Statements - Bell group Litigation

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (10:19): I want to indicate a view that I perhaps can hold more than anyone else, because I have been in this parliament more than anyone else. I just say that Senator Brandis is probably the best Attorney-General I have ever experienced in this chamber. Senator Brandis is a longstanding colleague of mine—not a particular friend, I might say, but a longstanding colleague. I have known him over a long period of time. His knowledge of the law is impeccable. His attention to precision and detail is without peer in this chamber and in any Attorney that I have seen here in the 27 years I have been here. I have seen a few, and there have been some good ones—none of the Labor ones, I might say, but there have been some very good attorneys-general from the coalition. Senator Brandis is as good as, if not better than, all of them.

I wonder why these farcical inquiries keep being held by the Labor Party and the Greens. That is all they are. They are not Senate inquiries; they are simply Labor Party and Greens inquiries. I keep wondering why they do it. It is pretty obvious that if you want to attack someone, if you want to bring someone down, you do not do that to the worst-performing minister in the parliament; you do it to the best, the one that causes you most trouble, the one that has an accurate answer to every allegation levelled against the government in his role both as Leader of the Government in the Senate and as Attorney-General.

When you keep trying and can never ever get a kink in the armour, it sets the Labor Party and the Greens up further. They keep holding these Labor Party and Greens inquiries—not, I emphasise, Senate inquiries, because more often than not these inquiries set up by the Labor Party and the Greens are held at times when they know government senators will not be available. So they are not Senate reports—they are not Senate inquiries—they are simply reports and inquiries of the Labor Party and the Greens, who keep—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Whish-Wilson ): Senator Hinch, a point of order?

Senator Hinch: A point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President: I am not a member of the Labor Party but I am a member of this committee, and I object to the senator's comments.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: That is not a point of order, Senator Hinch.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Senator Hinch is a participating member, as is every other senator. He is not a full member of the committee. I repeat that this and several other committees are committees that have been set up by the Labor Party and the Greens. Instead of spending moneys of the Labor Party and the Greens to do these political exercises they use the money of the Senate.

Every one of these dodgy so-called inquiries that have been brought relating to the Attorney-General have achieved absolutely nothing. I heard someone mentioned inquiry into the Solicitor-General. We all know the result of that. Senator Brandis came out unscathed and unblemished, with not a chink taken out of anything he had said in that whole debate. But the Solicitor-General, I have to say, did the right thing and resided during the course of the hearing, because the Solicitor-General knew that his conduct as an officer of the government—dealing with secret information to a member of the opposition—was untenable. I did not know the Solicitor-General—I do not think I ever had anything to do with him—but I thought his conduct was particularly improper and that he did the right thing by resigning. I only raise that to say that the Labor Party and the Greens keep running these political inquiries because they want to attack the person who is most valuable to the government and is the one who causes most grief to the Labor Party and the Greens.

I do not want to embarrass Senator Brandis, who is in the chamber now, but I repeat, I have known Senator Brandis for a long time. He is not a particular friend of mine, but I have the greatest admiration for his ability—

Honourable senators interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Macdonald has the right to be heard in silence.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I have the greatest regard for his ability, his integrity and his grasp of the law. I cannot understand the Labor Party and the Greens. I think these things are brought by people perhaps who wanted to be lawyers, who could never make a go in private practice, who became ambulance chasers, who tried to get into state parliament, were there for a little time and were then thrown out by the electorate. Perhaps it is these sorts of people who want to make a mark in the law that they were never able to do in real life, out there. All of these inquiries have been as wasteful of Senate resources and of Senate time as this inquiry was.

Nobody—not the public, not even the media, who will at even the whiff of some real drama happening be there with a full page—is interested in this hearing. This is a hearing about Labor incorporated. Remember 20 years ago when Labor got together with big business and rorted the Western Australian public? Remember that? That is what this inquiry is about. Twenty years ago, the Labor Party and big business—

Senator Farrell interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am sorry. I beg your pardon, Senator Farrell. I stand corrected. It was not 20—I will take your interjection—it was 30 years ago. That is how long ago this was. Can you believe it? Can you believe the Senate is spending any time on rehashing one of the darkest periods in Labor Party history, and there have been plenty of dark ones with the Labor Party, I tell you. The darkest period in Labor Party history in Western Australia and, by implication, federally was when the Labor Party got into bed with crooks who cheated Western Australians out of a lot of money. That is the genesis of this inquiry. I cannot believe that the Labor Party would want to rehash this, that it would want to remind the Australian public of the dishonesty, of the criminality, of the Labor Party in Western Australia 30 years ago. You might remember that—was it one or two?—Labor premiers went to jail over this incident.

