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Wednesday, 28 March 2018
Page: 2330


Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (09:33): I move:

That the Senate take note of the minister's response.

I must say I have never, in the time I've been here, seen a government rely on public interest immunity as much as this government and this minister, who is just leaving the chamber.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, I remind you not to reflect on when senators leave the chamber.

Senator CAMERON: I withdraw that.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you.

Senator CAMERON: That must be a new one! In relation to this position, we have a government that is, I think, clearly making a mockery of democracy and making a mockery of this chamber. They are refusing to be held accountable, and Minister Cash is a minister who has used public interest immunity more than any other minister I have seen in the decade that I've been in this place. This is a minister who, in a previous portfolio, has presided over an absolute disgrace of an administration—a minister who comes in here and is always prepared to use question time to attack union officials without any evidence, attack the trade union movement without any evidence and smear and use innuendo about ordinary Australians looking after working people day after day, doing the hard yards against the Business Council of Australia, who are trying to get tax cuts at the expense of working people. That's where this minister owes her allegiance. That's where this minister goes. This is a minister who turned a blind eye to the illegality of her former commissioner for the Australian Building and Construction Commission, Nigel Hadgkiss—a commissioner who ended up in disgrace, a commissioner who used $400,000 of public money, authorised by Minister Cash, to defend an illegality.

Senator Cash has got no credibility in this place. She has got no credibility as a minister. She has got absolutely no credibility in doing the right thing as a minister in this government. She misled the Prime Minister when she appointed Nigel Hadgkiss because she should have told the Prime Minister that Nigel Hadgkiss had breached the legislation that he was supposed to uphold. This is a minister with no credibility—absolutely none. If she were to do the right thing, she would resign from the frontbench and deal with the issues that she is facing. But all she is prepared to do, and all this government is prepared to do, is spend more and more public money to defend the indefensible. She is an absolute disgrace as a minister, and all the posturing, all the nonsense—

Senator Payne: Deputy President, can I seek your guidance as to whether there is any requirement for the senator to be relevant to the matter before the chair?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: In all debates there is that question of relevance. I believe that Senator Cameron is setting a wide example, and I'm sure he will come to the substance of the matter in his speech. I have been listening—he's five minutes in at this point.

Senator CAMERON: Thanks for that, Madam Deputy President. I don't think anything could be more relevant. What could be more relevant than a minister coming in here, once again, claiming public interest immunity on behalf of another minister? I think it's appropriate for me to point out that the minister who is in here representing the other minister is one of the greatest abusers of public interest immunity in this place. This is a minister who misled the Prime Minister, as I said, and re-appointed Nigel Hadgkiss when she knew that Nigel Hadgkiss had breached the law. All she had to do was look at what this public servant was doing and she would have understood that he had no case to defend the indefensible that he had participated in.

This is a minister who uses her political power to interfere in other government instrumentalities—the ABCC, the Registered Organisations Commission and the Fair Work Ombudsman. This is a minister who has got a web of advisers—former advisers, former mates, former Liberal cronies—in these so-called independent organisations to attack the trade union movement, to attack working people. This minister has misused her power as a minister. I've said it before: I watched a BBC Panorama program about the interference by Putin against his political opponents in Russia. I tell you, he could learn a lot from Minister Cash. He could learn a lot from this minister. To use your political power to misrepresent positions in this place, to use your political power to ensconce your mates in individual instrumentalities and then to use them to attack the trade union movement and working people in this country is an absolute disgrace.

The abuse of power by Minister Cash is, I think, just outrageous. This is a minister who, in my view, instigated the leak of the AFP raid. That's why she is so determined to use public interest immunity in this place. Is it feasible? It beggars belief that a senior person in Minister Cash's office tips off the media about the raid by the AFP that was instigated by Minister Cash using the Registered Organisations Commission, her creation, to attack the AWU. We know what it was all about. It was about attacking the Leader of the Opposition. It's a complete misuse of political power in this place. This minister misled parliament on five occasions. Then she had to come in and throw her staff under the bus, sacrifice her own staff, to save her own political skin. That's what this minister did. Everyone knows that that could not have happened without this minister knowing what was going on.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Hanson.

