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Thursday, 22 March 2012
Page: 2587

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (12:41): I seek leave to make a statement for one minute.

Leave not granted.

Senator ABETZ: Pursuant to contingent notice of motion, I move:

That so much of standing orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate from making a statement for one minute.

Having moved that, that now allows me to make a five-minute statement—a very clever tactic by the Australian Greens! This is a bad day and a bad week, and getting even worse, for the Leader of the Australian Greens. Let us be very clear what my original motion is all about. The motion is not about the privileges issue. It is a motion to express dismay at the deliberate denigration of you and your office, Mr President. Senator Brown on 19 March 2012 made this reference, recorded in Hansard:

… it went past this inadequate President …

With great respect, that was a reflection and should have been withdrawn. Mr President, you may have forgiven the Leader of the Australian Greens for making such a reflection on you because he was upset. In the heat of the moment he may have made that comment. But then, in a very deliberate and considered doorstop interview the very next morning, he said this to the media:

… and this current very poor presidential management of the Senate, and I just have to note it because there will be more of it.

Mr President, you and I will not always agree, but there is one thing that I will accept and that is that you, like most of us in this place, do our very, very best to ensure that the standing orders and the conventions of this place are upheld. All of us from time to time are disappointed by presidential rulings—that is the way of the world—but the Leader of the Australian Greens then so personally attacked the President and, let us not forget, also then personally attacked the Clerk of the Senate, who has no right to respond in this place.

We have seen a vicious lashing out by the Leader of the Australian Greens at everybody that steps in his way. It is the hate media one day, it is the President of the Senate the next, it is the Clerk of the Senate the next, it is somebody else the next day—Senator Kroger in fact—and every now and then I am the culprit as well. Those of us in public life do expect that from time to time we will cross swords with Senator Brown. It is completely unacceptable to denigrate the Clerk of the Senate in such a cowardly and unacceptable fashion, but it is also completely unacceptable to reflect on the President of the Senate in the manner that he did, not only in the heat of the moment in the Senate but in such a cold, deliberate, calculated way at his doorstop interview the very next morning. We believe that this issue does need to be dealt with because, if order is to be maintained in this place, we need senators to behave in a manner that does not allow for the denigration of the office of President and the holder of that office from time to time. It is fundamentally important and that is why we, as a coalition, have moved this motion to express confidence, Mr President, in your handling of the privileges matter and also to note with dismay the criticisms made by the Leader of the Australian Greens, both in this place and in a media interview.

I must say I was somewhat surprised that the Australian Labor Party did seek to amend the motion. I note they have not pursued the amendment, which would have deleted the references to the denigration of the President. I simply remind them it is their President, a Labor Party President. We, as a coalition, extend as much as we possibly can our bipartisan support for the position and the particular occupant of that position. I ask the Australian Labor Party to give very serious consideration that any vote against the motion that I am suggesting today would be a potential unfortunate reflection by them on their President. I would be delighted if this matter could now move to a vote.