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Thursday, 17 September 2015
Page: 7206

Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (17:19): I made some remarks on the document last week and I want to put on the record a more complete explanation of my remarks, as they appear to have been taken out of context. Basically, I made some remarks singling out Senator Reynolds because of her conduct throughout the inquiry. I said:

It was totally partisan, totally political and less than objective conduct.

I want to put forward some further and better particulars in respect of that.

By way of background, I have, prior to coming to the Senate, some experience as a chair and some experience as a member of a committee. For example, I spent 16 years as the secretary of a branch committee of management of a reasonably sized union. I spent 10 years as the chair of an investment committee on a reasonably sized superannuation fund. I chaired the complaints and appeals on that superannuation fund. I was a director of the Motor Accident Commission. I chaired the marketing and sponsorship committee. So, when I say something is partisan and purely political, I am coming from a very technical background.

The Senate passed a resolution. I was minding my own business. I knew little or nothing about Nauru. I just knew, anecdotally, that it was an area where superphosphate was mined and had historically been extraordinarily wealthy and had some reasonably good investments in the city of Melbourne. When I came to the first meeting, which was a telephone conference, we had a resolution of the Senate which basically said the composition of the committee—so the office bearers of the committee, the deputy chair and the chair. The resolution was fairly simple: the chair would be a member of the opposition and the deputy chair would be a member of the Australian Greens.

At that very first meeting, it surprised me when the coalition senator present, Senator Reynolds, moved that Senator Bernardi would be the deputy chair. It was contrary to the resolution of the Senate, so it did not cause all that much disquiet or discomfort! But it did pose the question: either Senator Reynolds did not read the resolution or did not understand what the Senate had determined. That is, there would be a committee and there will be a chair and deputy chair from the respective groups. Either she did not read that or—

Senator Ronaldson: Mr President, on a point of order: I would hope that Senator Gallacher is not going to raise matters that were discussed during private meetings of the committee, because I think that would be clearly in breach of standing orders.

The PRESIDENT: Yes, unless those deliberations of the committee have been made public—I will seek further advice—I think you would be advised not to reveal confidential discussions of a committee .

Senator GALLACHER: My advice is that your position is correct: the minutes of the committee are confidential. I am not reading from those confidential minutes; I am simply telling you what happened. There was a telephone conference and a member of the coalition made a nomination of a coalition senator who was not there to be deputy chair—

Senator Canavan: Mr President, on a point of order: I took your previous ruling there to be that if the matters discussed in the committee were confidential, then confidentiality should not be breached. I do not see the distinction between the minutes of the meeting and the actual goings on of the meeting. If the meeting is confidential, then surely both the minutes and the discussion held in the meeting should be confidential and should remain so.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Gallacher, I have just had the advice that I gave you confirmed by the clerk. You have to be careful about what you do say about the confidential deliberations of the committee and matters that are not on the public record that were discussed in the committee in an expected closed environment. With that proviso and that advice, you may continue.

Senator GALLACHER: I will attempt to put on the record the further and better particulars, which I am attempting to do, to explain my statement about partisanship and about totally political and less than objective conduct. In the course of the work of the committee, it became very, very clear. There were a number of contributors: there were contributors from the Australian Greens, there were contributors from the Australian Labor Party and there were contributors from the coalition.

Senator Ronaldson: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I think you have directed Senator Gallacher as to what is appropriate and what is not. I do not believe that these matters that are being raised now are in the public domain and I ask you, please, to again insist on Senator Gallacher listening to and abiding by your ruling in relation to this. These are clearly matters that were private discussions in the committee.

The PRESIDENT: I have been listening to Senator Gallacher's continued contribution. He is okay at the moment and he is aware of the provisions.

