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Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Page: 5748


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate, Minister for Communications and Minister for the Arts) (09:42): In the 13 years I have been in this place I have never heard Senator Wong speak with less conviction. Senator Wong is usually, to be fair, a strong and confident performer in this place. I think colleagues could not help but sense the uncertainty and the extremely careful choice of words in everything that Senator Wong contributed in her five-minute debate.

Colleagues, the motion that is before the chamber, moved by Senator Brandis, seeks to suspend standing orders so that a censure motion can be moved and debated. This is an important censure motion. It is particularly important because it relates to the conduct of the shadow minister for foreign affairs, the person that the alternative government of this nation are seeking to put forward to the Australian people as the individual who would hold the high office of foreign minister. Now, as the shadow minister for foreign affairs, the highest responsibility that the holder of that office, even as a shadow, should seek to discharge is to pursue the Australian national interest and to deal with foreign entities, whether personally or through their office, in a way that supports the Australian national interest. What we have seen through the office of the shadow foreign minister is something that the shadow foreign minister herself has conceded in her own words was unwise. We, on this side, agree with Senator Wong that it was unwise, but we believe that that is not an adequate characterisation of what Senator Wong's office undertook.

Each of us in this place, I think, operate on the basis that we have responsibility for that which occurs in our office, and if something occurs in our office that we don't agree with, that we think—to use the words of Senator Wong—'was unwise', then that requires a response. We haven't seen any response to date, so Senator Brandis is seeking to give this chamber the opportunity to fully debate the matters surrounding this very peculiar activity on behalf of Senator Wong and her office.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order, on my left!

Senator FIFIELD: This activity is unwise; it is peculiar; it is inappropriate. It was wrong.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: On my left!

Senator FIFIELD: What Senator Brandis is seeking to do by moving a suspension, in order to provide the opportunity for a censure motion to be moved, is to give this chamber the opportunity to fully debate these matters. It's to give Senator Wong the opportunity to fully answer the questions: what did she know, when did she know it, and what did she do? She has not yet done that.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order, on both sides!

Senator FIFIELD: I'm always very interested when the decibel levels rise on the other side. It's usually an indication of a lack of confidence in their position on a particular issue. You can name them one by one, who will come in on cue. But, despite those laughing opposite, this is not a matter for mirth. This is a serious matter.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: On my left!

Senator FIFIELD: The Senate should be given the opportunity to debate it. That is what Senator Brandis's motion to suspend standing orders is seeking to do—to allow this matter to be ventilated in full.