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Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Page: 5016


Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (15:19): Quite obviously, there is an issue of importance before the House at present. The aim of this matter of public importance is certainly not to fan the lynch mob or be a kangaroo court. It is not to trawl through the tea leaves of events within a particular union a decade ago. It is not to add to the stress of the family of the individual member involved or to ignore the human element in dealing with the Fair Work Australia report. It is not to pass judgment or to play jury. It is to have a debate, starting with full respect for the principles of the presumption of innocence and the separation of powers. It is to have at its heart the aim of trying to kick-start a more rational debate on what next. Where do we go with the findings in a 1,100 page report from an independent statutory body of the Commonwealth and with a 59-minute initial reply from the member for Dobell? We have what I consider to be a category killer for all of us. It is causing significant damage both short and long term with regard to public confidence and public trust in the Australian parliament itself. In my view, we do therefore need to respond in some kind.

The point of this MPI is also to express my views that the member for Dobell's inactions as a member of parliament—not as a union official a decade ago—including the admission he made yesterday that he regrets putting legal advice and political party advice before getting to his feet and explaining to colleagues what an earth is going on, are issues that this parliament needs to address.

The point of the MPI is also to call for some very clear leadership from the executive and from the Prime Minister in particular on where to go from here. The vast majority of people who have contacted us, particularly in the last 24 hours, are asking that very simple question: what next? What investigations are currently underway and who is going to assure the community that these matters will actually go to court, which so many are saying is the appropriate place for these matters to be addressed? Leadership in explaining the next steps in the process is what is being sought by many. Personally, I remain, frankly, angry and let down by the member for Dobell as a fellow member of parliament for saying a year ago that he would make a speech to the House and only doing it yesterday, leading to an increased loss of public confidence and trust along the way. I as well, frankly, personally remain angry and let down by the member for Dobell in his confirmation that he had put in the public square some language with regard to defamation and just left it hanging—he did not choose to correct the record as quickly as possible, which should be part of the values that all of us as MPs hold dear. Frankly, personally, I remain angry and let down by the member for Dobell with regard to reports that continue to suggest a reluctance to fully and openly assist investigative bodies in an effort to resolve all issues, as should, again, be a basic value held by all MPs at all times.

My interest in being a member of parliament is in empowering and building community and in working on issues nationally to lift the standard of living of all of us. It is not this stuff. I would be surprised if any of us are here with the motivation of being driven by issues that have arisen over the last 24 hours with regard to a fellow member. Issues for me include the Pacific Highway, regional education, regional hospitals, and reform programs in the areas of natural resources, aged care, innovation and tax. Each MP in this place, I am sure, has their own list. As a value, I believe strongly that the best way to achieve all these reforms for the better is through this place, through our parliament, and by that I mean in the process of debate. I believe in participatory democracy and that the simple act of airing issues and engaging community through debate can assist greatly in reaching the right outcomes in public policy. It is a natural default position of what it is to be an MP.

So I feel sadness and anger that public confidence and trust has been eroded through the range of issues associated with the Fair Work Australia report, and in particular that issues have not been dealt with by the member in question in the past year when he said he would deal with them in the public domain. These are outstanding issues that go back nearly a decade and have remained outstanding for the past three parliaments. That, I think, is something that all should be pretty frustrated and angry about. As stated, my particular frustration is that it has taken so long for facts to be put on the table by both Fair Work Australia and the member for Dobell. That delay in establishing the facts has done damage to the parliament itself. The delay of four years is an unacceptable length of time by Fair Work Australia in its duties and raises policy questions of why and at what expense to the taxpayer. Likewise, the delay in the member for Dobell standing up and at least explaining the issues from his point of view has, in rugby league terms, brought the game of the parliament into disrepute and has ended up doing damage to the parliament itself. It was unacceptable that it took the member for Dobell so long to fulfil his duties as an MP and to stand up in this place, a point he himself acknowledged with regret yesterday.

So just as the Labor Party has felt it necessary to dismiss one of its own over this issue, so the parliament should find the right response to the Fair Work report. The parliament needs to play its role, in my view, and express little tolerance for further delays in resolving the many issues in question. These issues in question do go back, as I said before, nearly a decade—not to the previous Rudd majority parliament nor the last two Howard minority governments, but back to 2003. It is wrong to blame this 43rd Parliament for dealing with what should have been dealt with by various parties involved a long time ago. It is right that we tolerate no longer delays in debating this issue and to encourage any investigations that may need to proceed. It was nearly a year ago that the member for Dobell informed us, his parliamentary colleagues, that he would make a statement on all issues to the House to clarify the swirling rumours and attacks on the parliament itself on issues that none of us, if we are honest, are fully aware of in detail. It is his failure to recognise the damage his silence has been doing to our great institution, as well as the findings of the Fair Work report itself, that are the two substantive issues this House needs to consider.

