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Thursday, 13 September 2018
Page: 63


Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (15:03): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance and the Public Service (Senator Cormann) to a question without notice asked by Senator Farrell today relating to the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr Dutton).

The question that I asked Senator Cormann at the beginning of question time today was not simply a rhetorical question. In fact, it has serious consequences for the validity and the eligibility of our Minister for Home Affairs, Minister Dutton, to sit in the House of Representatives. A couple of weeks ago, the deposed former Prime Minister, Prime Minister Turnbull, sought legal advice from the Solicitor-General as to the eligibility of Mr Dutton to sit in the parliament. Unfortunately for Mr Dutton, of course, that advice was equivocal. The Solicitor-General didn't come to any finalised decision on the matter. So the matter, therefore, as to Mr Dutton's eligibility is still an open question. One can imagine, of course, that had Mr Dutton got three more votes he'd now be Prime Minister and we'd be debating an even more serious set of circumstances. But it's serious enough to have question marks over the validity of our home affairs minister. The home affairs minister makes all sorts of decisions that are extremely important to the security of this country, and there shouldn't be one iota of doubt.

Now, who's raising the issue of Mr Dutton's eligibility and the question as to whether he does meet that eligibility? It's not the Labor Party. We find today that, from New York, the deposed former Prime Minister Mr Turnbull is saying to his former colleagues in the Liberal Party in the government of this country that there's a question mark over Mr Dutton's eligibility to sit in this place that needs to be clarified. As Senator Macdonald would know, before Mr Turnbull came into this place he was a very, very experienced lawyer. He did a number of major cases—the Spycatcher case comes to mind. He was a very, very good lawyer. In fact, he probably should have stuck to law rather than going into politics, as luck would have it. It's his view that there are question marks over Mr Dutton's eligibility. He's saying that.

But it's not just Mr Turnbull who's raising these questions. Julie Bishop—the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party a couple of weeks ago—was a lawyer before she came into this place. I know she was a very good lawyer. She was two years behind me at the University of Adelaide Law School, so I know for a fact that she would have got a very, very good legal education. What's she saying? What is the former Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, a former lawyer and foreign minister, saying about Mr Dutton's eligibility? She's saying that when this issue gets back to the parliament at some stage—one imagines next week—she's going to make up her mind about whether or not she's going to vote for the referral of Mr Dutton.

It's my view that there shouldn't be a question mark over Mr Dutton. There shouldn't be a question mark over the decisions that he might be making about important issues of national security. The issue needs to be resolved. Of course, there is a very simple way of resolving this, and it is how it was dealt with for a whole host of former MPs and senators. Mr Dutton can take the initiative and refer himself. We now know what the Solicitor-General says: his advice is inconclusive. We know what Mr Turnbull is saying; he's saying: 'Look, this issue needs to be determined. It needs to be determined quickly. It needs to be determined by the only authority that can determine the issue, and that's the High Court.' We now have the former Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Ms Bishop, questioning whether she's going to support or not support Mr Dutton. This is a dysfunctional government at the moment. We need to have a government focused on the people; not on themselves. (Time expired)