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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 7934


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (11:46): Colleagues, for the last little while I have been coming into this place day after day and thinking that it cannot really get any more pear shaped under the Labor-Greens-Independents government. But today we have it. It has got even more pear shaped. You are quite right, I say to Senator Cormann, to call it a dark day. Here we have another one.

When I came into this place one of the things that struck me was the sense of process. One of the very daunting things when you first come into this place is understanding the processes of the Senate, because so many of them are by convention: you cannot read them in the standing orders; you cannot read them in Odgers. It takes some time to understand the process. While you get an understanding of the process, you also gain a real respect for the process. I think that is one of the most important things about the Senate. Not having spent time in the other place, I cannot really comment on whether they have that same respect for the process. Perhaps those colleagues who have been there, such as Senator Ronaldson, might be able to comment on that at some stage. I very much feel the weight of the respect for the chamber.

So when we have a situation today, with the nomination for the chair of a committee coming through the government of the day in the Senate chamber rather than through the normal processes, where the committees themselves determine their chairs—as should be the case—it is really quite extraordinary. The respect that should be held for the Senate and the entire processes around that have simply disappeared. To go back to what our leader, Senator Abetz, said earlier—he was very eloquent indeed in his remarks—the role of the committee chairs is, in many respects, to hold the government to account.

The very simple fact that we have here today is that this is about numbers. The Greens are saying that they are entitled to an extra chair of a committee because their numbers have increased in this chamber. That would be fine and that would be worthy and that would be appropriate if they were not part of the Labor government. This is the problem with the whole premise of what they are putting forward, because the Greens are no longer independent of the Labor Party. Therefore, they are not at liberty to count their numbers separately from the Labor Party. That is precisely why they are not entitled to a second chair.

Having spent some time as whip and having worked very closely with the then Liberal whip—an excellent Liberal whip, Senator Parry, who has now moved on to Deputy President, having been replaced by the equally able Senator Kroger—I know that so much of the chamber is run on numbers. Because we are in this place and we are respectful of this place, we do the numbers properly in terms of entitlement: what we are entitled to cross-party, what we are entitled to in opposition and what we are entitled to in government. There is a respect for that process and there is an understanding that, even if sometimes we do not like it, what the numbers say leads to the true entitlement. That is why it is so appalling today to see the Greens try to commandeer another chair, because they are simply not entitled to it. The numbers do not stack up that way, because they have given the Australian people a Labor government.

If the Greens had not agreed to be part of the Labor-Greens-Independent government after the last election, we would not have a Labor minority government now. So, colleagues, by the very simple fact that the Greens agreed to be part of that government—that incredibly bad Labor-Greens-Independent government—they have forgone their right to use their numbers to try and commandeer another chair. That is not hysterical. That is not coming from this side of the chamber railing against the fact that the Greens should not have that position. It is a logical, numerical deduction. Those on the crossbenches cannot, on the one hand, choose to say that they are part of the minority government, and then, on the other hand, choose to say, for the purposes of gaining another chair, 'We, for this particular moment, choose to sit outside of the government arrangement that we have entered into.' It simply does not make sense. The Greens are doing this only because they can and because the government is letting them. As my very good colleague Senator Cormann and other colleagues have asked before me, why is it that the government has moved for the Chair of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References to go to a Greens senator? Why didn't the Greens come and do it? Why didn't the Greens themselves walk into this chamber and put what they believe, through their somewhat erroneous counting of the numbers and putting their numbers the way that they have, to the chamber? Why didn't the Greens come into this chamber and say, 'We believe we are entitled to an extra chairmanship'? Why didn't the Greens do it? Why did the Greens have to hide behind the Labor government and let the Labor government move it?

It is incongruous. It does not make sense. If the Greens are arguing that their numbers, separate from the Labor Party, entitle them to another chair's position, that means it is an issue entirely separate from the Labor government. So why on earth would the Labor government be moving it on their behalf? I cannot even imagine why they would do that, except for the fact that they are in cohort, working together, which again negates the claim for the extra chairmanship.

