Senate Chamber - Election of Committee Chair

I move:

That the words "Legal and Constitutional Affairs" be removed and replaced with "Environment and Communications" so that paragraph (a) now reads:

(a) that the chair of the Environment and Communications References Committee shall be elected by that committee from members nominated by minor parties or independent senators.

With all the issues confronting this nation—the carbon tax, the mining tax, the border protection policy in disarray—what is the first item of business the government brings into the chamber today? Another committee chair for the Greens. That is what is at the front of the government's mind—to placate the Greens, to keep their alliance together. I say to the Manager of Government Business in the Senate that in fact his party has a signed agreement with the Greens. Who can forget the spectacle of the table set out in the Prime Minister's courtyard, where Senator Brown and other Greens were sitting in their suits, wattle sprigs in their lapels. It had all the makings of a civil ceremony, of a marriage, in effect, between the Greens and the Labor Party.

The main issue we have been debating in recent times, the carbon tax, is proof positive. It was conceived out of that relationship, because Labor had gone to the election saying that there would be no carbon tax. It is the Greens who have foisted the carbon tax on the Labor Party. Indeed, Mr Adam Bandt himself bragged about that in a media release which said that, when he met with Ms Gillard, he said, 'There is one thing we need for an alliance and that is a price on carbon,' and that she then said, 'Yes, deal done.'

Today another deal has been done between Labor and the Greens to give another Greens senator a $15,000 pay rise.

Why are they giving it to a government alliance partner? These chairs should be going to genuine opposition parties. So for Senator Ludwig to come into this chamber and suggest that somehow the Greens should be seen as the Democrats were is absolutely and patently false because the Democrats never did a dirty deal with a government signing up with them. They retained their motto of what Don Chipp said—I know it is unparliamentary—which was 'to keep the bastards honest'. They would not side with either side but consider each issue on its merit—not so with the Australian Greens. They have signed up with the Australian Labor Party, and we have a Greens senator nodding in agreement. They have signed up.

What the Greens senators are now saying is, 'We want all the trappings and benefits of government and, whatever few there are, benefits of opposition as well.' This is, of course, typical of the Australian Greens. They love it both ways, don't they? Corporate donations are bad for political parties, unless it is a $1.6 million donation that the leader of the Greens himself negotiated. That is okay. If somebody happens to miss a division, that is bad. It shows a party in disarray—that is, of course, unless the leader of the Greens himself misses a division. Then it is all perfectly excusable, all perfectly understandable. It is different.

So what we have yet again in this place today is the suggestion that the Greens should get all the benefits of government and whatever benefits there are of opposition. We as an opposition say that you have got to be either fish or fowl in this game. You cannot try to be both. Of course, that is what the Australian Greens are seeking to do throughout. But we believe that, in fact, the Greens should not even have the Community Affairs References Committee chairmanship, because they are part and parcel of the government. To make sure this place operates, we as an opposition were willing to overlook that for the time being to allow the system to keep running as it was. However, now the Greens are moving the goalposts, as is always the case, and seeking further and further benefits for themselves. We are going to take a stand on this. We are opposing it.

It does not seem to be a coincidence that, of all the chairs that the Australian Greens could have chosen, the first one was the community affairs committee. I wonder why? Guess who the chairman of that committee was at the time? Senator Gary Humphries. We then say Senator Humphries is a very good man and should be chairing another Senate committee, and so he becomes the chair of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee. Guess what? The Australian Greens say, 'Oh, we now want that committee as well.' Why are they in such hot pursuit of Senator Gary Humphries? It is because of his capacity to ensure that the Australian Greens do not win a Senate seat in the Australian Capital Territory, and so each and every time they seek to cut the ground from under Senator Gary Humphries. Can I say, you will have to do better than that. You will have to have policies that actually resonate with the people of the Australian Capital Territory before you continue to pursue Senator Gary Humphries in this very ham-fisted way.

