Answers to Questions without notice - Questions Nos 163 to 171

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (15:26): What a disgusting and sad presentation by someone who claims, unfortunately, to be a senator for my state of Queensland. It is no wonder the people of a Brisbane electorate got rid of Senator Watt when he represented them in the state parliament. They clearly understood that their representative was worthless and even worse than that. Not only was that speech the sort of speech that brings the political system into disrepute, but certainly Senator Watt, as a newcomer, is adding to the disdain with which most Australians hold their politicians.

Madam Deputy President, you only have to listen to that speech to understand why the Australian public holds politicians like Senator Watt in such low esteem. He is a hack from the Labor Party. He was a union bully. He worked for the disgraced Premier of Queensland, Anna Bligh. He then went into parliament, as happens with union bullies and Labor Party hacks. He went into the state parliament, but could not even hold his seat in a very safe Labor seat. He was thrown out.

Then, to add insult to injury, do you know, Madam Deputy President, what he did? He got the faction to do over Senator Jan McLucas. Senator McLucas and I had our disagreements on policy issues, but she was a serious, sincere and honest senator. She would come into this chamber and she would make points. What I particularly liked about her, of course, was that she was from northern Australia. But Senator Watt got his union thugs to do her over. She missed out on the preselection and was replaced by Senator Watt. Not only did he not come North Queensland—he came from Brisbane—but he has recently announced with great gusto that he is moving out of Brisbane and going further south down to the Gold Coast. Would you believe it? On the weekend I fortunately happened to be talking to someone in Brisbane and they told me he has his office down in the Gold Coast pretending he is there, but he has made it clear he is not going to move from his house in the leafy suburbs of Brisbane.

I would not justify this debate by going through the long list of Labor politicians and supporters who were appointed to AAT positions. Some had qualifications, most did not. I might say—without naming her, Senator Watt—that there was a Labor senator sitting exactly where you are sitting now—

Senator Watt: You could not remember her name the other night!

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I do remember her name, but I am not going to announce it. I will give you the initials: L.K. I do not want to denigrate people who are currently serving members of the AAT, nor do I want to go through a long list of Labor appointments of former Labor hacks, union hacks and people who were failed candidates—and you might well qualify yourself there, Senator Watt—to these positions. I will not dignify this debate by going through that; it does not serve the interests of justice and the important work that the AAT does.

I will mention the name of one former Labor parliamentarian, and that is the president of the AAT—none other than the honourable Duncan Kerr, who was, for many years, a member of the Labor Party in this parliament. But of course Senator Watt does not want to hear about this, so he will leave now when I tell him that the boss of the AAT, the president of the tribunal, is none other—

Senator Watt: Madam Deputy President, on a point of order: the reason I am leaving the chamber is that I have a very important meeting with Pacific islanders who are threatened by climate change.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: That is not a debating point.

Senator Watt: I would rather it not be noted on the Hansard that I am frivolously leaving.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: That is a debating point.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Senator Watt, I think the sooner you leave the better it will be for the institution of the parliament and, certainly, for debate in this chamber.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald, I have allowed a fair bit of liberty with this debate, but your remarks should be made to the chair.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thank you, Madam Deputy President. I am pleased to see that you and one of your colleagues sitting in the chair are now enforcing that rule, which, as I said to one of your colleagues this morning, is something that I think should be enforced. It never is, but I am pleased to see that you are doing it, as was one of your colleagues earlier.

The President of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Mr Duncan Kerr, was a former Labor member of the House of Representatives for—what?—nine or 12 years. Was Senator Watt referring to him in his accusations and his baseless tirade about people who were appointed? He talked about Mr Sosso, I think—and I must say, as someone who has been involved in the Liberal Party in Queensland for over 50 years, I have never met Mr Sosso. In fact, I do not think, I regret to say, that I have ever heard of him. But I have just been alerted to the fact that he was Director-General of the Queensland Department of Justice. He is a distinguished lawyer in his own right and he is now a presidential member of the Australian Native Title Tribunal. He is a very distinguished lawyer and, if he happens to have some connection with the LNP, which I am not aware of, he is not appointed for that; he is appointed because he is a distinguished lawyer with a very significant background in administration of justice who also, as I say, currently sits as a presidential member of the Australian Native Title Tribunal. This is the sort of person that Senator Watt, in a coward's castle in this chamber, wants to denigrate.