Senator Brandis: Remember Brian Burke?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Brian Burke? I thought there might have been another Premier or a minister. These were Labor Party politicians who went to jail. They were crooks, yet the Labor Party and the Greens in this chamber want to remind us about that. That I cannot understand.

I do not have the detail as well as the Attorney has, but he has repeated it so often to this chamber that even I can have an understanding of some of the issues. It was all about WA Inc., where money was owing. There was a liquidation. The liquidation had gone on for 20 or 30 years. Some lawyers had been paid small fortunes—millions of dollars—in dealing with the distribution of the few assets that remain from some of the WA Inc. companies. The Western Australian government was trying to make sure that the maximum amount available could be paid to creditors 30 years later. That is what the Western Australian government was doing. At one stage, the Commonwealth became involved because the tax office was involved. The evidence clearly shows, you do not need me to repeat it and you do not need Senator Brandis to repeat it again—the evidence is there, it is in the Hansard of the committee hearings that I have read—that the tax office went ahead and did what it was going to do. The suggestion that somehow the Commonwealth was going to miss out on money is just so ludicrous. I cannot understand the Labor Party except if you come back to my original premise that it is this constant attack on Senator Brandis, who, as I say, is one of the best attorneys-general I have seen in this parliament in the 27 years I have been here. He is a man with impeccable legal knowledge, a man whose precision and detail are beyond reproach. And you have these amateurs from the Labor Party and the Greens thinking they will make their mark in life by trying to find a chink in his armour—people who failed in state parliaments, failed in Tasmania, failed in Queensland. They could never make their way there, and they hope that they can do something in this chamber by raising these issues.

I appreciate there are a lot more important things to be discussing today, and the Senate really should get on and do them. We have had this farce this morning of the Senate taking a lot of time—and I apologise to the Senate clerks. Obviously the Labor Party has imposed on the Senate clerks to write out all these questions to ask and these motions to put. It was wasting the time of the Senate clerks, of the Senate committees area, to put up this series of questions, which I listened to earlier. Senator Brandis has answered every single one of them—I might say for about the third or fourth time.

The issue has come up about the parliamentary privilege of legal advice. That is an uncontestable proposition. As the Attorney has said, as anyone who has been around parliament for a long while knows, you cannot run a government if the legal advice is made public. That is something that governments since 1901 have been adopting. It is something that governments around the world do. It is uncontroversial. It is not contestable. And yet we have spent so much time here today arguing about this.

As I say, there are more important things to be dealt with. I just felt compelled to enter the debate when I heard the previous speakers carrying on about things they clearly know nothing about. They are desperate to try and find a chink in the armour. They are desperate to try and bring down one of the government's better performers. All of this continues on. This is the third, fourth or fifth inquiry now and, as I say, Senator Brandis has come out of each one of them not only looking and smelling like roses but actually being a rose. Why the Labor Party and the Greens continue to waste the Senate's time on this I simply cannot understand. I should be encouraging them to continue, because they keep making fools of themselves. They keep looking like spoilt little children who cannot become king of the kids. They take on all of these quite ridiculous inquiries at the taxpayers' expense.

I repeat, in case it has escaped anyone's attention: these so-called inquiries are not Senate inquiries. They are inquiries set up by the majority Greens and Labor. They are manned by the majority Greens and Labor. Most of the hearings are held when the majority know that government members cannot be available because we are involved in other—

Senator O'Neill: Oh, what a load of rot! They are Senate inquiries.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Whish-Wilson ): Ignore the interjections, Senator Macdonald.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: How can it be a Senate inquiry when it is Labor and Greens? They are set down when Labor Party and Greens members know that government senators are elsewhere, on other inquiries. They have been told time and time again that government senators have other committees that they are precommitted to, and the hearings are still set down. So you have three Labor senators and a Greens senator as voting members on these committees, and no government senator. How can they possibly be classed as Senate inquiries, when they are nothing more than a political game being carried on by the Labor Party and the Greens political party, using Senate resources and the taxpayers' money? It is a disgrace.

I conclude by again congratulating Senator Brandis on the work he has done. I thank him for what he has done for Australia as the Leader of the Government in the Senate and as one of the best Attorney-Generals I have seen in my long term here. I again wish Senator Brandis continuing success—as I know he will have—in his role leading the government in this chamber and as Attorney-General of our nation.

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