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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 2157

Senator MILNE (TasmaniaDeputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (17:32): I rise to respond to the Privileges Committee report. I note that in that report the committee states that it:

... does not have such evidence before it in this case. While the allegations made in Senator Kroger’s letter are serious ones, the committee does not consider that the material submitted to support those allegations amounts to more than circumstantial evidence. The committee considers that any questions which do arise as a result of that material are answered by the responses of the three people named in the terms of reference.

It goes on to say:

Where Senator Kroger’s letter raises a question around the perceptions arising from Senator Brown personally discussing these matters, it merely invites the inference that Senator Brown entered into an improper arrangement, rather than providing evidence.

It goes on to say:

The committee considers that the evidence before it does not establish—

Senator Ronaldson: Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I ask for clarification, please. Does this effectively close the debate in 4½ minutes time?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: It does not close the debate in 4½ minutes time. It will simply continue the debate later in the week.

Senator MILNE: It goes on to say that the evidence before it does not establish a causal connection between the donation made by Mr Wood and the conduct in the Senate about which Senator Kroger complains. I am, frankly, astounded, after what Senator Kroger and Senator Abetz have done to Senator Brown and me, that she should stand here in the Senate this afternoon and describe Senator Brown as having a glass jaw. From 24 November Senator Brown and I were defamed by Senator Kroger, who has failed to provide any evidence whatsoever for the claims that she made, and that defamation has gone on now for four months across Australia—against two senators based on no evidence whatsoever. Then she stands up here and cannot bring herself to say: 'I accept the report. There is no evidence for the allegations that I made.' That is what she should have stood here this afternoon and said. Indeed, there was no evidence for the fact that she was actually mouthing Senator Abetz's July statement. That is the fact here.

We have a situation where there was a vexatious effort made in November, which is effectively a SLAPP suit, over the summer, to make sure that as much negative publicity could be generated as possible, with no evidence provided whatsoever. What is more, as our legal counsel provided in the submission to the Privileges Committee, it is inexcusable and inexplicable to understand why the President made certain recommendations with regard to this matter but not with regard to other similar matters that were brought before the Senate. That goes to this particular question in relation to the President's conduct, as has been outlined by my colleague Senator Brown.

In terms of the Kroger letter, as the legal advice says, it refers to a whole lot of matters that occurred outside the Senate. It goes on to make serious points about the inadequacy of Senator Kroger's allegations to the point where they ought not to have been considered in the first place because they were so vague. Under section 4 of the act, improper interference had to be actually proven, and there is nothing in the Senator Kroger assertion that would go any way to actually establishing that case. So what we have here is a number of deliberate changes. When people look at the documents that have been attached to this, they will see that Senator Kroger fails to make the point that the Wood donation occurred before the 2010 election and that the sale of the woodchip mill was not known about, could not have been thought about, prior to the time later in 2011 when that occurred. That link is not there, and the fact that those dates were conflated to try and make it look as if these all occurred in a very short period of time is just one of the massive dishonesties in this. When you look at the chronology that is presented, several things are left out and distorted in order to make what is, as the committee found, a merely circumstantial case. It is disgraceful that this was referred to the Privileges Committee. It is disgraceful that it took four months over the summer. The committee did not even bother answering the correspondence that we wrote to them.

We were the ones who were being subjected to defamation and yet the committee decided to go on holidays and not respond to any of the correspondence until the summer holidays were over. I am appalled that Senator Kroger finds this amusing, that she is not prepared to apologise for defaming fellow senators on the basis of no evidence whatsoever. It means that this whole process needs to be looked at seriously because what we have seen is absolute cowardice. We have seen vexatious complaint and malicious intent from people who ought to know better.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Marshall, you have sought leave to continue your remarks. Leave is granted. The time is now concluded for debate on this subject today.