Senator WONG (South Australia—Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (13:22): Mr President, I’m very glad we end on the lack of integrity, because I can tell you where the lack of integrity is: it’s here. It’s right here, with a government that has been dragged kicking and screaming to having any disclosure on this issue. Do you know why we’ve got this motion agreed to today? Because the government’s picked up the Labor Party’s proposal. That’s why we’ve got this here.
I like the fact that the Leader of the Government in the Senate is telling me otherwise. Well, he wouldn’t know, because he wasn’t in the negotiations! He wasn’t part of it; he was left out. The reality is this: the Prime Minister has been dragged kicking and screaming to this point—kicking and screaming to the point of requiring appropriate disclosure. We weren’t able to come to agreement in the meeting. He, appropriately, asked Senator Cormann to deal with Mr Shorten, and now we have an agreement which reflects two important things. The first is a higher standard of disclosure than the government proposed. Mr President, you don’t have to take my word for it. Have a look at what Mr Turnbull put out on the Monday and have a look at what we’re voting on. The second issue is the date. The date is 1 December. I went out and did a press conference after the Prime Minister put out his proposal, and I made the point that under the dates he was proposing he was going to try to skate through past Christmas before he actually told people anything. And they want to talk about a lack of integrity! The Prime Minister put out a test that had a subjective test, had limited disclosure and had a date that kicked this off until after Christmas. Well, we are pleased that they’ve seen some sense.
The Prime Minister was dragged kicking and screaming to this. It’s a good deal, because it’s what Labor proposed, and the government has signed off on that. But it says everything about the Prime Minister that he had to find someone else to negotiate it with the opposition. I’m not sure, frankly, that we would have been able to get a stronger process in place if he were still negotiating. But leave that to one side.
What have we seen since this motion was first tabled today? I really enjoyed Ms Bishop and Mr Pyne going out there and claiming credit for it. I know that Ms Bishop is quite good at creating fantasies—a bit like the New Zealand conspiracy—but somehow, although she’s had no involvement, she’s now claiming credit for it. But I suppose that if you looked at Newspoll today it might give an indication about the agenda there!
The reality is that this would not have occurred if Labor had not proposed a universal disclosure regime. The reason we did is once it became clear that the President of the Senate had sat on information—with the knowledge of a cabinet minister—which rendered him ineligible, the cover-up meant that the usual process around the parliament dealing with these matters appropriately had to be enforced with a more stringent procedure. That is why Labor proposed a universal disclosure and that is why we will be supporting this motion.
I do enjoy Senator Brandis’s lectures—I’m sure we all do! ‘Mendacious’ might be an unparliamentary term so ‘inaccuracy’ might be the term I use, in deference to you, Madam Acting Deputy President. I like the way he told Senator Di Natale and Senator Whish-Wilson that he’d never said anything negative about the Greens. I don’t think that’s true. He actually said in the chamber on 15 August that he thought former Senators Ludlam and Waters had ‘acted a little prematurely’. Do you remember that? He was all, ‘We know better. They acted prematurely.’ It is enjoyable to get a lecture from the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth about the operation of the law when he was assuring anybody who spoke to him, privately or publicly, that the legal advice the government had was very strong and all of the government senators and MPs were going to be fine. It’s good to get a lecture from the government, isn’t it, about its understanding of the law when we had a Prime Minister who, on the floor of the House of Representatives, said that the Deputy Prime Minister was going to be fine, that he was going to be eligible, ‘and the High Court will so hold’. That’s what the Prime Minister said. Now he wants Australians to accept his word about what the High Court means.
It must be interesting being in a meeting with Mr Turnbull and Senator Brandis about who is the smartest person in the room, in their own minds. But I know both of them regard themselves as extraordinary legal minds and are engaging in this lecturing of us about legal precedents. Let me make one thing very clear: every Labor member and senator who they have referred to took steps to renounce. Not one of their members or senators who have been referred to the High Court took steps to renounce—not one. Mr Joyce didn’t, Senator Nash didn’t, Senator Parry didn’t, and it doesn’t sound like Mr Alexander did. or the others, and I’ll come to some of those. So the reality is that every single Labor member and senator took steps to renounce because that is what our vetting process ascertains and requires before nomination. The proposition that Mr Turnbull is putting to the Australian people in some desperate attempt to hold onto power, as his popularity externally and internally recedes, is one standard for the ALP and one standard for the government, one standard for the Labor Party and one standard for the coalition. Well, we didn’t actually do anything, but we’re okay. You did something, but it’s not okay.
I want to be clear—and I think this has been on the public record, and I’ll get some instructions on this—that we’ve got legal advice that goes directly to the advice that the Attorney-General spoke about that says that Mr Bennett is wrong, quite clearly. I do think it’s interesting, don’t you—just a side point, and this is for Senator Di Natale to consider as well—that the government won’t provide the Solicitor-General’s advice that enabled the Deputy Prime Minister and cabinet minister Nash to continue but somehow is able to provide legal advice on the Labor Party. Isn’t that amazing! All of a sudden, some legal advice is okay to be released and other legal advice is not. You wouldn’t think there was any partisan agenda here, would you? This is what this has come to. This Prime Minister is not behaving like a leader. He’s behaving like a man desperate to retain power, and that desperation is there for all to see. I seek leave to table the opinion from Peter Hanks QC, which responds directly to Mr Bennett QC’s opinion.
Senator WONG: I thank the Senate.
I hope that Mr Turnbull had a chat to some of his backbench MPs before he decided to try and blow up the House of Representatives and use his numbers to refer Labor members who’ve sought to renounce their citizenship. It is actually a dangerous new precedent in Australian politics that the executive would seek to use its numbers on such an important issue in such a partisan way. It really demonstrates the desperation that Mr Turnbull is engaged in. He has become a diminished and desperate man. In fact, many Australians, when he was elected and when he took over the leadership, thought that he might be a leader whom they could respect; I think it has been a continuity of disappointment.
Let’s remember the questions which have been raised about coalition MPs. Unlike Labor MPs, who took steps to renounce and have been public about that, we haven’t got any information from these people. Questions have been raised about Ms Marino’s potential Italian citizenship as a result of her previous marriage. They have not been answered. Questions were raised about Ms Julia Banks’s Greek heritage and, frankly, her answers have not been consistent with what we understand to be the law. We have members with Greek parents who have taken active steps to renounce, because Greek citizenship doesn’t, as we understand it, require an active step in order for you to be entitled, but Ms Banks says, ‘I never took any steps.’ Well, I don’t think that’s the test. What’s the answer? Alex Hawke also has parents with Greek citizenship. Tony Pasin potentially has parents with Italian citizenship. Ann Sudmalis potentially has parents with UK citizenship. If Mr Turnbull wants to start using his numbers to refer Labor MPs who have taken reasonable steps to renounce, I assume he has spoken with all of these MPs and any others from the coalition side and informed them that they are likely to have to be referred as well. If he hasn’t, he’s certainly hung them out to dry. It would have been nice, I suspect, for them to have had a chat prior.
We will support this motion because it deals with the issues that we demanded be in the motion. We wanted a more stringent disclosure and we wanted an earlier date. But what we say is this: do not be distracted by the desperate lashing out of a Prime Minister who, frankly, seems to be beyond his use-by date trying to point attention to others. The fact is that he has not dealt with those on his side, and he has been dragged, kicking and screaming, to a position that is now reflected in the motion before the chamber.McKim Manus Island is a Human
Chamber Senate on 13/11/2017Item PARLIAMENTARY REPRESENTATION – Qualifications of Senators Speaker: Wong, Sen Penny/ Parliment of Australia Transcript used for reporting news