Colleagues, as the Greens had increased their numbers by a few in the Senate—a sad day for Australia that was, but we'll get to that at another election—wouldn't you have thought that they would have come in and said, 'We think on our numbers we should have another chair,' put it to the chamber and expected the Labor government to then agree with them? That seems to me to be what the normal process should have been. That seems the proper process to follow. But no. We have the Labor government moving the nomination on behalf of the Greens for something that should have been a decision of the committee. It is quite extraordinary. As I said at the outset, it is yet another pear shaped day in the Senate chamber.

You only have to look at this situation to see that the Greens are trying to have it both ways. On the one hand they want to say they are part of the government. They want to say they are doing all these things and having all these outcomes by being part of the government. Yet on the other hand they want to say: 'Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no—we're independent of the Labor Party. We're not with them. We are our own Greens party.' It is absolute rubbish and it really does show what we have known all along and what is only just starting to come out now that there is starting to be some scrutiny of the Greens now we have this Labor-Greens-Indepen­dents alliance: there is one rule for the Greens and another rule for anybody else. One thing is okay for them, but there is a different expectation for anybody else. As one of my colleagues said earlier, if we on this side miss a division it is the end of the world and the Greens rail on and on about how terrible it is, but if Senator Brown misses a division that is perfectly okay; there is a perfectly sensible reason for that. That is only one example.

Thank goodness there is finally starting to be some scrutiny of what the Australian Greens actually do and what they actually say, because they have gotten away for far too long with not having any scrutiny of their activities, of their policy and of what they are doing here in the Senate chamber. Isn't it extraordinary? We have seen the Greens in the past railing against the proper processes of the Senate not happening, but what did we see just a couple of weeks ago, when the carbon tax bills were first brought to the Senate? We saw the government guillotine the debate. Debate ensued, as the phrase has it, on all sides, all around the chamber, and then we had Senator Siewert stand up and give us a dissertation on how dreadful it was that the coalition had in the past guillotined debate in this chamber, how awful it was. Then she supported the guillotine. The entire Greens party supported the guillotine. Why was that, I wonder, given that obviously they have the deeply held belief that the guillotine should never be used? We have heard them speak about it in the chamber before. I know: it was because the Greens are part of the Labor government. Isn't that funny? So Senator Siewert stood there railing about the guillotine and how terrible it was that we were using it and then she voted against the government. To me it would make perfect common sense for the Greens to then vote against the Labor government. But, oh, no—they could not do that, because they are in government. They are in government with the Labor Party.

That is precisely why they are not entitled to this chairmanship position. They are simply not entitled to it, because they are part of the government. You have to count numbers on the other side of the chamber together because they are the government. We do it on this side of the chamber. We are two separate parties in coalition, and our numbers are counted collectively. That makes perfect sense. Within the coalition the Nats have a certain number of senators. We deal with that as the numbers of the whole Senate on this Nationals and coalition side, and we are entitled to certain positions. Exactly the same thing should happen on the government side of the chamber because the Greens and the Labor Party are in government. They are the government numbers. They are total numbers. They are not separate from the Labor Party. There are 39 of them on that side of the chamber. There are nine Greens and 30 Labor. They should be counted together—they are government—and then the chairs should be divvied up. The Greens cannot be treated as separate.

If, as we expect, we are going to be in the position where the Greens are granted a second chair of committee—and for those of you listening out there who are thinking: 'What's all this hoopla about committees?' it is really important that this process is followed properly because those committees do an enormous amount of work and it has to be balanced—if we accept that the government is going to put this through, the real question for the people out there is: why is it that the Greens have chosen legal and constitutional affairs? I note that Senator Collins over there is in fierce defence of the Greens.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Why did you knock them off? This is such hypocrisy.

