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Monday, 11 November 1991
Page: 2810

Senator HILL (Leader of the Opposition) (3.16 p.m.) —Pursuant to contingent notice of motion, I move:

  That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Bishop moving a motion forthwith.

Senator Button —You can't keep doing that.

Senator HILL —Senator Button interjects that we cannot do this as a practice, and that is reasonable. However, the question and answer referred to the leadership of this Government at a time when one million Australians are unemployed. Let us talk a bit about last week and the farce we had on the other side where the campaign manager for Mr Keating, the Minister for Social Security, Senator Richardson—a senior member of the Hawke Government and the Hawke Cabinet—spent the whole week undermining his Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). We gave him and the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce, Senator Button, the opportunity to stand up and say that they would be loyal to the Prime Minister; neither of them took that opportunity.

  What has happened in the meantime? In the meantime, apparently, a truce has been reached between Mr Keating and Mr Hawke. The question was, therefore, quite a reasonable one. In these new circumstances following the truce—following Senator Richardson writing letters to the newspaper announcing that the war is over—the question was: does Senator Button now give loyalty to the Prime Minister, and Senator Button said yes. But in answer to the supplementary question he said, `I am not prepared to speculate on the future. You never know, Mr Hawke might get run over by a bus'.

  We know what the New South Wales Right is like; it is a bus in most people's terms. Its members behave like bullies; they behave like thugs; and they are doing this time exactly what Senator Richardson did a few months ago. Their guerilla tactics are to attack, to undermine the Prime Minister—I remind honourable senators that this was coming from one of his senior Cabinet Ministers—to withdraw and go on radio all around Australia and say, `It's over. There's now a truce. We are with the Prime Minister. Mr Keating's fight is finished. We're not going to undermine him any further'. They wait a month or two, then build up the pressure again and undermine the Prime Minister. That is what happened up until the end of last week.

  In light of all that, Senator Button says, `I will not speculate upon whether I will give him loyalty in the future because I cannot say what is going to happen to him in the future'. That is quite right; no-one can say what will happen to the Prime Minister in the future because he will be undermined again, as he was undermined before. That is the way they are operating. It would not matter but for the fact that they are operating in an environment when nearly one million Australians are unemployed, and when this country is deserving of a government that concentrates on the task of government, rather than on undermining its own leadership. That is why Senator Bishop has a right to seek leave to raise a matter of national importance like this, and that is why this Government ought to have the courage to grant her leave.