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Tuesday, 9 October 2012
Page: 11594


Mr MELHAM (Banks) (15:39): As the member who nominated the member for Fisher firstly as Deputy Speaker of this House and then as Speaker of this House, it is appropriate that I contribute to this debate. I accept that. I have gone back over the words that I used, both when I nominated the member for Fisher as Deputy Speaker and then as Speaker, and I do not resile from anything that I said then. Indeed, the member for Fisher was so successful in his job at question time that, for the first time in over 20 years, he managed to silence me for fear of being thrown out of the parliament. That has never happened to me in 22½ years.

The debate before the House today is a very serious debate because precedents will be forged as a result of it. It has to be taken seriously. This is not student politics, which is where I first observed the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Warringah, at Sydney University. This is the real show, the alternative government, the alternative Prime Minister. Student politics stunts are not enough to remove a Speaker, to cripple a House because people are upset that they are not on this side of the House. Let us have a look at the issues. Let us have a look at the principles. I was trained as a lawyer, a criminal defence lawyer, so cases I did involved people going to jail if they were found guilty. That was the penalty. The Leader of the Opposition knows about being in court, about having false accusations made against you and what that can do, and allowing the process to go the full length.

In relation to the Speaker, there are no criminal charges that we know of. There is an investigation into Cabcharge documents—allegations that were withdrawn by the civil complainant, Mr Ashby, and were not pursued. So that is not before us. There is not a scintilla of evidence of abuse of Cabcharge documents—a criminal charge, not a civil charge, which is the more serious. I say to members of the opposition: where is the evidence of criminal involvement of the Speaker? There is none. Indeed, the presiding judge in the Federal Court made a number of statements last week which brought into question the filing of that affidavit in court in those terms and its subsequent withdrawal. What we are dealing with is a civil charge where the Speaker is contesting it as an abuse of process and the judge has reserved. The opposition want us to come in and adjudicate. I say to the crossbenchers—because I think they are the ones who will determine this debate—that that is a very dangerous precedent. The member for New England has previously cited the case of Nick Greiner, who was found by ICAC to be corrupt and was dumped as Premier. But subsequently a court of appeal acquitted him and found that ICAC had got it wrong. In the first instance, we should be waiting for the real court, not the kangaroo court.

The thing that is most disturbing is the other procedures. I used to be on the Privileges Committee and I have been on the Procedure Committee; I understand some of the history of this case. I remember the case of Fitzpatrick and Browne, who this parliament put in jail for three months in 1955. At least Fitzpatrick and Browne addressed the bar of the House. Where is the procedural fairness in this shonky motion? This is a Speaker who is absent, who does not have the opportunity to have someone address on his behalf, in a situation where the numbers are depleted because he has voluntarily not taken his place in the House, which was his decision alone. So he does not come in and vote, he does not come in and participate in debate and he does not preside in any way. What is the urgency of this?

I am not here to endorse private text messages. A judge of the Federal Court will adjudicate on what they constitute. I say: what if it were me? How would I want it adjudicated? Is this the way we are going to administer justice—hang, draw and quarter someone? It is not because we are impartial. Let's be very clear, the vote will be a partisan vote as far as the opposition is concerned. As far as the government is concerned it is not on independent grounds—we do not know what the Speaker's answers to some of these allegations are. We do not get, 'We're going to put this on the table to give an opportunity for this matter to be considered and dealt with later on,' but rather it gets brought on for debate. This is a very dangerous precedent.

I can understand some members having particular concerns, but this is not about Mr Slipper. This is about principles. I am not going to sit here and try to say that I am better than you or whatever. My record speaks for itself. I have been in this place for 22½ years. The Privileges Committee, of which I have been a member, which operates impeccably towards all sides of the parliament has always operated unanimously. These are grave issues, but we are not prepared to give the Speaker of this House an opportunity to present a case—to have a case pleaded on his behalf. He is going to be one vote down. Where is the pair for him? If he sat in the chamber, the government is one vote down. These are things that need to be thought of. Why do I say that? Gee whiz, I remember 1975 and the appointment of replacement senators. We changed the Constitution.

Honourable members interjecting

Mr MELHAM: I like the whingers and whiners: get up and put your point of view. The Leader of the Opposition verballed me, which is why I wanted to speak. He tried to misrepresent my position when, today, I announced that I was resigning as chair of caucus with this position. That is why I am speaking. I asked to speak, and I was never going to be stopped from speaking. If you want to get up and speak, get up and speak inside your four speeches. I am telling you about a situation that will govern this parliament in future. If we make the wrong decision, we will be bound by it and by the principle of it. I can understand rough and tough politics, but my plea to the Leader of the Opposition is that you are not at Sydney University now; you are the alternative Prime Minister. There are some places you do not go to, there are some places where you should show a bit of patience and allow people to flow.

I resent the fact that the member for Sturt attacks the Speaker for the 34 days he has not presided when, frankly, the Speaker offered to remove his position from criticism at the time. We have a situation where the judgement is reserved, so it is not a question of sub judice. I am not arguing sub judice per se. I am arguing a separation of powers. This is a civil matter where this parliament is entitled as a matter of course to have the judge's determination in front of it before it makes a decision in relation to the Speaker. Any bozo can see that, except the lynch mob, who have a political purpose. I am not trying to say that in a derogatory sort of way. I can understand people wanting to get swept up in it, but that is how it is. Call it as it is.

I am saying this as the person who nominated Mr Slipper, the member for Fisher, for this office. I do not say that the parliament does not have a right to remove him. That is not my argument. I am saying to you: before you proceed down that path, let the cards fall where they are going to fall in a Federal court. It may well be that the Federal Court gives you the ammunition for him to go voluntarily without being voted out by the House. I believe that that option adds further dignity to the House.

This motion is not dignified. To pull on a motion without notice where the Speaker's support is one vote down because he is not in the chair is not a true representation of this parliament. Be very careful, be very cautious, because I for one did not like what the parliament did back in 1955 when it sent people to jail for three months. But what it did have which we do not have was a conscience vote—not a vote on party lines to remove a Speaker. I am not arguing for a conscience vote, but I am re-emphasising the point I made to you earlier that we are involved in a party political debate which has ramifications for how this parliament is seen by those outside and by parliaments around the world. I say to the Independents: you will have an opportunity in the near future, I assume, to exercise your judgement if you have doubts, but today is not the day. I say that in all sincerity, because the position is that we have to get this right. We cannot act hastily and get it wrong. What happens if we make the decision to remove the Speaker today and the Federal Court judge finds—

Opposition members interjecting

Mr MELHAM: I will tell you something about text messages. I will show mine to the world. I do not think 226 MPs would and survive. This was not a public communication; this was a private communication that came out as a result of subpoenas. The difficulty here is that we each need to be very careful. I know we can engage in the theatre of a debate, but this actually has quite serious ramifications. I believe I have raised some fundamental issues which show that in proceeding to a vote today is flawed. Do not be too smart by half. These principles are bigger than Slipper; they are bigger than anyone in this chamber. We have a duty to maintain the dignity of this chamber. I do not believe the dignity of this chamber would be maintained if we removed the Speaker without him having an opportunity to present a case to us without a full complement of the House, without the wisdom of the Federal Court's judgement in relation to the matter that is currently before him. I say: do not persist with this at this point of time. Leave it on the table and allow it to stand there. We revisit it when his honour delivers his judgement in the Federal Court case.