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Thursday, 15 October 2015
Page: 7867

Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (18:11): I also rise to take note of this report. I think Senator Macdonald's contribution has officially confirmed that he has lost the plot. I think it is a great pity for a senator of his standing not to understand that the select committees and the standing committees are to review government performance. I do not resile from the fact that part of the review we encompassed touched on actions of a Labor government. In fact, I think that is absolutely part of the process that should be undertaken by the Senate and the great institution that is its committee system. If we need to be critical of a Labor minister or a Labor Prime Minister then that is what I would do as the chair of that committee if the evidence were critical of a decision made at that time and there were enough cross-examination and corroborating evidence for you to draw the conclusion. That is your job as a senator.

I absolutely reject the allegations that this was a partisan political witch hunt. I absolutely reject that we actively sought to have meetings when people were not available. That is not how the committee system works—unless it works like that on Senator Macdonald's committee. I have been on about seven committees, including a couple of joint committees, and I have found them very considered in the way they approach quorum and attendance. The only problem with the Nauru select committee and attendance was that the Senate's resolution prescribing a reporting date was taken after people had made plans. I do not want to get into the detail of those plans; there were plans on the Labor side, on the Liberal side and on the Greens side. But the cooperative people on the committee sought to address that and come up with hearing dates in Canberra. We did not fly people all around the country as Senator Macdonald has alleged. We had hearings in Canberra and we had witnesses come to Canberra of their own volition. A lot of those people paid. There were a couple of people who made the appropriate inquiries and applications for reimbursement and very modest amounts were reimbursed. But there was no flying around the country. Hearings were conducted in Canberra.

With regard to the allegations he made, I did ask you in a point of order the other week, Mr President, where I took it if he was making an allegation which I believe was totally inaccurate and approaching a lie with absolutely creative mendacity. You said I needed to take it into another forum. I presume that this is the forum I take it to, and we will have to continue to do this for the rest of the year, and perhaps into next year, until such time as we get some agreement. It is not fair to the secretariat staff—who work very hard—or to the Labor contributors, the Greens contributors or the Liberal contributors. Senator Macdonald is not a member of the committee. He seems to be a great authority on the committee, but he can only have second-hand information about how that committee operated, how it met, when it met and what costs it incurred. He was not there for any of the deliberations or the discussions. He decries the work of the committee. He says that it has all been done before and that, anyway, it was Labor's fault. It was a select committee that was set up with a very tight time frame. It did an incredible amount of work. It produced a report with a number of recommendations; the minister went from rejecting those to stating that he would consider them. It achieved some international publicity. It was even mentioned in The New York Times, and it received some media in the BBC World News in London. To be dismissed out of hand as just a bipartisan witch-hunt, cobbled together quickly and regurgitating old facts is not the way it was treated by participants in the inquiry and by news outlets.

Senator Macdonald has his view of the world, and every Thursday he will come down here and regurgitate it. Every Thursday he will regurgitate it because he has four people driving home to Townsville, or wherever, who listen to it, and he gets his regular slot of vitriol, venom, inaccuracies and mendacious behaviour—every Thursday he comes down and gives it a blast.

As a result of the evidence received and the concerns expressed, one of the select committee's recommendations was not that there be a new inquiry but that there be a venue for the genuine matters raised and not addressed in the report. If people need to raise issues about children being in harm's way or about Australia having control over these people, who are not able to access a legal system or a health system that resembles Australia's and who are not able to access the care and protection that we afford people in our custody, then there is an avenue for those people to bring them forward. The Senate has just passed a resolution, opening the door so that, if there are continuing allegations and continuing problems, these matters can be addressed. I know that does not please Senator Macdonald, but I think it is appropriate that the standing committee, which would normally have carriage of this matter, picks it up after the select committee has finished. I think that is an appropriate process to be followed.

I am not sure why Senator Macdonald would make the tremendous allegations that it would be a waste of taxpayers' money, that it would be regurgitating events and taking evidence all over again. Clearly, as Chair of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, he knows that the legal and cons committee is the committee it should have been recommended to had it not gone to the select committee. I do not understand why he has so much vitriol and anger about this, because I think it is part and parcel of the normal work of the Senate. As one of the longstanding members of the Senate, I thought it would have been his bread and butter to review the government. I have seen Senator Macdonald in committee taking the finance minister to task—asking questions about legislation and how it would affect people—and doing a sterling job as a senator, in a totally non-partisan way. He took a view and he had his own finance minister there, in committee.

I do not understand why there is so much vitriol about this particular subject. We have people in our care, in custody, who are in foreign jurisdictions, and we cannot absolve ourselves of that responsibility. Having a venue where we can be notified of problems, and having a senator of such great longstanding as Senator Macdonald on that committee I thought would have been a benefit. If there were any of the behaviour that he is alleging in this chamber, he could raise it at the committee level and perhaps do something about it rather than waiting until Thursday afternoon and spouting the same speech, the same vitriol and the same venom ad infinitum. I am busily reading all the transcripts of Senator Macdonald's contributions on this matter. I think it is incumbent on me to put a bit of thought into it and put together a considered response to his contributions over the last couple of Thursdays.

I want to leave anybody who is listening with this impression: this is the house of review. These matters were referred to the committee by a resolution of the Senate, which means a majority of senators voted for it. The committee carried out its instructions in accordance with the Senate's resolution and made some 35 recommendations. One recommendation was that we keep an eye on this matter and provide a venue where people can raise issues.

The media reported that the Save the Children office in Nauru was raided by police the other day and that all of the computer files and all of the phones and records were confiscated. I do not know what anybody else thinks, but if any police force is raiding a not-for-profit and confiscating equipment, I think we need to know what is going on. I think that, if necessary, people need to be able to raise it with the Australian parliament so that we can all know what is going on there. I do not know if it is anything untoward, but if a police force has seized an enormous amount of file records from hard drives and the like, maybe there is something of concern that we need to be keeping an eye on.

I will fully participate—along, I hope, with Senator Macdonald—in any further activity relating to the Select Committee into the Recent Allegations relating to Conditions and Circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru. I will participate as a full, effective senator, and I certainly hope Senator Macdonald comes to the party with the same view.

The PRESIDENT: I would like to remind senators that any documents we do not deal with or that are not preserved will be discharged from the Notice Paper. Senator Gallacher, were you going to seek leave to continue your remarks?

Senator Gallacher: I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.