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Wednesday, 23 October 2002
Page: 5765

Senator FERGUSON (5:42 PM) —I would like to say at the outset that I am pleased for Senator Cook in at least one regard tonight: at least he did not suffer the humiliation of not being able to table his own report as chairman. When I saw the first speakers list it had Senator Faulkner, 20 minutes; Senator Brandis, 20 minutes; and Senator Cook coming on at some later stage. So, Senator Cook, I am very pleased for you that you were able to table your own report. Because, in fact, it is your report. It is your report and yours alone, because this is not a committee report; it is a Labor senators' report.

Senator Jacinta Collins —On a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President: Senator Ferguson is deliberately misleading the Senate. This is a majority report and he knows it, despite having tried to organise otherwise.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McLucas)—There is no point of order, Senator Collins. I request you to withdraw that comment.

Senator Jacinta Collins —Withdraw what?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Saying that Senator Ferguson was deliberately misleading.

Senator Jacinta Collins —Madam Acting Deputy President, if you are suggesting that I called Senator Ferguson a liar, I withdraw.

Senator FERGUSON —This is a Labor senators' report, because there was no contribution from anybody other than Labor senators, except in the smallest way. It is one of the worst abuses of the Senate processes for adopting committee reports that I have seen in my 10 years in the Senate. It took 2½ months for the chairman to present a draft and it was presented incomplete—there were still changes to be made—at approximately 11.30 last Monday morning for formal adoption some three-quarters of an hour later. That is not too bad. I suppose we should be expected to peruse 380-odd pages and consider the changes that were made, some of which we were unaware of at the time because they had been slipped in during the last week. So 2½ months of preparation passed, with no discussion whatsoever, before the report was complete and the chairman was asking for an adoption. Senator Cook says that all the other senators agreed. Maybe Senator Murphy agrees—I do not know—but he scarcely attended one meeting of the committee. I would be surprised if he has read the whole 383 pages; he may have. But the only evidence he could base his support for this report on was the evidence that was supplied in this report by Senator Cook and the Labor Party. The sins of omission in the Labor Party report are certainly more than those things which were included from evidence.

So we have 2½ months of preparation of the chairman's draft. Some three months ago, this committee was asked to spend $38,500 to get expert opinion because the Labor Party members were not capable of dissecting the information themselves, or so they thought. But then, of course, the Odgers report came much later. They did not wait for that and they went ahead and wrote a report anyway. Why on earth that money was ever spent in getting a report from somebody outside of the committee I will never know. I opposed it at the time. I think it was an abuse of the committee process and it should never have been done in the first place. Then we have the matter of additional comments by Senator Faulkner and Senator Collins. It must be Senator Cook's report because, they being Labor senators, Senator Cook obviously did not want their comments included in the main body of the report. For some reason or other, he did not want Senator Faulkner's or Senator Collins's additional comments included. I can only assume that it was Senator Cook who did not want those included. Otherwise, why wouldn't the Labor Party senators' comments be included in the main body of the report? That I cannot understand.

No doubt, the senators opposite are well acquainted with the show trials of Stalinist Russia. They seem to be because in all of those show trials you firstly determine the verdict that is required and you then set up a trial using as many witnesses as necessary to obtain tenuous evidence which is subsequently used to ratify the predetermined verdict. Senator Cook, you have done it to perfection—this is a Stalinist show trial if ever I have seen one. Comrades, you have learnt very well. In the course of the whole event, never at any time did we object to any of the witnesses you called. We said you could call anybody you liked—and so you did. And you wheeled in some rippers. I remember you had academics and armchair analysts operating with the benefit of hindsight and free of the pressures of decision making in a highly mobile environment. They are the sorts of people that you brought in, and I think their judgments need to be questioned.

Indeed, as it says in our report, the only person with senior military experience that the Labor Party could wheel out to criticise the handling of the issue was Sir Richard Peek—a gentleman who may have had a distinguished military career; I do not know. It was so long ago, nobody would remember—because Sir Richard Peek began his career in the Royal Australian Navy in 1928 during the prime ministership of Stanley Melbourne Bruce. It was just a few years after the sinking of the Titanic. He retired some 30 years ago and he could hardly be regarded as an authoritative commentator on contemporary military decisions or systems. This is the only person from the military—an armchair academic—that the Labor Party could wheel out to give evidence before this inquiry.

Senator Cook —Madam Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I think that is a reflection on a distinguished Australian. I invite the senator to go outside and say it. Go outside and say that about Sir Richard Peek.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Senator Cook, there is no point of order.

Senator Brandis —You were happy to cast reflections on a distinguished Australian: Admiral Barrie.

Senator FERGUSON —You cast your reflections on Admiral Barrie, who is a contemporary military officer. Comrades, you learnt well in your Stalinist show trial.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Senator Ferguson, I request you to direct your remarks through the chair.

Senator FERGUSON —Madam Acting Deputy President, the comrades over on the opposite side learnt their talents well in Stalinist show trials, because if you know what verdict you require and then get the evidence afterwards, that is what it is: a Stalinist show trial. On 14 February, six weeks before we took one item of evidence, Mr Crean, your leader, said:

Yours is a government that has lied to the Australian people ... It rushed out within four hours to make the allegation, to tell the lie ...

