SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

SPEECH

13 November 2017

SPEECH ON MOTION TO ESTABLISH A CITIZENSHIP REGISTER

SENATE CHAMBER

CANBERRA

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Thank you Mr President.

Well I’m very glad we end on the lack of integrity because I can tell you where the lack of integrity is, it is here, right here. With a Government that has been dragged kicking and screaming to having any disclosure on this issue.

You know why we’ve got this motion agreed today, do you know why? Because the government’s picked up the Labor Party’s proposal. That is why we’ve got this here.

I like the fact that the Leader of the Government in the Senate is telling me otherwise – you wouldn’t know because you weren’t in the negotiations. You weren’t part of it, you were left out.

The reality is this: the Prime Minister has been dragged kicking and screaming to this point, kicking and screaming to the point of requiring appropriate disclosure.

He was not able – we weren’t able in the meeting to come to agreement. He appropriately asked Senator Cormann to deal with Mr Shorten and now we have an agreement which reflects two important things.

The first is a higher standard of disclosure than the government proposed. You don’t have to take my word for it. Have a look at what Mr Turnbull put out on the Monday and have a look at what we’re voting on.

The second issue is the date. The date is the first of December.

I went out and did a press conference after the Prime Minister put out his proposal and I made the point that under the dates he was proposing, he was going to try and skate through past Christmas before he actually told people anything.

Want to talk about a lack of integrity.

The Prime Minister put out a test that had a subjective test, limited disclosure and a date that kicked this off until after Christmas.

Well, we are pleased that they’ve seen some sense.

The Prime Minister was dragged kicking and screaming to this. It’s a good deal because it’s what Labor proposed and the government has signed off to that but it says everything about the Prime Minister, that he had to find someone else to negotiate it with the Opposition.

I’m not sure, frankly, we would have been able to get a stronger process in place if he was still negotiating but leave that to one side.

What have we seen since this motion was first tabled today? I really enjoyed Ms Bishop and Mr Pyne out there claiming credit for it.

I know Ms Bishop is good at creating fantasies, a bit like the New Zealand conspiracy but somehow, although she’s had no involvement, she’s now claiming credit for it. But, I suppose, if you look at Newspoll today, it might give an indication about the agenda there.

The reality is that this would not have occurred if Labor had not proposed a universal disclosure regime.

he reason we did is because once it became clear that the President of the Senate had sat on information—with the knowledge of a Cabinet Minister—which rendered him ineligible, the cover-up meant that the usual process around the Parliament dealing with these matters appropriately had to be enforced with a more stringent procedure.

That is why Labor proposed a universal disclosure and that is why we will be supporting this motion.

I do enjoy Senator Brandis’ lectures—I’m sure we all do! ‘Mendacious’ might be an unparliamentary term, so ‘inaccuracy’ might be the term I use, in deference to you, Acting Deputy President.

I like the way he told Senator Di Natale and Senator Whish-Wilson that he’d never said anything negative about the Greens. I don’t think that’s true.

He actually said in the chamber on 15 August that he thought former senators Ludlam and Waters had acted a little prematurely. Do you remember that? Acted a little prematurely and he was all ‘We know better, they acted prematurely’.

It is enjoyable to get a lecture from the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth about the operation of the law when he was assuring anybody who spoke to him, privately or publicly, that the legal advice the Government had was very strong and all of the Government Senators and MPs were going to be fine.

It’s good to get a lecture, isn’t it, from the government about their understanding of the law when we had a Prime Minister who, on the floor of the House of Representatives, said that the Deputy Prime Minister was going to be fine, he was going to be eligible and “the High Court will so hold” and “the High Court will so hold”.

That’s what the Prime Minister said.

Now, he wants Australians to accept his word about what height the High Court means.

I know it must be interesting being in a meeting with Mr Turnbull and Senator Brandis about who is the smartest person in the room in their own minds but I know both of them regard themselves as extraordinary legal minds and are engaging in this lecturing of us about the legal precedence.

Let me make one thing very clear: every Labor Member and Senator that they have referred to took steps to renounce.

Not one of their Members or Senators who has been referred to the High Court, took steps to renounce. Not one. Mr Joyce didn’t, Senator Nash didn’t, Senator Parry didn’t. It doesn’t sound like Mr Alexander did or the others, and I’ll come to some of those.

So the reality is, every single Labor Member and Senator took steps to renounce because that is what our vetting process requires, ascertains and requires before nomination.

So the proposition that Mr Turnbull is putting to the Australian people in some desperate attempt to hold onto power, as his popularity externally and internally recedes, is one standard for the ALP and one standard for the Government.

One standard for the Labor Party and one standard for the Coalition. Well, we didn’t actually do anything but we’re okay. You did something but it’s not okay.

I want to be clear that— and I think this has been on the public record and I’ll get some instructions on this – but we’ve got legal advice that goes directly to the advice that the Attorney-General spoke about and says that Mr Bennett is wrong. Quite clearly.

I do think it’s interesting, don’t you—just an aside point and this is for Senator Di Natale to consider as well—I do find it interesting that the Government won’t provide the Solicitor-General’s advice which enabled the Deputy Prime Minister and Cabinet Minister Nash to continue but somehow is able to provide legal advice on the Labor Party. Isn’t that amazing?

All of a sudden some legal advice is okay to release, other legal advice is not.

You wouldn’t think there was any partisan agenda here, would you? Because this is what this has come to.

This Prime Minister is not behaving like a leader. He’s behaving like a man desperate to retain power. That’s what he’s behaving like. That desperation is there for all to see.

I hope that Mr Turnbull had a chat to some of his backbench MPs before he decided to try and blow up the House of Representatives and use his numbers to refer Labor Members who’ve sought to renounce their citizenship.

It is actually a dangerous new precedent in Australian politics – that the executive would seek to use its numbers on such an important issue in such a partisan way. It really demonstrates the desperation that Mr Turnbull is engaged in.

He has become a diminished and desperate man, and in fact for many Australians when he was elected, when he took over the leadership, thought that this might be a leader that they could respect.

I think it has been a continuity of disappointment.

Well, let’s remember the questions which have been raised about Coalition MPs, and unlike Labor MPs, who took steps to renounce and have been public about that, we haven’t got any information from these people.

  • Ms Marino, questions have been raised about her potential Italian citizenship as a result of her previous marriage. Not answered.
  • Ms Banks, Julia Banks, questions raised about her Greek heritage and frankly, her answers have not been consistent with what we understand to be the law. So we have members who have Greek parents who have taken active steps to renounce because Greek citizenship doesn’t, as we understand it, require an active step in order for you to be entitled. She says, ‘I never took any steps.’ Well, I don’t think that’s the test. What’s the answer?
  • Alex Hawke, also parents with Greek citizenship.
  • Tony Pasin, potentially parents with Italian citizenship.
  • Ann Sudmalis, potentially UK.

Well, if Mr Turnbull wants to start using his numbers to refer Labor MPs who have taken reasonable steps to renounce, I assume he has discussed with all of these MPs and any others from the Coalition side, that they are likely to have to be referred as well.

And if he hasn’t, well he has certainly hung them out to dry. He has certainly hung them out to dry. It would have been nice, I suspect, for them to have a chat prior.

We will support this motion because it deals with the issues that we demanded be in the motion.

We wanted a more stringent disclosure and we wanted an earlier date.

But what we do say is this: Do not be distracted by the desperate lashing out of a Prime Minister frankly who seems to be beyond his use-by date, trying to point attention to others.

The facts are he has not dealt with those on his side, and he has been dragged kicking and screaming to a position that is now reflected in the resolution before the chamber.