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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Page: 4420

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (12:47 PM) —I seek leave to make a short statement.

The PRESIDENT —Leave is granted for three minutes.

Senator BOB BROWN —One thing we do need to review is the matter of senators going to committees or, indeed, appearing in here and giving the impression that we do not have foreknowledge from a witness as occurred on the occasion with Mr Grech. I think it would be much healthier for committees to be aware that senators have spoken with such a witness when it is central to an inquiry by a committee. It puts the rest of the committee at a very clear disadvantage if it does not have that information.

While Senator Abetz is quite right to say that there are precedents for this matter, I think we all have to, quite sensibly in a committee system, think about the much better outcome there will be in committees if senators are open about contact with witnesses who are appearing before the Senate committee. It may be worth us considering the Privileges Committee considering that the right thing is for a senator to let the committee know that there has been previous contact. I think that would be a sensible outcome from this affair and that we do not leave it lie.

The second matter is about your ruling on the vote, Mr President. Clearly it does mean, and common sense dictates, that a pairing is, in effect, a vote. The question on 25 June was that Senator Abetz said that he had not cast a vote when, in fact, by being paired he did cast a vote, and that vote meant the difference between the matter in which he was centrally involved being referred to the Privileges Committee or not. The passage of events means the matter will be seen by the Privileges Committee and I do not wish to take it further. However, I think it is important that we all understand that when we are paired we are effectively casting a vote and our vote is being used.