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Tuesday, 10 May 1994
Page: 500

Senator BOLKUS (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Multicultural Affairs) (3.37 p.m.) —Mr Deputy President, welcome to the start of the dirty tricks, at the federal level, of the Northern Territory 1994 election campaign. We all know the election is going to be held on 11 June. That is an open secret in Darwin. Senator Tambling has brought that dirty trick, Darwin-style, into Canberra; and that should be resented.

  Since the time Senator Tambling raised this question, I have had the opportunity to get some information about the assertions. I say they are assertions because no substance has been given today to substantiate anything that Senator Tambling has said. All we have seen today is scandal, guilt by association, guilt by inference and allegations. Basically, we have seen a pretext for raising a matter to try to score some political points. There has been no substantiation of some of the assertions that Senator Tambling has made in terms of thuggery, threats of violence or whatever—none at all. They are just allegations.

  In terms of the operation of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, the assertions that Senator Tambling makes that the commission is reluctant to handle this matter and that people are guilty by association are just totally objectionable to the way that we run government in this country.

  I have been able to check the assertions. I have been able to check Senator Tambling's inferences, his allegations, his smearing of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. I have been able to check his smearing of individuals working for that commission. Let me say that I have had advice from the Sex Discrimination Commissioner to this effect: a complaint involving Mr Crawford and the metal workers unions has been received; it is ongoing. I would imagine that we in this place would respect the fact that there is an ongoing investigation; and that investigation should be allowed to continue.

Senator Robert Ray —Who interfered? Nobody!

Senator Collins —Where's your proof?

Senator BOLKUS —The second point—and this goes very much to the point that Senator Ray and Senator Collins have responded to—is that I am advised by the commissioner that no interference or pressure has been brought to bear on the commission. No-one has contacted the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, directly or indirectly, regarding the matter. This has been confirmed by her Darwin officers. Senator Tambling ought to withdraw. That is what this should lead to. If Senator Tambling had any dignity, if he had any respect for his own reputation, if he had any respect for individuals, if he had any respect for the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commissioner, if he had any respect for any fair process of laws, he would withdraw and apologise. But he will not, because he is a grime. He will not withdraw and apologise; we know that.

  Furthermore, let us go to this particular case. The Sex Discrimination Commissioner advises me that this matter is being handled in the normal way. Normally, it takes some six months to settle a case. This complaint was lodged just three months ago, and the commissioner has written to the parties involved—gee, Senator Tambling is looking like a real mug now—informing them that she will be in Darwin next week and will meet with the parties and deal with the matter.

  There is no reluctance to handle the matter, no deferral of it, no interference, no thuggery, no conspiracy and no threats of violence from them as a Labor Party—none at all. But what is Senator Tambling getting into? He is getting into that sleaze of the gutter—behind the newspaper shed sleaze—that we are all quite used to him being involved in. That is what he is involved in.

Senator Panizza —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. Associating Senator Tambling with the gutter and newspapers reflects badly on him and I think Senator Bolkus should withdraw it.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Panizza, I think it is typical robust debate of a nature with which we have perhaps become too familiar in this chamber, but there is no point of order.

Senator BOLKUS —Mr Deputy President, every point of concern that Senator Tambling has raised is of no concern.

Senator Tambling —I represent my constituents.

Senator BOLKUS —What he has done in here is abuse his constituents, abuse their privacy and abuse their right to a process for base political purposes. Did they tell him to come in here and make assertions of thuggery? Of course they would not have. Did they tell him to make assertions of people being sat on? I am sure they would not have.

  What he has done in here in the context of an unannounced election—but, as we know, I can announce it today; it is to be held on 11 June in Darwin—is abuse his constituents, but, more importantly, abuse this process, this parliament and the sanctity of the Senate. He has also abused his reputation but, even more importantly, he has abused a very important institution in this country—the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. He should withdraw; he should apologise.

  In the interests of the professionalism of the people involved, those against whom he has thrown those slurs in politics and outside it, he and his colleagues in Darwin will be judged on 11 June for the sordid way that they have treated government there. We all know that Darwin is the gateway into Asia, but the current administration in Darwin gives that gateway a very grubby doormat, and Senator Tambling is part of that.

Senator Panizza —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. Calling the government of the Northern Territory a grubby entrance into Asia is surely reflecting on that house, and I think Senator Bolkus should withdraw it.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —It is not the sort of language that, frankly, is attractive in the chamber. In a normal circumstance I would be very tempted to ask the minister to withdraw it. It was in the context of debate, but if that sort of language is used in the future I will be asking the minister to withdraw it.

Senator BOLKUS —Mr Deputy President, on that point of order, I presume that when you made that ruling you also meant that in the future senators such as Senator Tambling will not be allowed to come in here and slur all sorts of individuals inside and outside of politics in the way that he has without restraint.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Bolkus, you know there is no point of order.

Senator Tambling —Mr Deputy President, I need to establish from you whether the minister is now prepared to allow me to table the letter of 8 February, which he previously denied me, which contains the following statement:

Our Union writes officially to inform you that our NT Representative, Lucio, and our member, Dianna Lothian, are concerned about their welfare and safety. The ASU is also concerned for their welfare and safety.

Does the minister now enable me to table that letter as well?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Tambling, the answer is yes.