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Wednesday, 29 February 1984
Page: 175

Senator WITHERS(6.03) —Normally, those who wish to have urgency debates under standing order 448 ought to prove urgency. I have yet to hear what is the urgency of this motion. Is it because Mr Justice Cross has asked that he be vindicated? Is it because Mr Justice Cross is upset? From my cursory reading of the newspapers I rather felt that Mr Cross ignored the sort of shabby exercise which occurred in the House of Representatives yesterday evening. Or is it, in fact, just urgent so that we in this place, led by the Government, can go to the muck heap and throw muck at the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair)? Is that the urgency?

If the Government thought that the urgency of the matter was to clear the name of Mr Justice Cross, one could well understand the Government's moving only part (2) of the motion of which the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) gave notice. That would have been what the indigant outrage was supposed to be about, and the Senate would pass judgment maybe in recording its full confidence in the integrity, impartiality and competence of Mr Justice Cross. But that is just thrown in as a sort of give away, because the whole intent of the motion and the urgency of it is to throw muck at the Right Hon. Ian Sinclair.

Having listened to the debate last night and again today, I ask! Why should we imitate our colleagues in the other place and spend our time hurling the same sort of muck from side to side that members of the other place hurled? If people wonder occasionally why politicians and the parliament are held in contempt, the sort of thing that the Government is indulging in this afternoon only reinforces their view. The Government comes into this chamber with this santimonious nonsense of urgently wanting to protect the integrity of Mr Justice Cross, when it is nothing but a subterfuge to abuse a member of another place. I do not mind the Government's colleagues in another place abusing him because they were abusing him to his face and he could answer back. But to say that it is urgent that we honourable senators abuse a man in another place when he cannot stand in this place and answer back, but must answer back through us, I think is cowardice, to say the least. It does nothing for consensus in this country. It does nothing to bring Australia together to abuse a man in another House who does not have the right of reply.

I would have thought that one of the things that has brought the Parliament into contempt over recent years has been the abuse of parliamentary privilege by many members of the present Government while in opposition and by some of us while in government, abuse of innocent people outside who have no right of reply . In my book it is denigratory of parliamentary practice to abuse a person in another parliament or in another House when he has no right of reply in the place where the abuse takes place.

The sole urgency of this motion is to attack Ian Sinclair. It has nothing to do with defending Mr Justice Cross. He can look after himself. I imagine that like most judges he ignores what happens in parliament. He does not want to get involved in the crazy sort of debate we have been having over this issue. Why should he? Why should he demean himself by worrying about what people think of him? He is in his position until he is 70 years of age unless he is hoisted for some reason--

Senator Button —Just like you.

Senator WITHERS —Yes, but if I were properly hoisted for impropriety, Mr Temby, and the fancy new Solicitor-General ought to seek the advice of McGregor and a senior Federal judge would be hoisted. If I should have been hoisted by a distinguished member of the Federal Court on his definition of impropriety, I am quite certain that he would apply those same standards to the tapes of that senior Federal judge. I wonder whether honourable senators would accept his recommendation that that senior judge, like me, should be hoisted.

Senator Gareth Evans —But you exercised fine self-restraint when you were hoisted by McGregor.

Senator WITHERS —No, I was hoisted. I did not resign. Maybe this other senior judge will have to be hoisted because he will not resign, either.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I ask the honourable senator to relate his remarks to the debate.

Senator WITHERS —I apologise, Mr President. I should not respond to interjections. Put quite simply, this debate is nothing but a miserable political exercise. It is not urgent to protect the integrity of Mr Justice Cross. It is nothing but a piece of politics. God knows, I do not walk away from playing politics, but at least I admit it. Why does the Government not get up and say: 'We are playing politics. We do not like the right honourable member for New England. We wish to destroy him as fast as we can. This is a piece of nonsense dressed up as a piece of urgency to protect the integrity of a judge, but really the whole debate will be about paragraph (1) of the motion. How can we denigrate, throw muck at, and destroy the right honourable Ian Sinclair? For those reasons, the Senate ought to reject the alleged urgency of this matter. There is no urgency. It is nothing but a piece of Attorney-General's tendentious humbug.