Senator Forshaw —Madam Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. We can take the usual abuse from Senator Ferguson but is it in order to describe a Senate committee as being a Stalinist show trial? I would say that is a breach of the standing orders because it is a reflection upon a committee of this parliament.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Thank you, Senator Forshaw. I suggest that Senator Ferguson selects his words wisely.

Senator FERGUSON —I will select them as wisely as I can, Madam Acting Deputy President. On 14 February, Mr Crean made that statement. On 13 February, as Hansard records, Senator Faulkner said:

There is no doubt that the Howard government deceived the Australian people on this issue ...

That was on 13 February, more than six weeks before we had taken a single word of evidence. If there was no doubt, why the need for this political farce and political witch-hunt? The verdict was predetermined by the Labor Party and they decided that they would have to have some sort of inquiry in order to gather some evidence so that they could justify their predetermined verdict. I can understand what a state the ALP must have been in when they set up this inquiry. In 1996 they were slaughtered at the election. In 1998, with no forward vision—and they have shown no forward vision since 1996, because they have scarcely had a policy; they do nothing but look backwards—they were defeated in spite of their negative, fraudulent campaign against the GST.

Senator Crossin —We got the majority of the vote in 1998.

Senator FERGUSON —You lost again in 1998. In the year 2001, what did we have? More negativity. Roll back the GST—that is the negative side. Those senators opposite know that they were deserted by the Australian people, who after 5½ years knew and trusted Prime Minister John Howard. They cannot stand it that, after 5½ years, their negativity, their backward looking, would get them nowhere.

It has now got even worse. Last Saturday the Australian voters deserted you in Cunningham. Even your own supporters are now deserting you. You find yourself in a situation where you simply have to use red herrings to try and somehow divert attention away from the wonderful progress that is being made in this country. You try to look backwards; you never look forwards. Even after two days of hearings, respected journalists were starting to realise that this was blowing up in the Labor Party's face. I quote from an article that appeared on Monday, 1 April in the Australian

Senator Forshaw —Who is it by?

Senator FERGUSON —It is by Glenn Milne, chief political correspondent for the Seven network—a great journalist. The article says:

Unless federal Labor can come up with the smoking gun that directly implicates John Howard in deliberate deception over the children-overboard affair, the Senate inquiry into the matter is halfway to blowing up in the Opposition's face.

This was after two days. It is a lot more than halfway now. After four days, it had totally blown up. The article goes on:

With two days of hearings already complete in the so-called Senate Inquiry Into a Certain Maritime Incident, it's Labor that's taking political water, not the Government.

That is a fair assessment of exactly what happened to you throughout the whole 15 days of hearings. You continued to get witnesses to come along and not one of them supported what you said, because in fact you could never—

Senator FERGUSON —You said in your initial remarks that truth is absolute. Why doesn't your report tell the truth? Why doesn't the Labor Party's report tell the truth?

Senator Cook —I rise on a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President. I am not going to have someone say in this place that we do not tell the truth, because we do. That remark should be withdrawn. You know better.

Senator FERGUSON —The report does not tell the truth.

Senator Cook —It is my report—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —There is no point of order.

Senator FERGUSON —It is your report. I am glad you said so, Senator Cook. I am pleased you said it is your report.

Senator FERGUSON —You said it was your report.


Senator FERGUSON —You are intellectually dishonest.

Senator Cook —I rise on a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President. I was just accused in an unparliamentary way. That should be withdrawn.

Senator FERGUSON —I withdraw it.

Senator Cook —The earlier remark that this report does not tell the truth should be withdrawn. It is my report and the report—

Senator FERGUSON —It is his report!

Senator Cook —of the other senators in this chamber, and that is a reflection on me and all of them about honesty. That remark should be withdrawn.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Senator Ferguson, I understand you have withdrawn those unparliamentary comments.

Senator FERGUSON —If your report contains so much truth, why is there no mention in your report of the pattern of conduct that took place over the whole of the period of the election campaign?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Senator Ferguson, I request again that you address your remarks through the chair.

Senator FERGUSON —I apologise. Why is it not included in the report simply because it does not suit your purposes? If the Australian government wanted to use the treatment of asylum seekers in order to win an election, it would have put out to the public the treatment of people on SIEV5, SIEV6, SIEV7, SIEV8, SIEV9, SIEV10, SIEV11 and SIEV12. That is what would have happened. It would have put all of those things into the public arena. But Mr Reith chose not to.

Senator Cook —There is no hard evidence.

Senator FERGUSON —There is hard evidence, because a child was dropped overboard on SIEV7 and Senator Cook knows it.

Senator Cook —There is no proof.

Senator FERGUSON —It is in the evidence.

Senator FERGUSON —It is in the evidence and the report simply does not tell the whole truth. It is Senator Cook's report, as he said. Senator Cook said, `It is my report,' and it is your report, Senator Cook, because nobody else had the opportunity to put anything into it, because you did not finalise it in time for the rest of the committee to consider it in ways that reports are always considered whenever they are brought to this committee. (Time expired)