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Monday, 29 February 2016
Page: 1356


Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (18:15): I thank Senator Moore for that very thoughtful and informative contribution, because she has belled the cat on a number of things that have happened in the last 24 hours. Can I say that her description—

Senator McKim interjecting

Senator Rhiannon interjecting

Senator CONROY: Here we are, the Stalinists are loose in the bottom corner! That is exactly what being on this committee must have been like. This is actually like going back in time to the 1950s in Stalin's Russia! We get an invitation to come to a meeting of the committee of senators. I roll along and I arrive for the first time after the invitation is issued and I am given the agenda, which includes the people who will be invited to speak. There was no discussion, no nothing. There was just, 'These are the ones we are going to invite.'

I have great admiration for the 70-plus people who have had an opportunity to lodge a piece of paper—and in some cases it is just a piece of paper—to the inquiry. I say to you that it is not likely they have even all had a chance to be put up on the website yet for us to download and have a read of them. They have not even been able to get them all printed out so I can have a read of them. I cannot have a look at them all online yet. We are being asked to conduct an inquiry starting at 8 o'clock or 8.30 tomorrow morning without even an opportunity to read all the submissions yet. That is how farcical this process has become.

The first meeting of this august joint standing committee basically says, 'No, here it is.' I said, quite reasonably, that perhaps someone who knows a little bit about this, named Malcolm Mackerras, might get an invitation. He writes regularly and is well known to everybody. In fact, we have mentioned the Mackerras pendulum. He has had quite a few things to say about this joint standing committee's previous report. That is a little bit embarrassing, because he is somebody of some stature. He is included, to be fair, as a concession from the Stalinists running this in the committee.

Then I suggested, 'Given that we've only just seen this, would the chair be willing to allow us to have a conversation during the course of the afternoon to put some other names up?' Well, no. That was completely unreasonable! There had already been discussion of this, but that was before we were allowed to come along. There had already been discussions about this, so it was rammed through with the support of the Greens.

Then we turn up to the committee hearing today. A number of the witnesses, surprisingly—I said with irony—are not able to make it on such short notice. So the chair has taken it upon himself to invite other people to fill the gaps. He actually says, 'We have done this.' I say, 'Excuse me, who is the "we"? Because I actually asked if I could be allowed to participate in a discussion about this.' To which he said, 'When I say "we", it's just me.' Even I am not prepared to think that he consulted Senator Rhiannon on such a matter, so I will let you off the hook on this one, Senator Rhiannon. He may have; you can feel free to confess. You can be included in the royal 'we', but I think you are innocent this time. It is one of the few times in this process you are innocent!

So he says, 'We—actually, no, just me—picked these other people.' I said, 'What process was there?' He just said, 'Well, this is what I have decided.' I said, 'Could we have some discussion about this? We would perhaps like some others to be able to come along. If I had known there were vacancies last week, when clearly you found out there were vacancies and got on the phone over the weekend, I might have been able to come up with some other names. But when you flatly refused to have a discussion about further or other witnesses—flatly refused—I didn't bother to look to see who else could be called. But now it is okay for you to do it?' Again, I was shut down. There was no support. The Greens go missing when it comes to transparency and democracy, not surprisingly. I was shut down yet again.

I should say that the committee then indicated they were passing a resolution telling people, 'You can't talk about what goes on in these hearings.' I am not surprised that they want to gag anyone from telling what is going on in these hearings, but I am not going to take any notice of that whatsoever. I am now a full member of this committee, and I am going to expose the little club that has been having all of this fun and actually refusing to allow any sensible discussion of the newly proposed reforms.

But then the next motion comes up. The next motion says, 'We want to decide how long each person is allowed to be asked a question for. We are now allowed to have one question that lasts a maximum of five minutes and then we are going to rotate it.' One question, a maximum of five minutes of question-and-answer and then the chair will cut them off. We could not possibly allow a witness to perhaps discuss this issue! There cannot be any follow-up questions. Seriously, this is like being at a metal workers' conference with George Campbell in the chair! I have been there. It just gets better!