Senator GALLACHER: My comments are in the public domain. They are on the record and they are on the Hansard. Anybody who wishes to read them, they are on the Hansard. What I am attempting to do is give further and better particulars about my statements, because my statements have been taken completely out of context and used in a different way. I am attempting, careful as it may need to be, to put the—

Senator Ronaldson: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. If Senator Gallacher believes that he has been misrepresented and he wishes to make a personal explanation, then he can do so. But this is not the forum for that to be done. I am quite happy for Senator Gallacher to give a personal explanation as to where he has been misrepresented. That is an entitlement of senators. I am happy for it to be done now, although it was not done at the start of the senator's contribution. I am happy for that to occur as to where he has been represented, but not as to general matters discussed by this inquiry.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Gallacher is entitled to incorporate any speech if it relates to the topic and it does—that is, matters that he is raising. You are correct, Senator Ronaldson: there are other opportunities to raise matters where he believes he has been misrepresented, but he is also entitled to do it within this speech if it fits within the topic matter.

Senator GALLACHER: The contributions were generous from all quarters and rightly so: it was important series of committee hearings. There was an abundance of evidence and there was a huge amount of reading and work undertaken by all members of the committee. What I am stating in my assessment is that people took a different attitude as to what this committee is all about. My view is that the Senate gave us a task. People had their opportunity to vote for or against the inquiry and the majority of the Senate gave a task to the opposition, the Australian Greens and the coalition.

As I have said in my earlier contribution, I was then tapped on the shoulder—for want of a better word—and asked to chair. I knew little or nothing about Nauru. I had no preconceived political agenda. Despite the claims of the minister of the day, labelling it a witch-hunt before it started, and despite the statements in the media about how we had orchestrated a situation where the department did not get to give evidence on a day of inquiry, the actual truth of the matter was that the timetable for that inquiry was set by Senator Reynolds and her good and honest reason of wanting to get back to Perth. I accept that. I know people who live in Perth, and I accept that it is extremely difficult travelling to and from Perth.

So we set an agenda. The agenda ran over and we were called out by the minister for not allowing the department to give 'inconvenient truths' to the inquiry. Well, the department had their day before the inquiry, and there were no inconvenient truths. In fact, as I stated in my early contribution, we actually had to write to the department reminding them of the standing order, and they said, 'Yes, we accept that we haven't been quite as forthcoming as we should, and we will do better.' So it was a partisan effort by the coalition outside of the committee.

Senator Ian Macdonald: You had the majority on the committee.

The PRESIDENT: Order on my right!

Senator GALLACHER: Outside of the committee there was a clear partisan view by the minister. His public statements and his press releases say all of this. I am saying that that contagion came inside the committee. From doing clear thinking and an evaluation of the circumstances relating to the situation at Nauru, the committee became partisan. My simple contention is that the coalition senator who was partisan in that was Senator Reynolds. Whether that was the task given to her, I do not know, but she was clearly partisan. Senator Bernardi is renowned in this chamber as being a chair of an extremely high standard. As a chair of a committee, he sets really high standards. Senator Johnston's contribution was analytical, deliberate. He cross-examined with purpose and prosecuted his position, as he always does, very well.

That was not true of the contributions from Senator Reynolds. That is why my statement came to bear. My statement came to bear because, clearly, the agenda that she was running was not the agenda that was set by the Senate. As I say, I have had enough experience to know when people doing things—and they can do it; there is no issue with that—that frustrate the normal working of a committee. In normal meetings you have an opening and you have apologies and you have the acceptance of minutes. If someone moves that the minutes not be accepted, you ask why. Clearly, they have an issue with the minutes—but all of the minutes; every set of minutes? My instruction to the secretariat who drafted the minutes was, 'Please take them to Senator Reynolds and have them fixed, and whenever she is happy, I will sign them.' I had no problem with the minutes.

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Gallacher. You are now delving into deliberations of the committee and workings within the committee. You are getting into too much detail again. So I just draw your attention to that.

Senator GALLACHER: Thank you, Mr President. I accept that admonishment. I accept that the minutes are confidential. That was my advice before I came in here. My advice was that I could refer to matters pertaining to the minutes—

The PRESIDENT: Yes, but you are starting—

Senator GALLACHER: but I could not refer to the actual minutes.

The PRESIDENT: Correct.

Senator GALLACHER: In the few short seconds I have left, I want to say that I do not cast any aspersions on anyone's character. That is not my role. That is not the way I do things. That is not the way I live. I am not the judge and jury of anyone's character, compassion or humanity. But I do know partisan political behaviour when I see it—and, from my experience as a chair, it was present. (Time expired)