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Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Page: 5811

Qualifications of Members


Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:14): My question is for the Attorney-General. There are reports today that the government plans to move ahead and unilaterally refer opposition MPs to the Court of Disputed Returns. To quote the Attorney-General from his speech last week:

I caution the Senate that it is a very dangerous course for this chamber or any parliamentary chamber to decide on what might be a party-line vote in the absence of clear evidence that a member of this chamber is not eligible to be here.

Attorney, what is your clear evidence or what has changed since you gave your speech last week?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:15): Senator Di Natale, it's a good question. Let me address it. I think the principle that I referred to last week is a good principle. It is a good principle. Senator Di Natale, your former colleagues, Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, did the right thing. They may have resigned prematurely, but they certainly did the right thing in freely and without any pressure disclosing that they felt that they had a constitutional issue with section 44, just as Senator Canavan, Mr Joyce and Senator Roberts did the right thing by freely disclosing that they felt that they may have a constitutional problem under section 44.

Now, it's certainly the government's view, based on Solicitor-General advice, that Senator Canavan and Mr Joyce are likely to be found by the High Court not to be disqualified in these circumstances by section 44.

The PRESIDENT: Order! A point of order, Senator Di Natale?

Senator Di Natale: Point of order on relevance. I made it very clear in my question that the Attorney-General either needed to provide evidence or indicate what has changed since he made his speech last week. I draw your attention to the question.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Di Natale. I will remind the Attorney-General of the question.

Senator BRANDIS: Senator Di Natale, I have already told you that that remains my view. Nevertheless, it does depend, for it to operate, on a level of integrity by members of parliament—integrity that was, let me acknowledge, shown by Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, and integrity that was shown by Mr Joyce, Senator Canavan and Senator Roberts.

What we don't have is the same level of integrity shown by members of the Australian Labor Party. Two days ago, the Prime Minister wrote to Mr Shorten and invited him to nominate any members of the Australian Labor Party about whom he had a level of concern, and Mr Shorten wrote straight back to the Prime Minister and indicated that he wasn't interested in participating in that process. Where there are levels of concern— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Di Natale, a supplementary question?







Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:17): In that same speech, the Attorney-General said:

… those who assert against a senator that they were not capable of being chosen because of a prohibition or ground of disqualification under section 44 must demonstrate why it is they claim that the senator or member of the House of Representatives is disqualified.

Attorney, I ask you right now to make it very clear: what is the evidence upon which your referrals are based?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:18): Senator Di Natale, I adhere to what I said last week. I think that is a good principle if it's capable of operating, but it does depend on the integrity of members of parliament in making good-faith attempts to remove and clarify doubts about their eligibility. At the moment, there are no reference motions before either chamber other than the ones that have been dealt with, unless there is something being done in the House of Representatives of which I'm unaware. I'm not aware of any reference motions that have been moved against any members of the Australian Labor Party.

I would repeat that where there have been concerns raised about eligibility—it seems to me, for example, that in the case of Ms Justine Keay, the member for Braddon, the facts are very little different from the facts of Senator Malcolm Roberts—it does depend upon that member showing the integrity and respect for this institution to come forward.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Di Natale, a final supplementary question?



Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:19): Given that the principles the Attorney-General outlined in his previous speech don't seem to hold water and are now being jettisoned at the altar of political opportunity, why won't the government resolve this once and for all and support the Greens and crossbench motion for a comprehensive audit of all members of parliament, so this issue can be settled and the uncertainty resolved?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:20): Senator Di Natale, I agree with you that the uncertainty absolutely ought to be resolved. Might I point out, with respect, that what you are suggesting is a compulsory process, yet in the same breath you are criticising the government for, as you imagine—though I think you're factually wrong—proposing a motion subjecting some Labor members to a compulsory process. The fact is, Senator Di Natale—

Senator Di Natale: You're a hypocrite!

The PRESIDENT: Order! Point of order, Senator Williams?

Senator Williams: Senator Di Natale just called the Attorney-General a hypocrite. I ask you to ask him to withdraw that.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Di Natale, I didn't hear that, but if there was any unparliamentary language I'd expect you to withdraw.

Senator Di Natale interjecting

Senator Bernardi: Point of order, Mr President: we all heard it. Senator Di Natale is simply refusing to obey the will of the chair. He called Senator Brandis a hypocrite. If you truly pretend to uphold standards in this place you should stand up and withdraw, Senator Di Natale.

The PRESIDENT: Again, Senator Di Natale, I give you the opportunity to withdraw any comment that you may have made that was unparliamentary.

Senator Di Natale: I don't believe it was unparliamentary. It was factual.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Di Natale, I didn't hear the comment. Two senators have indicated you made a comment. If that was the case, that you did make that comment, I would ask that you do withdraw that.

Senator Di Natale: Mr President, given that you've asked me so nicely to withdraw, I'm prepared to withdraw. Senator Brandis is indeed not a hypocrite; he is guilty of hypocrisy.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Di Natale; you should be withdrawing unconditionally.

Senator BRANDIS: That's all right, Mr President. I've on occasions accused the Greens of hypocrisy, and I've certainly today accused Senator Wong of hypocrisy, so I can let you get away with that, Senator Di Natale.

It does depend upon all elements of the parliament—government, crossbench and opposition—displaying integrity. The government has displayed integrity on this. Nobody forced Mr Joyce to out himself in the way he did. Nobody forced Senator Canavan to out himself in the way he did. Nobody forced Senator Waters or Senator Ludlam to out themselves in the way they did. There is one element of this chamber that is not displaying integrity, and that is the opposition. (Time expired)