Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (17:38): I very much appreciate the opportunity to take part in this debate.
I did say earlier that in my long period here, this is the most outrageous motion for a committee—
The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Macdonald, this is not your fault; it is the fault of everyone else around you. Could I ask that if senators wish to listen to the debate that they return to their seats and would those who do not wish to participate please leave the chamber. That includes senators having discussions within the body of the Senate chamber.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: As I was saying, this is the most outrageous abuse of the processes of this parliament that I have seen in my long years here. I see Senator Faulkner in the chamber now and I am surprised that Senator Faulkner has not spoken on this high farce—this absolute abuse of power by the Palmer United Party in relation to this.
As I said earlier, I have some thought that perhaps the debate might be worthwhile having. I would just love to get a bloke named Hedley Thomas into the inquiry under parliamentary privilege. I read some of what Hedley Thomas writes about different issues. He is a very interesting sort of journalist, but I suspect that a lot of what he would want to write has been excluded by the legal advisers to his paper. But under parliamentary privilege, who knows what Mr Thomas might be able to inform us of about happenings in Queensland? So, on one hand, I am almost convinced to support this. But I would not because it is an abuse of the Senate powers.
I just want to go through the details of the provision. I will start with the motion setting up the committee itself. In this chamber the coalition has 33 members. My arithmetic on the run is not all that good, but I think that is about 40 per cent of the Senate. What are we going to get on this committee? Twenty per cent of the voting rights on this committee! By contrast, the Palmer United Party, which represents—what?—about five per cent of the members of this committee, is going to get 33 per cent of the voting members of the committee, and they are also going to get, on the motion of Senator Lazarus, Senator Lazarus as its chairman! That in itself would raise eyebrows anywhere around.
As I said to Senator Lazarus before, if he needs the money, which he will get as chairman of a committee, then perhaps he should not be driving the two-door Mercedes-Benz vehicle which is apparently his and which is parked in the Senate car park. Senator Lazarus clearly does not need the additional money for being a chairman of a committee if he is able to drive a fairly smart, latest-model, two-door Mercedes-Benz to parliament. So I cannot understand why that is.
Mr President, if you had any suggestion that this was to be a serious investigation into any operations that the Commonwealth is associated with, why would you set up a committee that had one member of the government, two members of the Labor Party—who only have 25 senators here—one member of the Greens and one member of the Palmer United Party? That, in itself, it shows what a farce this whole exercise is.
Just looking at the terms of reference: one of the terms of reference is :
… identified breaches of funding agreements or conditions—
of Commonwealth funds paid to the state of Queensland.
Well, that is a great vote of confidence in the Australian National Audit Office, isn't it? That is what the Australian National Audit Office is about. You do not need a Senate inquiry to determine if there have been breaches of funding agreements; that is what the Australian National Audit Office is all about! Clearly, Labor, the Palmer United Party and the Greens have absolutely no confidence in the Australian National Audit Office—an office, I think, which over many years and many governments has had the united support of governments and parliaments in the past. Apparently, that does not apply any more.
One of the terms of reference is:
… the proportion of the Queensland State Budget derived from Commonwealth funds, …
Why do we need a committee to work that out? I will give Senator Lazarus a calculator and he can work that out himself. Those figures are clearly available on the budget papers both governments so why you need a Senate inquiry and all costs and paraphernalia that go with it to work out the proportion of the Queensland state budget derived from Commonwealth funds is completely unknown to me.
The inquiry also wants to work out whether any funds have been used by the state of Queensland for state government advertising or party political purposes. I am pretty relaxed about that except to say that if Senator Abetz's amendment—or was it Senator Mason's amendment that he foreshadowed—that the inquiry go back beyond the can-do Campbell Newman government to the Anna Bligh government is passed—and I cannot think of any reason why it would not be—I would be very interested to see what Commonwealth funds from the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments were used by the Bligh government for advertising of party political purposes.
