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Tuesday, 15 September 2015
Page: 6917

Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (22:00): We now have a new Prime Minister promising to usher in a new paradigm for political debate in this country. Mr Abbott's poor judgement, unfair policies, outright incompetence and malevolent ideological agenda finally wore down his colleagues. This is a former Prime Minister that used the trappings of office—the resources of the taxpayers—to pursue his own ideological vendettas against the Labor Party and its affiliates for his own political ends. You might think that that was unusual. In fact, I would say to you that it was unusual—because even former Prime Minister John Howard would not publicly support using royal commissions to investigate decisions of previous governments.

In their moment of electoral despair, after being behind Labor in the last 30 Newspolls, the Liberals have resorted to promoting Mr Turnbull into the prime ministership. Never mind the fact that Mr Turnbull has failed to deliver the government's commitments on the National Broadband Network, despite blowing the budget by more than $26 billion—yes, that was a 'b' for billion, not an 'm' for million. Never mind the fact that Mr Turnbull handpicked his own CEO for NBN—a man who, it has now been revealed, oversaw Vodafone while they were in the midst of covering up an illegal phone-hacking scandal. Never mind these facts that speak so strongly to Mr Turnbull's inability to deliver and to his total lack of judgement—this is the person whom the Liberal Party has installed as Prime Minister.

Mr Turnbull has some tough issues to deal with from the get-go. Mr Abbott was politically assassinated last night, and one of the main assassins sits in the chamber—Senator Scott Ryan. He was named on television last night on Sky News. He is loving it. Everyone gets their 15 seconds of fame, Senator Ryan. You were named on Sky television last night. Tonight, despite the fact that Mr Abbott was assassinated, his legacy is a minefield of disastrous decisions that Mr Turnbull must now contend with.

Tonight I want to speak again with regard to the Liberal Party's royal commission—its $80 million Star Chamber charged with persecuting the government's political enemies. Tonight I direct my comments to the Senate, but I hope that Mr Turnbull and his merry band of supporters—many of whom can be found on this side of the building—are also listening. My message to them is that this royal commission is a political witch-hunt. It is a relic of Mr Abbott's failed leadership.

I have to return to Mr Dyson Heydon—the captain's pick of captains' picks, possibly—and all of his royal commission staff. They are now so hopelessly compromised that Mr Turnbull should dismiss them immediately. Failure to do so will ensure that this biased royal commission hangs around Mr Turnbull's neck as testament to his failure of leadership and will show that Dyson Heydon is interested in nothing more than the size of his pay cheque.

Senators will be aware that this is not the first time I have spoken on this issue. The circumstances surrounding this royal commission and the conduct of Dyson Heydon are so outrageous that they cannot be detailed in one single speech. Last week I drew the Senate's attention to the nature of any royal commission's position within our constitutional structure. Despite the pathetically ignorant and misleading claims of those opposite, this royal commission is simply an extension of the executive Liberal-National coalition government. There can be no separation of powers. The royal commissioner was appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of Mr Abbott. Dyson Heydon has been a puppet of the Liberal Party. Through the royal commission he has persecuted the government's political enemies without any regard for fairness.

I also spoke on Dyson Heydon's conduct within the royal commission. I outlined the fact that Dyson Heydon had wilfully ignored any principles of natural justice. Dyson Heydon has ensured that the prejudicial nature of this royal commission has been enshrined in the commission's practice directions. By refusing people the opportunity to defend themselves, to cross-examine witnesses, to interrogate evidence and by holding secret hearings and coaching witnesses, such as the disgraced union leader, Kathy Jackson—by helping to cover up Kathy Jackson's crimes and by rejecting the evidence, which another court found her guilty of—Dyson Heydon has eliminated any opportunity for procedural fairness and justice within this royal commission. All Australians know that this royal commission is a taxpayer funded dirt unit established by Mr Abbott to smear and slander anyone who stands up to his bullying and his backward views. Despite all Australians understanding the prejudicial, biased nature of this royal commission, the arrogant actions of Dyson Heydon put this beyond doubt.

I want to talk tonight on Dyson Heydon's decision to attend a Liberal Party fundraiser and then his attempt to cover it up when his inappropriate association with the Liberals became public. He covered up. We always say in politics: 'It's not the crime that gets you, it's the cover up that gets you.' Dyson Heydon has been caught in a web of his own lies. The revelation that Dyson Heydon agreed to be the keynote speaker at a New South Wales Liberal Party fundraiser removed any shred of credibility that this royal commission was clinging to—and it was pretty thin by then.

While Heydon claims that he was unaware that the event was a political fundraiser, he admits to receiving multiple pieces of correspondence outlining the event's ties to the Liberal Party. The chair of a Liberal Party lawyer branch invited Heydon to the event on 10 April 2014. The email explicitly explained the relationship between the Liberal Party, the lawyer branch and the event itself. Dyson Heydon knew straight away that it would be absolutely inappropriate for him to attend a party political event. But he did not decline, as he should have. Dyson Heydon knew that his attendance at such an event would blow his cover—his support for the Liberal Party cause would have been clear for all to see.

Mr Heydon's correspondence—never meant to be shared with the public—shows his cynical scheming to deliver the biased outcome on the royal commission and appear at the Liberal Party fundraiser immediately afterwards. He conspired with the Liberal Party representative responsible for organising the event to attend the fundraiser after handing down his findings in the royal commission. He did not say, 'I can't do a fundraiser for the Liberal Party.' He said, 'I can't do it till afterwards.'

