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Thursday, 3 December 2015
Page: 9876

Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (17:18): Thank you. I will take that as a 'no'. The cabinet has not considered the deal and the party has not endorsed this deal.

Senator Dastyari: You didn't take it to the party room.

Senator CONROY: I am being harassed here, Mr Temporary Chairman, particularly by Senator Dastyari, so I ask you to call him to order.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Desist from the harassment, Senator Dastyari.

Senator CONROY: Let me be clear, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull promised the Liberal party room that he would engage in the proper cabinet processes and the proper party room processes. What Senator Cormann has just admitted is that there was no proper party room consultation on overturning a decision made previously by the cabinet and previously by the party room.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: A point of order, resume your seat. Minister, on a point of order.

Senator Cormann: The point of order is that Senator Conroy is actually misleading the Senate. He is verballing what I said and inaccurately representing what I said. I did not make any such suggestion and he should desist from misleading the Senate.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Thank you. I am sure Senator Conroy will amend.

Senator CONROY: That was not a point of order at all. What has become apparent here, as Senator Cormann knows, is that an existing party room vote has been overturned by his deal with the Greens, and they have not gone back to the party room. You have not gone back to the party room to get approval to change the position of the party room. The processes that Prime Minister Turnbull put in place have been, as usual, rode over roughshod. The backbench party members are deeply unhappy about lack of process. Some of them are so unhappy that they have defected to the Queensland National Party. What a success you guys are. You are on a tare.

You have overturned your cabinet decision and you have overturned your party room decision. I just wanted to make sure, and confirm through you, Mr Temporary Chairman, that it is on the public record that this deal, which overturns an existing Liberal party room position, is not approved by the cabinet of Australia or by the Liberal party room. No-one has been given an opportunity to say what they think. No-one has been given an opportunity to make an argument against the deal that has been done. I can understand, Senator Cormann, when you get a mug who is going to accept the purchase of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from you, you have to try to ram it through quickly. The Liberal party room has been treated with contempt by the ministers involved in these discussions. I wanted to make sure that was on the record.

I now want to address some untruths—some misleading of the Senate that has taken place in the last hour or so. It is quite embarrassing when you have a guilty conscience and you want to distract people from the fact that you have just sold your soul and sold out on everything you have campaigned for for two years, and overturned your own party and platform's position and what you have been seeking to do; I understand you would want to try and distract. So you want to fabricate history. Senator Whish-Wilson, the story you have attempted to tell and the story you are telling those poor, upset, ordinary Australians—or possibly even your branch members—when they have phoned your offices is untrue. Okay? Untrue.

So I want to put this on the public record. Firstly, as you well know, I was not here—I was overseas on a delegation when the debate took place. So do not try and represent that there were not people in the Labor Party willing to speak on this issue. That is the first point.

Secondly, and more importantly, as Senator Dastyari has said, and I will not need to speak for him because he will be speaking shortly, you have absolutely fabricated—Mr Temporary Chairman, could you ask Senator Heffernan to take his seat, please—

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN ( Senator Back ): I will indeed, Senator Conroy.

Senator CONROY: fabricated—no, no; his seat.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: I think that is a fair request of you, Senator Heffernan. Would you move over to your seat. Senator Conroy is being distracted, and the last thing we need is a furthering of his distraction. Senator Conroy, please proceed.

Senator CONROY: Thank you, Mr Temporary Chairman.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Heffernan! Would you please go over to your seat. In the meantime you are disrupting proceedings.

Senator CONROY: He is disrupting deliberately, but ask him to sit down.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Conroy, proceed.

Senator CONROY: So the Greens know full well—particularly Senator Whish-Wilson, who has incorrectly stated that he was in the chair, knows full well—that he actually asked Labor to help bring the vote on. And then the bill collapsed—actually, a bill collapsed, and it was brought on suddenly—

Senator Whish-Wilson: What? How could I do that?

