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Tuesday, 1 March 2011
Page: 801

Senator ABETZ (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (1:02 PM) —Mr President, from time to time, as you would know, we in the coalition question statements made by you. On this occasion we fully endorse and accept your statement. Mr President, I trust we always show good grace in accepting the authority of the chair and the decision of the chair, even when we might not necessarily agree with your determination. The simple fact is, and let us be quite frank here, that Senator Brown is a chief interjector, as indeed many of us are because we feel passionate about issues. That is the way it is in this place. Many a time when I have been called upon to withdraw I have thought, ‘That wasn’t a fair cop.’ Nevertheless, I have withdrawn. Quite frankly, many a time I have interjected or behaved in a manner for which, quite possibly, I should have been called to account but have not been. I think that is the experience of every single senator in his place—

Senator Conroy —Speak for yourself!

Senator ABETZ —Apart, of course, from Senator Conroy, who is a paragon of virtue when it comes to the standing orders! More seriously, with great respect to Senator Brown, yesterday was not the finest display of temperament by a party leader who bears, I think, special responsibility to the colleagues who sit behind him or with him to ensure that the chair is fully protected at all times.

Those who occupy the chair do a very difficult job in this place. I have no doubt that they absolutely do their best and, as is the want of every human endeavour, from time to time they will get it wrong. I can say that overwhelmingly they get it right and, as the President has ruled, there is absolutely no doubt that on this occasion Senator Trood was absolutely impeccable in the way he handled it. Quite frankly, I am not sure how many other temporary chairs would have accepted the petulance of the Leader of the Australian Greens for so long without having him removed from the chamber. As indeed you said in your statement, Mr President, Senator Brown seriously ran the risk of being named. All this occurred after a single word interjection by Senator Macdonald. When a name was mentioned, Senator Macdonald said, ‘Who?’ This then led to what can only be described as quite a bizarre diatribe and an attack on the temporary chair.

From time to time, those of us who feel it is getting too rowdy, as we try to make our point, seek protection from the chair. That is a proper and appropriate course of action to take. When it is done, without fail, the chair asks the Senate to quieten down to allow the speaker to continue. If the chair were to interrupt each and every speech on each and every occasion there was a one-word interjection, this place simply could not operate. We all know that. So with great respect to Senator Brown, I would have hoped that he would have used the occasion to apologise for his petulance and to reflect on what he did yesterday, which, I repeat, was not the finest display of temperament by the leader of a party in this place. Indeed, it fell far short of the standard one would expect of a party leader.

Senator Trood, in the face of gross provocation by the Leader of the Australian Greens, handled the situation superbly with his demeanour and his coolness, which saved Senator Brown from being named and thrown out of this place. For Senator Brown, in his contribution this morning, to not be thankful to Senator Trood for his forbearance reflects very badly on the Leader of the Australian Greens. To you, Mr President, I say thank you for reporting back so quickly and confirming the correctness of Senator Trood’s ruling at the time.