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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 2284

Senator BOB BROWN (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (15:46): I seek leave to have five minutes to respond.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Is leave granted?

Senator Abetz: Not at this stage, Mr Deputy President. Does Senator Bob Brown claim to have been misrepresented and require a personal explanation, or does he just want to have a five-minute go in the Senate? If he is just wanting a five-minute go in the Senate, then I would have thought that we should be entitled to know what it is about.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Brown, you have heard the comments of Senator Abetz. Are you still seeking leave to make a statement?

Senator BOB BROWN: Yes, I am. Let me make it clear to you, Mr Deputy President, that the Senate cannot descend into the situation that Senator Abetz requests, that senators give notice of the content of what they are going to say before they say it. I am simply asking in the wake of Senator Brandis's submission to the Senate that I have an equal opportunity to respond. He has named me—

Opposition senators interjecting

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Brown, you are right. You have sought leave to make a five-minute statement and there should be no condition imposed upon that. It is now up to the Senate whether leave is granted or not. Is leave granted?

Leave not granted.

Senator Bob Brown: I rise on a point of order, Mr Deputy President. That is an extraordinary negation of the right of senators to speak when named in this place. I ask you to look at whether that is in order and whether that is a precedent that is going to be followed by this place.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Bob Brown, there is no point of order.

Senator Brandis: Mr Deputy President, I do submit that there is no point of order, but in making that submission, may I say that in the remarks I just made I did not suggest that Senator Brown yesterday deliberately misled the Senate. There is nothing in my statement, which merely charts the chronology or sequence of these events.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Leave was sought and leave has been denied.

Senator BOB BROWN: According to contingent orders, Mr Deputy President, I move:

That so much of standing orders be suspended as would prevent me from making a five-minute statement.

I do that because, following on that mechanism being used twice last night, senators ought to know that if they are denied fair response in this place then there are mechanisms to ensure that there will be the opportunity for me or any other senator to make a submission in the wake of another senator. It is important that this motion for the opportunity to debate this matter be upheld by the Senate.

Senator Brandis SC sits on the Committee of Privileges. The matter of Senator Kroger, which was devised by Senator Abetz and brought before this Senate on 23 and 24 November last year, has now been thrown out by the Senate Standing Committee of Privileges. It was found to be baseless, lacking in any substance and containing misinformation which effectively would, if taken up, have misled the Senate. That was Senator Kroger's submission dealt with by the committee of privileges.

But the submission from our legal representatives, Mr Merkel, Ms Gordon and Mr Browne, to the committee of privileges in February at the time Senator Brandis is talking about was that he should be recused from the committee of privileges because, on any matter of judgment which took notice of High Court rulings in the past, Senator Brandis had no place on the committee.

Senator Brandis: That is why I recused myself.

Senator BOB BROWN: He says that is why he recused himself, but here stands the question of this SC. He had had 2½ months consideration of this matter and he did not recuse himself.

Senator Brandis: That is not true.

Senator BOB BROWN: He had no intention of recusing himself from this committee—

Senator Brandis: That is a lie!

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Brandis! You will need to withdraw that comment, Senator Brandis.

Senator Brandis: I withdraw the word 'lie', but it is not the truth to say that I had no intention of recusing myself. As I said in my statement to the Senate—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Brandis! There will be opportunity to debate this in this suspension motion, if you wish.

Senator BOB BROWN: Senator Brandis breaks the rules, but you have pulled him up quite properly, Deputy President. This fatuous claim by Senator Brandis that it took me to draw his attention to his own tirade against Senator Milne and me—quite false—in the Senate last July, and that we had to draw his attention to his own behaviour in this place before he got off that committee because he had no legal right to be there, is a pointer to what disregard this senator, this SC, holds for the law of this country. He should know the High Court rulings. But for 2½ months he ignored them and, flouting legal practice in this country, kept himself on that committee, having judged Senator Milne and I—falsely, as we now know from the Committee of Privileges—to be guilty of behaviour that never occurred. What a remarkable failure of this legally trained member of the coalition to do the right thing by the law.

There is no doubt he knew that the submission from Mr Ron Merkel QC tore to shreds his right to be on that committee, and he got off it for that reason. He says here he did not know about Senator Brown's complaint or Senator Milne's complaint. He ought to have known because he was the one who misbehaved in the Senate in July last year when he made accusations, falsely, against Senator Milne and I. And let me tell you this, Mr Deputy President: had we not got that legal advice he would have stayed there and we would now be facing an open hearing before the Committee of Privileges. Yet Senator Abetz has the hide to say on radio in Tasmania this morning that this is a 'legal folly'—in other words, he was not serious about this matter, he says, that put two senators before the Committee of Privileges. What a disgrace to the legal profession he is, that he should say such a thing or that he should abuse the Committee of Privileges in this way. What a performance from these two legally trained members of the Senate. They should be ashamed of themselves. (Time expired)