We start tomorrow morning, and the great news is that the committee secretariat has to get the draft to the chair by tomorrow night. I asked, 'Have you already written the report? How could you possibly write a report in just a few hours straight after you have actually just heard the witnesses? How is possible?' It gets better! The committee has been called to another meeting at 8 o'clock on Wednesday morning, where it has to adopt a report. If you have a dissenting report, you must complete it and submit it by 8 o'clock, otherwise you are out of the game. This farcical process, masquerading as a hearing, is into the most significant voting reforms in 30 years. I have noted it has become a great favourite for everybody to quote, 'Well, this was the ALP's submission.' Let me be clear, this has never been adopted by the parliamentary Labor Party in this building. The caucus has never adopted it. And do you know what? There has been a good reason why. It is because the proposal is a dog. It has never got past the leadership group, it has never got past the shadow cabinet, and it has certainly never got past the caucus.

Honourable senators interjecting

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order!

Senator CONROY: So when we say, as those opposite have been trying to imply, that this has been our position for the two years, this has never been adopted. It has not been adopted, not once by any decision-making body of the parliamentary Labor Party. Let me make this clear: this has never been the party policy of the Federal Labor Party. Not once, not for one day and not ever. So let me be very clear about that for those who have attempted to describe this as the Labor Party's position.

As others have said, there are many times when parliamentary committees meet and put forward recommendations that are ignored or not adopted or supported. That happens all the time, but that does not mean that just because a committee has reported it the individuals have supported a position—that is the parliamentary Labor Party. I take great pride in the processes of our caucus and not once has this ever been put to caucus. Not once has this ever been put to shadow cabinet. There has been a number of discussions in some other forums. So let me be clear.

Then there is this idea that there are proper consultations. I say congratulations to those individuals who have taken the time to rush and put in a submission, but to all of those others who have not been able to prepare a report—to those smaller parties, to the minor parties, to the independents, who are about to be purged from the Senate forevermore—it is no great surprise. Do not worry, Senator Rice, you are on the purge list, too. You just have not worked out yet, but it will dawn on you soon exactly what is being proposed to you. You are being marched up to the inner tumbrel, up to the guillotine, and you just do not know it yet—that is the best part. I will come to it, don't worry. But you will not be able to misunderstand what is being planned for you by those sitting around you. They have not explained this to you yet. What you are doing is that you are the turkey voting for an early Christmas.

You had all of the modelling done on half-Senate elections. Did the Liberals promise you that they would not call a DD when you gave them the trigger? Did they promise you that? Seriously, I have got a harbour bridge that I want to sell you next. Because they have given you the opportunity to march yourselves up to the guillotine and you have leapt into bed with them.

You are also jeopardising important reforms that you voted for previously—the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. It is on the chopping block. If they win this election they will walk in, they will take us into whichever chamber you have a DD sitting in—because I have not done it in the 20 years that I have been here—and they will vote down something that you have sat in here and blocked. They will vote it down. They will wipe it out it. It is your party's policy and it is their party's policy to abolish it, and you will march into the other chamber, if that is where we are, and you will watch it get voted down. No-one but you will be responsible for that. Nobody but the Greens will be responsible for allowing the vandals on that side of the chamber to wipe out the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and all of the good work that we know it does and that you know it does.

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator CONROY: All of you down there, you can keep squealing because, but that is what you are voting for.

An honourable senator interjecting

Senator CONROY: No, I said if they were to win. If they were to win, that is what you have done. There is nowhere to hide. You can chuckle. Senator Di Natale, here, can wave is arms around like Inspector Gadget, but lets us be clear that that is what you are doing. The best part is that no-one has explained to you the ramifications—

An honourable senator interjecting

Senator CONROY: I have known you for a long time, Senator Rice, now be fair. There are the ramifications of actually having a double-d and how parties select their own tickets—good luck with that, I am looking forward to it. There is only probably the state of Tasmania that could absolutely have a reasonable chance of picking up two. The rest of you: Victoria, you are sitting there—I do not even think you are in the death seat, you are in the dead seat. You are actually sacrificing your own positions to give the government control of the Senate. Because guess what happens when you do not get them, it is us or them. The only thing that can save the country, God forbid, is Senator Xenophon picking up four seats in South Australia, which there is a chance of. So let us be clear, you are voting to stop war on yourselves.

But it gets better, those of you who have not been through a DD, or studied what happens after a DD, need to understand that the Senate then votes on who gets the six-year terms and the three-year terms based on the order in which you were elected.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Conroy, if you can resume your seat. Senator Cormann on a point of order?