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Thursday, 1 March 2012
Page: 1393

Gillard Government


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:00): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Will the minister explain why the Prime Minister branded the story in yesterday's Australian about Mr Bob Carr being offered the Senate vacancy and the position of Minister for Foreign Affairs as 'completely untrue'? Does the government still maintain that the story was completely untrue?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:00): Clearly these questions are best directed to the Prime Minister. I have no personal engagement with them other than in a general sense. I am happy to say that the Prime Minister has dealt with these issues. I am pleased to say that the Labor Party, in seeking to replace Senator Arbib in this chamber and fill his very big shoes, has gone out and tried to engage with its membership to attract the best possible candidates. I am pleased to say that the discussion so far has been focused on a range of very high-quality candidates who would make a real contribution to the Senate and to the government if they were to come forward as the replacement senator. But that is a question that will be determined by the New South Wales Labor Party in the normal course of events. Formally, it will be a decision of the New South Wales parliament, as I understand it.

Mr Carr would obviously be an outstanding candidate, but he has ruled himself out. There are other candidates such as Mr Mundine and others who are putting forward their names. As I said, I am encouraged by the quality of candidates. The Labor Party is in the process of selecting a quality candidate. Once that decision has been made, they will replace Senator Arbib in the Senate, provided normal constitutional conventions are observed by the New South Wales government. I assume they will be. I know we will get a quality representative to replace Senator Arbib and that they will make a contribution to the government and to the Senate.


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:02): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister confirm Labor governs by letting unelected, faceless men like Sam Dastyari hawk around some of the highest offices in the land—Foreign Affairs, Defence—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Just resume your seat, Senator Abetz. I cannot hear you. When there is silence on both sides we will proceed.

Senator ABETZ: Can I start again?

The PRESIDENT: Yes, you can.

Senator ABETZ: I understand the wounds are still raw but can the minister confirm Labor governs by letting unelected, faceless men like Sam Dastyari hawk around some of the highest offices in the land—the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade portfolios—like some kind of speed-dating service?






Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:03): I make the obvious point that the Liberal Party have no interest in policy debate. They have nothing to contribute to public policy debate in this country. It is the role of the state secretary in New South Wales, Mr Dastyari—

Senator Brandis: How do you pronounce that?

Senator CHRIS EVANS: I am not sure, actually! That is why I will refer to him as the New South Wales state secretary in future. He is not faceless because I can recognise him. He has the job of coordinating the selection process in the New South Wales branch, just as the Liberal Party officials do. I run into the national director of the Liberal Party every Tuesday when the party room meetings are on. I do not know why he is always in the building. I always bump into him on the way to our caucus meeting. The Prime Minister will decide the ministry and the New South Wales party will nominate a replacement, and I am sure it will be a quality replacement for Senator Arbib.




Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:05): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given the Prime Minister's denials in 2010 that she was after Kevin Rudd's job, her promise that 'there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead', her betrayal of Mr Wilkie over poker machines and her office's role in the Australia Day riot, wasn't Mr Rudd right when he said of the Prime Minister that she has lost the trust of the Australian people?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:05): Question time is the opportunity for the opposition and the Independents in particular to question ministers about their portfolio responsibilities, to examine issues of interest to the Australian people, allegedly to pressure the government—

Senator Brandis: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. As you well know, all of the answer must be directly relevant to the question. Comments by the minister about the role of question time have no bearing, directly or indirectly, on the question that was asked.

Senator Conroy: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The question can only be relevant to a minister's portfolio if it does not start off by containing a list of slanderous allegations. I think that turns it into a very broad question, and Senator Evans is well within the broad remit of that completely irrelevant question.

The PRESIDENT: The minister has only been going for 15 seconds. The minister has 45 seconds remaining to address the question. There is no point of order at this stage.

Senator CHRIS EVANS: Mr President, I am just making the point that the opposition has the choice of making unsubstantiated allegations to try to smear various people or of actually focusing on the issues that are important to Australian families. They could ask us about jobs, they could ask us about the economy, they could ask us about health or they could ask us about education, but, no, they make a series of smears, a series of political smart-alec tactics. They have no interest in big policy debates. I suggest that the Australian people will judge the opposition very harshly.

Senator Abetz: Mr President, I rise on a point of order: under sessional orders the leader of the government is required to be directly relevant. In relation to all that to which we have had to listen, it is a fact that the Prime Minister promised that there would be no carbon tax. That is not a smear; that is a fact, as were all the other elements.

The PRESIDENT: This is now debating it.

Senator Abetz: I would invite you, Mr President, to require the leader to be directly relevant as required by the sessional orders.

Senator Conroy: A point of order, Mr President: I would invite Senator Abetz to read his own question, to see the pejorative and slanderous commentary that he included in his question. Let us be clear, this question is a very broad question, and Senator Evans is entitled to answer such a broad, ridiculous question as broadly and, frankly, ridiculously as he likes.

The PRESIDENT: I am listening closely to the minister's answer. I did ask the minister before, when he had 45 seconds remaining, to address the question. I am asking the minister to continue. You have eight seconds remaining, Minister.

Senator CHRIS EVANS: Mr President, the government is focused on meeting the needs of Australian families, growing our economy and delivering good government to them. That will continue to be our priority. (Time expired)