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Monday, 11 November 1991
Page: 2813

Senator MICHAEL BAUME (3.28 p.m.) —The purpose of this motion is to allow us to discuss the very important issue of whether this Government and its Leader in the Senate have any loyalty to Mr Hawke. We must debate this issue because there have been continual statements from senior Labor Ministers that there will be no challenge to the leadership. This goes back to 2 February this year when Senator Richardson said, `All I can say is that there is no challenge on. I just think this is all nonsense'. On 20 May, Senator Richardson said, `I can see absolutely no need for a challenge. The best thing for Labor is the team that is there now with both Hawke and Keating leading us'. On 24 May, he said, `No, there is definitely not one on', that is, a challenge to Mr Hawke. Then, of course, all those statements were followed by a challenge.

  On 5 June, Senator Richardson said, `As far as I am concerned, there is no need for another challenge'. On 26 July, Senator Richardson said, `We have not made phone calls or attempted to do anything. We regard the matter as settled some months ago'.

Senator McMullan —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Baume has not even gone through the pretence of trying to refer to the motion before the Chair. I ask you to rule him out of order.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Baume, you must stress why there should be a suspension of Standing Orders.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —We must discuss this lack of loyalty to the Prime Minister because it continues despite all of the statements being made. I am outlining the sorts of statements behind which we must look when we have this debate. The statements are there on the surface. The statements mean nothing. We have to have a detailed discussion of what Senator Button's failure to express loyalty really means, when we see statements expressing loyalty meaning absolutely nothing.

  On 17 September, Senator Richardson said, `We've not got a challenge planned'. That statement meant absolutely nothing. The challenge ground on. On 3 October, Senator Richardson said, `There is no point in a challenge. It is not anywhere on my list of priorities'—not anywhere publicly, but privately the challenge went on until it reached a peak last week. It reached such a peak that the leadership of the Labor Party had to gather together to try to hose the situation down.

  Once again, on 8 November, Senator Richardson made a public statement which meant nothing. He said, `There will be no losing challenge'. Is that not a meaningless statement? On 11 November, Senator Richardson, in his latest statement, said, `The Prime Minister is well in command; no challenge is possible'.

  We must debate Senator Button's statement because he was not even prepared to make these sorts of statements, as Senator Richardson has made, that there would be no challenge or that he was loyal to the Prime Minister. Senator Button would not even make the statements that Senator Richardson continually breaches. What does Senator Button's position really mean? Does it mean that he is sufficiently honest not to come out with a nonsensical statement, one that he does not believe in, that in fact he is loyal to the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke—not to the prime ministership but to the Prime Minister?

Senator Tambling —Just as he was to Mr Hayden.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Yes, I acknowledge that interjection. He should be loyal not to the prime ministership but to the Prime Minister. That is the issue. Senator Button's statement of apparent loyalty is to the role of Prime Minister, not to the occupant of that role.

  Having seen the total and continuing pattern of deception by Labor leaders, by Senator Richardson in particular, we have a vital need to establish what Senator Button's real relationship with Mr Hawke is. Does he really support Mr Hawke? Is he prepared to go out on a limb and say so? Of course, we then have to assess how meaningful that statement is in the context of Senator Richardson's continual statements. But it is vitally important to this nation that the Leader of the Government in the Senate state whether he supports the Prime Minister, not the prime ministership. Senator Button has avoided remarkably doing so. That is a staggering and significant matter and it must be debated in this chamber.