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Thursday, 22 March 2012
Page: 2589


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (12:52): Mr President, I just want to make it very clear—as the Government Whip, Senator McEwen, did—that the government has every confidence in you as President and every confidence in the decision you made, which was supported by the chamber, to give precedence to the referral of the matters that were referred to the Privileges Committee in relation to Senators Brown and Milne. I also want to make it clear that the government support the Senate Clerk and reject the criticisms made of her and the clerks. We think it is a very poor development where senators seek to impugn the reputation of the Clerk.

I also note that the Privileges Committee found there was no case to answer against Senators Brown and Milne, and I think the finding confirmed that this was a political attack rather than—

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Senator Bob Brown: Mr President, on a point of order: Senator Macdonald is yelling 'gutless' and so on across the chamber while I am trying to listen to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I ask you to have him desist.

The PRESIDENT: There should be silence in the chamber so senators can listen to the debate.

Senator CHRIS EVANS: Mr President, I think that reference was politically motivated and I think it has been appropriate that the Privileges Committee has done its job, as it always has in the past, with independence and a bipartisan approach to making sure that we protect the privileges of the Senate, and I congratulate it on its work.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Senator Bob Brown: Mr President, on a point of order: the invective keeps coming from Liberal Senator Macdonald.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Brown is on his feet taking a point of order.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Brown.

Senator Bob Brown: Interjections are disorderly and I ask you—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! On both sides! I need to hear Senator Brown in silence.

Senator Bob Brown: I withdraw the point of order. It will make no difference in this chamber.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Brown, you did raise a matter. I just want to make one point clear. From this end of the chamber, when the voices are directed down the other end of the chamber, it is very difficult to hear what people might say. If I am able to detect that there is something that is being said and order should be maintained, then I will maintain order. But there are some times when it is just impossible to detect comments that are being made. I am not trying to get out of anything; I make no apology. That is the construct of the chamber. All interjections are disorderly.

Senator Bob Brown: They are, and it is possible to see when interjections are being made from the chair. And no senator has a privilege over—

The PRESIDENT: Wait a minute.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator Bob Brown: Sit down.

The PRESIDENT: No, Senator Brown. You have got the call. It is a point of order. Senator Brown.

Senator Bob Brown: Again, there is no point. The interjections keep coming and I will allow—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Can I remind all senators that interjections are disorderly. Senator Macdonald.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Could I raise a point of order. Where do the standing orders allow a senator to rise in his place and, without leave, just have a bit of a chat? The senator involved thinks there is one rule for himself and another rule for everyone else, but I ask you to sit him down unless he has a point of order.

The PRESIDENT: That is not a point of order. Senator Evans.

Senator CHRIS EVANS: Thank you, Mr President. As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, the government does not believe that the important role of the Privileges Committee should be called into question by the politicisation of the processes. We will not be supporting the Liberal motion that is the subject of the suspension; nor will we be supporting the Greens motions that were tabled referring three other matters to the Privileges Committee. We do not think the political tit for tat that is occurring is an appropriate way for senators to treat the important role of the Privileges Committee. We do not think that any of this is enhancing the reputation of the Senate or the reputation of senators. I again note that the Privileges Committee found that there was no case to answer for Senators Brown and Milne, and I do not think that further referral of matters in a politically-charged atmosphere, without real cause for those referrals, is an appropriate way for the Senate to proceed.

The Privileges Committee report did find both Senators Milne and Brown to have nothing to answer for. The Privileges Committee also found that the question of the granting of precedence, which is at the heart of much of the dispute here, ought to be referred to the Procedure Committee for consideration. I think that is the appropriate course of action. I think that during the break the Procedure Committee ought to seriously look at this issue of how precedence is granted, in accordance with the Privileges Committee recommendation. That would certainly be our intention, and I think that is the appropriate way for the chamber to deal with these things.

Mr President, I conclude by saying that we think you acted perfectly appropriately in the way you handled these matters. We think the clerks have discharged their duties perfectly appropriately. We think we ought to move on and focus on issues of importance to the Australian people. I move:

That the motion be put.

Question agreed to.

The PRESIDENT: The question now is that the motion moved by Senator Abetz be agreed to.

Question negatived.