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Thursday, 26 November 2015
Page: 9144


Senator JACINTA COLLINS (Victoria) (15:34): I rise to speak on the same matter. One can understand why Senator Brandis is so sensitive to this issue, because, after the question that I asked in question time today, one piece of evidence of his knowledge or involvement emerging in the current police investigation or any subsequent proceedings ends the career of the Attorney-General. This is why he is so sensitive. It reminds me, since he referred to his tedious time-wasting interventions here, of the occasion when he sought to do far worse but very similar when the issues around Senator Sinodinos were first raised in the Senate.

As I recall, a statement that I was making during what is now called senator's interests was interjected, or points of order were made, to the extent that at that point in time I did explore the standing orders over what were tedious time-wasting interventions, because Senator Brandis demonstrated his excess, and I would encourage any senator to look at the coverage of it. He was slathering in the coverage on that occasion. So now we see him being very sensitive over the discussions around what should occur in relation to Mr Brough and the confessions that he has made. I remind the Senate that the discussion we are having now—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Collins, resume your seat. Senator Brandis on a point of order.

Senator Brandis: Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. It should be remembered by the way that Senator Collins was in the chamber for the entirety of the last half hour, so she has heard what you have had to say in relation to the points of order taken concerning Senator Cameron. The use of the word 'confession' in this context is utterly inappropriate, because it is the plainest of innuendos that Mr Brough has confessed to a wrongdoing which he has not done and nothing is alleged against him.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: On the point of order: the confession that I was referring to was the one that was made on 60 Minutes, which Senator Cameron referred to also, which was that Mr Brough confessed that he sought to procure Mr Ashby's diary. I make no further point.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I have taken advice and, at this point in time, I am not going to rule in favour of the point of order. But I will continue to listen very carefully.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I was just about to go on to my point, which was to remind the Senate that this debate is actually about ministerial standards, not the time wasting and the tediousness of Senator Brandis's interventions. The discussion is about ministerial standards, so let me remind the senators of some of the issues that led to the raised eyebrows of many who follow these important issues when they looked at the ministerial appointments that occurred from Prime Minister Turnbull.

I think that the best way to characterise these, although it is not as funny as this suggests really—it is quite a serious matter—is the commentary today about 'nudge, nudge, wink, wink' and the new 'nudge unit' in the Prime Minister's office. To me, in one sense, that says it all about the discussion during question time today. It is very, very rare for me to side with Senator Sinodinos, who is now my counterpart, but let us look at the double standards that apply to Senator Sinodinos. When I made that statement in the Senate some time ago about his involvement with Australian Water Holdings, I was not making any allegations. I was going through a series of concerns that had been aired publicly and calling on the opposition of the day to respond. What we saw ultimately—and it took an awful lot of time—was that Senator Sinodinos was required to respond to the very serious concerns that were being aired about his role at Australian Water Holdings. He had to stand down.

Senator Back: Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. In rising to take note of answers to questions, Senator Cameron indicated to you that he wanted to take note of answers by the Attorney-General to questions from himself and from Senator Collins. Senator Collins's questions related to the Ashby affair, what knowledge the Attorney-General had beyond it and whether the Prime Minister stands by those statements. Senator Collins is now venturing into topics associated with Senator Sinodinos which caused nothing of the questions asked by Senator Collins to the Attorney-General in question time. I ask that you bring Senator Collins back to the topic upon which she asked the Attorney-General questions.

Senator Polley: Mr Deputy President, there is no point of order. Senator Collins was making her comments in relation to the questions that were asked today in question time. There is no point of order.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The motion is to take note of the answers to questions asked by Senator Wong and Senator Collins, so, as long as the discussion is in relation to the question and/or answer, I think it is well within the standing orders. As the debate continues on, senators introduce more and more into the debate, which entitles other senators to respond to those things, so we actually have this diversion—

Senator Payne interjecting

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Well, an expansion of the realm, as things are introduced. Senator Collins, you have the call.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: The point I was making was about the double standard that applies between the current Turnbull response to this situation and what was required of Senator Sinodinos. I know we have seen his resurrection, even though we have yet to see any report from ICAC on the matters that affected him. But the other questions raised, I think, are the questions about some of the other appointments. The raised eyebrows were at the time about the appointment of Mr Brough as Special Minister of State, given that there was a general understanding, even aside from some of the more recent issues raised, about his participation in the Ashby affair. That was the raised eyebrow that I was referring to and comparing to the double standard that applied to Senator Sinodinos.

But it was not the only raised eyebrow. There are a range of appointments where the 'nudge, nudge, wink, wink' principle applies. People are astounded that Senator Brandis is the Leader of the Government in the Senate. He is the only minister I know who has united non-government senators in a censure motion. People can see from the debate today why that is so. He frustrates us. He seeks to make tedious interventions in debate and waste time when we are addressing important issues. But, worse than that, today he refused to answer Senator Wong's question. He did not take on notice to check with the Prime Minister what assurances he had sought around these critical appointments, particularly that of the Special Minister of State. Instead, he made just a blanket glib assertion that it would have been okay—'Nudge, nudge, wink, wink'. (Time expired)