributions from the opposition. One Nation has made a contribution. The Greens have made a contribution. So I feel that we have done what we need to do today, and no doubt there will be further contributions that can be made tomorrow. So I move:
That the question be put.
I'm now going to put the original question, but before I do I'll remind you, Senator Sterle, that once the tellers are appointed you need to remain in your seat. The question is that the motion moved by Senator Roberts be agreed to.
Question agreed to.