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Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Page: 807

Mr BURKE (WatsonManager of Opposition Business) (17:05): I figured so prominently in the contribution from the Leader of the House it is almost like providing a second speech in this debate. I will get to what I think is the appropriate process for dealing with these matters, but I want to deal first with the substance of what is before us. As I made clear in an interview this morning, Labor agrees with every word of the resolution in front of us. Once the resolution was seen and we knew the precise wording of it there was no problem whatsoever in making clear to the Australian people this morning and now in the parliament that we will vote for it.

The actions of Craig Thomson, as they have been found by the court, are indeed a betrayal of everybody who was paying their union fees to the HSU. They are indeed a betrayal of the union movement itself. Speaking as a member of the Labor Party, they are a betrayal of our party. They are actions that represent the exact opposite of what our party is about. And they are also a betrayal of the institution of the House of Representatives.

The House of Representatives carries parliamentary privilege. Parliamentary privilege is something that has extraordinary power and that is extraordinarily important to maintain democratic debate, but it must not be abused. Now that we have the findings of the court, it is clear that information which was presented as fact has been found by a court to be wrong. An apology is therefore being given to those affected by it.

I think it is important that our defence of people who are members of the HSU, our defence of people who are low paid, working in hospitals and research facilities, does not only find itself to be limited to this motion. I think it is important if we are going to speak up for the members of the HSU in this debate that we also speak up for them when state governments are taking their jobs, that we also speak up for them when industrial relations changes are being proposed that are about harming their conditions. I believe it is important that we do not pick and choose, that we only be on the side of HSU members when it might be seen to be politically convenient.

Yesterday, and for some days leading up to it, there was a discussion publicly as to whether the Privileges Committee was the appropriate way to deal with this issue. The Leader of the House in that debate yesterday made this comment:

… but that is a far cry from standing up in the parliament and making statements which are deliberately misleading, which are lies, to the chamber. It is the role of the Privileges Committee to determine whether that was done in a deliberate way and, if so, to recommend to the parliament what sanction might apply to the former member for Dobell.

He later said:

But I will leave the deliberations on those matters to the Privileges Committee. That is their purpose.

And he said later:

… I hope the Privileges Committee will deal with the issue in speed and also in an entirely nonpartisan way, in order to protect the reputation of the parliament.

I agreed with every word that the Leader of the House gave yesterday that I just read out.

I find it odd that at that point in time there was no mention of this motion we are debating. Indeed we had days, leading up, where allegedly there was going to be a 'great political wedge' against the Labor Party as to whether or not we would support a reference to the Privileges Committee—notwithstanding that in the last parliament we had supported a reference to the Privileges Committee. There was no mention of this motion at all. And only when they discovered that it was not a wedge issue did we find that this motion was placed on the Notice Paper.

I think it is important as well to deal directly with issues that were raised in part by the Leader of the House and in a very direct fashion by the member for New England, the Minister for Agriculture. In his contribution the Minister for Agriculture went to some lengths to say, 'Well, why weren't these statements being made two years ago?' Can I make very clear, in response to that, that we make no apology for defending the rule of law. We make no apology, when a matter is before the court, for saying that we will wait for the court to determine the facts. This week has been the first time we have been able to debate this issue after a court has determined the facts. With that in mind, we are willing to debate these issues, as we have yesterday and today.

I should also add, Madam Speaker, that we are consistent in that and do not play politics with that principle. It was the case during the last term that at exactly the same time we were arguing that the member for Dobell's issues should be determined first by a court there was a senator who was herself under charges, and subsequently was found guilty. At no stage did we drag her name through political debate, the way the member for Dobell was dragged through political debate, for one simple reason: we were waiting for the finding to be made by a court. Similarly, the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption currently is investigating matters that are related to the new member for Dobell. We have not been playing the game in this chamber of drawing out conclusions before those issues are dealt with by ICAC or drawing out conclusions before those issues, as they may, find their way into a court.

We have not been a party that will pick and choose when these sorts of principles will apply. The new member for Dobell is a beneficiary of the fact that we are not handling the issues related to her the way the previous opposition handled issues relating to the member for Dobell, in the same way that we—

The SPEAKER: I would interrupt the Manager of Opposition Business, in that what he is attempting to do is to smear another member while sounding pious. I would warn him against that course of action.

Mr BURKE: Madam Speaker, by saying repeatedly that I am not doing that, and making clear that we will not do that—

The SPEAKER: I would—

Mr BURKE: I am not returning to the issue, Madam Speaker.

The SPEAKER: Good.

Mr BURKE: I am not returning to the issue—

Mr Randall: Why raise it?

Mr BURKE: because the Speaker has just asked me not to.

Mr Randall: Why did you raise it in the first place?

The SPEAKER: The member will cease interjecting!

Mr BURKE: Our principle here has been one that I believe every member of this parliament should reflect on because it will have a bearing on the nature of debate in this parliament for some time to come. It is appropriate to deal with this issue today because the findings of a court have been made. Those findings mean that we have a decision of a court that says what was presented as fact to this parliament was not true. It was not true in a way that has caused offence to people who were named in that speech and not true in a way that is deeply offensive to the members of the Health Services Union, to the union movement generally and to the Labor Party.

With that in mind, I hope in the first instance that we do not find ourselves with a new motion in a couple of days time as a further attempt to say, 'Maybe we'll find something that Labor won't vote for.' I hope that at this point we can leave the Privileges Committee to deal with the remaining issues related to this matter.