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Thursday, 30 November 2017
Page: 9313


Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (11:11): I rise to speak on the motion to take note of Senator Dastyari's statement. There have been a number of speakers from the government, One Nation and, now, the Nick Xenophon Team. I thank all those people for their contributions, but I think a number of things need to be said about this matter.

The first point I'd like to make is that the opposition has been arguing, for more than 12 months now, that this whole issue of foreign influence and foreign donations needs to be dealt with by this parliament. In order to facilitate that debate, my predecessor in this role, Senator Conroy—and this morning we've heard Senator Brandis speak glowingly of the position that Senator Conroy took in respect of foreign policy—when he was the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, came forward with a way of dealing with the issue of foreign influence and foreign donations in this country. He proposed, more than 12 months ago, a piece of legislation which would—had it passed this parliament—have dealt with many of the issues that we've been talking about today.

I'd like to refer to some of the things that are in that legislation. One of them is to reduce the donation disclosure limit from the amount that the government has set for it, of $13,500, to $1,000. The government has routinely resisted this. Under the former Labor governments, the figure had been more than $10,000. It was Prime Minister Howard who reduced it from $10,000 to $1,500. Significantly, the bill that I introduced and that is before the parliament would prohibit foreign donations from occurring. The Labor Party believes that we need to deal with this issue and we need to deal with it promptly.

I appreciate that there have been some changes on the other side in terms of the area of Special Minister of State, but, for now more than nine months, we have heard that the government is on the cusp of bringing forward a piece of legislation, and it hasn't appeared anywhere. The Prime Minister routinely issues a press statement saying: 'We've got a piece of legislation and we're about to introduce it into the parliament.' Attorney-General Brandis keeps saying: 'Yes, we've got a piece of legislation and we're going to introduce it into the parliament.' The suggestion was that this legislation was going to be introduced in the spring session of the parliament. Well, it's nowhere to be seen. Of course, as we know, Prime Minister Turnbull is so frightened of his own shadow he didn't even call the lower house of parliament this week, so there was no prospect whatsoever of any legislation from the government on this issue.

This morning we've seen Senator Dastyari rise in this place and indicate that he is standing down from his position as Deputy Opposition Whip in this place, and he's done so as a result of the issues that have been raised in the press over the last couple of days. I'd like to contrast Senator Dastyari's actions this morning with the actions of the government whenever it's confronted with actions which might be considered to be worthy of resignation. Can I go back to the events of a couple of weeks ago, when we saw that the offices of the Australian Workers' Union had been raided by the Australian Federal Police. Prime Minister Turnbull and Minister Cash made a big song and dance about all of this. But what did we discover on the ensuing day? We discovered that, after this raid had been authorised, somebody had leaked to the Australian media that the raid was about to occur. We didn't know who it was, but there was speculation. In fact, Prime Minister Turnbull called Senator Cash and her media adviser, Mr De Garis, to his office and said, 'This leak that enabled the media to get to the offices of the Australian Workers' Union even before the Federal Police had arrived—is there any chance it came from your office?' Senator Cash emphatically denied that it could've come from her office, and Mr De Garis also denied that it could've come from Senator Cash's office.

Senator Bernardi: What's this got to do with Senator Dastyari?

Senator FARRELL: Thank you for that interjection, Senator Bernardi. This has got a lot to do with Senator Dastyari. I'm going to contrast the behaviour of Senator Dastyari this morning, who resigned his position as deputy whip in this place, with that of Senator Cash. What we discovered was that she went before a Senate committee and not once, not twice, not three times, not four times but five times denied that her office had been the source of this leak to the media. Leaking details of an AFP raid is quite an inappropriate thing to do, and on five occasions Senator Cash denied that she had ever done this. But it turns out that, despite her and her staffer, Mr De Garis, denying it in the presence of the Prime Minister, in fact, her office had leaked this information. So we had a minister of the crown admitting that her office leaked information about a so-called important police raid to the media that enabled the media to tip off the organisation that was being raided, the Australian Workers' Union. In fact, the media turned up there, as I understand it, before the police arrived and had to ring their source just to confirm that there was, in fact, going to be a raid.

