Senator Sam Dastyari: I rise today to highlight what I think has been an egregious misuse of parliamentary privilege during the committee process of Senate estimates. A parliamentary privilege is an important tool which we parliamentarians have access to, and it is an important tool that we make available to those who give evidence through the Senate committee process. I believe it is an important tool that allows us to have the free-flowing debates that we need to have and that allows people the opportunity to give the type of evidence that we need to obtain. I also feel that while the Senate has gone to extraordinary lengths to make sure there are protections and controls around how it is used, those who have it available to them have a responsibility to use it reasonably. I have to say to this chamber: the action by Mr Bill Morrow, who is the CEO of NBN Co, during the Senate estimates on the NBN, in what became a very personal attack on Mr Laurie Patton, was inappropriate, offensive, rude, hurtful and defamatory.

Mr Patton has taken it upon himself to use the rights that are available to people who believe that things have been said about them inappropriately through that process. But let’s just think about this for a moment: Mr Morrow is paid millions of dollars of taxpayer money every single year. For Mr Morrow—in an estimates process, when asked legitimate questions about someone like Mr Patton, who runs Internet Australia and who has been a legitimate critic of NBN—to turn around and refer to him as ‘a troll’ on one occasion and as ‘a liar’ and then go on to talk about his character as an individual, is a low, despicable act. That is a misuse of parliamentary privilege. While I do not question Mr Morrow’s right to be able to use parliamentary privilege to do this, the idea that someone getting paid millions of dollars to run a giant organisation like NBN Co would resort to smears and personal attacks on legitimate critics of the NBN I think highlights everything that is wrong with the NBN at this point in time.

Tonight we found out that NBN Co is withholding individual internet speeds. NBN Co has details of achievable internet speeds for every home it has connected but refuses to release the information despite the confusion of customers trying to connect. This is the culture of this organisation now, and it is best expressed and explained in the way in which they deal with their legitimate critics. People are allowed to complain about NBN Co’s data speeds. People have a right to complain and highlight their legitimate concerns, especially when they are running an organisation like Internet Australia. But it is not for them to then use parliamentary privilege that is afforded to committee witnesses to attack those individuals with things—which, frankly, when I look at the details, do not even stack-up—that are just slanderous, like going around calling people liars. We have a principle that we apply in this chamber where we do not call other senators liars, and there is language that we do and do not use. What Mr Patton was highlighting turned out to be completely true. It was Mr Morrow who has been wrong. It is Mr Morrow who has been giving the wrong information to the Senate committee.

Chamber Senate on 20/06/2017 Item ADJOURNMENT – Parliamentary Privilege, Sen:Dastyari, Sen Sam Parliment of Australia Website Copyright: Transcript used for Reporting News