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Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Page: 3256


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (18:02): I wanted to add a few words of my own in tribute to our colleague Senator Trish Crossin. I first came to work with Senator Crossin closely when, after the election of the Rudd government in 2007, she became the chair of the Senate Legal and Constitutional—don't laugh yet, Senator Crossin—Affairs Committee and I became, as shadow Attorney-General, the principal coalition participant on that committee. So, for the last 5½ years, Senator Crossin and I have shared the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

An unastute observer watching some of the sessions of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee over the last few years might have jumped to the erroneous conclusion that Senator Crossin and I did not get on very well. There were certainly a number of occasions—a number of, may I say, splenetic occasions with some very splenetic explosions from the chair at what Senator Crossin perhaps thought were liberties I was taking in the examination of witnesses—when we did have the odd cross word. Nevertheless, it would be a superficial view to think that we did not get on very well. In fact, with the passage of time, I grew to be a great admirer of the way Senator Trish Crossin conducted the affairs of that committee—and perhaps I am not the easiest person to rein in when I am in an exuberant or expansive mood. Some have said that. But Senator Crossin never seemed to have any difficulty in doing so and in pulling me up. So, Senator Crossin, thank you and congratulations on the way you conducted the affairs of that committee so professionally and so well for so long.

In fact, you received a compliment about your conduct of the affairs of that committee from a slightly unusual source earlier this year when Mr Peter Coleman, a former Leader of the Opposition in the New South Wales parliament, a former minister in a New South Wales government and a former member of the House of Representatives—and therefore no stranger to parliamentary committee procedure—made some observations about you in his column in The Spectator. I thought I would celebrate the occasion by reading into the record what Mr Coleman had to say in The Spectator on 2 February this year. He had taken himself along to the Sydney hearings of the inquiry you were conducting into the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill and had this to say:

Senator Crossin has been far more active than most in the daily work of the Senate, especially in its committees, currently in the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee inquiring into the draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 which purports to consolidate, simplify and clarify five existing Commonwealth anti-discrimination Acts.

He went on to make this observation about your conduct as the chair:

… Senator Crossin kept the exchanges moving along, stuck to the timetable, and maintained order … she did it professionally and senatorially—despite the occasional provocative intervention from Senator Brandis QC … Senator Crossin was competent, experienced and fair. It is hard to find any convincing reason why the Prime Minister should purge her.

I will come back to that.

The other committee on which I have served closely with Senator Crossin in the last 12 months is the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Senator Crossin has been the chair and I have been the deputy chair. I think it is a shame that the general public sees senators in a combative mode—that is part of the parliamentary process, to have a combative mode across the chamber—but seldom sees members of parliament in the collaborative mode which the committee system of the parliament fosters and engenders. If they had seen Senator Crossin and me and all the other members of that committee, including our dear friend Senator Scullion, working in an entirely non-partisan way, in a collaborative, cooperative spirit, to bring together the consensus to achieve, in the next parliament, the fitting constitutional recognition of the First Australians, which all of us are committed to doing, then I think the public would have a very different perception, a much fuller and more rounded perception, of the way parliament works.

Once again, Senator Crossin, I think it is a tragedy that you will not be there to fulfil your work as the chair of that committee, but you were the inaugural chair of it, and, if at some time in the life of the next parliament, the recognition of the First Australians in the Australian Constitution is achieved by a successful referendum carried on a bipartisan basis, then there will be few, if any, who will have contributed more to that outcome than you will have done.

I was not going to refer to the unpleasantness that occurred in the Labor Party earlier this year, but it did not stop Senator Kim Carr or others, so I thought I might as well. I have been a member of the Liberal Party for all my adult life, so I am no stranger to brutal acts and dark deeds! But I must say I have never in all of my political life seen anything so brutal and unfair and disgusting perpetrated by a political party upon one of its own than that which was perpetrated upon Senator Crossin by the current Prime Minister, when Senator Crossin was—with no process at all and for no sufficient reason; in fact, for no good reason at all—summarily dismissed, having been properly preselected and being midway through a first-rate parliamentary career. I thought it was disgraceful and I doubt there are many people in this parliament, regardless of their party or factional affiliation, who would not share that view. I think you were very shabbily treated, Senator Crossin, and I feel sorry for you. Those who executed this attack upon you, which effectively terminated a very, very constructive and useful parliamentary career, should be very ashamed. But, sadly, I suspect they are not, because they are beyond shame.

As it happened, the political assassination of Senator Crossin by Julia Gillard occurred during the time when Senator Crossin was chairing the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee's hearings into the exposure draft of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill. Senator Crossin arrived at those hearings in Melbourne on 23 January this year, within 36 hours of the undoubtedly unpleasant interview she had with the Prime Minister at the Lodge, and Senator Crossin was, I think it is fair to say, shaken. In the spirit of senatorial solidarity—I think I am allowed to say this, Madam Acting Deputy President McKenzie—Senator Crossin did somewhat confide in me about what had just been done to her. Little did we know that a very alert photographer was in the committee room, and that very alert photographer snapped a marvellous photograph of Senator Crossin confiding in me, which I might frame and present to you as a parting gift, Senator Crossin, and in which I hope I am exhibiting the appropriate collegial and pastoral concern and patience!

An honourable senator interjecting

Senator BRANDIS: I am shameless; that is true! So, Senator Crossin, I do not know why this was done. Perhaps the party that you have represented with some distinction for so long feels ashamed that, 42 years after Neville Bonner first took his seat in this chamber as a Queensland Liberal senator—the first Indigenous representative in this chamber—the Australian Labor Party has not given us an Indigenous representative in the Commonwealth parliament. And, I am bound to say, even when your designated successor takes her place, the Australian Labor Party will not have given us an Indigenous senator who was chosen through an orthodox preselection process. But whatever the reason, whatever the motive, you should never have been the victim, and all of your colleagues—certainly, all of your colleagues from the coalition—feel enormous sympathy for your position and, if I may say so, also respect the dignity with which you have borne such an unjust reversal of fortune.

Senator Crossin, you have been a person who everyone this chamber would acknowledge as an honest person, as a decent person, as a person who was passionate about the causes you believed in, as a person who was extraordinarily hardworking, and you have made of your years in this place a really, really substantial impact.

I try to understand politics, but there is one part of politics I have never been able to understand, and that is the inner workings of the Australian Labor Party. I have never been able to understand why, Senator Crossin, you were never a frontbencher, because certainly, among those of us on this side of the chamber, there are very few who would disagree with me that you are a lot more able than certain other Labor Party frontbenchers in this place that we have seen, including some of the current ones. But thus are the vicissitudes of political fortune.

If we set ourselves the test when we come here of, 'How would we hope to be remembered and what achievements and accomplishments would we wish to make to make the life our nation better?' you have fulfilled the tests and aspirations that you no doubt set yourself with flying colours, and you have earned the affection and respect of political friend and political opponent alike.