Mr President, I might say—and you might give me some assistance—that at some stage I want to move the amendment suggested by Senator Mason: that the date be a date that Senator Mason mentioned—
The PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald, you have asked me a direct question. You cannot do that because we have not reached that point of the debate. The debate is still about the amendment moved by Senator Abetz. We have got two more motions to get to before we will get there. So it cannot be moved at this point.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thank you very much, Mr President. I just wanted to highlight that Senator Mason or me or Senator Abetz or Senator Brandis will want to move that motion, and I foreshadow that amendment.
I also want to foreshadow the amendment I did mention briefly previously: that the reporting date should be extended for 12 months. Mr President, if this is such an important issue, then clearly the parliament would want to investigate it fully, in which case we need more than just six months. It is going to be an extensive inquiry, I see from the terms of reference, so we would not want to curtail the time of the committee.
I noticed one of the terms of reference of the committee says that the committee is:
… to move from place to place (including, but not limited to, major metropolitan and regional centres in Queensland and the committee shall conduct—
and this is a bit unusual itself in Senate committees—
public hearings in Nambour, Ipswich, Mackay, Rockhampton, Kingaroy, Mt Isa, Bundaberg, Toowoomba, Townsville and Cairns).
I am a bit offended that my home town of Ayr has missed out on that, but clearly there is some method in the madness. I would be pleased if someone who is supporting this motion might indicate the significance of those particular towns. What happened to the Gold Coast or, indeed, what happened to the Sunshine Coast—do I see that there?
Senator McGrath: Nambour is there.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Nambour is not quite Sunshine Coast, although I would bow to your superior knowledge, Senator McGrath, as I know you have recently opened your office in Nambour. But what about—and there is a resort up there somewhere—
Senator McGrath: Coolum.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Wouldn't it be a good to have an inquiry hearing in Coolum as well? I think that would be most useful. But for some reason it is not on this particular list and I am really struggling to work out why Kingaroy is favoured over Ayr or Ingham or Innisfail or Hughenden. But the movers of the motion will no doubt explain this when they get up to perhaps try to convince us that this is a good idea.
As I go through the terms of reference I have mentioned the chairman of the committee to be set up. I would like to ask Senator Lazarus what argument there is for him being the chairman of this. He is a nice fellow and I like Senator Lazarus as a Queenslander. I am not sure that that I always liked his football affiliations, but I know that he would have been with me in barracking for the Cowboys last week when we were robbed by New South Wales referees. I am sure that Senator Lazarus would have been with us then. But I am just curious about his qualities to be appointed as a chair of this committee. I am not sure how many committees Senator Lazarus has already sat on. I suspect not many and I am pretty confident that he has never been a chair of any committee, so it is interesting that he should be appointed chair. The deputy chair is said to be elected by the committee, which means that it will go to the Labor Party or the Greens—but I would bet that it would be the Labor Party.
A quorum of the committee is to be three votes. The committee is to report from time to time. I suspect as the Queensland election campaign gets underway, you will find the committee wanting to report very, very regularly. Whilst I think this is a farce and an abuse of the powers of the Senate, again, I would be very interested in the reports of the committee on the evidence that I would certainly hope Mr Hedley Thomas might be able to give.
I would also be interested perhaps in a report on a document that Senator O'Sullivan mentioned before and, hopefully, that document that Senator O'Sullivan talked about will be tabled in evidence before the committee. Senator O'Sullivan, I think you said that it was a suggestion to the Deputy Premier of Queensland on how he should determine issues relating to certain railway lines going to proposed coal mines in the Galilee Basin of Queensland.
Senator O'Sullivan interjecting—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thank you. I will take the interjection because Senator O'Sullivan has acknowledged that that is what the document is about. Hopefully, that will be tabled. It is something that I hope the committee will report on from time to time as we approach the Queensland election, which, coincidently—as has been mentioned before—coincides with the reporting date as currently proposed for this committee. I am suggesting that, if this motion is at all serious, the reporting date should be extended for another year so that a proper investigation into all the matters that I have mentioned takes place.
I alert senators to another term of reference of this committee. The committee has the power to appoint subcommittees consisting of two or more of its members and to refer to any such subcommittee any of the matters which the committee is empowered to consider. Just think about that for a moment. You can have a committee consisting of two Labor members and no-one else—talk about a closed shop! I have heard about union closed shops, but the unions could learn something from this motion.