But just to assist the Australian Greens and to keep faith with their electorate, we as an opposition are going to move that the words 'legal and constitutional' be deleted from the motion and replaced with the words 'environment and communications'. That will give the Australian Greens the opportunity to say to the Australian people whether the environment is actually their No. 1 issue or whether their social agenda is in fact their real motivation. Indeed, their vote on this amendment will be indicative of whether they are genuinely the watermelon party of the Australian political scene and simply using the green veneer, thin as it is, to cover up a big red centre of social engineering, which we have always said was the case. Today will be the test for the Australian Greens on whether their No. 1 item is the environment or whether it is social engineering and that is why they have been in such hot pursuit of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee chairmanship.

The Australian Greens, who always want everything, who always move the goalposts, today will be given a free kick by the opposition in relation to the committee of their choice. We will, of course, oppose the Greens getting two committees. We believe they do not deserve one because they have signed up with the government and any committee chairmanships they want should be resolved in their Monday morning meetings between Senator Brown and Ms Gillard when they talk about all the affairs of the nation. I would have thought Senator Brown and Ms Gillard could have come to a solution in relation to this and determine which of the Labor chairs they would be taking. But here we have the Australian Greens wanting to take that which rightfully belongs to the opposition. We will give the Australian Greens the opportunity to vote whether or not they want an environment committee or the legal and constitutional committee. We will be opposing the suggestion that they should be entitled to these two committees. Senator Humphries—

Senator Carol Brown interjecting—

It is a good interjection by Senator Carol Brown as to where Senator Humphries goes next, because one thing I do know is that Senator Humphries will continue to go up and up in the estimation of the people of the Australian Capital Territory and amongst his colleagues and in this place.

That will continue to happen irrespective of the Labor Party and the Greens colluding to try to give the Greens a leg-up for another Senate seat in the Australian Capital Territory. To think that the Australian Greens have combined and colluded with the Australian Labor Party to form a government and now somehow claim that they are not part of the government and should get some of the spoils of opposition is indicative of the duplicitous and hypocritical stance they take.

We believe very strongly that this duplicity by the Australian Greens which seems to know no end needs to be explored and ventilated so the Australian people get to see what the Australian Greens actually stand for. Some of us do get sick and tired from time to time of the puff pieces we see in the Australian media about the Australian Greens. I cannot help but remember the puff piece in the 'hate' media, mind you, the Weekend Australian, about Senator Brown and his nice house at Liffey. There were lovely pictures and panoramic views, but something caught my attention in the panoramic view. There was also a nice picture inside the house and something else caught my attention. I thought, 'How does this stand up against the Greens policy of not using wood waste for energy and biomass?' Do you know what was in that panoramic view? Smoke coming out of the chimney at Senator Bob Brown's house. Do you know what caught my eye in the view of his lounge room? The log fire—one of the most inefficient ways to heat a house. But, again, we should not be surprised. People should not be allowed to have wood fires! They should not be allowed to have biomass! Industry should not be allowed to! But, of course, Senator Bob Brown should because Senator Bob Brown is different. All those rules that he seeks to apply to everyone else should not apply to Senator Bob Brown, because Senator Brown is the Leader of the Australian Greens. Senator Bob Brown is different and, therefore, the Australian Greens should be treated differently. Of course the list of hypocrisy and duplicity goes on and on.

That is why the Pecksniffian attitude of the Australian Greens does need to be exposed for all to see. The duplicity is there for all to see and today is another example of it. But what is most humiliating in all of this is that the Labor Party would stoop to do their dirty work, that the Manager of Government Business in the Senate would make this move in the Senate for and on behalf of the Australian Greens. There is no sense of shame and no sense of being independent from the Australian Greens. They are doing the dirty work for the Australian Greens, at a time when the Australian Greens are trying to say, 'We aren't really part of the government; we are really part of the opposition for this debate.' If that is the case, if they are not part of the government, why is it that the Manager of Government Business in the Senate is moving the motion? Why didn't the Australian Greens move it for and on behalf of themselves? Because the Australian Labor Party will do anything and say anything to placate the Australian Greens. And of course they will distort themselves to do it, as they have done in relation to the carbon tax—a tax which the Australian people do not want and that Ms Gillard is willing to implement just to keep the Australian Greens happy.

