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Wednesday, 2 December 2015
Page: 9645


Senator JACINTA COLLINS (Victoria) (15:01): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis) to questions without notice asked by Senators Collins and Wong today relating to the Special Minister of State (Mr Brough).

The first point I would like to make about question time today is to reflect on the disappointment that the standing orders regarding question time were not upheld. Senator Brandis knows full well that there are other opportunities in our program to deal with matters such as those he was dealing with in response to Senator Wong's question. He deliberately and unconscionably avoided responding to her question and used all of the time to avoid dealing with the important matters that were before us. But that is, of course, not the first time that Senator Brandis has done that. He did that yesterday, as I reflected in taking note of answers.

Let me go to yesterday's example, now that I have had the opportunity to look at the Hansard—although, in making that point, I should highlight the fact that his criticism of Senator Wong, whilst allowing himself the opportunity to reflect on yesterday's Hansard in relation to Mr Keenan in the other place, did not acknowledge that Senator Wong had not had that opportunity either. But he should have dealt with those issues at another time in our program rather than—quite unrelated to the standing orders—during question time in answers to a question. Let us look again at the question he avoided answering, as an example. Yesterday, he was asked:

Did the Attorney General speak to anyone else about the execution of a search warrant on the home of Mr Brough? If so, whom did he tell and when?

What is interesting about his answer—once you get through points of order and other distractions that, unfortunately, have been allowed in the course of this debate—is his final sentence. I have to say, his contempt is audacious. His answer was:

I may well have done.

That is it—full stop. 'I may well have done.' He was asked whom he told and when, and his answer to the Senate was: 'I may well have done.' I am sorry, but that is completely inadequate.

We wonder why Senator Brandis is being so sensitive. I think it is quite clear. I think that, for example, Malcolm Farr got it right yesterday when he said:

The personal and political destruction of Liberal-turned-independent Peter Slipper was so complete and vicious it seems unlikely Mal Brough was the only senior political figure involved.

I thought that I would reflect on a bit of history here. I can recall that, back in around 2004 or 2005, Senator Brandis was very keen to claim credit for Queensland preferencing in the Senate election. He was quite chuffed to accept some responsibility there. I remember that, in 2008, Senator Brandis, now the Senate leader, was up to his neck in the Liberal National Party merger discussions and Senate preferencing. In fact, he made himself No. 1—

Senator Heffernan: I rise on a point of order. Is there any need to shout? Why do you have to shout?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: That is not a point of order, Senator Heffernan.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: The point I am making is that Senator Brandis, back in 2008, was up to his neck in the Liberal-National Party merger discussions and up to his neck in the new Senate preference arrangements, and it is very hard to believe that he had no knowledge of matters around Peter Slipper in 2012. Then again, Senator Brandis knows all about metadata these days. We will see what metadata does in fact reveal, unless he has taken Malcolm Turnbull's advice and started using unofficial means of communication. What is the concern here? It is best reflected today, in this case, by Laura Tingle. She says:

As so often happens with such political controversies, the problem for Malcolm Turnbull in the Brough affair is that it is rapidly shattering from one unpleasant political problem into a collection of equally dangerous shards.

I could not have said that better.

What is unfortunate, though, as I said, is how the Leader of the Government in the Senate is treating question time. It is not only him; it is also other government senators, who either seek to portray Labor senators as shrieking or screeching or shouting, or indeed refuse simply—

Senator Ian Macdonald: Shrill.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Shrill—thank you; I will take that interjection, Senator Macdonald—or simply refuse to answer— (Time expired)