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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 1954

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (15:19): I too rise to speak on this issue. I think it is yet another sad demonstration of the parlous state of the competence of those opposite for a number of reasons. First of all, as we heard in this chamber this morning, the government has been highly transparent and, as Senator Wong confirmed, there were negotiations and discussions this morning to the opposition's satisfaction. The documents were tabled and the discussion was suspended until 12.30 today to give all parties time to have a look at the documents. But we had five senators opposite raise the same issue. Those five senators, or their tactics committee, should have taken the time this morning to actually read the documents that were tabled and then listen to the two ministers who answered all of those questions during question time and in their statements between 12.30 and 1.30 this afternoon.

This leaves me wondering whether their tactics committee was so incompetent that it did not bother listening to or reading any of the proceedings in this chamber today or whether they just did not bother to provide any of the five senators opposite with a plan B relating to this. And I cannot really see a third option. So they went ahead and asked the same questions on things that had already been canvassed—not only canvassed in this chamber to the satisfaction of their leader in this place; they also voted to refer this issue through to the High Court, where it now justly rests. The government has been very transparent about this. Extensive information was provided on the process and the information. Both the Special Minister of State and the Minister for Finance made extensive statements to the Senate earlier today surrounding the circumstances of the lease of former Senator Day's electorate office. So, while we found it fascinating to hear the exposition of the tram situation in Adelaide from Senator Farrell and to hear Senator Ketter expressing some concern that he could not move his office when he wanted to, the fact is that this matter is now before the High Court, and that is where it should be.

As those opposite may have missed, the government has moved a motion in the Senate, which has been passed by the Senate, to refer the election of former Senator Bob Day to the High Court due to a potential breach of section 44 of the Constitution—again, a matter which was canvassed extensively in this place this morning. There is only one body that now has the power to determine whether former Senator Day was in breach of section 44, and that is the High Court. I think it is critically important that neither house of this parliament, including those opposite, should now try to have this matter tried outside the court and prejudice any deliberations of the High Court sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns.

But what does it say about those opposite that they raise this when they and we had canvassed this so extensively this morning in this place? Again, it is another demonstration that those opposite are bereft of serious policy to discuss in this place. Where were the questions on national security? Where were the questions on defence? Where were the questions on health, education and any of the things that are really important to all Australians? I think this is another example of a tactical misfire by those opposite. Now we see them in the process of bringing down the best opportunity we have had for marriage equality, for legal equality in this country, simply because they have got an attack of the heebie-jeebies because it was not their process that got up but the government's offer of how to get this through. So they are about to stuff that up for the public. The Legal and Constitutional Affairs References committee is limping home to a report tomorrow—

Senator Sterle: Point of order. Relevance is my point of order. There were no questions asked by the opposition to any government ministers today about what Senator Reynolds is rabbiting on about, and I would urge you to get her back to the topic.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Sterle. That is a debating point. Please resume, Senator Reynolds.

Senator REYNOLDS: Thank you. As I was saying, the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee is limping home to a report tomorrow on an inquiry that they breathlessly set up to try to impugn the reputation of the Attorney-General, but—oops!—it misfired and they kicked an own goal in the direction of the Solicitor-General instead. We now have another inquiry on Nauru and Manus—another one that is absolutely looking at the past and not at policies of the future.

Senator Sterle: Point of order. Once again, on relevance, I raise the point of order that the senator is not going anywhere near the questions that were asked by the opposition today to ministers in question time.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Sterle.

Senator Brandis interjecting

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Wait for the call, Senator Brandis. Senator Brandis.

Senator Brandis: I just wanted you to know that I was seeking the call.


Senator Brandis: Madam Deputy President, the motion before the chamber is not that the Senate take note of questions but that the Senate take note of answers, and the irrelevance of some of the questions was in fact a matter reflected upon by a number of the answers that came from ministers.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Brandis. Senator Reynolds, you have been slightly wide-ranging, so I just remind you of the motion moved by Senator Farrell.

Senator REYNOLDS: Madam Deputy President, I apologise if there are so many things to demonstrate how irrelevant those on the other side are, and this latest performance in question time is just another example of the lack of significant policy discussion or leadership in this country. So what else have the Labor Party not done and not talked about? Not only have they been talking about a matter that they agreed should be referred to the High Court and should stick within the jurisdiction of the High Court; they spent five questions on issues that had already been answered and canvassed to the satisfaction of those opposite. (Time expired)