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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 7910


Senator BOB BROWN (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (09:55): One thing Senator Abetz can never be accused of is boxing above the belt. The amendment moved by Senator Abetz, which proposes that the Greens be given the chair of the environment and communications committee, says two things. Firstly, it says that Senator Abetz and the coalition agree that a second chair of a committee should be given to the Australian Greens. That is very clear. It is written in this amendment. It also says that the determination of the chair should be made by the opposition. That is nowhere in the history of the Senate. What is proposed here is a very reasonable move for the Greens, with nine members in the Senate, to chair two of the committees. That is exactly the arrangement that the Howard government, which included Senator Abetz, made with the Democrats. When there were nine Democrat senators they had two chairs. That is exactly the parity that the Greens are seeking and that the government has accommodated through this motion.

I propose to amend the amendment moved by Senator Abetz to replace the words 'removed and replaced' with the word 'augmented' and, in section (a), to insert the words 'legal and constitutional affairs and' before the word 'environment'. This would effectively use the talent bank in the Greens ranks. I want to compromise with Senator Abetz here. I come here in a spirit of give and take with Senator Abetz. He has put up a very fine idea. I think it is a very good idea from Senator Abetz. It recognises that there is a talent bank here in the which should be tapped. He is proposing that the chair of another committee as well be taken by the Greens. I will not get into discriminating among the people in my ranks, but I could name a number of them who could take up Senator Abetz's worthy option. I see some here that I would nominate to that position of chair. So, in a spirit of compromise with Senator Abetz, I propose that his option be taken up and that we also take another chair. I move:

That the words "Legal and Constitutional Affairs" be augmented with "Environment and Communications" so that paragraph (a) now reads:

(a)   that the chairs of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs and Environment and Communications References Committee shall be elected by that committee from members nominated by minor parties or independent senators; and

When it comes to the history of chairs in this place, you simply have to look at what happened between 2004 and 2007, when the Howard government, including Senator Abetz, got control of the Senate, to see what an extraordinary piece of hypocrisy this is from Senator Abetz. They then used their numbers to take over every committee in the place—the whole lot—leaving none to the opposition and the crossbench of the time. Senator Abetz now has the hide to come in here and say that this is in some way or another a travesty, that it is somehow out of keeping or out of whack with Senate form.

Senator Nash interjecting

Senator BOB BROWN: The poddy calves are braying in the National Party component of Senator Abetz's coalition now.

Senator Nash interjecting

Senator BOB BROWN: Yes, I was. And so Senator Abetz—

Senator Nash: Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I would ask that Senator Bob Brown withdraw the reference to me as a poddy calf.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I do not think the reference was made directly to you, Senator Nash.

Senator Nash: It was.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I do not think there is a point of order. Senator Brown, you have the call.

Senator BOB BROWN: If it helps the senator, I loved feeding poddy calves straight out of a bucket in other parts of my career.

It is the case that the opposition's record in this place when utilising the talent right around the Senate in the committee system, particularly for the chairs of committees, was usurped in a way that will go down in the blacker annals of abuse of parliament in those years where the Howard government, after getting control of both houses of parliament, appointed to itself the chair of every committee in the place. We are not proposing that, even though there would be the numbers in here to do that if the government and the crossbench so decided. But we are proposing that the talent of the crossbench be utilised in the chair. I propose that Senator Penny Wright would be an admirable chair of this committee.

Senator Abetz: We read about her in the paper yesterday.

Senator BOB BROWN: I am glad to know that Senator Abetz reads the Adelaide Advertiserand reads it carefully. Senator Wright's legal career has included work as a private solicitor, lecturer, mediator and tribunal member. In fact, she was on the Guardianship Board of South Australia from 1996 through to 2010, a mediator with Relationships Australia and a member of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal—

Senator Abetz interjecting

Senator BOB BROWN: Yes, a mediator, Senator Abetz. That means somebody who can take into account all sides and move towards resolution of problems. That makes her an admirable fit for a potential role as the chair of a committee.

Senator Nash has proposed that Senator Waters be taken up for the environment position. I do not know what reflection that may be on the current chair, but I would agree. Senator Waters would be an admirable chair of an environment committee. I see a little bit of recognition of the talent of Senator Waters from the good senator there. That suggestion from the National Party that Senator Waters take the environment chair will become available if the opposition supports the Greens amendment to the amendment. This process is a very reasonable one. It is based on precedent. It offers to take up the talent that is available and, of course, the Greens will be supporting it.