Senator CONROY: No, it was not your fault. No, I did not say, 'You collapsed the bill.' The bill being debated beforehand collapsed, and then there was confusion in the chamber about what happened, and a vote was put, and nothing was recorded. There was not a desire by the Labor senators not to speak on this bill, as Senator Whish-Wilson is attempting to portray. This is a complete and utter fabrication that you are constructing to distract from your guilty conscience. Well, you are not going to get away with this. I know Senator Dastyari is going to speak at some considerable length on this particular issue so that the truth is on Hansard, not the fabrications that you have put onto the Hansard today. When you pick up the phone and answer, you are not going to be able to say, 'See what I said on Hansard,' because the truth will be on Hansard, not what you are attempting to portray as the truth. You have a guilty conscience, Senator Whish-Wilson, and I understand that. Sorry, my apologies.

Senator Heffernan: Mr Temporary Chairman, I rise on a point of order. The point of order I would like to make is that I want to make sure it will also be on Hansard that these characters—

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Is this a point of order or a debating point?

Senator Heffernan: described these people, the Greens, as 'lickspittles' today, which I think is disgusting.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Senator Heffernan. That is not a point of order.

Senator Whish-Wilson: Mr Temporary Chairman, I rise on a point of order. It is relevant, Chair. Senator Conroy is addressing me directly. He should be addressing you in the chair.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Thank you; I will take on that point of order. Thank you, Senator Conroy. Please continue. I know you will continue to address Senator Whish-Wilson through the chair.

Senator CONROY: I accept your admonishment, Mr Temporary Chairman. I have strayed again. I did not realise that poor Senator Whish-Wilson was such a tender soul. I had come to know him as slightly more robust than that.

Senator Heffernan: Mr Temporary Chairman, I rise on a point of order. I just want to make it abundantly clear: the senator over here who is doing the speaking, Conroy, is not a boofhead.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Sit down, Senator Heffernan. It is not a point of order. Senator Conroy, please continue.

Senator CONROY: We are actually in committee, just for the record—


Senator CONROY: so it is a slightly different process.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Absolutely. No problem.

Senator CONROY: I understand a guilty conscience when I see one, Senator Whish-Wilson. I understand a guilty conscience. But you do not get to come in here and fabricate history. The Labor Party has campaigned hard on this. Senator Whish-Wilson, I will do my best to avoid revealing private conversations, but I was gratified by what you said to me when I made a contribution on this debate the last time it was in the chamber. I was gratified. What I did not know was that you were a wolf in sheep's clothing—that you were planning on actually thanking me so you could sell me out a few weeks later. But I do actually have a question: were you even invited to the meeting last night? My understanding is that they did not let you go. They did not let you go, did they? Oh dear! It's classic!

Senator Heffernan: Mr Temporary Chairman, I rise on a point of order. I am sorry, but if we are going to go silly, why aren't you insisting that this is not a personal conversation but should be addressed through the chair?

Senator Conroy: We are in committee, you idiot!

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Heffernan, you have made your point. I accept it. We are in committee. Senator Conroy is in order.

Senator Whish-Wilson: Mr Temporary Chairman, I rise on a point of order. I do not think Senator Conroy is in order, Mr Temporary Chairman. He just called Senator Heffernan an idiot. You withdraw it!

Senator CONROY: I withdraw. I know Senator Heffernan is not a tender soul, but I am happy to withdraw. But I want it on the record: the Greens have just defended Senator Heffernan!


Senator CONROY: I really want to make sure it is on the record. Senator Heffernan protects the Greens; the Greens protect Senator Heffernan. I am with the program. Don't worry—we're with the program!

But I do think it is sad that you were not even invited to the meeting last night, Senator Whish-Wilson. You were not even invited into the room to make the case that you wanted to make. That is the sad part: when your leader runs rogue on you and leaves you sitting outside the door while he is inside, trying to pretend he is a mover and shaker and that he can get an outcome so that he can make himself important. Welcome, Senator McKim. I am not surprised that you are taking a higher profile since you came here, because it won't be long for you, don't worry; it won't be long for you. When your membership work out what you have done today, you will be able to say: 'It wasn't me. I wasn't invited either. The brains trust up the front of the chamber—this was their idea. We campaigned for two years. We had the numbers. We campaigned and we had the numbers. We had the government over a barrel, and then Senator Di Natale took charge.' You ran a fantastic campaign—a fantastic campaign. 'We had the numbers, and then the boss sold me out. The boss wandered in, without us'—without any of you there—'and they tickled his tummy, gave him a few Tim Tams, and they sold him the Harbour Bridge!' You have had to keep looking in the mirror, saying: 'It's a good deal. It's a good deal. It's a good deal'. You have had to convince yourself so that you can come in here today.

