Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee - Report


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (17:00): The coalition members of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee strongly object to the recommendation of the Labor-Greens-Independent majority in the committee. In response to the previous speaker, Senator Rice: how outrageous that in a democracy like Australia we should ask the Australian people what they think of this issue! I am not quite sure why there are so many people concerned about this. If, as we are being told, an overwhelming majority of Australians support this move, the opposition of those who also support it but oppose sending it to a vote of all Australians seems to be a little strange.

I urge senators to have a look at the coalition's dissenting report and to understand that this is a question with many views in all political parties. They are complex questions and the best way to deal with them once and for all is to let the Australian people have a say. This particular matter has been debated in this parliament on many occasions in recent times. It never seems to be resolved. One would hope that once the Australian people have a say the matter will be resolved permanently. Regardless of my own views, in this parliament I would intend to support legislation implementing what the majority of Australians tell us they want to do on this issue. I reiterate, as coalition senators said in the dissenting report, what Mr Turnbull, the Prime Minister, said in question time yesterday. He made the same point:

Our government, our party room, has decided that the decision will be taken by a plebiscite. Why is the opposition afraid of the people having a vote? Why don't they want all Australians having a vote? There is no greater virtue in a free vote here or a plebiscite.

I am delighted that the Prime Minister, just yesterday, set out so clearly what the government view is. That proposal meets the coalition's commitment to the Australian people before the last election. Before the last election the coalition said that we will retain the definition of marriage during this term of parliament and in the next term we will have a look and see what should happen then. We are a coalition that, when we make promises, we actually intend to keep them, unlike the Labor Party, who promise no carbon tax and immediately change their view, supported by the Greens political party, when they get into government.

There is a strong opposition to the recommendation of this committee. I would also draw the attention of the Senate to my additional comments in relation to this matter. They relate to the farcical situation into which the Senate committee system is being taken by this and many other inquiries undertaken by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee. This inquiry was effectively an inquiry into a private member's bill—a piece of legislation—which, as a matter of course, go to the legislation committee. But this committee and the majority of the Senate at the time decided that, contrary to the regulations and practices of the Senate, these bills—this is the second where this has happened—would not go to the legislation committee but would go to the references committee. Why? Because, under both Labor and Liberal governments from time immemorial, there is a majority of government members on legislation committees. On references committees normally there is a small majority of opposition. In this particular committee there are three Labor members representing a small number of senators in this chamber, and there is a Greens Independent chairman representing only himself. So that means four from the left side of politics and two from the government side of politics.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Williams ): Order! Senator Macdonald, resume your seat. You have a point of order, Senator Lazarus?

Senator Lazarus: Mr Acting Deputy President Williams, I rise on a point of order. Senator Macdonald is suggesting that I am a Green. I am certainly not a Green. I am an Independent and very proud to be one.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: That may be a debating point. Continue, Senator Macdonald.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am pleased to hear that, Mr Acting Deputy President. I thought that Senator Lazarus was elected to this parliament as a member of the Palmer United Party. He received votes because he was representing the Palmer United Party views.

Senator Lazarus: Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order on relevance. What does that have to do with this report?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: We do have broad terms of speaking here, Senator Lazarus. Senator Macdonald, I bring your attention back to the document being tabled and ask you to speak a little more directly to the subject.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I will, of course, as always, comply with your request. I raised that because Senator Lazarus always votes with the Greens, or seems to establish his vote on the basis that whatever the government is in favour of, he is against. We saw that in that even more ridiculous committee set up—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald, resume your seat. Do you have another point of order, Senator Lazarus?

Senator Lazarus: Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order on misleading the Senate. I do not vote against the government on every piece of legislation. If the government put up decent legislation I would vote for it.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Lazarus. There is no point of order.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I point out that, when legislation that the Palmer United Party supported and campaigned on comes here, Senator Lazarus votes against it. It can only be that he has decided to vote against—

Senator Lambie: That's why we left.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: That's why he left? Well, that is great democracy. People vote for you because they think you support the Palmer United Party policy. You come in and then vote against them.

Senator Lazarus: Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order on relevance. Can we please get back to the report? How I got to this place is irrelevant when it comes to this particular issue.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Lazarus. Senator Macdonald, I will direct you back to the tabling of this document.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I do not often agree with Mr Palmer, but I do agree with the letter he distributed to most Queenslanders about the senator. Mr Acting Deputy President, this continues an approach by the Labor-Greens and Greens-Independents senators of disrespect for the Senate and for the once proud record of recognition of the work of Senate committees. More and more inquiries by the legal and constitutional affairs committee go to the references committee, because they know that with the Greens, the Labor Party and the Greens-Independent senator they will always have a majority, they will always be able to predetermine the issue and write the report before the committee even takes any evidence. That is again what happened in this instance.

I draw senators' attention to my additional comments, where I despair at the way in which the Senate committee system is being made farcical by these blatantly political matters—there is always a bit of politics in them. This is about the third inquiry where this committee has dealt with blatantly political matters; there is no policy content, nothing of any substance that anyone is really interested in. The Labor Party and the Greens continue to supplement and support this process, which brings the whole Senate committee system into disrespect.

This committee, of all the committees I have served on in my long term here, is the most outrageous for calling meetings at short notice. We have a chair's draft of what happened this morning—which seems to change every five minutes, because apparently the chair cannot make up his mind—and then we have a meeting at 10.35, and the committee decides by majority—

Senator Lazarus: Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order: (1) Senator Macdonald was not at that committee meeting and (2) I would ask him to withdraw the comments he just made about me not having any idea.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I do not think it is a case of withdrawal here, Senator Lazarus, but I do ask the Senate to conduct the debate in an orderly fashion. Continue, Senator Macdonald.

Senator Lazarus: No, I am sorry—this senator goes out of his road to ridicule and—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Lazarus, that is a debating issue, not a point of order.

Senator Lazarus: So, Mr Acting Deputy President, what you are saying is that you are allowing senators to make reflections on other senators. Is that what we are hearing?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I have sought some advice, Senator Lazarus. I do not think it is a reflection against your character, and there is no point of order.

Senator Gallacher: Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I draw your attention to the meeting of temporary chairs, where the President and the Deputy President gave some guidance, if you like, on civility in the chamber, particularly about the use of the words 'lies' or 'lying'. I do think it is wider than that and that we do need to maintain discipline and order—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Yes, I agree with you totally. There is no point of order, Senator Gallacher. I did not hear the words 'lies' or 'lying'. Continue, Senator Macdonald.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I might give Senator Lazarus some advice: if he cannot take the knocks, he should get off the field—or, perhaps more appropriately, if he cannot stand the heat, he should get out of the kitchen.

Senator Lambie interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: And thanks, Senator Lambie, for your advice—another one who was elected under the Palmer United Party policies and who continues to vote against them.

I have been distracted by these interjections, but can I simply say that this is another blatant waste of taxpayers' money, putting pressure on already overpressured Senate committee staff with these blatantly stupid and political issues. You always know when what I say is hitting the mark, is accurate, because you get point of order after point of order, because people cannot take the truth. I commend to the Senate the additional comments I have made about this issue, which regrettably brings the whole Senate committee system into disrepute.

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