Answers to Questions on Notice - Question No. 341


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (15:24): It must be broadcast day in the Senate. The Labor Party senator who just spoke must be suffering a bit of relevance deprivation syndrome in that she needs 20 minutes to raise an issue—and to raise it improperly, I might say, and I will come to that very shortly.

Can I say that the speech by the previous Labor speaker is one that we will not forget for a while, because she repeated herself—10 times over, I counted. She kept repeating the same thing. Obviously, she had run out of material; she had to fill in 20 minutes and so she kept repeating the same things over and over again. So we will not forget or misunderstand what she was on about—no matter how untruthful and how mischievous—and how she deliberately chose to misrepresent not only the Attorney-General, as is the wont of the opposition in this place, but also to cast aspersions on the independent authority which runs elections in this country.

First of all, for those who might be following this debate—that is, if they are still awake after that 20 minutes of boring repetition from the previous speaker—can I just explain what the procedure is here? Questions are placed on notice and they are supposed to be answered within a short period of time—four weeks, I think it might be. And if they are not answered in that time it is up to the senators in the chamber to raise that during the day in the Senate and to ask the minister why it is that these questions have not been answered.

Now, because there are a lot of questions on the Notice Paper and because there are a number of different ministers involved—many of them are not ministers in this chamber, but in the other place—then the office of the minister in the Senate has to get in touch with the other minister and find out why these questions have not been answered. And so the convention, the courtesy, in this chamber is that if you are going to raise this matter and you are serious about wanting an answer, what you do is to advise the Senate minister's office in good time that you are going to raise this. That gives the Senate minister the opportunity of trying to find out why the answer has not been given.

Now, this is particularly important when it is a question not of a Senate minister but of a minister in the other chamber—as was the case today. In spite of what the previous Labor speaker has said, as Senator Brandis has indicated—and I believe Senator Brandis before I would believe the previous speaker—his office was given just 15 minutes notice. That is, at a quarter to two, his office was advised that this matter would be raised after question time, not giving the minister's office the opportunity of contacting the House of Representatives minister to find out what the reason was. So, clearly, the Labor Party were not interested in an answer; they were simply wanting to waste 20 minutes of time babbling on 10 times over about this particular issue.

Now, there are a couple of other points that should be raised. Sure, ministers should answer quickly. I might say to the chamber that I am still waiting some four or five years later for questions I put on notice to the previous Labor government. I put some questions on notice to the Labor government five years ago and they were never answered. Clearly, they are never likely to be. But I know that most of the ministers in this chamber are assiduous in their attention to detail, and had they been given some notice then the Senate minister—in this case, Senator Brandis—could have got in touch with the House of Representatives minister to try to get an answer for the previous Labor senator who spoke.

If the previous Labor senator who spoke were at all genuine on this matter, she would ask the questions of the Australian Electoral Commission—the commission which deals with polling booths. It is not the government that sets up polling booths; it is the Australian Electoral Commission—an independent statutory authority that runs elections in Australia. I have my issues with the AEC, like the previous senator apparently has, but I do not get up and make outlandish statements in this chamber. I go to committee hearings where I can ask the AEC what is happening.

In case the senator who spoke previously is not aware, there is a Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters that after each election conducts an inquiry into the previous election. Things like where polling booths are, why they are not there or why they should be there are asked of the AEC at those committee hearings. There is plenty of time given. The AEC have been back to the joint standing committee about this election on three or four occasions already, and they will be coming back again. I invite the Deputy President to do what I have done and put yourself on that committee as a participating member. You can go along and ask those questions of the AEC and get answers from them.

To suggest that the AEC did not put a polling booth at Barrow Island because the AEC apparently thought that the people on Barrow Island might vote for one political party or another is simply an outrageous and disgraceful allegation from anyone in this chamber, particularly someone holding a high office. I think the AEC deserves an apology for that outrageous, untruthful allegation.

I do not know why there is not a polling booth on Barrow Island. It is the first I have heard of this issue. It certainly has not been raised in the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. If the previous speaker really wants to help people on Barrow Island, there are things like postal voting and pre-poll. There are other ways in which people can cast a vote. I would have thought that people working on Barrow Island would have known an election was coming up and would have applied for a postal vote or found out when the pre-poll could have been undertaken.

It is a matter for the AEC. Perhaps this is a valid issue. But it is clearly not being treated as a serious issue by the Labor Party, which is simply using 20 minutes to have yet another baseless, groundless, misinformed and deliberately misleading attack on the Attorney-General. They continue to try and do it in this chamber. One day they will wake up and see that the Attorney is assiduous in his attention to detail and making sure things are done properly. Had he been given some notice today, as is the normal custom and courteous custom—the custom you follow if you seriously want an answer rather than just making a political point—it would have allowed the Senate minister to contact the minister in the other chamber to get the detail.

The Senate has other important business to discuss today, so, unlike the previous speaker repeating herself so many times, I am not going to take the time of the Senate on this particular matter. I simply, again, call for the previous speaker to apologise to the AEC. I suggest to the speaker that if she is serious about this matter in the future she should give appropriate notice so that, if she is genuine about getting an answer, the Senate minister has the opportunity to find the answer. I raise these matters so that anyone who might be listening to this debate understands what it is about and the import of what was said in the last 20 minutes.

Question agreed to.

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