Save Search

Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 22 March 2012
Page: 2690


Senator KROGER (VictoriaChief Opposition Whip in the Senate) (19:58): I rise to respond to the Standing Committee of Privileges report on whether there was any improper influence in relation to political donations made by Mr Graeme Wood in questions without notice asked by Senator Bob Brown and Senator Milne. On 22 November 2011, I sent the President a 138-page submission on the actions of Senator Brown and the Greens to assist Mr Wood's purchase of the Triabunna woodchip mill. On 23 November, the President gave precedence to a motion, passed by the Senate on 24 November, for this matter to be inquired into by the committee. Lawyers in their submission on behalf of Senators Brown and Milne claimed that I conflated Senator Brown's negotiation of the $1.6 million donation from Graeme Wood, which occurred in May 2010, with Mr Wood's efforts to buy the Triabunna woodchip mill—

Senator Hanson-Young: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I draw your attention to standing order 194. Pursuant to order 194, it is not in order during an adjournment debate to revive matters already debated, and I would ask for your ruling on that.

Senator Ian Macdonald: On the point of order, Mr President, what Senator Kroger might be going to say—and we are not clear about that yet because we have not heard—is clearly quite different from what Senator Hanson-Young has said. I appreciate Senator Hanson-Young and the Greens coterie down there—who, we note, are obviously planning a leadership coup, and good luck to you—but I do not think that there is anything in the point of order and, indeed, Senator Kroger is quite within her rights to talk about the general issue of the subject of her speech.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. Senator Kroger is entitled to address the issues.

Senator KROGER: Just as a matter of clarification, I am making some observations on the report that was brought down by the Privileges Committee. Mr Wood's efforts to buy the Triabunna woodchip mill in mid-2011 is something, it was claimed, which could not possibly have been foreseeable at the time of his donation. This is absolutely false. My submission clearly stated that the $1.6 million was negotiated in May 2010 and that this funded the Greens ad campaign at the 2010 election. I did not submit that this negotiation was some incredibly prescient bribe but rather an arrangement which led Senator Brown to advance Mr Wood's commercial interest when the Triabunna purchase arose. In terms of Privilege Resolution 63, it was an arrangement which had the effect of controlling Senator Brown's independence. In short, it was a significant, personally negotiated donation, indeed, the biggest ever in Australia's history and by his own words, Senator Brown said—

Senator Hanson-Young: On a point of order, Mr President, I would draw your attention to standing order 205 concerning pursuing a quarrel between senators in this place.

The PRESIDENT: No, there is no point of order. Senator Kroger, please continue.

Senator KROGER: Senator Brown's own words were that he would be 'forever grateful'. I know that Senator Rhiannon agrees with this. Mr Wood said he had made a good investment, and they are his words. My contention was that this arrangement dictated Senator Brown's subsequent actions and by virtue of his position—

Senator Hanson-Young: Mr President, on a point of order, if indeed this is not disorderly under standing order 205, 'pursuing a quarrel between senators', could you please outline to the chamber why that is?

The PRESIDENT: I do not have to give a reason at all. It is within the standing order for Senator Kroger to be going down the path and the line that she is going. That is the issue. It is within the standing order, therefore Senator Kroger is entitled to pursue her point.

Senator Hanson-Young: Mr President, I would ask you to take on notice that what Senator Kroger is speaking about does not reflect standing order 205.

Senator Ian Macdonald: If that is another point of order, then I would urge the Greens to go back to plotting a change of leadership in their party. Senator Kroger is talking about a committee report of this parliament. The Privileges Committee has reported to parliament; Senator Kroger did not have the opportunity to speak to the Privileges Committee report when it was tabled. She is doing it now.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Kroger, continue.

Senator KROGER: As I was saying, it was by virtue of his position of influence as Leader of the Greens and that of other Greens, principally Senator Milne. My submission did not suggest that Senator Milne acted corruptly, though certainly this implication was drawn in relation to Senator Brown's behaviour. The committee's report noted that each paragraph of the terms of reference required it to consider whether an improper arrangement was sought or put in place. I reiterate, I did not assert that Mr Wood improperly offered his $1.6 million donation. Nor did I assert that Senator Brown improperly sought it.

