Committees - Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee - Report


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:37): I regret to say that there is barely a skerrick of truth in what senators have just heard from the chairman of this committee, and I have to say that even speaking on this report—if I could call it that—is an embarrassment to me. The report itself—the whole inquiry—is an embarrassment to the Senate. It diminishes the Senate that taxpayer's money has been spent in pursuing this political fascination that the Labor Party have with the Attorney-General. There have been a series of inquiries, instituted by this committee, solely for the purpose of trying to get a 'gotcha moment' on the Attorney-General. We went through that Solicitor-General inquiry—a complete and abject waste of money. Not one skerrick of evidence that the Attorney-General had done anything wrong came forward in that report. Similarly, with this inquiry, not a skerrick of evidence has come forward that suggests any wrongdoing by the Commonwealth government—the federal government—or, I suspect, the then Western Australian government. Other speakers will go into the background of the Bell issue. Suffice it for me to say that it all arose from corruption in the Labor government in Western Australia aeons ago, in the time of—what was the Premier's name?

Senator Back: Burke.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Premier Burke. There was WA Inc., and all the corruption, all the lies, all the jailings of Labor politicians that followed that, and this happened 20 or so years ago. It has been the most complex, time-consuming and expensive inquiry into how to deal with the wind-up of the Bell Group. There was a lot of money at stake, but it is has been going now for 20 years, Senator Back, I think—

Senator Back: Longer.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: longer than 20 years—trying to work out how to wind up the Bell Group. The Western Australian government came up with a solution to try and save money, to try and pay the Western Australian government something out of the fiasco, and they passed an act of parliament which was taken to the High Court and proved to be unconstitutional. That is just a simple background; others will go into it in more detail.

This Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee inquiry was set up by the Labor and Green's majority in this chamber, and the terms of reference were all about allegations that the Attorney or the Commonwealth, or someone, had done something wrong. They had a number of exhaustive hearings—and I say 'they' because, although Senator Pratt said coalition senators prevented the witnesses proceeding by interjecting, I can tell you, Mr Acting Deputy President Ketter, coalition senators rarely attended the hearings. So they were just hearings done by the Greens political party and the Labor Party, without any government senator even there.

I suspect very few Australians understand the complexity of this—or they do not really care. They could not follow it, even if they read the majority committee report. But, if anyone were interested, they should have a look at the dissenting report, which is the accurate account of this inquiry and the abject waste of money and Senate resources that followed from this inquiry achieving absolutely nothing.

Have a look at the report. The recommendations are ludicrous. Two of the recommendations are about lecturing fellow senators on how they should behave. How ridiculous that a group of three Labor senators and one Greens senator should presume to lecture other senators on how they should discharge their duties—absolutely ridiculous. There are two other recommendations which seem to accuse the Attorney-General of thinking about something. It is absolutely mind blowing that this could be submitted as the report of a serious Senate committee inquiry. I will try and turn them up, because they are absolutely laughable—the paucity of these recommendations in the majority committee report.

Senator Pratt said the ATO felt that they were being bullied into doing something, or the Attorney-General felt that he was under some pressure. Mr Acting Deputy President Ketter, if you look at the dissenting report, you will see where we have quoted from the evidence of Second Commissioner Mills. He says:

Whether or not people were having discussions outside of us, no-one ever sought to inappropriately influence the course of action that we—

that is the ATO—

had, continued and did.

That should have been the end of it. There, from the Taxation Office themselves, is a comment saying, 'Nobody tried to influence us; don't worry about it.'

Similarly, there was this ridiculous suggestion in the terms of reference about a direction to the Solicitor-General. Again, it is very clear that the evidence of Mr Anderson and another officer of the Attorney-General's department, in the clearest possible words, is that there is nothing in this; it did not happen. One would have thought that any reasonable committee, having those two bits of evidence, would have said, 'Okay, we've made a mistake; let's call it off.' But, no, this committee continued to waste Senate resources—taxpayers' money—in proceeding with this, mainly amongst themselves. As I say, there were very few occasions when government senators were there.

But then they came up with a series of recommendations that are just ludicrous. They accused the Attorney-General of thinking about something. I am not even sure that that is proved, but that is the extent of the report: the Senate should note that the Attorney-General thought about something. Gee whiz, that is going to take the governance of our country and the policy issues of this parliament a long way forward! This inquiry is a demonstration of why these sorts of references bring the Senate into disrepute. They are clearly not inquiries with any purpose apart from trying to get that 'gotcha' moment against the Attorney-General. Mr Dreyfus, the shadow Attorney-General, and his colleagues in this chamber are determined to try, in some way, to get some adverse finding against the Attorney-General, but all this inquiry has done is to completely exonerate the Attorney-General—not that he needed exonerating, I might say. If you have a look at the recommendation, I challenge anyone here to tell me a committee recommendation that has ever been less relevant, less important, less substantial or less able to justify the huge resource of the Senate and senators' time than this witch-hunt, which went absolutely nowhere.

Don't take the evidence of the Attorney-General if you do not want to, although it is clear, under his severe cross-examination both here and in estimates, that never once was anything suggested that was improper. But take the advice of independent public servants, including the Australia Taxation Office, who more or less said: 'This inquiry is a waste of time; it never happened.' One would have thought it would end there. But just have a look; I challenge anyone. Have a look at the recommendations, and, if you can show me a committee that has brought forward, in the 27 years that I have been here, a set of recommendations that are less substantial and less relevant to anything that happens in the governance of our country or any policy issue then I would be amazed. I ask anyone to show me recommendations that are less substantial. Have a look at them. Have a good laugh at them. But lament that we are wasting senators' time and the Senate's money— (Time expired)

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