Senator Watt went on further to denigrate a Dr Dragovic—again, having been round the Liberal Party for a long time, I am sorry to say I have never heard of—who is a consultant to several United Nations agencies. He is a very distinguished man. He is a person who has devoted his life to helping the causes that the United Nations stands for. Yet here you have someone of Senator Watts's newness standing and denigrating these people who have made a lifetime contribution to our society.

Senator Watt mentioned a number of other people. He mentioned someone who I think, as I understood him, used to work for Mr Tim Wilson, the current member for Goldstein, when he was a human rights commissioner—and suddenly that makes this person unfit for appointment. I could think why other people associated with the human rights tribunal might be unfit for appointment, but I would not have thought that a distinguished person with a legal background, who happened to have worked for someone who is now a member of parliament, would be disqualified from appointment to the AAT.

If anyone was listening to this debate seriously—and I certainly hope very few Australians were listening to Senator Watt—can I mention that most of the 76 appointments that Senator Watt made such a big thing about were reappointments of existing AAT members who had been appointed in the past by the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government and, I suspect, some by the Abbott government. They were reappointments whose terms expired on the same day and on the recommendation of the president of the AAT, the honourable Justice Kerr—a former Labor politician, but a very fine and distinguished legal mind. A fair number of those 76 were existing members of the AAT who were being reappointed, as I mentioned, on the recommendation of the president, former Justice Kerr.

Can I diverge a little wider and congratulate Senator Brandis on the wonderful job he has done as Australia's Attorney-General. I have been, as I say, in this place for quite a long time, and I do not think I have seen a more fit and able person to hold the role of Attorney-General than Senator Brandis. Senator Watt would have you believe that a Senate committee made a finding of 'misleading', but can I tell anyone who might be listening to this that this Senate committee comprised a majority of Labor and Greens senators who, before they had heard the first bit of evidence, had prewritten the report of this dodgy committee—this dodgy committee that had a majority of three Labor members and one Green member.

If anyone is interested in reality, they should look at the dissenting report of that committee, which found that most of the views of the majority of the committee—the three Labor members and one Green member on the committee—were simply irrelevant. It was quite clear from those hearings that the Attorney did not mislead the parliament. There was not a skerrick of evidence of that. In fact, the evidence all quite clearly showed that the Attorney—as he has said in this chamber—had consulted the Solicitor-General on the issue. And not only was the evidence quite clear, but there is documentary evidence from the Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department: they actually sent a brief to the Attorney saying, 'go ahead with this direction,' and, 'you have done the required consultation'—the consultation he was required to do. Yet in spite of that, the majority of three Labor members and one Greens member on this committee said that the Attorney misled the Senate by saying that he had consulted—when not only did the evidence show he had consulted but the written advice from the department confirmed that he had consulted and that the current consultation was correct.

Senator Watt was not directly on point, but he was speaking on this so I will go there: he mentioned that there is going to be the 'show trial' of Professor Triggs. I do not know what is a show trial about it. Those of you who read about these things in the newspapers might remember that at the estimates committee hearing, I particularly said to Professor Triggs: 'Now, in this interview with Ramona Koval, you have allegedly said these things'—and I went through the recorded interview of Ramona Koval with Professor Triggs. I wanted to ask Professor Triggs why she said in this interview, 'how dare they question me'. I also wanted to find out from Professor Triggs what she meant when she said, 'I could have destroyed them'. She was referring to the Senate committee, I think; I was keen to know whether she was going to destroy us physically or politically or in what way. I was very keen to hear about that. I was also keen to follow up on a few other things that were said in that interview. She called the Senate committee 'uneducated and unintelligent'—I know she is talking about me, and I accept that. I am uneducated. I did not have the opportunity of going to the flash schools and universities that most of those on the other side did. But I wondered who else she was talking about. I wanted to ask her about those things. But could I ask her about them? No—because she said to me, 'that is not an interview I did, that was the subeditor who put all those things in, so I do not have to answer them because they are not my words'.