I'd ask you to consider the subsequent behaviour of Senator Cash, Mr Acting Deputy President O'Sullivan, because I'm sure you were concerned about that. She's responsible for her office. It's become very clear that on five separate occasions she's misled the parliament as to her actions and behaviour. What did she do? Did she come into this place and say: 'I'm taking responsibility under the Westminster system for my office. I've misled the parliament about this matter. It is my duty and my obligation to resign my ministry'? Is that what Senator Cash did? Did she follow the behaviour of Senator Dastyari this morning?

Senator Bernardi: Oh, please!

Senator FARRELL: Senator Bernardi, let me make it very clear to you what happened. A police investigation was damaged and embarrassed as a result of the behaviour of people in Senator Cash's office. What did she do? Did she do the honourable thing, as Senator Dastyari has done this morning? Did she follow that precedent? Did she follow the traditional precedent of the Westminster system where ministers take responsibility for their actions and those of their staff? No, she didn't do that at all. She dug in. She refused to take responsibility for her actions. I ask you to contrast that with Senator Dastyari and whether—

Senator Bernardi: You're lost for words. I understand.

Senator FARRELL: No, I'm not lost for words, Senator Bernardi. Did Minister Cash follow the actions of Senator Dastyari? No. She dug in. Then for not one day, not one week, not one month but more than 40 days Senator Cash refused to turn up before the committee investigating this matter so that they could ask her further questions about what she did and about what people in her office did. Senator Dastyari didn't wait 40 days. He was in here first thing today, and he has resigned his position. So let's not take lectures from this government about proper behaviour. Senator Dastyari resigned; Senator Cash continues.

This is not the only example of—let's call it what it is—bad behaviour. What happened to Senator Fifield? Senator Fifield was apparently advised, although he's not exactly sure when, by the former occupant of the seat that you are now sitting in, Mr Acting Deputy President O'Sullivan, that he thought he had a problem with his citizenship. What did Senator Fifield do? Did he go and speak to the Prime Minister and say: 'Look, Prime Minister, I think we've got a problem. Another one of our members—in fact, the President of the Senate—may be in breach of section 44 of the Constitution and be ineligible to sit in this place'?

Did Senator Fifield do that? No. He sat on that information. He didn't disclose it—so he said—to his Prime Minister. Apparently, he didn't disclose it to the Attorney-General.

The Attorney-General, at that point, was conducting a case in the High Court on this very issue where he'd received some advice from his Solicitor-General, apparently—we don't know this for sure, because we haven't seen this advice—that all of the members of the government on the issue of citizenship were in the clear. Senator Fifield didn't tell the Prime Minister. He didn't tell the Attorney-General and, based on some evidence he gave to a committee the other night, he didn't tell any of his other ministers.

So we have a situation in which the President of the Senate has done absolutely the right thing. He's gone to the Manager of Government Business and said, 'Look, I think I've got a problem.' What's he told by Minister Fifield? We don't know for sure—I have to admit that—but the other side are very happy to rely on newspaper reports when it suits them. The reports that I saw, SBS and Michelle Grattan, made it very clear that what Senator Parry had said, had confided, to Minister Fifield—we at least know he spoke to one minister because he's admitted it—was that he believed he had a problem with his citizenship and he was following it up. Now what did Minister Fifield say when he found out this information? It's a good question. We don't exactly know. But if you believe the reports by SBS and journalist Michelle Grattan, he was told: 'Keep quiet. Don't say anything. Keep your mouth shut. Keep your mouth shut. Keep your mouth shut.' When this became public, did Senator Fifield say, 'Okay, I've tried to cover up a breach of section 44. I'm going to do the honourable thing in accordance with the Westminster system and resign my commission'? Did he do that? No, he didn't do that.

Again, I ask you to contrast him with Senator Dastyari. There are a couple of newspaper reports. What does Senator Dastyari do? He does the honourable thing. He comes into this place at the first opportunity and he resigns as deputy whip of the opposition. I don't think there could be any greater hypocrisy on the part of this government—

Senator Bernardi interjecting

Senator FARRELL: I know you're laughing, Senator Bernardi; I'd laugh at them too. I know you were wise enough, Senator Bernardi, to leave that group. However, the rank hypocrisy of members of the other side, members of the government, getting up and criticising the Labor Party is breathtaking—I don't think there's any other word that I could use. When confronted with issues, the Labor Party does the right thing. When confronted with issues, invariably, on every occasion, members of the government do absolutely the wrong thing.