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Thursday, 30 November 2017
Page: 9340

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (13:23): I move:

(1) That Senator Dastyari be required to attend the Senate chamber at 3 pm today to make a statement of not more than 20 minutes, addressing:

(a) the nature of his relationship with Mr Huang Xian-gmo;

(b) the allegations made by Fairfax media on 29 November 2017 that Senator Dastyari gave Mr Huang counter-surveillance advice and conducted a covert conversation with him during a meeting at Mr Huang's home in October 2016, including full details of the covert conversation;

(c) the press conference held by Senator Dastyari on 17 June 2016, and in particular:

   (i) the nature of Mr Huang's involvement in the decision to hold the press conference,

   (ii) full details of what was said by him at the press conference,

   (iii) the reason why he used the press conference to specifically contradict official Labor Party policy on Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea,

   (iv) the reason the press conference was restricted to Chinese language media, and

   (v) why he subsequently gave untruthful accounts of what he had said at the press conference; and

(d) the nature and value of all payments made to or on behalf of Senator Dastyari by Mr Huang or at his direction.

(2) That any Senator may move a motion to take note of Senator Dastyari's statement, and that debate on the motion may proceed for a period of up to 90 minutes.

I understand, Mr President, that paragraphs (1) and (2) of the motion will be put separately.

The PRESIDENT: They will be put separately.

Senator BRANDIS: I'm not going to rehearse what was said in the chamber this morning, but I do want to explain why it is that the government is moving this motion, why it is important that Senator Dastyari attend the chamber and why it is that the government regards this as a very serious matter indeed. As several senators have pointed out in this debate—indeed, senators from all interests represented in the chamber other than the Australian Labor Party have pointed it out—every senator is accountable to this chamber for their conduct. There can be no dispute about that proposition. We have had the Australian Labor Party move against government senators and ministers, as they're perfectly entitled to do, to require them in various ways to account to the Senate. At the moment, my colleague Senator Fifield is the subject of a requirement that he attend the Privileges Committee in relation to certain allegations.

Senator Jacinta Collins: No, not Privileges, George.

Senator BRANDIS: I'm sorry, a Senate committee in relation to allegations—untrue allegations, I might say—that have been made against him. Senator Fifield willingly—perhaps not gladly but willingly—submits to the wish of the chamber that he attend and will do so.

Senator Fifield: Has done.

Senator BRANDIS: Has already done so, I'm told. Earlier this year, the Senate moved a motion requiring me to attend in the chamber to respond to a series of questions from Senator Pratt concerning my involvement in litigation concerning the Bell group of companies. I willingly and quite happily attended the Senate chamber and answered every single question that Senator Pratt asked of me, and there are other examples as well.

Senator Jacinta Collins: How much notice did you have, George?

Senator BRANDIS: Virtually none, Senator. So, Senator, the obligation that you demand of my side of politics is not an obligation that lies only upon the government. The obligation of senators to the chamber is broader than the obligation of the government to be accountable to the parliament. All senators have an obligation to the chamber to account for their conduct, and if allegations of misconduct, particularly allegations that, to put it plainly, go to the fitness of a person to serve in the Senate, are made then that senator against whom those allegations are made has an obligation to give an account of himself.

I want to stress that the allegations are not made by the government. The allegations were made by Fairfax Media and the ABC—two media organisations that have never been regarded as particular friends of my side of politics, by the way—but, given the gravity of the allegations, they have been raised by me and by other members of the government in the Senate this morning.

Senator Jacinta Collins: You said they were credible.

Senator BRANDIS: Yes, the government does consider that these allegations are credible—in other words, believable. We are not determining the allegations. We are not endorsing them. They are serious allegations made by serious media organisations, Fairfax Media and the ABC, and, in relation to the latter, by Mr Nick McKenzie, Mr James Massola and Mr Richard Baker, three serious journalists. We raised these allegations in the chamber this morning because we take them seriously.

Senator Kim Carr interjecting

Senator BRANDIS: It is the clearest possible demonstration of the fact that the Labor Party are not taking this matter seriously that they constantly interject. If they were taking the matter seriously, they would not be interjecting. Senator Dastyari came into the chamber this morning and gave a very brief explanation. It was not even an explanation; it was an attempt to dismiss the matter in the course of announcing his resignation. It took all of two minutes. He then left the chamber and hasn't been seen since. He hasn't even been seen in the chamber for the purpose of this motion. He owes it to this chamber to show his face and answer specifically the specific allegations that were made by Fairfax Media and raised by the government and particularised in this motion.