Senator O'Sullivan interjecting—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: It could also be, Senator O'Sullivan, a subcommittee of the Greens members—Senator Waters, no doubt—and Senator Lazarus himself.
Senator O'Sullivan: What there could not be is anyone from the government because there are not two of them involved.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: That is a very good point, Senator O'Sullivan.
The PRESIDENT: Order! No interjections.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: It certainly could not be a subcommittee of government members because there will not be two government members on it. This is a complete and utter farce.
Again, I say to people in the Labor Party who I know are appalled by this—we all play politics at times and we all have a cheap shot—that it completely escapes me how people like Senator Faulkner and Senator Moore, who I know respect the traditions and the standing of this chamber, could possibly vote for this sort of motion. It takes all credibility away from the Labor Party. I would have thought that the Labor Party could realise that the people of Australia spoke 12 months ago. I would have hoped they could provide a mature and useful opposition to the government, but they seem more intent on playing these foolish games that just make a farce of the whole parliamentary procedure.
The committee, according to the terms of reference, is to be provided with all necessary staff, facilities and resources and be empowered to appoint persons with specialist knowledge for the purposes of the committee. You can only guess what this committee is going to cost the taxpayer. Here will be a committee wandering around every part of Queensland, and there is no option about this. It is not that it might go to Nambour or it might go to Ipswich. The terms of reference say that the committee 'shall go'—there is no option. So this committee is going to be touring all around Queensland with staff and with Hansard. Just imagine the cost of that.
The resources of the Senate Committee Office are not unlimited. We have many, many important inquiries to conduct. We could be conducting inquiries into national security issues and terrorism issues. They are the sorts of things that this chamber was elected to look at and to oversee—to contribute its wisdom to the government's decisions on matters of terrorism and national security. But is this Senate going to have the resources to do that? No. It is going to be funding five senators who will be wandering around, and, as I said, they have no option because they have to go to hearings in all of these places in Queensland. I know what the airfares are there, I know the hotel costs, I know the secretariat costs and I can only imagine the Hansard costs, and we are going to be doing this instead of concentrating on the real issues. The Labor Party is very big on education and social security. Why aren't we doing some inquiries into those things rather than wasting our time on what is clearly a political witch-hunt? I can tell the Palmer United Party, from long experience, that this will come back and bite you on the behind. You will regret the day that the Labor Party or the Greens ever talked you into going along with this.
In the balance of this debate tonight—and I know there are a lot senators who want to make a contribution to this debate—I am confident that good arguments will be put forward highlighting the stupidity and the absolute farce of this motion. Again, I plead with the sensible people in the Labor Party: do not create this sort of precedent. It could be that the next motion, should this get up, will be one for a committee to look at the ACT Labor administration or the South Australian Labor administration or—let us take it back a bit further—the New South Wales Labor administration. Perhaps that would be a good inquiry. Is this what we are going to do? Are we going to spend the time of this parliament looking into the actions of Mr Obeid or the guy who was a senator here for a while, my namesake in New South Wales—no relation, I always add—Mr Ian Macdonald? Will we be looking into those sorts of things? Is that a legitimate exercise for the parliament of our nation? Of course it is not. We have more important business to do.
As I say time and time again, Campbell Newman would have nothing to fear. In fact, in the wonderful first speech just given by Senator Wang, I noticed that he made reference to 'can do', and I am pleased that Premier Newman has taken on the title of 'Can Do' Campbell. Campbell Newman has done a wonderful job in Queensland and has nothing to fear from an inquiry like this. Senator Wang, in your maiden speech, which was very good—congratulations, it was a wonderful speech—you indicated that it is essential that you do your research. I suggest to you that this is a great example. You should have done some research into this motion before becoming part of it. Senator Wang, you did say that we should listen to all sides. But, with a committee of one government, two Labor, one Green and one PUP member, you are not going to get all sides of this debate put before you. (Time expired)