The committee report also observes that, while I offered evidence that conduct occurred that aligned with Mr Wood's interests, I did not provide evidence of a causal connection. But I did demonstrate that Senator Brown acted at every turn to advantage Mr Wood's bid and damage his competitor's. Senators Brown and Milne explained this behaviour as nothing but the pursuit of longstanding policy objectives, while the Privileges Committee report discusses conduct 'which aligned with Mr Wood's interests'. But, on no fewer than 17 occasions, Senator Brown, Senator Milne and Greens took action in the Senate, the media and elsewhere which favoured Mr Wood's bid. This saw contortions whereby Senator Brown and the Greens opposed Gunns getting—

Senator Wright: Mr President, I draw your attention to standing order 193(3) and I submit that by rehashing this ground Senator Kroger is indeed making an imputation of improper motives. I think that any fair person listening would actually see that that is what she is doing by re-traversing ground which has already been the subject of the Privileges Committee report, at which point it was found that there was no evidence for any imputations.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order.

Senator KROGER: Thank you, Mr President. This saw contortions whereby Senator Brown and the Greens opposed Gunns getting any money from the Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement when Gunns were negotiating to sell their woodchip mill to the Aprin logging consortium. But, inexplicably, they did not oppose Gunns getting money when they sold the mill to Wood. For 10 days Senator Brown railed against Forestry Tasmania receiving money from the IGA as settlement of its claim against Gunns, only to change his criticism after Gunns reached a settlement with the Tasmanian government which involved $11.5 million being paid to Forestry Tasmania.

Significantly, the committee states that my submission only contained circumstantial evidence and that it must therefore prefer the accounts of Senators Brown and Milne. Well, I say the circumstantial evidence is very, very strong and, I would argue, insurmountable. I believe the test is whether or not Senator Brown would have at every turn acted to advantage Mr Wood's bid for the woodchip mill if Mr Wood had not given the Greens the $1.6 million donation. Would any other senator have gone to the lengths that Senator Brown and the Greens did to advantage a businessman's purchase of a specific property in which he gained a $6 million benefit on the purchase price?

Senator Hanson-Young: Mr President, I raise a point of order. I draw your attention again to standing order 193. The senator is clearly reflecting on motives of Senator Brown and Senator Milne, and indeed other members within this place, incorrectly. This issue has been canvassed by the Privileges Committee. There has been a decision. It is not anyone else's fault but Senator Kroger's that she continues to be the puppet of Senator Abetz in this issue and continues to prosecute this case despite the fact that it has been knocked out of the park.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. Senator Kroger.

Senator KROGER: I will move along a little bit. I think it is particularly interesting that you are being very critical of the outcome and the findings of the Privileges Committee, given that they have actually said—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Kroger, address your comments to the chair, not to others in the chamber.

Senator KROGER: Thanks, Mr President; I will return to my reflections. The title of the Privileges Committee report, Whether there was any improper influence in relation to political donations made by Mr Graeme Wood and questions without notice asked by Senator Bob Brown and Senator Milne, suggests that the committee was also focused on this issue rather than the public advocacy and manoeuvring on behalf of Mr Wood's interests. Given so many of Senator Brown and Senator Milne's actions on behalf of Mr Wood's purchase happened outside the parliament, perhaps we may have to wait for Senator Brown's parliamentary integrity commissioner—a part of the Labor-Greens agreement which seems to have slipped his mind—in order to examine these events more fully.

While on this point, though, the submission on behalf of Senators Brown and Milne states that there is no basis for the allegation that the sale to Triabunna Investments was conditional on any compensation being paid to Gunns.

Senator Wright: Mr President, with respect, I would be hard pressed to think what would be an imputation of motive—

Senator Ian Macdonald: Do you have a point of order?

Senator Wright: The point of order is in relation to standing order 193. What I am saying is that if there has not been an imputation of motive in what Senator Kroger is saying, it would be hard to imagine what would actually constitute an imputation of motive. What has been said is going to be on the Hansard record. My submission is that it is indeed an imputation of motive, over and over again, basically accusing of improper motives inside and outside the parliament. I want to make that very clear and have that on the record.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Mr President, I have a point of order. These are vexatious points of order which you have already commented upon in this parliament. We have four people in the Greens political party plotting a leadership challenge, but each one of them has got up and raised—

The PRESIDENT: That is debating the issue.

