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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 3991

Senator MURPHY —My question is directed to Senator Herron, the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. Minister, yesterday you said in defence of Senator Lightfoot:

Senator Lightfoot has every right to express his personal views on a wide range of subjects. It is his prerogative to state his view, and I would think that every senator in this chamber has a right to express their personal views.

Minister, now that the Prime Minister has carpeted Senator Lightfoot for his comments and forced him to apologise unreservedly to the Senate, do you stand by your statement? Has the Prime Minister spoken to you about your defence of Senator Lightfoot's right to state his personal views?

Senator HERRON —Senator Lightfoot has come in and made an apology, which was accepted by Senator Collins and accepted by others. The matter is finished. He has made an apology.

Senator Bob Collins —I accept it; I do not believe it.

Senator HERRON —You accept it, Senator Collins.

Senator Bob Collins —I tell you what: Jesus Christ couldn't get a conversion as fast as that one.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Collins!

Senator HERRON —I have nothing further to add.

Senator MacGibbon —Madam President, I take a point of order. It is one of the traditions of this Senate that when a senator stands up and makes a statement which is an apology or an explanation, it is always accepted without criticism and the Senate never attempts to go behind it. I can well remember the case where there was controversy about a Labor Party senator from Sydney when the Labor Party was in government. He was the subject of considerable personal criticism. He got up and he made an explanation and the Senate accepted it, and that was the end of the matter. That should be the end of the matter in this case.

Senator Faulkner —On the point of order: the question directed to Senator Herron is about his comments in question time yesterday in relation to a question about Senator Lightfoot's earlier statements. It is absolutely in order and it is absolutely proper, I would have thought, for a senator to explore in question time differences between Senator Herron and the Prime Minister.

Senator Watson —I have a second point of order, Madam President. I ask for a withdrawal of the blasphemous statement.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I think there are several issues getting a little confused here. Senator Murphy asked a question to which he was quite entitled to get an answer. Senator Herron answered it and has resumed his seat having done so. Senator MacGibbon has taken a point of order in relation to a disorderly interjection which occurred.

Senator Cook —You avoided the question. You haven't got the guts to answer it.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Cook, I am speaking. Senator MacGibbon raised a point of order in relation to a disorderly interjection during the time that Senator Herron was answering the question, and that was disorderly. As far as the blasphemous point of order is concerned, I shall get advice on that.

Senator Bob Collins —Madam President, on the point of order and for the advice of the Senate, on the question of determinations about blasphemy, could I ask you who you are going to seek advice from?

The PRESIDENT —I will let you know in due course.

Senator MURPHY —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, given your answer, do you still maintain, as you did on the 7.30 Report last night, that you had not seen and did not have any evidence of Senator Lightfoot's comments before they were reported to you by Senator Cook in question time yesterday? If that is true, how is it then that, when asked the question, you immediately identified the source of the comments as Senator Lightfoot?

Senator HERRON —I would suggest Senator Murphy gets a transcript of what I said on the 7.30 Report and reads it.

Senator Bob Collins —I've got it. We've all got it.

Senator HERRON —Hooray! That is great. You will see that I said on the 7.30 Report that I was in the chamber all afternoon. Senator Murphy is now making unsubstantiated allegations that the Prime Minister carpeted Senator Lightfoot and all sorts of things like that. I was in the chamber. How the heck would I know what was going on outside the chamber if I was here all the time?

These are the things that are going to bring down the government? These are the things of importance to the people out there who are worried about their jobs? If this is the best that the rabble of an opposition can bring out from a government, I feel sorry for them. I really do. It is very seldom in my life that I feel sorry for an opposition, but I really feel sorry if this is the direction they are going to take, with their sledging and their goings on. Really, you would think they could come up with something better.