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Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Page: 5027


Mr JENKINS (Scullin) (16:09): I thank the member for Lyne for proposing this matter of public importance and I thank those that have contributed to the debate from the crossbenches and Minister Gray at the table, because I think they have taken the discussion in the spirit that it was meant. Regrettably, the issues surrounding matters related to the member for Dobell have sunk to a very low point in politics. There has been an inability of the parliament to come to grips with the way that we should react to these matters.

Of course all parliamentarians are politicians but not all politicians are parliamentarians. There are plenty of other venues where we can practice our politics. I see some from the press gallery grinning, because they know that they participate in that contest of personalities that goes with politics. It is regrettable that, when given the opportunity, not all the chamber can take the opportunity to have a real contest of ideas, even when it is over such controversial matters that surround the actions of the member for Dobell before he entered this place.

Today we witnessed one of the great problems. There has been urging—and I appreciate that the member for Lyne is of this view—that the member for Dobell perhaps should have come into this chamber and made a statement earlier. But in the world of politics what have we seen since yesterday? The statement becomes the issue. In some way we conjure up that the statement, because in some eyes it misled this House, is the issue. Yet the member for Sturt can come in here and ask for another statement, but that is by the by. The privileges matter can be dealt with through the procedures and consideration of the Speaker, which will be reported back here and then the House will make its decision.

But what I really find regretful is that this controversial flashpoint has focused those that think about these issues to think about the way in which we can actually tackle it, so we have discussion of a code of conduct. I had hoped that earlier in this parliament, given that it was part of very learned pieces of paper that are very important for this parliament, we would have got to the code of conduct much quicker. But all we have is the discussion document: the draft code of conduct. At least we have got it and it will be easy to implement it. But once we have implemented it let us really think about how we are going to use it. Hopefully, if we get over the hard part, which was creating a code of conduct, how we use it will be easy. I might be so bold—and it is not necessarily those that I now hunt and run with on this side's view yet—as to say that an integrity commissioner, an ethics commissioner is pretty easy. There are plenty of models around the world, and they sure take the sting out of the politics if people transgress.

I happened to be in Ottawa last month. It was a very important issue—I will take that up with those that I am facing from the gallery later on. We have headlines: 'Raitt did no wrong in upgrading airline seat'. The 'Raitt' that they are talking about is the labour minister, Lisa Raitt. What was her crime? She got on Air Canada and Air Canada upgraded her to business. The next week the Canadian government intervened in an industrial dispute on the side of Air Canada. A bit embarrassing for poor old Lisa, because she is the labour minister. Where did it go? It went to the ethics commissioner. The heat was taken out of it. The ethics commissioner decided, given that it was just the poor bod at the gate who decided to upgrade, that there was nothing sinister. Another headline was, 'Fantino denies offshore accounts: ethics commissioner examining documents'. The article said that some documents of unknown origin had been handed in to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that indicated that Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino had some offshore accounts. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were investigating it; but, because Mr Fantino is a member and a minister, it has gone to the ethics commissioner. In several column inches of discussion in the Ottawa Citizen,not one member of parliament or politician is mentioned—because there is a process. You will love the headline that really attracted my attention, given my state of mind at the moment: 'Oda repays limo service charges'. Bev Oda is the international cooperation minister, and she was being asked to pay $3,000 that she charged taxpayers for limousine services while staying 'at a posh hotel in London'. Regrettably, this poor minister decided that the digs that she had been put in—where a conference she was attending was being held—were not good enough and she had to be sent to the Savoy. So she had to get a limo to the place where the conference was, and the ethics commissioner decided that she could pay the $3,000. The other incidental thing is that she is going to live to regret that she paid Can$5 for an orange juice at the Savoy, because she is being well and truly ridiculed.

I give those examples to show that matters that could be blown out of all proportion can be handled in a sensible way. The fact is that before the member for Herbert was a member here we had failed to put in a code of conduct or an ethics commissioner, where you could have sent—if you had wanted to—the member for Dobell, and you could have had the politics taken out and had it decided as a parliamentary discussion. That is the point that I make—besides the fact that we have a problem as a parliament because the matters pertain to actions of a member of this place before he became a member of this place.

We have a matter of public importance that stresses 'the importance of public confidence and public trust in the Australian parliament'. That is not only about the statement that Craig Thomson made as the member for Dobell; it is the reaction of this House about the statement. We had people jumping up, after a 59-minute statement, with a prepared speech going to matters that they thought would be in the statement. It had to be rehashed and rehashed. Emotive terms were used by members of this place—who use those emotive terms all the time—saying that the member for Dobell's vote is tainted. If it is tainted, it ain't the first taint. There have been plenty of occasions when we have had people who have faced more serious matters. We have had a person who left the caucus and sat on the crossbenches because he had criminal charges hanging over him that led, after he left this place, to him going to prison. So it is not the first time. Why was there not a big kerfuffle then? There was a majority government. Suddenly the rules have to change, because we find ourselves—as a result of the will of the people at the last election—with a minority government that has been very effective in the way that it has legislated and very effective in the way that it has pursued policy matters through its committees. That is the only reason. And we have outside people saying, 'Oh, if it were a majority parliament he would have been out of here already.' I do not think he would have been. We would have been going through due process and, until the due process found that, for some reason, he was not qualified to stay here, that would have been the end of it. It is not only the actions of individual members that give this place an image problem; it is the way we react to them. I think that is the spirit in which the member for Lyne proposed this, and I am disappointed that the opposition has not— (Time expired)