The Fair Work report was a 1,150-page report with over 150 contraventions identified. It is a shocking and damning report. It has status and it has worth. The line of questioning at the end of question time today is the right way for this parliament to do its job. It is wrong to deny its status and it is wrong to deny that the work done by Fair Work Australia does not deserve the full support of government.

I accept that the member for Dobell has raised serious allegations against Fair Work Australia that involve Kathy Jackson and Tony Abbott's relationship with the deputy. On this point I do not accept an argument of interference from either Kathy Jackson or Tony Abbott, and arguments presented on websites such as VEXNEWS should be dismissed as both unhelpful and untested. In my view, the weight of evidence is with the Fair Work Australia report, and progress on those findings should be expected and encouraged. The Prime Minister this morning identified that progress in other investigations is expected from the Fair Work Australia report. I ask her—hopefully on behalf of the parliament as a majority—to be very clear on what those next steps are in the investigation processes.

As well, to complement that, I will be raising—as has been raised with me by committee members—at its next meeting the question of whether the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit is willing to undertake an inquiry into Fair Work Australia itself, on the question of whether due process has been followed. It is ultimately a matter for the full committee to agree on, but it is a suggestion I will be putting to them later this week. As well, I will personally be encouraging debate on the coalition's position with regard to the 14-day suspension, even though personally I do not agree with it. Debate is important. I want to hear from the coalition on how they argue this motion is sustainable for the long term and for future parliaments, and how they answer the charge that several of their own MPs would fail the benchmark for suspension that they are trying to set for others. I will also be putting three motions to the parliament for debate and consideration by the selection committee. The first motion will be a censure motion of the member for Dobell, and it will be along the lines that this House censures the member for Dobell (1) for the length of time taken to publicly respond to issues under investigation from 2003 to 2006 and the damage this has done to public confidence and trust in the Australian parliament; and (2) the lack of full cooperation by the member for Dobell with investigatory bodies, state and federal, and the damage this has done to public confidence and trust in the Australian parliament.

The second motion is that I will also be putting on the Notice Paper a motion seeking the endorsement of the House for the draft code of conduct that has been circulated since November last year. It is related to this issue; it was agreed on by all of us and by all parties 18 months ago. It is timely that we progress that. Then if we are in the future caught in this space between issues raised by section 44 of the Australian Constitution and community sentiment wanting action, we will have a document that we can refer to and hopefully set a standard from.

The third motion deals with other related matters, and there are four points to it. The first point requests a report from a committee on the integrity commission that I know is being followed up by others. The second point requests a report from the Standing Committee on Privileges and Members' Interests on any relevant issues for members' consideration in light of all information available in relation to the Fair Work Australia report, including issues of concern relating to commentary by any MP in relation to section 28 of the Commonwealth Crimes Act. Whilesoever any member has rights in this place, I would hope all of us respect, protect and defend those rights, no matter what we may think of a member personally. The third point is to encourage the Special Minister of State to act swiftly in bringing forward electoral and disclosure law changes as identified by the Australian Electoral Commission. And the fourth point seeks greater progress on Commonwealth whistleblower legislation from the relevant minister, again as agreed in September 2010, and I know it is being followed up by parliamentary colleagues.

Ultimately, it is up to the majority of the parliament—all of us and all of you—to decide what we debate. I do not want in any way to be positioned as some sort of Mr Shiny Shoes on parliamentary integrity or human failing. I accept the majority view on each of these motions. I acknowledge that, at least on the crossbench, I have few friends in censuring the member in question, but still I think it is worth pursuing. I do think it is appropriate to make a statement about what we as members of parliament should all be trying to do—that is, to seek the highest values possible. I know that does not mean that others do not share the same values, but that is where I end up with this story that we saw unfold dramatically yesterday. I do not demand it; I just seek it.

I fully recognise it is a group decision, not on party lines, but as a collective of MPs and a reflection of the community. I do not think it is asking too much. I am surprised and somewhat saddened that we are quick as individuals to go down the path of, as I called it before, 'category killing' the values of what it means to be an MP when we attack each other, but then are strangely reluctant as a group to stand up for the values we do have and do seek on behalf of all Australians. From my perspective I would hope there is good and due consideration of those motions. I do hope this is a moment of reflection where we can collectively, regardless of party lines, do a bit of work in restoring some integrity and public confidence and trust in this institution that I hope we all hold dear.