Senator CAMERON: This will be good.

Senator Hanson: A point of order. This has no relevance to what is before the house. This is about KPMG. I draw it back to the relevance of what's before the house.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Hanson. I do remind Senator Cameron that this is about a report to be tabled today. I note that the minister has claimed public immunity, and I would just remind Senator Cameron of the need to remain with the topic.

Senator CAMERON: I believe I am right on topic. This is about an order for the production of documents that Minister Cash has been asked to produce in this place. She hasn't produced them. She has hidden behind public interest immunity. Isn't it great that the so-called defender of the working class in this country, Senator Hanson, is in there defending this minister? You may as well just join the Liberal Party. This is where Senator Hanson came from. She came from the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party knew that they had some credibility and kicked her out because of her outrageous, racist views. They kicked her out, and now we've got the Liberal Party cuddling up to her. And we'll get Senator Hanson cuddling up to the Liberal Party. It's absolutely outrageous! What an obnoxious position this member takes every day in this place.

I am right on issue in relation to this. This is about the misuse of public interest immunity. This is about not providing documents so that this parliament and this Senate can do what they are designed to do: to scrutinise the actions of ministers and the actions of government and to hold government to account. That's our job. All they do is hide behind public interest immunity and get their puppets to stand up and try to deflect when they're under pressure. Well, Senator Hanson, it's no use being a puppet in here; you actually should stand up for something other than racism and attacking people in this country. It's just absolutely outrageous.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, resume your seat. Senator Hanson.

Senator Hanson: I want Senator Cameron to withdraw that comment about my racism, because that is not the point in any way whatsoever, and I find that offensive.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, would you withdraw that remark, please.

Senator CAMERON: Yes, if it assists the Senate, I'll withdraw.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Cameron.

Senator CAMERON: But everyone knows what Senator Hanson is about. Everyone knows her form. Anyone that could stoop to doing what she's done in this place really can't hide behind parliamentary procedures. That's the bottom line. We all know what she's like. You know, Senator Hanson and Senator Cash are a good pair, a really good pair. We see them—Senator Hanson standing up here to defend a minister.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, please resume your seat. Senator Hanson.

Senator Hanson: I call on Senator Cameron to bring it back to relevance to the issue, which is a KPMG report. That is what this is about. There's no discussion about this. I haven't heard him refer to the KPMG report. He just keeps referring to another matter to do with Senator Cash. Bring it back to what this is about.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Hanson. I believe that Senator Cameron is being relevant. One of the points the minister made was public interest immunity, and that is where Senator Cameron has directed most of his remarks. Please resume, Senator Cameron.

Senator CAMERON: Thanks, Madam Deputy President. Again I repeat: I am absolutely on point about a government using public interest immunity to hide the misbehaviour of ministers. That's exactly what we're seeing here this morning. Nothing could be clearer, and nothing could be clearer about how much of a puppet Senator Hanson is to this government than her behaviour this morning—absolutely terrible.

This government has got a terrible record on funding for courts and essential services. Not only did it ignore the call in the KPMG report for an emergency injection of $5 million in funding, but the Abbott government cut $30 million in funding from the Family Court in the first year. This is a government that cut funding for the Family Court and increased funding for the ABCC. It increased funding for Nigel Hadgkiss and his cronies in the ABCC to attack working people in this country.

As I've said, Minister Cash, who is in here defending the government's position this morning, is the worst of them all in the coalition: misleading this parliament on five occasions, a ministerial office in chaos and revolving doors in her office. People are moving out of her office as soon as they come under any scrutiny. As soon as they come under any scrutiny, off they go to get a job working for the Hotels Association, assisted by the minister or by the government in Western Australia. All the links are there. We know how this mob works: if you're in trouble, throw your adviser under the bus. Off he goes to get a job with the Hotels Association, and then you try to hide from the misbehaviour that you've carried out. The web of influence that this minister has created in so-called independent organisations is a disgrace. It's a disgrace for democracy and it's a disgrace for the coalition—an absolute disgrace. Minister Cash comes in here and she attacks refugees, attacks working people and uses question time to simply make assertions that are not true. Then, when she is in trouble, she wants to hide behind public interest immunity to avoid scrutiny, failing to comply with orders to produce answers to the estimates questions. She just treats the Senate with absolute disdain.

