SUSPENSION OF STANDING ORDERS
SPEECH TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
WEDNESDAY, 25 FEBRUARY 2015
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I move that so much of standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition from moving the following motion forthwith - that the House censures the Attorney-General.
One, for launching an unprecedented attack on the Australian Human Rights Commission, designed to undermine its independence. Two, for treating an independent statutory office holder with contempt, and, three, for directing the Secretary of the Department of Attorney-General to an offer an inducement to the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission in return for her resignation.
Prime Minister of Australia, lying is not insider nonsense. It is proof of the Attorney-General and his Government have failed the test of leadership. Yesterday, you plumbed a new depth in using the power of the executive branch.
Yesterday, and today, we have seen a shocking attack by the most powerful man in Australia upon the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Yesterday, and today, we’ve seen the Attorney-General and the rest of his government reach a new and shocking low.
When people like the Attorney-General or the Prime Minister of Australia, with all of the power of government, use their positions to bully and intimidate independent statutory office holders, then we should suspend Standing Orders to discuss this matter.
The actions yesterday - and as much as the Prime Minister and Attorney-General want to say ‘it's not the real issue’ - when powerful men in remarkable positions of strength use their authority not to lead the nation, but to attack critics, then we have a severe problem with the strength of our community and our government in this country.
I understand that the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General and members of the Government may not approve of the President of the Human Rights Commission’s report.
But what I don't understand is, rather than dealing with the issues in the report, what they have done is attack her character. They have attacked her character.
What we also see is that yesterday we saw the embarrassing and scandalous situation where the President of the Human Rights Commission was forced to sit two people down from the Attorney-General, a target, as the Attorney-General turned on her and attacked her.
Then what we see is she's had to put up with the assassination of her character by the Attorney-General and by this man.
We have seen an assassination of character. This is the tool in trade. I believe Australians are sick and tired of an angry Tony Abbott.
I believe Australians are sick and tired of the constant overreach of the Prime Minister of Australia.
Being Prime Minister of Australia is a remarkable privilege. It is a bully pulpit to be able to advocate ideas.
But what we need is, whilst it is a bully pulpit it is not a pulpit for bullies and that is what we are seeing with this Government.
We should suspend Standing Orders because what we’ve seen with this attack on the President of the Human Rights Commission is a new low by the most powerful man in Australia against an upright, proper and decent woman.
We have seen in this attack by the Prime Minister, the classic overreach of the angry Prime Minister.
He says that he doesn't like what she has written, so therefore she must resign.
We have seen word games played by this Government.
When is a resignation not a resignation? When Tony Abbott and George Brandis ask for it.
When is an inducement and not an inducement? When these ministers and the Attorney-General offer it.
The President of the Human Rights Commission understood perfectly well what was happening, when the secretary of the department came along and said, 'I'm sorry to tell you this, but the Attorney-General's lost confidence in you, the Government's lost confidence in you.'
You cannot sack this statutory office holder so the clear implication is that if you say to this independent statutory holder that the government has lost confidence in you and you can’t be sacked, there is only one course of action being asked for by these powerful people the Attorney-General and his leader the Prime Minister.
It was clear pressure on her to resign.
Then we hear the embarrassing spectacle that no job was offered.
Now today the Foreign Minister gave a strong and appropriate Defence for the Secretary of the Attorney-General she certainly defends the secretary of the department and she said he is a very truthful person.
Well we agree. We think he is a truthful person. But what we don’t believe is that we are hearing is the truth from the Attorney-General or this Prime Minister.
What we actually see, is you can just see the decision-making in the inner sanctum to this government, at least the bits that we have not seen already leaked.
And what we see is they would have sat around and said “We want this woman gone, we want this woman gone. We want her out of the position,” they would have said.
You can see them saying: “George, send a messenger to get rid of the messenger. Send her the message that we no longer have confidence but if she does the right thing and fits in with the agenda of this government we will find her a job somewhere else.”
But unfortunately for this government and its bullying ways the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission wasn’t playing ball.
I cannot believe and I think many Australians, and I think Prime Minister you underestimate many Australians when you dismiss this matter as an ‘insider issue’.
I think there are a lot of Australians who’ve been appalled by your conduct and your character assassination of this President of the Human Rights Commission.
I think you have reminded a lot of Australians what they deep down feel about you. That you are a person who cannot control –
It is important to suspend standing orders because Australia has been reminded of the character of this Prime Minister and of this Attorney-General.
Never could we have imagined a scenario, I know, I know there are good members of the Government - perhaps not those who are yelling out - but there are good members in this government who are deeply uneasy, deeply uneasy at the open attack on an independent statutory officeholder.
I congratulate the Member for Wentworth who has come out and been supportive of Gillian Triggs.
I also acknowledge that the Foreign Minister seems to have some quite confidence in Gillian Triggs and I know there are more of you out there, probably even more than supported the spill motion.
This is why we have to support the suspension of standing orders.
No government minister should be proud of the last 48 hours.
No government minister should be proud of the absolute plumbing of the depths and this attack on this respected, independent person.
What is it about the Abbott government and the Attorney-General that they do not understand separation of powers?
What is it about this government that when the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission comes down with a report that the government does not like, then all of a sudden the independent officeholder must go?
Please members of the government, Attorney-General and Prime Minister, do not treat Australians as mugs and say no resignation was sought and that no alternative job was offered.
We can play the word games. You can talk about ‘no inducement was given’. Your messenger sent to the President of the Human Rights Commission, that the government no longer has confidence in you.
But then what they did also is in saying that they know they could not sack this officeholder, so the clear implication of saying to Gillian Triggs that the government has no confidence in you, is you must resign. That is the clear implication.
And then, what they also said is: “We will look after you, we will find you a special role.”
Now the government has said today in parliament there was no special role offered.
Yet yesterday the secretary of the Attorney-General's Department said there was a role offered.
Now I agree that the Foreign Minister was left to hang out a bit today when she said no special role was offered.
Yet it was in Hansard yesterday that the secretary of the department said there was.
Someone is not telling the truth here and I believe it starts at the Attorney-General and it starts with the Prime Minister.
What the government needs to understand is that rather than shoot the messenger as they are doing here, take heed of the message.
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