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Tuesday, 1 March 2011
Page: 801

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (1:00 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

Mr President, the statement you have made is, at its core, based on two false premises and does not, therefore, uphold the standing orders of the Senate. Firstly the characterisation of the breach of a standing order as ‘technical’ is wrong in general and in particular. To adopt departure of exception from the standing orders in particular circumstances is to undermine the standing orders and the high responsibility of the chair to defend their integrity.

In the particular case the President contends, incorrectly, that it was acceptable for the chair to allow ‘a single-word interjection by Senator Macdonald’. The Hansard record clearly reveals repeated, loud and disruptive interjections from Senator Macdonald, not directed at the chair but at me, from four metres away. He was, moreover, making a deliberate breach of standing order 197, backed by multiple interjections from fellow members of the opposition without the permission of the chair.

There has to be, and is, a distinction between the chair and its occupants. This is clearly entertained in the Senate’s ability to debate the occupant’s failure to uphold the Senate’s interests via a motion of dissent. On a day of major issues, including an opposition motion to censure the government, derailing the Senate’s order of business, I did not move dissent. However, dissent was warranted. The idea that any criticism of the ruling by an occupant of the chair is a reflection on the office of the chair is unsustainable. Its logical outcome is to allocate unrestrained warrant, including derogation of the standing orders, on the basis of tolerating technical infractions to the occupier. I do not accept this dangerous disempowerment of elected senators who have every right to be protected by the upholding, without fear or favour, of the standing orders.

In defence of the Senate, I do not accept your statement.