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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 4275

Senator MINCHIN (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (10:26 AM) —by leave—There is only one thing that Senator Ludwig just said with which we agree, and that is that it is rare to deny or oppose a reference to the Senate Standing Committee of Privileges. But in this case the opposition very strongly opposes this reference. We believe the government has completely misunderstood the motivation of Senator Heffernan. I speak honestly here and I hope that we will be dealt with in good faith.

Senator Heffernan, acting as a backbench senator, was concerned about the treatment that a witness to the Economics Legislation Committee received last week after he gave his evidence. If you read Senator Heffernan’s motion it says:

Whether any adverse action was taken against Mr Godwin Grech in consequence of his evidence before the Economics Legislation Committee ...

This is not directed at government senators in any way whatsoever. Senator Heffernan, of his own volition, was concerned about the treatment of a witness after he gave his evidence. The government seems to have interpreted Senator Heffernan’s motion as directed at government senators, and here we have a tit-for-tat motion designed to attack Senator Abetz because of his quite genuine and proper endeavours to establish the veracity of evidence given to that committee and information to hand.

It would be quite extraordinary for a committee of privileges to be examining the basis upon which a senator was seeking to establish the veracity of evidence before them, and the government’s motion completely misunderstands and misrepresents the motivation that Senator Heffernan had in his reference, which was quite properly about the treatment of a witness after he gave his evidence. Therefore, we are very strongly opposed to this reference and we hope the Senate will join us in opposing it.