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Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Page: 9210


Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (14:04): I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Warringah moving immediately:

That this House immediately suspend proceedings for a period of not more than ten minutes to require the Prime Minister to make a statement explaining the nature of discussions she or her office has held regarding the loan provided by the NSW Labor Party to the Member for Dobell to cover his legal expenses and any discussions she or her office may have had with the Member for Dobell regarding the allegations against him.

It is with considerable reluctance that I move this suspension of standing orders motion, because—

Government members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order! I remind members of my comments of this morning. These are matters on which there will end up being a vote. If you want to remain around for the vote I think that you might sit there quietly.

Mr ABBOTT: As I said, I move this motion with considerable reluctance, because outside this House the Australian people are interested in jobs and the threats to their jobs, particularly the threats that are now existing to the jobs of manufacturing workers in the Illawarra. But I regret to say that inside this House all members of the government appear to be interested in is the job of the member for Dobell and, more importantly, the job of the Prime Minister, which rests upon the continued job of the member for Dobell. This is why standing orders must be suspended.

As long as this government is preoccupied with defending the member for Dobell, it will not be addressing the issues of vital importance for our nation. As long as members of this government are stonewalling and obfuscating and as long as they are defending the indefensible and justifying the unjustifiable to protect their own position in government they will not be properly protecting the interests of the Australian people. This is why standing orders must be suspended. There are more than 1,000 jobs in the Illawarra right now that are under threat because this government has not adequately been able to defend the manufacturing industries of this country. The only jobs that this government is interested in are its own jobs and protecting the position of the member for Dobell. This is happening because this Prime Minister is not prepared to take the steps to preserve the integrity of the government that any of her recent predecessors would clearly have protected. Standing orders must be suspended so that the integrity of this parliament can be preserved and protected. It is extraordinary that the Prime Minister of this country thinks so little of the need to protect the integrity of this parliament and thinks so little of the need to uphold the proper standards of behaviour amongst members of parliament that she is not even prepared to sit in this parliament and listen to this debate.

I am prepared to have a wager that she will not respond to this motion. This is a Prime Minister who is so determined to stonewall, who is so determined to ignore issues of integrity in government that she will not listen to the debate and will not respond to the allegations that her member must face and the questions that she herself must answer.

For more than a week this Prime Minister has been asserting that the member for Dobell has her full confidence. On no fewer than eight separate occasions she has done so. Standing orders must be suspended for the Prime Minister to explain, because if this Prime Minister has full confidence in the member for Dobell, given the issues that the member for Dobell needs to address, it is very, very difficult for the Australian people to have full confidence in her. How can the people have full confidence in the Prime Minister if the Prime Minister continues to have full confidence in the member for Dobell? This is why standing orders must be suspended.

I am dismayed that this Prime Minister and this government, in particular, has resisted this motion for the suspension of standing orders, because isn't this the same Prime Minister that said that Labor was the party of truth telling? Isn't that what she said? What about a bit of truth telling from the member for Dobell and what about a bit of truth telling from this Prime Minister. Isn't this the Prime Minister who said at the beginning of this parliament that it would be a parliament of openness and accountability? Didn't she say repeatedly that there would be a new era of openness and accountability under the new paradigms? Didn't she say that we should let the sunshine in—that sunshine is the best disinfectant? So I say to all of the members of this parliament: the best way to let sunshine in is to suspend standing orders so that the Prime Minister can explain herself in this parliament.

This morning this parliament voted—not by absolute majority but by a majority— for the member for Dobell to make a statement. I regret to say that he did not make that statement. He was not legally bound to make a statement, but I would have thought that he was morally bound to make a statement by the vote of this parliament. Similarly, I would think that this Prime Minister in the absence of a statement by the member for Dobell is morally, if not legally, bound to make a statement to this parliament about what she knew and when she knew it. This ought to be the essential criteria for being Prime Minister of this country—that she is straight and honest with the parliament and through this parliament to the Australian people about what she has done. That is the minimum if the Prime Minister is to have any standard for integrity.

I am not asking the Prime Minister to explain the apparent misuse of credit cards. That is a subject that needs to be dealt with by the relevant member and that is, after all, something that is now being investigated by the New South Wales Police. But I do think that the Prime Minister should tell us what she thinks about the misuse of credit cards, because as things stand her stonewalling suggests that she does not think it is very important at all.

There are 70,000 members of the Health Services Union—70,000 low-paid workers whose fees, it seems, may well have been misused. The Prime Minister owes them an explanation of what she thinks about this kind of conduct. $90,000 has apparently been spent by the New South Wales Labor Party to pay the member for Dobell's legal fees. That is $90,000 in money that belongs to the Labor members of New South Wales. These are the members that buy Johno Johnson's raffle tickets; these are the members who believe in the light on the hill, which is not protecting the job of any particular member or any particular Prime Minister, but working for the betterment of mankind. That is what they believe and they are owed a decent explanation by their Prime Minister, particularly when they do not get one from the member for Dobell. That is why standing orders should be suspended—so that this Prime Minister and her government can put this grubby business behind it. Until this Prime Minister and this government can put this grubby business behind it, this government will not be able to address any other issues.

As things stand we have a Prime Minister in hiding on this issue, we have a member in protection and we have a government in paralysis. We have a government in crisis. I say to the Prime Minister: people with a reasonable explanation have nothing to fear from the facts. The facts is what this motion seeks to get—facts from the Prime Minister and ultimately facts from the member for Dobell. That is why this motion for the suspension of standing orders should be supported.

The SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?