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Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Page: 5031


Mr WILKIE (Denison) (16:29): This place matters. This place has the power to make decisions that will see people live or die. This has place has the power to make decisions that will allow people to prosper or to go broke. We should be leaders in the community. The behaviour in this place by all of the members should be absolutely beyond reproach. How sorry is it, then, that so many Australians are currently appalled at the behaviour in this parliament of politicians and of politics? I suppose this is not new.

In fact, some analysis done by the Australian National University between 1993 and 2010 of the public's perception of the qualities of politicians shows the quality of knowledgeability falling from 36 to 21 per cent. The quality of strong leadership falls from 30 to 15 per cent, halving. The quality of honesty more than halves, from 19 to nine per cent. The quality of trustworthiness falls from 16 to nine per cent and the quality of inspiration falls from 13 to nine per cent. Those figures that I have quoted are from 2010. I would hate to think what the public's view is of this place and those in it right now.

There are obviously many reasons for this. Some people believe the problem is that we have a hung parliament, a power-sharing parliament. But power-sharing parliaments are in place in many countries where they work very well and they are not seen as the source of all of the country's problems. In fact, this power-sharing parliament has proven—despite all of the predictions and all of the commentary—to be remarkably stable, productive and reformist. No, the problem is the behaviour of people, not the numbers in this place. Neither side of the chamber is beyond guilt in this regard. There is no doubt that some of the decisions of this government have mightily disappointed people and in part account for the poor showing of the government in the polls. Dear to my heart, of course, is the reneging on the deal for meaningful poker machine reform back in January. But the opposition is also guilty of bringing this place into disrepute. I think the behaviour of the opposition has been overly negative and destructive and regrettably short on policy details.

Now we have the behaviour of the Speaker and of the member for Dobell. So what should we do about the alleged behaviour of the Speaker and the member for Dobell? I think that dealing with those two is the easiest problem this parliament has because, at the end of the day, we must let proper process run its course. That is all we need to do. Let proper process run its course. This is a time for cool heads. This is the time for the members of the parliament to show true leadership and cool heads and let proper process run its true course.

Let us not forget that both the Speaker and the member for Dobell should be accorded the principles of natural justice. They are genuinely innocent until proven guilty and they remain that way unless and until they are able to stand in a properly constituted court where they can defend themselves and where they may or may not be found guilty of an offence. Let us not forget that, according to the Constitution, the Speaker and the member for Dobell are eligible to sit and work in this place, and that remains the case in law by the Constitution of this land, until they are found guilty of a criminal offence punishable by 12 months or more in prison or unless they become an undischarged bankrupt or face some other matter such as a pecuniary interest with the Commonwealth Public Service. The point I am pursuing is that, according to natural justice and the Constitution, the member for Dobell has a right to sit in this place and to go about his work. Let us not forget that under the Crimes Act it is actually a serious criminal offence for anyone to intimidate to the extent of interfering with someone's political liberty. I go so far as to say that some members in the community, and even in this place, could stand accused of intimidating to that degree.

More broadly, a number of parliamentary mechanisms might be brought to bear to help us through this difficult period. The obvious one is that we should be having a parliamentary debate about the findings against the member for Dobell by Fair Work Australia. I condemn the government for at every opportunity delaying the member for Dobell making a statement and, more recently, doing whatever it can to prevent a parliamentary debate about the findings against the member for Dobell. It is wrong and it is lousy politics. This whole matter could have been addressed long ago if the member for Dobell had been allowed to stand up and have his say. We could put a lot of the issues currently on the boil to bed if the government allowed a parliamentary debate about it. I think it is to the credit of the opposition and to the crossbenchers that we have done what we can to bring on such a debate.

Yes, there may be a case for references to the Privileges Committee and, on the face of it, there are charges to answer. The Privileges Committee would be an appropriate place to look into some of those accusations. I am pleased to have seconded the member for Lyne's motion that seeks to censure the member for Dobell. I note that the member for Lyne has done entirely the right thing, focusing the censure not on the allegations or the findings against the member for Dobell before he entered the parliament but on things that he has done since entering the parliament which this parliament should find unacceptable, in particular the time it has taken him to publicly respond to the allegations against him and the allegation that he has not cooperated fully with Fair Work Australia since he has been a member of this place. I do not agree with suspension and I will not support any move by the opposition to suspend the member for Dobell. While we might censure him for specific behaviour during his time as a member of this place, I believe that to suspend a member is ultimately to pass judgement on and to sit as judge and jury of him. That is not our role.

Hopefully, as a result of this kerfuffle over the member for Dobell and perhaps with regard to the Speaker, we could look more broadly at other things that we could do. Some people say that the constitutional threshold that you are not eligible to sit in this place if you have been found guilty of any offence punishable by one or more years of imprisonment is too high. I do not know, but why not have a debate about it? Why not have a discussion about it? Twelve months might be good. Maybe it should be two years. Maybe it should be three months. But we should not be afraid to have a discussion about it. If after a discussion we think it is set at the wrong place then the government should consider trying to bring about changes to it.

What about other indiscretions that might be added to the list? The member for New England quite rightly explored in his speech this afternoon that perhaps there are other things a member might do that should mean he or she is ineligible to sit in this place. I think there should be a code of conduct, and for the life of me I cannot see why, after all of the attempts to have such a code, there is not one. What are we afraid of in this place? The member for Isaacs has identified some problems and difficulties with some of these mechanisms, but surely we have the goodwill and the nous to solve those problems. There is no logical reason why we cannot have a code of conduct. And what on earth has happened to the integrity commissioner? This is a rather historic document now that I have: it is my eight-page written agreement with the Prime Minister over the establishment of a parliamentary integrity commissioner. It still has not been done and it should be done.

In closing, most of the people I am mixing with on the street are sick to death of this issue. They are sick to death of the fight and the argy-bargy that is going on in this place at the moment. They want us to just sort it out and move on. They want the government to get on and run the country and they want the opposition to get on and prove it is a credible alternative government. I think that is what we should now be focusing on.