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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 26004

Senator STEPHENS (3:15 PM) —Having listened to Senator Brandis's contribution, I think he is absolutely wrong. It was about the fact that these people are very concerned about our national interest and it certainly was not about where they may or may not be aligned politically. It was certainly about their call for truth in government. I find it hard to believe, as we heard last night and yesterday, that the members for Leichhardt and Dawson would deliberately have cast such a slur on the integrity of a group of such highly respected individuals calling for honesty in government—something which they themselves would surely agree with. In Mrs Kelly's description of `doddering daiquiri diplomats', I am afraid she was dazzled by the attraction of alliterative plosives and distracted from the substance of the statement by the fact of the birth date of its signatories.

Senator STEPHENS —The age of the signatories is certainly not relevant, and I am sure Senator Ferguson would agree. It is their message that was important. As Mr Woolcott pointed out on Lateline last night—and I must say that his dignity actually made a marked contrast with the unseemliness of the reported retorts of the members of the government—denigrating senior public servants because they happen to be born before either Mrs Kelly or Mr Entsch seems to me to be dragging a fairly red herring across what was a serious attempt to improve the calibre of our public life. The thinking seems to be, in a nutshell, that they are old and that therefore we can laugh at them and nobody will seriously examine what they have to say. But I would suggest that we should be doing exactly that. I wonder exactly what Mrs Kelly was thinking and whether her admiration for the Prime Minister has actually diminished since he recently turned 65, and I wonder what members of The Nationals, who themselves are not necessarily the sprightliest demographic group around, thought when they heard Mrs Kelly's dismissive remark that these old people `should keep their opinions to themselves'. I suggest that they should do exactly the opposite. The combined experience of 43 eminent people in public life is something to be valued and not scorned. If their combined wisdom tells us that we need to raise the bar as far as honesty and integrity are concerned then we all on both sides of politics would do well to listen. I cannot help thinking of Bertrand Russell's remark when he said:

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

These are unquestionably intelligent people who did not compose their statement without some serious activity in mind and they did not append their signatures without conscientiously examining the issues.

Senator STEPHENS —A little examination of conscience, Senator Lightfoot, never did anyone any harm. It often happens in our individual as well as our political lives that we become self-satisfied and must rely on others to firmly remind us of the standards that we should be aspiring to.

Senator Ferguson —Where is Senator Lightfoot?

Senator STEPHENS —I am sorry. Senator Ferguson, I apologise. Can I say, though, Senator Ferguson, that instead of keeping their opinions to themselves the people who presented this statement were right to air them. They had nothing personal to gain and certainly, from the way that they have been berated here today, they had a lot to lose. For those of us who listened to what they had to say, there was certainly a benefit to be had.

Mr Entsch thinks these people had an axe to grind and we heard today that Senator Macdonald considers them all to be `Labor hacks'—hardly the case—as if they had an undisclosed end to serve. What they say is that what we all want is truth in government. Mr Howard says they are wrong. But are they wrong to actually say Australia's involvement in the war against terror has increased our danger of being a target to terrorists? I do not think so. When did the terrorists name this country as a target before we went to war in Iraq? The fact that what these people say may be unpalatable does not mean that it is not true. In the light of the articulate and succinct expression in this statement, it is clear that the signatories are far from being mentally feeble or inept, and I have great difficulty in understanding how the member for Dawson could describe them as `doddering'. I think we are justified to ask if Mrs Kelly herself was caught napping in the comfort zone she was so sure was the domicile of the signatories. As for the remainder of her comment, I really have no reason to believe the actual consumption of daiquiris had any influence on what she said and I have no doubt that in the sober light of day she might consider the insulting nature of her words and apologise. (Time expired)