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Friday, 22 June 2012
Page: 4227

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (10:47): Yesterday afternoon, during the debate on taking note of answers, I made some remarks about freedom of speech. I said, among other things, that last year a column by the respected veteran political journalist Mr Glenn Milne was removed from the Australian newspaper—it was withdrawn after it had been published. It was taken down from the Australian's website. That column contained serious allegations concerning the Prime Minister.

Yesterday, also, in the other place, the honourable member for Barton and former Attorney-General, Mr Robert McClelland, made a contribution in the debate on the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2012. Speaking about trade union officers, Mr McClelland said:

Officers have sought to obtain personal benefit, or benefit on behalf of others, at the expense of members of their union. Reported instances include not only misapplying funds and resources of the union but also using the privileges of their office to attract and obtain services and benefits from third parties.

Aside from issues of profiteering, secret commissions and tax avoidance, these undeclared benefits can compromise officials. Rather than diligently representing the interests of their members without fear or favour, they effectively 'run dead' as a result of these side deals. This is no less than graft and corruption in its most reprehensible form, and it occurs at the expense of vulnerable members whose interests they have been charged with representing.

A little later in the speech, Mr McClelland referred to litigation in which he had been involved as a solicitor in the 1990s, involving the Australian Workers Union. He said:

… these issues also arose in those matters that I was involved with in the mid-1990s, which were filed in both the then Industrial Court of Australia and the Federal Court of Australia. There are a number of matters, generally under the name of Ludwig v Harrison and others, but probably most relevantly matter No. 1032 of 1996.

Also, Mr McClelland was involved, as a member of the firm Turner Freeman, in a related matter in which the parties were again William Patrick Ludwig as applicant, with Steven Harrison and others, including Bruce Morton Wilson, as respondents. Those matters, filed in the Industrial Relations Court of Australia, New South Wales District Registry, are identified as No. NI96/2082—in other words, industrial matter 2082 of 1996.

It is, in the opposition's view, of great significance that Mr McClelland chose to throw a spotlight on those matters. The opposition agrees with Mr McClelland's observation about the corrupt conduct of—and I am sure they are a small minority—some union officials. The opposition agrees with Mr McClelland's observation that the bill before the parliament at the moment in relation to registered organisations does not go nearly far enough. But what is most significant is the fact that Mr McClelland chose to throw a spotlight on those proceedings concerning corruption in the Australian Workers Union in the mid-1990s concerning which he, as a lawyer for Mr Ludwig, had direct knowledge and concerning which Mr Bruce Morton Wilson was one of the respondents. What is even more consequential is that in his speech yesterday Mr McClelland made what the Australian Financial Review this morning describes as 'pointed references' to the Prime Minister. This is what he said in his speech yesterday:

… I know the Prime Minister is quite familiar with this area of the law; as lawyers in the mid-1990s, we were involved in a matter representing opposing clients.

What Mr McClelland appears to be saying is that the Prime Minister knew about all of this as well. Mr Bruce Morton Wilson was one of the adverse parties against whom Mr Ludwig brought that series of proceedings.

Now, on 29 August last year, Mr Milne published in the Australian newspaper the opinion piece to which I will make reference. As I said yesterday, that opinion piece contains extensive and detailed reference to the Prime Minister's involvement in these events—as revealed and alleged in the proceedings conducted by Mr McClelland in the Industrial Relations Court of Australia and in the Industrial Division of the Federal Court in the mid-1990s. One can but wonder why it is that Mr McClelland, as a backbench member of the government, chose to draw attention to those matters from the 1990s—matters concerning which, as a solicitor, he had direct and thorough knowledge. One can but wonder why, in particular, Mr McClelland chose, in a very pointed way, to throw a spotlight on the Prime Minister's knowledge of those matters.

What we do know is that three courageous journalists, Mr Glenn Milne, Mr Michael Smith and Mr Andrew Bolt, had sought to bring to public attention the matters Mr McClelland referred to—those proceedings which he chose to remind the House of Representatives about yesterday. We know as well that, of the three journalists whose names I have mentioned, two suffered a grievous professional price for trying to reveal to the Australian people what Mr McClelland was hinting at yesterday.

Mr Glenn Milne's article, a copy of which I have here, deals with extensive allegations concerning the Prime Minister—none of which, by the way, have been the subject of a defamation suit against either him or the publishers of the Australian—was published on 29 August 2011. Within hours, it was taken down from the Australian's website after the direct intervention of the Prime Minister with the then CEO of News Limited, Mr John Hartigan. Yet the Prime Minister did not choose to sue for defamation. If ever there has been a case of political interference with the media, that would have to be it.

We also know that Mr Michael Smith—a very successful broadcaster first, as you will remember, Madam Acting Deputy President Moore, in Brisbane on 4BC and latterly in Sydney on 2UE—proposed to air those allegations as well on his radio station. We know that Mr Michael Smith was sacked by management. One can but wonder what political intervention occurred to produce that result. Of the three journalists who have sought to bring this issue to the attention of the Australian people, the only one who did not suffer a serious professional consequence was Mr Andrew Bolt. The events that Mr Robert McClelland, who is a very honourable man—I was his shadow until he was dismissed from the ministry by Julia Gillard at the end of last year and I must say that he conducted himself as Attorney-General with integrity, as a gentleman—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Moore ): Senator Brandis, I need to remind you that you should refer to the Prime Minister by her correct title. I know you are aware of that.

Senator BRANDIS: Thank you. Mr McClelland conducted himself with integrity and as a gentleman. He conducted himself more impressively as Attorney-General, I am bound to say, than does the incumbent. In any event, what Mr McClelland seemed to be seeking to draw to the attention of the House of Representatives deals with the self-same matters that Mr Glenn Milne was punished for trying to draw to the attention of the Australian people on 29 August last year and what Mr Michael Smith was punished for trying to draw to the attention of the Australian people at about the same time on radio station 2UE and that Mr Andrew Bolt continues to seek to draw to the attention of the Australian people.

We must ask why it is that Mr McClelland chose to throw the spotlight on those matters yesterday. Why is it that he pointedly sought to refer to the Prime Minister's knowledge of those matters? What are the facts which Mr Milne and Mr Smith sought to communicate to the public before they were interfered with that plainly Mr McClelland knows about and invited public attention to in his remarks yesterday?

Senator Joyce, who is about to follow me in this debate, has some other observations to make. Let me conclude my remarks simply by saying this: there are matters being concealed. There is an area of public discussion being stifled here of the utmost seriousness. The public is entitled to know of those matters. It is entitled to know of the allegations made in the Federal Court and industrial court proceedings conducted by Mr McClelland's firm in the mid-1990s which he drew attention to yesterday. The public is entitled to know the roles of the various dramatis personae whose names have been mentioned. It is entitled to know the facts which Mr Milne and Mr Smith sought to draw to the attention of the public last August and which Mr McClelland refreshed our memory of in his speech yesterday.