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Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Page: 2338

Senator SMITH (Western AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (15:22): 'If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't.' So says Alice. I think in Senator Pratt's contribution today we had a bit of a glimpse into the wonder that Alice in Wonderland brings readers, because some of us were a little delighted but predominantly puzzled by her contribution today. Senator Pratt, of course, is a colleague from Western Australia, so I do not mean that disrespectfully, but we need to be very clear about the issues of fact that we are being asked to reflect on as a result of Senator Pratt's contribution during question time and, importantly, what the other half of the story, the report prepared by government senators for that Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee inquiry, had to say.

Apologies to those people who might be listening to the Senate broadcast today, because this is perhaps one of the drier areas of public discourse we have had in the last few weeks. We could be talking about jobs and economic growth, or we could be talking about economic development across my state of Western Australia, but, no, we have found ourselves landed in what is yesterday's news—or last week or last month's news—to be totally frank.

There are a number of key questions that we have been asked to reflect on or respond to as a result of Senator Pratt's contribution today. If I could be so bold as to summarise them, they fall into six brief elements. So, for those people who have not been watching this debate over the last few months, I thought I would take the liberty of trying to turn it into a layman's understanding of what some of the issues are. Firstly, we are being asked to consider: what is the government's response to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee report? I will come to that a little later in my contribution. Secondly, we are being asked to reflect on what was meant by the word 'consultation' or the activity of consultation with the Solicitor-General on the proposed amendments. Thirdly, we are being asked to reflect on what it meant to withdraw the amendment to the direction or about its impact on the rule of law. Fourthly, we are being asked to reflect on the significance of the resignation of the Solicitor-General. Fifthly, we are being asked to reflect on whether or not the government has sought legal advice and from whom about previous or upcoming legislation. Finally, there is the question of whether or not approval of requests for the Solicitor-General to give opinions on questions of law was actually given.

Let me start with the first point. Senator Macdonald's contribution is particularly relevant here. Senator Macdonald is a well-experienced member of the Australian Senate. I remember I first came here in 1990 as a mere researcher to a former senator and Senator Macdonald was already here as a senator. So the first point is that he brings tremendous experience to these sorts of issues. Secondly, he is, of course, a lawyer himself, so he is accomplished in matters of the law. Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, Senator Macdonald is very seasoned at being able to sniff out attempts at political partisanship and attempts to muddy the reputation not just of the government but of senior members of the government like Senator Brandis, who is, of course, the Attorney-General.

It is very clear that our view is that the inquiry was set up as a political witch-hunt by Labor, ably supported yet again by the Australian Greens. What is the evidence for that? Senator Pratt gave it away in her questions during question time. The very clear evidence for that is the finding of the majority report, from which Senator Pratt quoted during question time. This has been a blatant political stunt from the beginning. It got amplified and ventilated and was there for the world to see during the inquiry hearing process, which was televised so that people could see the political witch-hunt for themselves.

These are serious matters, whichever side of the debate you might find yourself on, so the constant references to Alice in Wonderland, as noble and as important as that Lewis Carroll piece of work is, do sort of demean your argument. If you did believe that these issues are as significant as Labor and the Greens say they are, you would not demean your work, your inquiry and the arguments you are trying to run by— (Time expired)