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Motion: Parliamentary Representation - Qualifications of Senators

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 16 Nov 2016

Monday, 7 November 2016

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (13:22): I rise to support the comments of my colleagues Senators Larissa Waters and Sarah Hanson-Young. The Greens have considered the statement of facts issued by the Turnbull government on both former Senator Day and current Senator Culleton and will agree to both motions being moved today. The Day case puts a spotlight on the Abbott-Turnbull government. While the motion before us may be about former Senator Day, the government cannot duck scrutiny on this critical issue. The evidence indicates that the government's hands are not clean. We have heard a very good case put by my colleague Senator Larissa Waters about the need for a national ICAC. So many of these issues could have been referred to a national ICAC, if we had established one long ago. And then there is the very relevant issue of political donations. The disclosures from Mr Day about his companies throw some light on what has happened here but do not give a full explanation. In judging Mr Day's eligibility to be in the Senate, the spotlight does land on the coalition government, what they knew about the constitutional breach and when they knew it. But from the statement of facts that we have received and from the speeches that have been made here today this is still not clear.

What we do know is that the government have received critical advice from a constitutional expert, but they have not shared that with us. This will just add to people's suspicions about what is going on with the government. What are they trying to cover up? When we have these sorts of problems, we all know that we have to admit all evidence. We have to be fully honest and admit what the problem is, and then we can start to rebuild. But the government have not done that today. The government cannot put a ring fence around Mr Day and make out that is what it is all about. It is not just about Mr Day; it is about how this government operates. They knew there was a problem from the time of the 2013 election and also when Mr Day came here in 2014. Why did senior ministers ignore the advice of the Department of Finance? That is critical. Again, it has been referred to the High Court. What we have heard today opens up many issues which we as a Senate have a responsibility to deal with. The abuse of money, process and standards could well reach into the offices of the current Prime Minister and the former Prime Minister. What is the role of Senator Corey Bernardi? His name does come up when we read into how this issue played out with the building that Mr Day wanted to use for his headquarters. While the government was turning a blind eye to Mr Day's plans or was helping to facilitate them, what was the government getting in return? Again, this needs to be put on the record. What they were getting in return was a reliable supporter and a regular voter whom they could depend on. These are not unconnected issues. It needs to be put on the table that this is not just about the High Court. The genie is out of the bottle. We have to put everything on the table if we are to learn and carry out our work in a responsible way as senators. There is so much here that is related.

What makes the Day case even more breathtaking is that we know that Mr Day left more than 200 families in financial stress and with no home. Again, this has been forgotten in the debate. It is absolutely disgraceful; it is so central to what we are talking about. That is the position which Mr Day has left these people in. What was he about to rock into the Senate to do? It was to vote on the ABCC legislation—one of the most ruthless pieces of anti-worker, anti-union legislation that has come through this parliament in its many decades of operation. Here is somebody who was abusing people within our society who wanted a home. This is one of the main aspects of the construction industry, and he was abusing that. It is the area that needs to be regulated. But what did we just hear from the government about the ABCC? We already know that if there are problems in the union movement, if criminal acts have been taken, all the laws are there to deal with them. There has been ruthless propaganda to weaken the system of regulation, as my colleague Senator Hanson-Young identified so clearly. Senator Day came in here to weaken regulation. He hitched his wagon to the coalition to try and achieve that, and, meanwhile, he becomes the example, the poster child, of what happens when you rip away regulation. That is where this parliament, this government, should be concentrating in order to assist ordinary people who have been so ripped off.

But let us move on to some of the issues around political donations. The AEC records show that Mr Day's slackness was not confined to running a building company or the renting arrangements for his own office. A conservative estimate is that Mr Day and his companies donated more than $2 million to Family First. So Mr Day was spending the money from the companies, which should have been available to finalise the building of homes for those more than 200 families, on fast-tracking himself into the Senate—twice.

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Rhiannon. I have been fairly liberal in allowing the debate to range from the topic matter. You have consistently stayed off the key topic matter. You are speaking about the personal qualities or otherwise of former Senator Day. I have two concerns: firstly, you are not sticking to the subject matter, which the standing orders require, and, secondly, you are reflecting on a now member of the public who may not have the right to defend himself. Could I ask you to consider those comments as you continue your remarks, Senator Rhiannon.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Mr President, for your advice, but I do understand that Mr Day, as a member of the public, does have the ability to challenge anything that I or anybody else says. So I think that is possible. I will move on, but I certainly stand by my comments that there are many more aspects to this issue than what will be dealt with by the High Court. The referral itself, which is what I have been dealing with, puts a spotlight on these other matters that a responsible Senate would deal with. As we know, the evidence suggests that Mr Day was aware of the possible breach prior to his election. We also know that concerns around section 44 were on the government's radar. It appears that the government ignored the advice of the Department of Finance in approving the questionable leasing arrangement. A relevant question is: how much did the government know before the 2016 election? We are still not clear on this despite speeches from more than one minister today. We are starting to feel that the fog is descending, rather than the clouds lifting, on this one.

On top of all this—and I am sure the President will not be happy about this—I will just make brief mention of the issue of the training grant. My colleague Sarah Hanson-Young has made reference to it. There is also a cloud over the interaction between the government and Mr Day on this issue.

At the moment, as I said, the Greens are pleased to support this. I think there have been very important contributions on the need for a national ICAC and political donations reform. And if this Senate is doing its job, we need to return to many other aspects of how the government interacted on this.

Question agreed to.

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