So despite Mr Heydon's acknowledgement that his appearance would be inappropriate, he committed to address the event after the royal commission had been completed. So arrogant was Mr Heydon that he supposed he could pass judgement on the political enemies of the Liberal Party and then, having done so, immediately contribute to their fundraising and organisational efforts.

But when concocting his plan, Mr Heydon did not plan for an extension of the royal commission. In October 2014, the Abbott government extended the commission's reporting date from December 2014 to December 2015—overrunning the date for Mr Heydon's planned Liberal Party attendance. Mr Heydon was again contacted by the organiser on 2 March and 4 April 2015—long after he knew that there had been an extension for the whole following 12 months. Despite this and despite knowing that he was still hearing the royal commission, he was too arrogant and too lazy to excuse himself from the Liberal Party event. He just thought, 'No, I can get away with this.' And on 12 June 2015 the organisers of the event, the Liberal Party emailed Mr Heydon the formal invitation—again from the Liberal party branch with the Liberal Party logo emblazoned across the top. The invitation included the fundraising details and even provided advice regarding political donation disclosure laws, and, by Mr Heydon's own admission, his assistant printed this document out and handed it to him.

On four separate occasions of communication, Mr Heydon failed to excuse himself from the Liberal Party event. It was not until 14 August 2015 that Mr Heydon cancelled his attendance. Initially he pleaded that the dog ate his homework—the old dog-ate-my-homework defence. He claims that, despite all the emails and despite the fact that his assistant even printed the invitation out for him to read, he failed to realise the connection between the event and the Liberal Party. What I do not understand is why he declined to speak at first while the royal commission was being held. He said, 'No, let's do it afterwards.' But all of a sudden, a year later, he's saying, 'Oh, I didn't realise it was a Liberal Party fundraiser at all.' The first lie.

Dyson Heydon has a long history of rejecting such pathetic defences, both in court and at the royal commission itself. He would not cop a defence like he gave himself. Mr Heydon desperately claims that he miraculously decided to cancel his attendance just hours before the media published details regarding his fundraising gig. What a lucky coincidence! He cancelled it before the media got in touch with him.

However, tragically for Dyson Heydon, the cover up was beginning to unravel. Evidence subsequently produced proved that he was tipped off to the media interest via his good friend and loyal foot-soldier, Jeremy Stoljar. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that despite claiming to have publicly released the relevant correspondence, certain details were withheld. Panicked at being caught out, it would seem that Dyson Heydon lied again about his knowledge of the fundraiser. He lied about his knowledge of the media interest and he lied about the relevant correspondence.

In accordance with the accepted process, a number of trade union groups submitted to Dyson Heydon that, through his conduct, he had exhibited an apprehended or apparent bias thus requiring him to recuse himself from the royal commission. The process of a decision maker adjudicating upon an allegation of their own apprehended bias is clearly ridiculous. Even Dyson Heydon acknowledged this in his reasons for decision. I quote:

To some minds, including those of fair-minded lay observers, it might seem strange that a person complaining about the bias of a Royal Commissioner should make application for disqualification not to a court, but to the person accused of bias or apprehended bias. What are the prospects of success in making an application against a Royal Commissioner on that ground, it might be said, when that Commissioner hears the application?

Well, he is certainly right about that. But, as Dyson Heydon goes on to state, this is the legal process for prosecuting such issues.

However, Heydon's capacity for self-reflection ended right there. After appearing for just minutes to arrogantly demise the apprehended bias claim, the royal commissioner released the reasons for his decision. This document deserves to be read by every fair-minded Australian because it outlines his pathetically weak justification to remain as the royal commissioner, despite his obvious biased conduct and lies to cover up his biased conduct.

Heydon argues on a technicality that bias is established upon the proof of prejudgement, rather than predisposition. I promise senators in this chamber that I will come back to that matter. He does not deny that he is predisposed to pursuing and attacking the Liberal Party's political opponents. Heydon goes on to claim that the submissions from the union groupings are 'imprecise'—not in fact but apparently in subjective logic. And then remarkably Dyson Heydon asserts that:

… before disqualification there must be something more than mere party membership or attendance at party functions …

I think joining a party or going to one of their fundraisers could actually, possibly, be construed by a lay person that you have a predisposed view.

Bizarrely, Mr Heydon maintains that, despite the invitation explicitly outlining the fundraising methods—the intended use for the money for Liberal Party political campaigns and the relevant fundraising disclosure laws—this was not a fundraiser. There is an extraordinary, brilliant, legal mind in logic. This is a disingenuous, dishonest and pathetic attempt to defend his biased actions. Even the Liberal Party stopped pretending it was not a fundraiser, but not Dyson Heydon. He clings to his role as a royal commissioner. In order to do so, he has employed technicalities of language and subjective interpretation of evidence and history.

I agree with Dyson Heydon on one point: he is not fit to pass judgement on his own bias and prejudice. Dyson Heydon's conduct is clearly in breach of community expectations. Mr Abbott should have acted to resolve this issue but instead he chose to protect his mates. It is now incumbent upon Mr Turnbull to clean up this disgraceful mess.

Senate adjourned at 22:20