Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Page: 812

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (Gorton) (17:24): I rise to support the motion, and I do so for many of the reasons that have already been outlined to the House. There is no doubt, in light of the decision by the court last week, that the former member for Dobell gravely misused his privileges as a member of this place. As a result of that conviction, I think it is also very important for the opposition, in supporting this motion, to conclude that he betrayed the members of the Health Services Union.

As a former union official I think that working for, defending and advancing the interests of working people, particularly low-paid workers, is a noble pursuit. It is a decent role to play in a society where you want to see people given opportunities. The union movement is there to help those who need help, and union delegates and representatives, when they are doing their job, are looking after those people who are possibly losing their wages, possibly being dismissed unfairly, possibly not being paid their superannuation entitlements and possibly are being endangered in their workplaces.

That is the role of union delegates and representatives, and I believe it is, as I said, when properly undertaken, a noble pursuit. It pains me all the more in relation to this motion, to see the manner in which former member for Dobell has betrayed the members of the Health Services Union. And, of course, he has gravely misused the privileges of this place.

As the Leader of the Opposition has said, the opposition supports the motion unreservedly. But we do so, and we do so now, because it was not possible to do so before, although, of course, we did support the procedure of this being referred to the Privileges Committee earlier. That was forestalled until the matter was dealt with by the courts. We could not deal with this motion earlier than today, or certainly this week, because we on this side support the presumption of innocence; we support the rule of law. We believe that it is now appropriate to respond to the matter arising from the decision by the Magistrates Court.

I would also like to reflect upon some of the comments made by others in this debate. I do hear concern amongst those contributing to this debate about the members of the Health Services Union. I think that is a reasonable thing, given the way in which they have been slighted and betrayed. I only hope that that sympathy and empathy for those workers continues when they confront other challenges dealing with all sorts of issues that they may have to deal with in the future. It is true to say that low-paid workers in this country are looking after those in hospitals and those who need our care, and they do a great job. They deserve the support of parliamentarians, not just those of the Labor Party. I welcome those opposite in rising more often to talk about support for members of a union that represents low-paid workers.

I also note the comments made by the Manager of Opposition Business in this debate about the way in which we handled a similar matter—not the same—insofar as allegations and then charges of a senator of the Liberal Party. The way in which we handled that, I think was somewhat different—

The SPEAKER: I will interrupt the member for Gorton. There was an attempt by the Manager of Opposition Business to equate Mr Thomson with what happened to a particular senator, who had a mental illness. I do think that is an unfair comparison to make and are therefore I would ask you to desist from doing so.

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Madam Speaker, I go to the issue about the presumption of innocence and, certainly I believe that that senator did, quite deservedly, get our presumption of innocence. She was afforded that presumption quite rightly, and I just say that we should be very mindful of denying that presumption in any future matters, given that it is part of the legal system and is certainly a convention. It should be something that we think seriously about and not trash if, indeed, something like this may arise again.

There have also been some comments about the royal commission. The Leader of the Opposition made very clear that we will cooperate with the royal commission—of course, we will—but we support another approach that we think will be more effective. People have to understand the history of the Australian Crime Commission. If they do, they would understand why that would be the better approach. The Australian Crime Commission is the body that arose out of the National Crime Authority. The National Crime Authority was established by the recommendations of a royal commission so that we would not have to continue to create royal commissions investigating crime. It is a standing royal commission. It has the powers to investigate serious and organised crime. It, along with the Federal Police, other Commonwealth agencies and state police, is well placed to investigate crime. We believe that any serious allegations of crime in any part of our society against anyone should be fully investigated. That is why it is important for the government to certainly contemplate accepting the recommendations of the Leader of the Opposition to support that task force.

The SPEAKER: I bring the member back to the substance of the motion.

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR: This is an important motion. It is unanimously supported. It is supported without qualification. It is now supported because we are in a position to do so after the decision of the court last week. It is unfortunate that the former member for Dobell chose to use this place in the manner in which he did. As a result, the opposition supports the motion moved by the government.

Question agreed to.