Unfortunately for Professor Triggs, it just so happens that The Saturday Paper—and I might say, most people would not have heard of The Saturday Paper, but it is well known as being a rag of the Left—actually physically recorded the interview—and good luck to The Saturday Paper; I must try and get a copy and read it sometime. They came forward because Professor Triggs had not only misled the Senate committee but she had impugned the professional reputation of a journalist. And naturally, The Saturday Paper and the journalist took umbrage at that -so would I—and good on them. So they actually produced the tape recording where Professor Triggs said exactly what was in that report. It was not a question of not answering my questions because she did not say those things; she deliberately said she did not say them, so therefore we could not ask her.

Senator Watt talks about a show trial. It will not be a show trial. I will simply ask Professor Triggs, first of all, why she deliberately misled the Senate. And secondly, I will say: 'Why do you think that you—as the only public servant—the only person on the taxpayers' payroll who comes to estimates committees and thinks this—do not have to answer questions?' Now maybe she did not mean that when she said, 'how dare they question me'. Maybe she meant something else. But I want to give her the opportunity of answering those questions. As for Senator Watt's show trial: we will simply be giving Professor Triggs the opportunity of explaining why she misled the Senate—why she denied that she had said those words—when The Saturday Paper actually had the physical recording of her saying those words.

Madam Deputy President Lines, I have diverted, as did Senator Watt, from the substantial instance he was talking about. But can I come back to this point: the AAT is a very important part of the administration of governance and justice in our country. Most of the appointments that Senator Watt railed against were reappointments of previous AAT members appointed by the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government, or, I assume, by the Abbott government, although I am not sure of that. They were reappointments.

Senator Watt was able to talk about 21 of the 76. But, in his unfortunate and childish tirade in this chamber, he did not distinguish between the 21 and the other 55. He lumped the whole 76 into the same category. Some of them are formerly well-known people in the Labor Party and the union movement. I am not sure who runs the Labor Party in the Senate now but, Madam Deputy President, I think it would be useful to counsel Senator Watt on using this chamber to denigrate people who are doing a wonderful job. I have mentioned just two people who are distinguished lawyers. They may have an association with the LNP; I do not know. I do not know who was appointed and I have not seen the names, so I do not know whether they have an association with the LNP. But can I tell you this, Madam Deputy President: if they have been appointed, they have been appointed because they have distinguished legal backgrounds, or backgrounds in government, which mean that they can do a good job in the AAT—the same as Duncan Kerr, a Labor man; the same as the former senator—who I do not want to name, because she is a serving member of the AAT—but a Labor senator who sat where you are, senator, in this chamber during the time that I have been here. I did not hear Senator Watt mention her at all, or Duncan Kerr, or any of the others who are doing a good job regardless of their political affiliation in a former life.

It is a shame when it comes down to this sort of thing. Senator Brandis, of course, does not need me to defend him. Being attacked by Senator Watt is a bit like being hit with a wet lettuce leaf. But I do think that the administration of justice and the operations of our government would be better if senators would refrain from making baseless comments in this chamber under parliamentary privilege. Senator Watt, I think, is a part-time lawyer. Someone referred to him around Brisbane as an ambulance chaser; I am not quite sure what that means, but apparently he has some legal qualifications, and he should know better. I certainly hope that the leadership in the Senate will counsel him on these matters.

Senator Brandis has been an exemplary Attorney-General, a quite brilliant legal mind in his own right. He has done a wonderful job in the administration of justice and all the other things that the Attorney-General has to do in relation to national security. To have to sit and listen to 20 minutes of what we had just prior to my speaking, from a junior senator who is a failed Labor member from Queensland and who clearly has not learnt anything from this short period practising law, is very regrettable. In this chamber we have our policy debates and we sometimes even have a personal debate, but when you embark upon that sort of attack it does nothing for the standing of the senator himself, certainly nothing for the chamber and nothing for the institution of parliament. I reject everything that Senator Watt has said. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.

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