We were told by the Manager of Government Business in the Senate that he would not seek to delay the Senate for long in relation to this issue. I know why—he had no feathers to fly with. There is no justification for the government to do this. There is no argument. So I suppose that is the easiest thing to do if you have no arguments at all. Even if the highly paid spin doctor that the Labor Party got from Tony Blair cannot spin you the lines to try to justify this one, the best thing to do I suppose is to sit down, shut up and hope that nobody notices. Bad luck, Senator Ludwig and bad luck to the Australian Labor Party. We have noticed. Even your highly paid spin doctor from the United Kingdom could not spin you out of this one. He could not give you a form of words to even fill in half of the time that was allocated to you to justify this unprincipled move in support of your Greens alliance partners.

For the Senate to work and for the Senate to work appropriately, you do need give and take. You need to accept that there has to be cooperation. That is why, for example, tomorrow the coalition have very graciously given the government time—the private members' time usually allocated to us—for the purposes of the carbon tax debate. That is why, given that there was a heritage issue in relation to the Community Affairs Committee, we were not willing to push the boundaries in relation to Senator Siewert's chairmanship of that and we were willing to allow that to go through to the keeper. Now, despite the cooperation that they get from the coalition day after day, hour by hour in this place, they are throwing all that cooperation into our face and saying: 'We don't care about all that cooperation. We won't agree with your support in making this chamber move as it should. We will throw all that into your face and take another chairmanship off the opposition for a government alliance partner senator.' If that is the way the Australian Labor Party want to play the game, so be it.

We will continue to be cooperative. We will continue to be a responsible opposition. But what we will do on a regular basis is highlight when the hapless Manager of Government Business in the Senate has to move motions for and on behalf of the Greens, because the Greens are too embarrassed to do it for themselves. Why the Australian Labor Party would stoop to such a low level today and make this the No. 1 item for today just beggars belief? The Australian people listening to this broadcast, few though there may be, will know that the top order business for today for the Australian Labor Party government is to give the Greens another chairmanship.

Why the Labor Party would stoop so low one does not know. Why don't we know? Because the minister himself was not willing to use the allocated time to try to justify why the Australian Labor Party was doing it.

Senator Ludwig interjecting—

The minister just interjected and said, 'Because we should be talking about the clean energy package.' You know what? I absolutely agree. I am in heated agreement. So it begs the question: why the urgency to move this motion today during a period when we should be debating the clean energy package? Why couldn't you have deferred it until next year, after the clean energy package? Because you wanted to do another deal. It is another down-payment on this dirty deal that the Australian Labor Party have done with the Australian Greens.

It is always the way, isn't it, with blackmailers? One demand will be made and as soon as you have succumbed to that the next demand is made and then the next. We know what the first demand in this blackmail was. What was it? It was the carbon tax. The second one was to ruin the Tasmanian forest industry and throw thousands of Tasmanians out of work. We know that that was another part of the blackmailing, and now we have the third example. The Greens are saying: 'We demand a new chairmanship. We want another chairmanship, but we will not be moving it. You, the Australian Labor Party, will move it for and on behalf of the Australian Greens.' The Labor Party will bear all the opprobrium so that when it is passed with a combined vote the Greens can say: 'We didn't really want it. It was the Labor Party that moved it and it was foisted upon us.'

The arrogance of the Australian Greens knows no bounds. We read about this move and that a particular senator would be given the chairmanship before the Senate had the motion before it, because the Greens were bragging about this new chairmanship in the media clips yesterday. They were already bragging about their achievement, pre-empting the vote of the Senate, which indicates they had done a deal with the Labor Party. They were pre-empting the vote of the Senate and they are now dealing with this place with the same sort of arrogance that the Australian Labor Party does. That is why it is quite appropriate that they sign this formal agreement, that is why they are an alliance and that is the reason they do not deserve a second chairmanship. (Time expired)

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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