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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1788


Mr FITZGIBBON (HunterChief Government Whip) (15:54): In a month's time I will have been in this place for some 16 years. One thing I learnt in my very earliest days here was that, when the leader of your party is on his or her feet, it is a good idea to get yourself into the chamber to listen to what he or she might have to say—and, of course, it is one of the roles of the whip to make sure people are aware that he or she is on his or her feet, and people usually dutifully race in to support their leader.

But I was intrigued by what took place here this afternoon, and I think it reflects the feeling of many who sit on the opposition back benches towards the Leader of the Opposition's tactics with this motion, and indeed whether he is right to be playing this political game with what is very much an independent inquiry. One minute into his speech, seven members of the opposition were in here to support their leader—

Mr Secker: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This is in no way relevant to the motion before the House; it is just a bit of mischief.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Barker will resume his seat.

Mr FITZGIBBON: The member for Barker should not be concerned, because it gets better: within two minutes there were nine members, within four there were 16, within five there were 27, within six it built to 30 and at about the 31st minute it reached its crescendo at 31!

Mr Morrison: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance. I ask you to bring the member for Hunter back to the motion. I know the member for Hunter is good at counting numbers and relaying them here in this place, but I do not think it is relevant to the motion.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I thank the member for Cook. The member for Hunter is reminded of the motion before the House.

Mr FITZGIBBON: I will move on, except to say that theirs is a parliamentary party of some 71 members—and there was a crescendo of 31. So where were these other members? I would like to think some of them were out there thinking about the things we have been thinking about as a parliamentary party.

Mr Schultz: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I remind the member for Hume that he is interjecting from outside of his place and he does not have the call. The member for Hunter has the call.

Mr FITZGIBBON: Somewhere tonight, if not everywhere in the eurozone, members of parliaments, their officials, their departmental heads and their advisers will be thinking about where to jump next in dealing with their economic crises—and something similar will no doubt be taking place in the United States, who look upon our economy with in wonderment and with envy. And here in Australia, those of us on this side—

Mr Morrison: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member for Hunter, I think, is defying you. He is clearly not being relevant to the question. If he does not have anything relevant to say on this matter then he should just sit down.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Cook will resume his seat. I again remind the member for Hunter of the motion before the House. I can repeat it for him if he likes, but I am sure he has a copy of it.

Mr FITZGIBBON: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will get off the important issues facing the country and get back to the muckraking—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The motion before the House relates to Fair Work Australia.

Mr FITZGIBBON: I will address it very directly, Mr Deputy Speaker. Let's go through it then. Mr Abbott, with great fanfare, although with little support from his own back bench, wants the House to note—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The member for Hunter will refer to members by their titles.

Mr FITZGIBBON: I am sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Leader of the Opposition wants the House to note:

… the Fair Work Australia investigation—

I won't read the whole thing—

… commenced in 2009—

Opposition members interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The member for Hunter has the call.

Mr FITZGIBBON: Yes, it did—we have no problem with that; that is fine. The motion continues:

(b) the investigation started with the Industrial Registrar—

Yes, that is fine; it seems to be a matter of fact to me—

… (c) Fair Work Australia representatives said the investigation would be completed by the end of 2011—

Okay, these are generally statements of fact—

(d) the investigation remains ongoing

A bit of a statement of the obvious, I would have thought—

despite an employee of the Australian Government Solicitor, Craig Rawson, being provided with a letter containing 'proposed findings' in December 2010—

That is a fairly big point—

… (e) the investigation into the Health Services Union and the Member for Dobell has taken more than three years and is yet to be completed.

That is a statement of fact, so what are we debating here this afternoon? Are we having a debate or is this a misuse of parliamentary procedure to launch an attack on an individual who I would have thought all members in this place would agree is entitled to procedural fairness and natural justice?

I would have hoped that every member of this place accepts those principles as the golden thread which holds our legal system in this country together. If no-one on that side agrees, certainly some of their senior colleagues agree. For example, former Prime Minister John Howard in this place in 2007 with respect to an earlier investigation said:

… a lot of people who are under investigation end up having nothing to answer for. It's a police investigation and the appropriate thing for me to do is to let the police investigation run its course and then if it is appropriate I will have something to say.

That was a very sensible contribution by the former Prime Minister, the former member for Bennelong.

All the issues raised by the Leader of the Opposition in his motion were dealt with very considerably and in great detail in Senate estimates just in the last sitting week. I do concede that the Leader of the Opposition lodged his motion prior to those Senate estimates processes. That is understandable. He was not to be aware that they were forthcoming. But he might have considered, given what was said in Senate estimates a fortnight ago, withdrawing the motion. That would have been the sensible thing to do.

On that, I refer the House to just one of the statements made by Bernadette O'Neill during estimates. She is the general manager of Fair Work Australia. She said:

I am aware of the allegations that there has been some political interference in the investigations and take them very seriously. I have absolutely no reason to conclude that there has been any such interference in the investigations.

We have a senior official, an independent arbiter, before Senate estimates providing us with that statement. She is a respected official. Notwithstanding that, the Leader of the Opposition, seeking to make political capital, comes in here and directly challenges what she has had to say. I say to the House that that is inappropriate. I am a person who knows a little bit about trial by media. I will not say much more about that. I will let Justice Lucy McCallum of the New South Wales Supreme Court speak for herself. She said, 'People should never assume, surprisingly, that everything they read in the paper is correct.'

Most of what the Leader of the Opposition raised today was taken straight out of the countries' news sheets. He made no attempt to make any reference to what was a fairly full conversation in Senate estimates just over a week ago. Rather, he relied almost entirely on allegations and accusations, as he himself described them, rather than sticking to the facts. I appeal to the Leader of the Opposition and to every member in this place to be very careful because if Mr Thomson is cleared in these inquiries—and that is obviously a possibility—he will not have been the first person to fall victim to rumour and innuendo and various media reports. The person who next becomes a victim of that might be someone sitting on the other side. Who knows? It could even be the Leader of the Opposition himself. So the Leader of the Opposition has to be careful not to get too carried away. I know he is a little bit excited because from time to time since the last election he has had visions of himself sitting in the Prime Minister's chair during question time. But I have some news for him: the sort of tactics that he has embraced and adopted today here in the House are not conducive to his aspirations and will not help him get there. For the sake of our democracy and procedural fairness, he should take a new course.

Debate adjourned.