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Wednesday, 2 December 2015
Page: 9649


Senator FAWCETT (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (15:19): I also rise to take note of the answers provided to the questions by Senator Collins and Senator Wong—but I also come to the questions themselves. The Senate is a great place as a legislative chamber for the Australian people. It is a place where we see things questioned and often, through the committee process, legislation improved.

Increasingly, though, and I guess it has always been thus, it seems there is a very political motive for a lot of things that occur, including questioning, in this place. Having seen the response of members opposite during the Ashby affair, the quiet that has continued up to this point, it comes as no surprise that there is a renewed focus, on this, at a time when the Leader of the Opposition has an approval rating of 15 per cent. He seeks to leave the parliament, to go to France, to try to get some media around his rather unbudgeted approach to climate change that would cost our economy, dearly.

One has to question what the true motivation is behind the questions from the Leader of the Opposition, in this place, around this issue. It appears, very much, that they are seeking a distraction. The Australian people are far more concerned about where this country is going, about the growth of the economy, the security of the nation, jobs for their children, the health system, the education system, a whole range of things, as opposed to the internal within-the-beltway discussions, here, amongst the political people—staffers, media, members of parliament and the Senate. This whole debate appears to be yet another of these distractions. It appears to be no coincidence that it occurs at a time when Mr Shorten has an approval rating of—merely—15 per cent

There was a deal of discussion during this about Senator Brandis's answer—

Senator Conroy: Mal Brough. His name is Mal Brough.

Senator FAWCETT: and I do come back to the point that, when the question was asked about Mr Brough—

Senator Bilyk interjecting

Senator FAWCETT: when the question was asked about Mr Brough—and I hope members opposite are listening to that; that is three times now, or four times—what Senator Wong asked was a question about a pre-emptive statement by Mr Keenan, or advice. And the Attorney-General correctly answered. So the political nature of this comes up when Senator Wong then thinks, on the basis of Mr Keenan's answer, that she has a 'gotcha' moment and, rather than either studying carefully what he actually said or, worse, perhaps admitting the context of what he said, seeks to then embarrass or show up Senator Brandis in this place, who correctly points out that what Mr Keenan had said was about his reporting post the event—two quite distinct events. So Senator Brandis quite correctly reported that.

Subsequently in the question Senator Brandis said that he did not agree with the premise of the question. There was great consternation among those opposite, including Senator Wong complaining that he was not being relevant to the question. Mr Deputy President, can I take you back to 21 August when Senator Wong, in answering a question, said: 'I don't agree with the premise of the question.' And she goes on. There was another time, on 13 September 2012, and in fact it was, funnily enough, an interaction between Senator Brandis and Senator Wong. Senator Wong says: 'Mr President, on the point of order: once again Senator Brandis is rephrasing the question. The question commenced with a false premise. It is very difficult for the minister to be directly relevant to a false premise.'

Senator Conroy: Oh dear! His name is Mal Brough.

Senator FAWCETT: So that is Senator Wong's own position—

Senator Conroy: You've got 45 seconds to mention Mal Brough.

Senator FAWCETT: and you can go through time after time where Senator Wong and other ministers have disputed the premise of the question and have continued to provide an answer—

Senator Conroy: 35 seconds. Mal Brough.

Senator FAWCETT: and the President has upheld their right to do so. So all I would ask is that they be consistent.

Senator Conroy: 30 seconds. Mal Brough.

Senator FAWCETT: And for Senator Conroy, who is interjecting yet again, in contravention of standing order 197, I bring him to the point—because he questioned the president about the standing order under which the President can make a decision, and standing order 197(5) says:

The President may hear argument on the question, and may determine it forthwith, or at a later time, at the President’s discretion.

That is the standing order he applied. I would encourage you to abide by it. (Time expired)