Senator NASH: I will take the interjection because it shows it even more, colleagues. When we have Labor ministers on the other side of the chamber in defence of the Greens, doesn't it carry more weight to the argument that they are in partnership, that they are in coalition? That is precisely why this extra chairmanship should not be granted.

That being the case, let us just have a look at what the Greens have chosen for their second committee: the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Com­mittee. Maybe I am missing something here, but when I think of the Greens I think about them talking about the environment. Colleagues, maybe you might think something different, but when I look at the Greens I think 'the environment'. It sort of goes, like 'horse' goes with 'saddle'. But they want the legal and constitutional affairs committee. Why would the party who call themselves the Australian Greens, who spend their time talking about the environment, not want the environment committee, particularly when the environ­ment committee also covers communica­tions—and I know that Senator Ludlam has a very keen and genuine interest in communications? Why would they not want the chair of the environment and communications committee? That simply does not make sense, and that says to the Australian people that the Greens are duplicitous, because if they truly were the party of the environment they would want to chair the environment committee. I do not think you have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out.

I think there would be a number of people who are listening at the moment, thinking: 'Why on earth don't the Greens want the environment committee? Why do they want the legal and constitutional affairs com­mittee?' This is a question to be asked of the Australian Greens. This is really serious. If the Greens' core business is the environment, why do they not want the environment committee? That, colleagues, is the question for the Australian Greens. You can only surmise, you can only deduce, that the reason they want the legal and constitutional affairs committee is for the purposes of their social agenda. We can only deduce from that that the Greens' social agenda takes priority over the environment.

I would say that there are a lot of people who have supported the Greens over past years—not that there are that many of them when you look at the whole perspective of Australia—who would think, rightly or wrongly, that they are the party of the environment, not that they are the party of the social agenda that they want to prosecute. And yet here today we have the Greens wanting the legal and constitutional affairs committee chairmanship, not the environ­ment committee chairmanship. Colleagues, I cannot for the life of me work that out. I tell you: I am starting to miss the Democrats, because at least they had the courage of their convictions. At least they were prepared to stand up for what they believed in, and at least they made a contribution to this chamber that was not part of a Labor-Greens-Independent government.

What an extraordinary day we have today, when the Leader of the Australian Greens—trying, of course, to upset the Nationals, as he likes to try to do—refers to a National as a 'poddy calf'. If that is the best that Senator Brown can do, I think he is going to have to come up with something a little better. I am a little more thick-skinned than that. I tend not to think of myself as a poddy calf. I thought Senator Brown might have been able to do a little better. What sort of pear shaped day is this? It is extraordinary that we see this situation.

The Greens also like to rail on about transparency and about the processes of the chamber, and yet, today, what do we see? We see that very process being undermined, that very process being manipulated to give an outcome to the government side of the chamber that should not be delivered. It simply should not be.

They know this on the other side of the chamber. They know the numbers do not stack up. They know that they are the government. They know the Greens are part of the coalition. They know. But this will show the Australian people the true face of the Greens. We are seeing today the real Greens. They are, as John Anderson, ex-Deputy Prime Minister, so eloquently put it many years ago, the watermelons: green on the outside and pink in the middle. When you chop a watermelon in half, Senator Ronaldson, you know as well as I do that there is a lot more red than there is green. And that is what has become so clear today, because the Greens have placed their social agenda as more important than their environmental concerns.

My colleagues and I on this side of the chamber have always suspected it. We have suspected that for a long time. But today it has been proven. Today we have the proof that the Greens' social agenda is more important than their environmental agenda. The reason I say that, and the reason that that cannot be argued against, is that they have chosen to take the chairmanship of the legal and constitutional affairs committee and not the chairmanship of the environment com­mittee. This might seem a small issue, but this is a huge, watershed day. This is the day that the Greens showed that they are not an environmental party. This is about their social agenda. This is about social engineering. This is about their social agenda, and we have seen the true Greens today.