Senator Whish-Wilson cannot rewrite history. He cannot try and pretend that Labor has not been as committed as he has on this issue. There may have been genuine mistakes and things that went wrong on the floor the first time this came through, but we all worked to try and deliver to the Australian taxpayers the truth that the big end of town do not want revealed. There is nothing you can say today that will change the fact that you have accepted an argument that people whose companies earn over $200 million are in fear of being kidnapped if the truth was revealed! That is the only argument the government put forward, and you have now swallowed it and signed up to it. Even Senator Muir, a relative newcomer to the chamber, accepted, when he heard how silly that argument was, that it had to be changed. It had to be changed. But you, Senator Whish-Wilson, always knew that it was a complete and utter load of rubbish.

Apparently, your leader did not. Apparently, your leader fell for it. You let him out of your sight for five minutes and he has sold you down the drain. I could at least have some respect for your leader if he had invited you to come to the meeting. Were you afraid that he would embarrass you, Senator Di Natale? Were you afraid that Senator Whish-Wilson might actually not be quite so willing to roll over? I mean, really! You did not take your shadow spokesperson to this most important meeting even though he has campaigned on this for two years. To not be invited by your leader to the meeting, Senator Whish-Wilson—

Senator Dastyari: He is apologising now!

Senator CONROY: There is no point showing him some Twitter feed to try and pretend that people are on your side, Senator Di Natale. Let me promise you, they are not on your side. Your members are not on your side. They know a sell-out when they see it. They can smell a sell-out, and no amount of convincing yourselves each morning in the mirror for the next six months—'we didn't sell out; we didn't sell out'. You will have to keep telling yourselves that because your members will know. Your members will know by Christmas that you protected the big end of town, that you caved in when you had the numbers. It was not like it was in the balance. We had said 'no'.

And I was very offended by something you said earlier. I have spoken on it already, Senator Whish-Wilson, but I do not think you were here. You were pretending that we were somehow on the verge of selling out, and you took the deal before we did—Senator Whish-Wilson, that one was beneath you. You are better than that. We had absolutely, emphatically rejected the offer last night—rejected it. It was a joke.

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator CONROY: Yes, they made us an offer last night—they picked up the phone—and we said 'no'. You mugs picked up the phone and said 'yes'. You picked up the phone and said 'yes'. We rejected it last night. They kept coming back and knocking on our door, so don't you fabricate history by trying to justify your behaviour by saying that we were on the verge—

Senator Cormann interjecting

Senator CONROY: You were not on the phone call. We were not on the verge—

A government senator interjecting

Senator CONROY: You were not even on the phone call—unless, you are keeping track of Mr Morrison's phone calls!

A government senator interjecting

Senator CONROY: Oh, yes, absolutely! There are those of you who will have to try and justify protecting the biggest private companies in this country when you had the numbers. It is not that there was a negotiation and it was in the mix—that there might have been a win here and there might have been a loss there. We had the numbers. We actually got together and got the numbers, and we got an outcome where the government was over a barrel. And you blinked. You let them off the hook. You blinked!

Senator Dastyari: One night with Scotty!

Senator CONROY: It does not bear thinking about! You blinked. You will not be able to get away from the fact that we had the numbers to get a much, much better outcome than this and you blinked. Stop trying to justify it by saying that they were not going to do it; that this is better than nothing. We could have got better than this, and you blinked. You know it; you blinked. Because your genius leader decided he would not invite you and would not let you actually have the debate with the Treasurer—he was too embarrassed to have you in the room or whatever the excuse was—you blinked. There is no way to hide the fact that the numbers in this chamber were on your side. Two years of work, and you blinked and you let this government off the hook. We would have got a better outcome if you had a spine, a bit of backbone and a bit of political courage. That was not shown by your leader when he left you behind and went off and negotiated with the Treasurer.

Let me be very clear: when Senator Cormann knocks on your door and says that he has another harbour bridge to sell you, you have already bought it! You do not have to buy it a second time. You have already bought it. At least make him sell you the gateway bridge!