SPEECH: The Deputy Prime Minister should stand aside and the Government shouldn't accept his vote

 MONDAY, 14 AUGUST 2017

 Thanks Mr Speaker.

The opposition will be supporting this motion and the Leader of the House is right in saying that we are making history. But we are making history for a slightly different reason. Different reason to what the leader of the house just said. This is the first time in history of this Parliament a Government has asked the High Court to determine whether in fact they have a majority. That’s what’s being resolved here. 

This is a Government reliant on a majority of one. 

A majority of one that has made real differences in terms of outcomes. It was a majority of one that was the reason we didn't get a vote over the line for a Banking Royal Commission. It was a majority of one that determined that hundreds of thousands of Australians would get a pay cut on the first of July. A majority of one has made a difference to which side of the Chamber the members sit. Who's in Government and who's in opposition? 

Which laws are passed and which laws are not and what the House is doing right now is saying to the High Court ‘we’re not actually sure if the Government does have a majority of one.’ Saying to the High Court of Australia but we have been here for twelve months making laws with a Government that may or may not be legitimate. With a Parliament that may or may not be voting according to the Constitution of this country. 

The resolution that is before the House right now is ground-breaking because the Government itself has had to come to this chamber and acknowledge that they don't know whether or not this is a majority Government. That they don't know whether or not this is a legitimate Government. That's the question that's before the House right now. And let's not pretend when we get the reasons as to why the Deputy Prime Minister came in this morning at the first available opportunity to make the statement to the House. You've only got to go online to Fairfax to see the article and Adam Gartrell and Amy Remeikis have said the Deputy Prime Minister has referred himself to the High Court following questions from Fairfax media about whether the Deputy Prime Minister could be a citizen of New Zealand and eligible for the Parliament.

The speech we were given this morning wasn't because of an immediate new piece of information or crisis of conscience from the Deputy Prime Minister. It's because they’ve been found out anyway! That’s why this is happened today and that's why today we enter new ground. We enter new ground where every day now we do not know whether or not this is a majority Government. Where every day now we don't know whether for twelve months this Government has been operating without a majority. Whether for twelve months this Government has been getting laws through this Parliament changing the lives of Australians, often for the worse, and doing so without a majority in terms of the Constitution of the country. 

But even if you were to go to the low standards that this Government chooses to set for itself. They’ve even decided that the standards this Government sets aren't low enough. Because how different is this to the treatment that was given to Senator Canavan. Because the argument from Senator Canavan was given, and I quote ‘Given the uncertainty around this matter I will stand aside until the matter is finally resolved and resign as the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia. I have informed the Prime Minister of that course of action.’ But we’re not getting a Deputy Prime Minister standing aside. We’re not getting a Deputy Prime Minister who actually was the person who got that resources job added to his portfolio as a result of that decision. 

Now that he's got the job he's wanting to hang on to it and won’t let his finger nails claw away. He's making sure that he won’t loosen his grip of the extra power that he's been given following Senator Canavan making that decision. So what the House is deciding today in acknowledging that we don't know whether this Parliament currently has a Member for New England under this Constitution. We don't know whether this Government has a Deputy Prime Minister eligible under the Australian constitution. And we don't even know whether we have a majority Government in this country. This is a phenomenal challenge and a level of instability that this Government has. We knew that there was instability within their party room now we know there's instability here on the floor of the Parliament itself. 

Well I say to those opposite never during the period of the hung Parliament was there a question as to whether somebody had been elected under the Constitution and yet the Leader of the House kept pointing to people who'd been elected and say ‘don't accept their vote.’ Well I say to the Leader of the House with this resolution that's in front of the Chamber right now, how on earth can you accept the vote of the Deputy Prime Minister? How can he be the Deputy Prime Minister when the standard was set by the former Minister for Resources that you should stand aside if there is uncertainty? If there's not uncertainty why on earth are we referring the matter to the High Court? We could only be referring the matter to the High Court because there’s uncertainty. Because we don't know and if you don't know how on earth can you rely on that vote? How on earth can this Parliament be claiming to have a majority Government relying on the vote of someone who they don't know whether or not he's been lawfully elected? How on earth can this Government have somebody in the office of Deputy Prime Minister when they don't even know if he's meant to be a Member of Parliament?

And if the Minister for Resources was able to stand aside even though he had the Attorney General beside him claiming that he had a strong case then why on earth is ‘strong case’ the defence for the Deputy Prime Minister? How on earth does that work? It cannot be the case that the words of the Attorney General in defending Senator Canavan and why he wouldn't resign from Parliament were correct, because they apparently had a strong case, yet stood aside. But if it's the Deputy Prime Minister the person who's the architect of the Coalition agreement with the Prime Minister on which the fate of this Government hangs that secret deal, then in that situation, the rules all change.

People will look at this Parliament and see a level of chaos that has not been seen for generations. We have never before in this Parliament—in this room or when we were down at Old Parliament House or, for that matter, when we were meeting in the exhibition centre in Melbourne—had to go to the High Court and say, 'Look, we're really not sure if there's a majority Government in this country.' But that's what the Parliament's resolving right now.

There is nothing routine about this. And if there was any level of principle on those opposite then two things would happen: (1) the Deputy Prime Minister would stand aside and (2) they would not accept his vote.

I appreciate that with respect to the other member who's at the table right now—there's a High Court case running at the moment—his view is that it shouldn't have been referred to the court, that it's others who've referred it to the court, so he's going to keep on voting, as members may have done in the past. But this is a Deputy Prime Minister who stood up and said that there is enough uncertainty that we need to refer it to the High Court. This is a Deputy Prime Minister who himself opened Parliament today saying that he's not sure whether he's validly elected. That's why it's being referred to the High Court. You don't refer something to the High Court because you think there's no doubt; you refer something to the High Court because you just don't know. And if you just don't know, you should not be Deputy Prime Minister of Australia right now. If you just don't know, we should not be relying on your vote, and we should not have a situation where penalty rates were cut off the back of your vote, where we don't have a banking royal commission on the back of your vote.

This was always a Government that claimed to have a strong working majority and had a problem getting everyone to turn up for work. But as of today, that majority Government is in question. And those opposite will either deal with it responsibly or just do what we've seen the Prime Minister do—do and say anything to try to cling to power. It's being referred to the High Court because we don't know. And if we don't know, two things should happen: the Deputy Prime Minister should stand aside, and he should not exercise a vote in this House until the matter is resolved by the High Court.

 

Tony Burke