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Thursday, 14 February 2019
Page: 10287

Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (15:19): Some days in this parliament it's hard to believe the nonsense that we're asked to swallow by those on other side. This is a divided, dysfunctional, deceptive government—and we saw that in full strength today here in the parliament—with a minister, who's usually pretty free and flowing with her language, who today did everything she could to continue to avoid answering any questions about her responsibility as a minister in this government. We see this party across the chamber from us fighting amongst themselves, but they seem to be united in a class action of support for Minister Cash and her web, which I can only describe as 'a web of fiction', around what really went on as many as, I think, 480 days ago—

Senator Watt: Four hundred and seventy eight.

Senator O'NEILL: Four hundred and seventy-eight days ago, Minister Cash was forced to come in to the Senate, to a committee, and say: 'Whoops, I made a pretty big mistake'—she didn't call it a lie—'I made a bit of a mistake. Somebody in my staff didn't tell me the truth.' Well, you know what's been going on for the last 480 days? This minister has not been telling us the truth. Ordinary Australians out there, who aren't like this government, who don't have intimate relations with the top end of town, need great unions to look after them, and, for this government, it sticks in their craw. This is all happening in here today because this divided, out-of-touch, dysfunctional government sought to use the power of government to set up the ROC and, through the ROC, exercise a raid on a union.

But it wasn't good enough that they could abuse the power of government; they decided that they needed some pretty good pictures as well. So what we're seeing now is a court that's actually revealing some of the truth that Minister Cash has been attempting to hide from this parliament. But ordinary people around the country know that there's no way that she wouldn't have known what was going on. She was in on it—everybody knows that. This has been going on for 480 days, and, despite the number of questions that have been put to her today, she just keeps going back to statements she made in the past. One thing I learnt when I was growing up is that, if you tell lies all the time, you'll never remember the truth; you'll never be able to remember what really went on. She cannot tell the truth. She cannot tell the truth, so she's relying on written records of the construction that she's attempted to put before the Senate today.

Senator O'Sullivan: I've been listening carefully, and I'm loath to interrupt the Senator's contribution, but this is just a litany of aspersions on another senator.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: What's your point of order, Senator O'Sullivan?

Senator O'Sullivan: That she should withdraw any remarks that suggest Senator Cash has lied or misled the Senate. They're very, very serious allegations. They haven't been established, and they need to be withdrawn.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator O'Neill has not made that direct assertion. Please continue, Senator O'Neill.

Senator O'NEILL: I thank the senator for his comment, even though it wasn't a valid point of order, because the reality is that it gives me the chance to put on the record that we went to extraordinary lengths on multiple occasions, through committees and in this chamber, to give Senator Cash the opportunity to tell the truth. We've given her the opportunity. We voted here yesterday to give her five special minutes of question time to come in and put a straight statement to this chamber.

Senator Scullion: Which she did.

Senator O'NEILL: She gave us a statement all right, but it wasn't very straight, and there was certainly very little truth in it.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Scullion, on a point of order?

Senator Scullion: If that last comment wasn't a reflection on the senator's honesty, I don't know what is. I ask that you, Deputy President, ask the senator to withdraw that last comment.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Again, Minister—

Senator Scullion: The term 'straight', by the way, is truthful. It's in the Australian vernacular.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: That's not an unparliamentary comment. Please resume your seat.

Senator Scullion: I'm just translating for you.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Minister, please resume your seat. Senator O'Neill, please continue.

Senator O'NEILL: What we know is that, as a cabinet minister, Senator Cash has to make choices around probity and the right thing to do. For 480 days she's been avoiding coming clean and telling the whole story about what's been going on with her office. We've had a suspicion—Australians aren't stupid; they understand like we do—that there's something not right about what she's been saying.

She gave evidence in a committee that she'd had a one-sentence conversation with the Prime Minister when he called her to his office to brief him before he went into parliament about this matter. One sentence from Senator Cash to the Prime Minister? You've got to be joking! She told us that it was a media source that gave the information. We've found out in the last couple of days that that is not the truth. In terms of what we've been finding out as the week's gone on, pretty well everything the senator has been saying is not the truth. We knew, and this week is confirming, that it's a long way between what the minister has decided to tell this parliament and what really went on in her office. I believe it will be proven very, very soon that she has undertaken the most egregious dereliction of her responsibilities as a minister of the Crown. (Time expired)