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Thursday, 14 February 2019
Page: 10290

Senator WATT (Queensland) (15:30): I also rise to take note of the answers to questions from Senators Cameron, Keneally and me this afternoon. We've seen yet another display of desperation and fear and smear from this government. We see it day in and day out. They've tried it in the House of Representatives and the Senate by whipping up this fear campaign about asylum seekers and boats. I just had a look at a great cartoon in my own state's Courier-Mail today where the cartoonist has drawn the Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, out on the beach with a big sign about boats, saying, 'Where the bloody hell are you?', encouraging asylum seekers and encouraging people smugglers to put people onto boats. They have the big fear campaign going on about boats and are inventing all sorts of stories about that. Then, in here, with Senator Cash, we have the continual cover-up of what she and her office were up to in seeking to denigrate the reputation of the opposition leader, even if that required illegal tactics.

I was reflecting on the day that this whole sorry scandal with Senator Cash first blew up back in estimates 478 days ago. I remember that, heading into that week of estimates, on the opposition side we were preparing to ask Senator Cash lots of questions about the latest scandal involving her hand-picked head of the ABCC, Nigel Hadgkiss. Then—what do you know?—along came a police raid to try to distract attention from the trouble she was in. Hasn't that blown up in her face? Another smear campaign from Senator Cash and another desperate attempt to distract from her problems with the ABCC has actually extended to being a 478-day scandal which has enveloped this government and her office.

What we've learned from question time and Minister Cash's statement today is that, yet again, she wants to rely on this argument that she doesn't know anything about the evidence that has been given in the court case this week by her former staffer. She has her eyes covered. She is apparently not reading any newspapers or any of the media reports about it. Apparently none of her media advisers are telling her about the reports, which are all through the media, about the evidence being given by a former staffer of hers which puts her in a very bad light. But she doesn't know about that, just like she apparently didn't know about the leak in the first place.

In answer to a number of questions, she has refused to comment on various propositions that have been put to her by the opposition today, which only makes you wonder why. Senator Cameron asked whether she was the source of the leak. The answer from Senator Cash was: 'I can't possibly comment on that. I'm not going to confirm that.' In answer to a question from Senator Keneally about whether then-Prime Minister Turnbull's office asked her office to leak this information to the media, she said, 'I can't comment on that. It's too sensitive. I've got to claim privilege. I'm going to claim an immunity. I'm not going to give an answer on that.' In answer to a question from me about the shocking evidence which came out yesterday in court where her former senior media adviser admitted that he had deleted text messages sent between him and a staff member in Minister Keenan's office where they conspired to leak this police information and whether she directed her staff to delete text messages, what did Senator Cash do? She said, 'I'm not going to talk about that. I can't possibly talk about that.'

So we have all sorts of legitimate questions here based on evidence that has been given to a court this week by members of Senator Cash's own staff that she is re fusing to answer, clearly leaving open the possibility that she has directed her staff to delete text messages, that she did get a direction from then-Prime Minister Turnbull's office to leak this information and that, in fact, she was the very source of this leak in the first place.

But, as I say, if we've got to a point where staff members are deleting text messages between themselves that involve leaking police information to the media, potentially at the direction of a minister, that just shows you the level of desperation that this government has come to. It was also very revealing today that Senator Cash on multiple occasions clearly tried to put distance between herself and her former staff. She is clearly throwing her former staff under the bus and expecting them to take the fall for this whole sorry saga. It's like a scene of criminals pointing the finger at each other, splitting off, trying to save their own skin. That's what we have happening here between Senator Cash and her former staff members. All are blaming each other, and she is chief among them in trying to put her own former staff fairly and squarely in the middle of this and to make sure it has nothing to do with her. Again, this is just the latest example from a government that has run out of ideas, a desperate government that only has fear and smear. Bring on the election.

Question agreed to.