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Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Page: 5746

Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (09:37): Well, this is the latest in the rather extraordinary tactics of this government to try and distract attention from the fundamental problem, which is that the Deputy Prime Minister was elected whilst apparently being a citizen of New Zealand. Let us be very clear about the facts, and I did cause a statement to be issued yesterday, after the extraordinary and disastrous press conference by the foreign minister, one in which her credibility was substantially damaged—and I regret that, because I think it's in the national interests for the foreign minister to have and retain her credibility—and in which she trashed our bilateral relationship with New Zealand. But, after that, I did cause a statement to be issued, and I also have been very clear today in the media, including doing a press conference and an interview. I want to go through again the circumstances which present themselves and make clear that this motion by Senator Brandis is a grubby, baseless smear in an attempt to distract attention from this government's problems.

Now, I want to make this very, very clear. Questions about the Deputy Prime Minister's citizenship have been public for some time, including by way of questions from the media in July and a direct question to him on television. The story became public as a result of media inquiries. This is an extraordinary motion, because it's actually saying that a minister in the New Zealand government is lying—that's what your motion is saying. It is saying that a minister in the New Zealand government is lying when he says—and he's not a Labour minister, and I know you are happy to trash the relationship—'This story became public as a result of media inquiries'.

I want to make clear to the Senate what I said today and what I will say again in this debate—firstly, at no stage did my staff member request that questions be placed on notice in the New Zealand parliament; end of story. Secondly, I was not aware until this story broke—

Senator Brandis: That's not what the Leader of the Opposition said.

Senator WONG: Well, I know you like baying about this, George, because you want to distract attention from the disaster that the government is. Secondly, I want to be very clear that I did not know, nor did my staff member, that the New Zealand Labour Party had placed those questions on notice until this story had broken. He did not know and neither did I until Monday—end of story. Now, people can decide whether they believe me or they believe this Attorney-General, with his history in this place, his history of being censured and his history of misleading this parliament. I was not aware.

I absolutely accept it was unwise for my staff member to engage in that discussion; I accept that and I have said so publicly. But what I'm more concerned about, and what I'd suggest to the crossbench—

Senator Ian Macdonald: Why did you lie?

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Macdonald, withdraw that, please.

Senator Ian Macdonald: I did say, 'Why did you lie?'

The PRESIDENT: Withdraw that, Senator Macdonald.

Senator Ian Macdonald: I will, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Why did you speak this untruth?

The PRESIDENT: Order, on my right!

Senator WONG: What I would say to the crossbench is this: I have been clear about what occurred. The time line is also clear: Fairfax Media questioned the New Zealand government and its minister prior to the questions being lodged in the New Zealand parliament. So it is incorrect to assert, as Senator Brandis does, that this story broke as a result of any action of my office. I think it is really very disappointing that the government—and I understand they're in trouble and I understand they want to throw grenades—yet again today, are prepared to risk their relationship with New Zealand. You've had the foreign minister saying she can't work with a Labour government in New Zealand. You've had the foreign minister—and you've repeated it again today—essentially calling a New Zealand minister a liar. It is an utter disgrace the way this government are prepared to trash bilateral relationships in pursuit of their own agenda. (Time expired)