Senator Ian Macdonald: I am not debating the issue, Mr President. What I am saying is you have continually ruled in the last five minutes that there is no point of order. In spite of your rulings, and in challenge of your rulings, the Greens continue to raise frivolous points of order which you have already ruled upon. I ask you to warn them and if they cannot abide by your rulings I ask you to remove them from the chamber.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order.

Senator Hanson-Young: Mr President, I would also now like you to reflect on the comments made by Senator Macdonald reflecting on motives of both me and others in this chamber. It seems that that in itself is in breach of standing order 193.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. Senator Kroger, you have got three minutes and 27 seconds remaining.

Senator KROGER: I will return to the submission of Senators Brown and Milne. It cites the Gunns stock exchange announcement that their sale of the woodchip mill to Wood's Triabunna Investments was to complete on 15 July 2011, before much of the Greens' manoeuvring on Wood's behalf. Much turns on this. Yet the glib arguments on this point by lawyers for Senators Brown and Milne studiously ignore the fact that Gunns had a hold over the sale, that there were two successive 60-day priority notices lodged over the woodchip mill's transfer to Wood's Triabunna Investments, and that the transfer of this property had still not been registered as at 11 October 2011.

The committee has accepted Senator Brown's word that his actions were not influenced by the donation. By his own account, Senator Brown first learnt of Mr Wood's proposal to develop the woodchip mill on ABC TV. He has said, 'Knowing the man I contacted him and said I thought it was a good idea,' following which they spoke a couple of times. The ABC TV report about Mr Wood trying to buy the Triabunna mill went to air on 10 June. In the Weekend Australian a month earlier, Matt Denholm wrote:

The Weekend Australian can confirm that players in the environment movement floated the idea of a consortium to buy the Triabunna mill in order to shut it and develop the site for tourism.

The idea to form a consortium to buy the Triabunna mill and develop the site for tourism was around in the Tasmanian environment movement at least a month before Senator Brown claims he heard about it.

Senator Hanson-Young: Mr President, I raise a point of order. I draw your attention to standing order 196, which relates to tedious repetition. We have heard this argument over and over again. We now see Senator Kroger re-prosecuting a case that she has already lost. Loser—l-o-s-e-r. She has lost.

The PRESIDENT: You are debating the issue.

Senator Hanson-Young: Absolutely no way should we be seeing an adjournment debate taking place that reflects on the motives of a senator.

The PRESIDENT: You are debating the issue. Come to your point of order.

Senator Hanson-Young: My point of order, Mr President, is that I ask you to reflect on standing order 196, which concerns tedious repetition.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. Senator Kroger has one minute and 51 seconds remaining.

Senator KROGER: Thank you, Mr President. I will refrain from speaking in the same manner and being abusive like those on the crossbenches over there. This is difficult to believe, given Senator Brown's intimate involvement in the Tasmanian environment movement and his bevy of staff, who should have drawn the media speculation to his attention. Interestingly, Senator Brown said he learned of Mr Wood's Global Mail venture when he read of it in the paper. May I say that is another coincidence.

So we have Mr Graeme Wood bankrolling the Global Mail. Senator Brown makes a submission to the media inquiry advocating tax deductibility for not-for-profit ventures. Monica Attard makes a submission advoca¬≠ting the same measure and the media inquiry makes a sympathetic recommend¬≠ation mentioning the Global Mail—a great coincidence, I am sure. Given that Senator Brown—

Senator Waters: Mr President, it is with great reluctance that I rise on a point of order on not just the clear imputations again being made against members of this House but also personal reflections on other folk, both of which are precluded under standing order 193(3). I ask if you could kindly explain for our benefit what could possibly contravene that standing order if this does not.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order—I can tell you that. I will be looking at the Hansard of this speech and, if it is necessary, I will come back to the chamber.

Senator KROGER: I do not believe we have heard the last of this matter. I am going to conclude this speech now because of the disgraceful interjections being made while I am reflecting on a report that I was denied leave during the week to respond to. It was a report that I had initiated and now I have to seek time in adjournment to make observations on the report. We clearly have not seen the last of this. The behaviour of those on the crossbenches diminishes them hugely and I think they will find that in time to come.