It's not just Senator Cash that treats the Senate with disdain; the coalition treats the Senate with disdain. I'd have thought any Independent worth their salt, who wants to make sure a government is held to account, wouldn't be in here defending the government, wouldn't be in here defending Senator Cash, as Senator Hanson has done on every occasion she got the opportunity to this morning. What an absolute disgrace for One Nation to be in here trying to defend Senator Cash, trying to defend this rabble of a government. Pauline Hanson's One Nation should just actually sign up to the coalition—because you're just part of the coalition. You're just part of the coalition.

Senator Cash is a minister who has failed to deal with the fundamental part of her job, and that was to make sure that working people in this country were not ripped off. She just didn't ever go there. It was always an attack on the unions, using independent bodies to attack the union movement: put her mates, put her allies, put her plants into independent organisations and then use them to attack the trade union movement and use them to attack the Leader of the Opposition. That's what this was all about.

As I've said, Putin would be proud of what Minister Cash has done. I know Putin is one of Senator Hanson's heroes. She thinks he's great. Well, nobody else in the world seems to think he's great. When you're out here defending Senator Cash, I know why you're doing it—because you like what Putin is doing in Russia, and you think that this is worth defending here. What a disgrace Pauline Hanson's One Nation is. What a disgrace Pauline Hanson is.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, I remind you to refer to senators by their correct title.

Senator CAMERON: I thought I did. I said 'Pauline Hanson's One Nation'. Isn't that the name of the party?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: It is, and then you referenced the senator.

Senator CAMERON: I accept that.

Senator Ruston: On a point of order, following Senator Cameron's comment: he actually referred to the senator as 'a disgrace'. I think he probably should withdraw.

Senator CAMERON: I certainly think the defence is truth—surely?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Ruston?

Senator Ruston: I would draw the chair's attention to the last comment by Senator Cameron. I asked if you would ask Senator Cameron to withdraw—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Ruston.

Senator Ruston: and he has just continued to be rude.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, it's not appropriate to reflect personally on a senator. I'd just ask you to withdraw.

Senator CAMERON: If it assists the chair, I withdraw.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Cameron.

Senator CAMERON: This is a minister, in Minister Cash, who failed to act on employers ripping off workers. We have Senator Hanson in here defending a minister who fails to defend workers getting ripped off. What is this about? We know what it's about. Senator Hanson is nothing more than a right-wing Liberal. That's what she is. She's a right-wing Liberal. I don't often say this, but at least John Howard had the courage and conviction to throw her out of the party for her disgraceful conduct. Now we've got other former prime ministers like Tony Abbott cuddling up to her. What a disgrace this party is. The coalition have just lost the plot—absolutely lost the plot.

Minister Cash comes in here and defends wage theft, does nothing about workers getting their superannuation ripped off and does nothing about apprentices getting ripped off. There have been two reports from the Fair Work Ombudsman about apprentices getting ripped off—not a word said.

Yet what we get from Senator Hanson is a dirty deal with the coalition to give massive wage cuts to the Business Council of Australia in return for a thousand apprentices. I've never heard Senator Hanson mention apprentices in this place since she's been here. I've never heard Senator Hanson or any One Nation member come to an estimates committee and ask about the welfare of apprentices. They've never cared about apprentices, yet, when it suits them, they'll do a dirty deal with the government to try and cover up their capitulation to the government, to hand over $65 billion to big business.

Coming back to Senator Cash: Senator Cash should have a good look at herself. She is a minister who has misled this place on five occasions, thrown her staff under the bus to protect her own position and refused to deal with the issues for working people in this country when she was the minister for industrial relations. She has refused to act honourably in her position in this place. She is an absolute disgrace. She should resign. She should talk to the Federal Police, tell the Federal Police exactly what happened and save the Federal Police the investigation that they are undertaking, save the public money and do the right thing. Senator Cash should resign. She can hide behind public interest immunity all she likes, but she will be found out, because her position is untenable. She is a disgrace of a minister. She has misled this place at least five times. She should just fess up. (Time expired)