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Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Page: 213

Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (13:55): I recognise that there are a few more minutes before the time for this debate expires, and I was prompted to rise and speak today because Senator Gallacher, in his address, talked about the inability of some people to pay their bills. This brings me back to the topic du jour, which is the responsibility of individual senators to pay the bills themselves. I am of course referring to Senator Dastyari, who is in the chamber. I am hopeful that Senator Dastyari is going to make a statement at the beginning of question time to announce that he is no longer Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate, because not only can he not manage his office budgets but he cannot manage to pay his own bills, despite his healthy, hefty salary. The question Senator Dastyari has to answer is how it came to pass that a Chinese government backed company managed to pay his obligations to the Commonwealth.

Moreover, Senator Dastyari has a history of this—of going to those who have very close links to the Chinese government to bail him out of his own financial trouble. He has had legal bills paid, he has had his parliamentary office obligations paid, and he needs to account for how this has come to pass. He might also like to explain how Craig Thomson's legal bills were paid under his stewardship of the ALP in New South Wales. The New South Wales ALP of course has a very unhealthy and unenviable record when it comes to management of financial affairs. But there is one other pressing thing that I am hoping Senator Dastyari will be able to detail for us today, and that is the fact that this debt was incurred to the Commonwealth through the mismanagement by Senator Dastyari and his office and the overspending of taxpayers' money on his staff travel entitlements in April of 2015. That debt was due to the Department of Finance within about 30 days, so that would take it to May. Somehow Senator Dastyari has clearly paid for that overspend on entitlements, but then some months later, on 12 October, declared that he had been compensated by the Top Education Institute—the institute that is very closely backed by and linked to the Chinese government.

How has it occurred that Senator Dastyari paid for his overspend out of his hefty salary the $1,600 but then some months later declared that he had been compensated and paid for it? There are some things that do not add up in this. Has he paid it and then sent a letter to the Top Education Institute asking them to reimburse him and subsidise his lifestyle commitments? Has he written a letter to them before? Has he rung them? Has he sent them text messages? Has he just bumped into them in the street and said, 'Look, mate, I'm impoverished here; can you help me, can you pay the bills which I've incurred to the Australian parliament?' There is a lot more to this than meets the eye, and Senator Dastyari has not done justice to this parliament or to the people of Australia with his vapid and shallow statement this morning that he has complied with his parliamentary obligations.

We have a responsibility to uphold the utmost integrity of the parliament as a whole and the fact that all of us should be above even any suggestions that our personal expenses are being subsidised by foreign governments. There is a lot more to this than meets the eye, and what I am finding extraordinary is the defence by those on the Labor side. Have they not a modicum of integrity when it comes to upholding the values and principles upon which this parliament was founded? Have any of them? Or has the New South Wales disease crept all the way through the ALP? That is the only reason they would be defending this. The challenge now is for the Labor Party and the opposition benches, and Senator Dastyari himself, to provide a full explanation to the parliament or for Senator Dastyari to offer his resignation.

Debate interrupted.