COMMITTEES - Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee - Report


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (17:54): I would just assure Senator Kitching that the minister won't be resigning and he won't be sacked by the Prime Minister. If it will stop her worrying about whether either of those things will happen, let me put her mind at rest: they never will happen.

Sometimes Senate committees can do very good things for the parliament and for Australians. But sometimes, and, regrettably, all too often these days, they simply become political witch-hunts against individual ministers, and they are always promoted by the Labor Party and the Greens political party. This is a classic case in point. I remember this committee had three attempts, that I can recall, to pillory former Senator Brandis. Why? He was a very effective minister, he was Leader of the Government in the Senate, he ran his portfolio impeccably and he did it in a way that benefited Australia. Notwithstanding that, the Labor Party and the Greens got together and had inquiries with took the resources of the Senate—which are the resources of the taxpayer—on wild political witch-hunts. If they were political processes that were funded by the Labor Party, the unions, the Greens political party and their substantial corporate donors, that's fair enough. But when these purely political activities happen, using the resources of the parliament for political purposes, that really diminishes the whole Senate committee process.

This particular inquiry got off to a bad start. There is, as Senator Molan has said, no smoking gun. In fact, there's not even a gun in this. The minister, as the sensible evidence in this inquiry showed, had done nothing wrong. In fact, ministers are paid to make decisions. Can I say to Senator Kitching: perhaps I don't fit into the category of people she says Mr Dutton bends over to, but I have known Mr Dutton for a while and I am a member of his political party, and I can tell you that I have asked him to do things in this same area and he hasn't done them. He hasn't done them.

I have to say that other immigration ministers over the years, both Labor and Liberal, have used the discretionary power they're given to override the decisions of bureaucrats—and that's what they're paid to do. In fact, I think ministers should indeed do that more often, because ministers are actually accountable to the parliament and, eventually, to the electors. I am one who would urge ministers to take on more and more areas where they make the decisions and don't simply tick off on something the bureaucracy has recommended.

As I said, this inquiry got off to a bad start. I had indicated to the inquiry that, as deputy chairman of this committee, there was one date that I was not available to do committee hearings on because I had a longstanding medical procedure—a minor medical procedure—planned. It had been planned for three or four months, so I wasn't going to change it. I know my friends opposite will be pleased to know when I say as an aside that the medical procedure went well and there were no dramas with it. But I'd set the procedure down for a particular day, and that was the day, would you believe, that the Labor-Greens majority on the inquiry decided to have the first hearing. At that stage, it was to be the only hearing. I'm grateful that my friend and colleague Senator Abetz was able to fill in at short notice and to represent the other government senator on this inquiry. But that's the way the whole inquiry went, to the extent where last night at 8 pm we got the final draft of the chair's report of the committee hearings.

I know we're pretty good on our side; I know we work hard and we work all hours of the day and night. But getting the chair's report, which all of the committee are supposed to read, assess, suggest amendments to or, if they don't agree, draft a dissenting report on is very difficult to do between 8 pm and nine o'clock the next morning, when the committee were to meet. It showed all the way through that there was a lack of good faith in this inquiry. It was an inquiry that wasn't interested in the facts and wasn't interested in fairness but simply sought to attack a very effective minister.

The Labor Party and their mates in the Greens political party and in GetUp! and the radical conservation movement—some of the usual suspects, I call them, in the boat people debate, the illegal maritime arrivals debate—are determined to get rid of Mr Dutton. Why? Because he has administered so well what the Australian people want—that is, protecting our borders. He has taken on from the previous minister, who I'm proud to say is now the Prime Minister, the Operation Sovereign Borders that stopped the 50,000 people coming into Australia illegally and that stopped what we know were some 1,200 people, would-be entrants, who drowned at sea because of Labor's policy. And it was Labor's policy, I might say, and it was totally supported by the Greens political party at the time. Mr Dutton has effectively administered that and because of that he's become the target of the Labor Party, the Greens political party, GetUp! and all the other associated radical ridiculous groups that try to have an influence on Australia. And they're determined to try and get rid of Mr Dutton electorally.

As I've said to the media, I don't think Mr Dutton is in any trouble at all at the next election. It was never an easy seat. It was a seat that was held by the Labor Party and then by Cheryl Kernot, who was once a Democrat and then switched over to the Labor Party and became friendly with different Labor Party politicians. Mr Dutton won that seat from her and he's held it ever since. It was never an easy seat, but he is such a good local member that I'm quite confident that he will easily hold it at the next election. More than that, he is a very effective minister and one who does his job very well. He's clear, he's concise and he's not one who can be bullied. But when the need arises he is one who is very compassionate and can and does make decisions to help other people.

I must say, I've grown to like my colleagues on the committee, even though I don't like their political approach and the fact that they use the Senate's money to investigate purely political activities. The evidence has shown in this hearing, and by any fair assessment of the facts, that Mr Dutton has nothing to answer for. He was criticised for not accepting the majority Senate invitation to appear before the committee. Why would he bother to waste his time? He has got far more serious things to do as a very busy minister and, quite frankly, he knew, as I knew, that the report had been written before the first word of evidence had been taken. We all knew what the majority committee would end up finding, and Mr Dutton, as I say, has far more worthwhile things to do with his time than add to the media circus by appearing before this committee.

Regrettably, this report puts Senate committees backwards a couple of decades and is one that very few people will bother reading and even fewer people will bother taking any notice of.

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