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Tuesday, 23 August 2011
Page: 5209


Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (16:17): We have seen the demise today of the great Labor warrior. In 15 minutes we have seen the demise of the great Labor warrior, reduced to a speech like that. I cannot believe that Senator Faulkner, the great warrior, has demeaned himself to make a speech like that today. History will show that someone who was a great man for the Labor Party reduced himself to a speech like that today.

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator RONALDSON: I am actually not going to take the bait, except that I will make a couple of comments. Senator Faulkner was talking about thinking about things. Well, I am thinking about Centenary House, I am thinking about the Labor Party's promise before the election before last about political advertising and I am thinking about the ANAO report. I am also thinking about the great lie before the last election: 'There there will be no carbon tax under a government that I lead.' So I am thinking about lots of things, 'Great failed warrior'. I am thinking how sad it is to see you reduced to this today.

I will now continue with what I was going to talk about, which is ministerial standards. I want to go through an interview today with the Prime Minister of this country, the person who, of course, perpetrated that great enormous untruth before the last election:

SABRA LANE: To Craig Thomson now. Tony Abbott says he's a protected species, the shadow finance minister, Andrew Robb, used parliamentary privilege last night to describe him, Craig Thomson, as a thief and a liar. Why did the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party pay his legal bills?

JULIA GILLARD: Look, this is a question for the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party.

SABRA LANE: We've rung them, we're not getting calls back.

JULIA GILLARD: Well … that is as it may be Sabra, but decisions by the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party are their decisions. But more broadly can I say, in relation to the Opposition here, I don't think people appreciate hypocrisy.

As Prime Minister, what I've said about the Member for Dobell is that there is an investigation in train by Fair Work Australia, and we should await the outcome of that investigation.

…   …   …

SABRA LANE: Well Fairfax has revealed this morning that the mobile phone used to call escort agencies was also used to call Stephen Smith and Mark Arbib. This casts doubt on Mr Thomson's denials—he's previously said that the credit card used to pay for these things was used by someone else, and the implication too was that his phone was used by someone else, have you sought an explanation from him?

JULIA GILLARD: There's an investigation by Fair Work Australia in train…

Our SABRA LANE: But have you sought it?

JULIA GILLARD: I've certainly spoken to Craig Thomson, of course I have, but there is an investigation in train by Fair Work Australia, and I believe that it's appropriate that that investigation work its way through.

The Prime Minister goes on to say:

So, Fair Work Australia will work its way through, we'll await the outcome of that investigation. In the meantime the Member for Dobell is doing his job as the local member in this Parliament.

That was the language used by the Prime Minister up until this morning, and I gather was repeated today under pressure because she had no choice. Let us talk about what she was saying about the member for Dobell. He had her 'complete confidence' and:

I look forward to him continuing to do that job for a very long, long time to come.

What was she reduced to this morning?

... the member for Dobell is doing his job as the local member in this Parliament.

This Prime Minister has been backed into a corner. This Prime Minister does not have the intestinal fortitude to deal with Craig Thomson as she knows he should be dealt with. In all the pathetic debate today from Senator Faulkner there was one truth that came out: a former Prime Minister acted and this Prime Minister refuses to do so—despite being confronted with overwhelming evidence that one of her own members has been involved in fraudulent behaviour. She has not even removed this man as chair of the economics committee. For the first time this morning we have seen invoked the defence of Fair Work Australia.

This afternoon, I asked Minister Evans a question in relation to this matter. The line being run by the Labor Party is that this dragged-out Fair Work Australia investigation has got to take its course and that Minister Evans will not interfere. That sounds daggy at question time but when you look at the evidence it is actually damning in relation to this minister's involvement in Fair Work Australia and an ongoing campaign by the Australian Labor Party to make sure that this never sees the light of day, and if it is to see the light of day it will be delayed and delayed in the faint hope that the overwhelming evidence against the member for Dobell suddenly disappears into the ether.

I want to read into the Hansard today part of the conversation between myself, Mr Nassios and the minister—and I believe you may well have been there, Mr Deputy President. The Hansard states:

Senator RONALDSON: Clearly, Mr Nassios, your attitude in relation to some of my questions has changed since last May—

This is Wednesday, 23 February—

and I have got to say that I am very pleased about that. There are some things you have advised me today about which you would not have last time, so on the back of that—I assume that they were questions asked along the same vein—would you now advise me whether you have interviewed Craig Thomson, Pauline Fegan, Criselee Evans, Matthew Burke and Jeff Dickson?

Mr Nassios: Certainly if we could go one by one.

Mr Evans: I just ask whether we take advice about whether we should be detailing who you have interviewed in a current investigation. I would have thought that was a bit unusual to be providing publicly who you were interviewing if an investigation is continuing. Has that been done in the past?

Mr Nassios: I cannot recall it being done in the past. When the senator was asking me these questions last time I felt that it would not be helpful to my investigation to divulge that sort of detail. I certainly cannot say it would hinder my investigation at this point.

I will repeat that:

I certainly cannot say it would hinder my investigation at this point.

Mr Evans said, 'I think it would be best if we got some advice as to whether you made those lists of witnesses who have been interviewed available.' The comments today from this minister were, 'I have no intention of interfering.' And, separately, 'It would be totally inappropriate to interfere.' On 23 February this year, what did this minister do? He interfered with evidence that was about to be given to the Senate in relation to Craig Thomson, the member for Dobell, involving Fair Work Australia. Mr Nassios, from Fair Work Australia, had made it quite clear to me in May last year that he was not prepared to answer my questions as to who was interviewed because it would potentially interfere with his investigation. On 23 February this year, when asked the same questions, Mr Nassios said he was prepared to do so. Mr Nassios said that, because it would no longer interfere with his investigation, he was prepared to answer them:

Certainly, if we could go one by one.

That was the response he gave, which I read out before, in relation to Mr Thomson, Pauline Fegan, Criselee Evans, Matthew Burke and Jeff Dickson.

This is a government that is completely and utterly devoid of any ministerial responsibility. This is a government that will stop at nothing in relation to the making of wafer-thin excuses to protect its wafer-thin majority. This is a government that stands utterly condemned. I will just finish on this note. I was talking before about the demise of the great warrior. The one person that the great warrior mentioned only in passing was the member for Dobell, because the now failed great warrior of the Australian Labor Party knows full well that the evidence against Mr Thomson is overwhelming. He did not seek to defend Mr Thomson today because he knows it would be completely and utterly untenable to do so.