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senate vote 2021-08-04#5

Edited by mackay staff

on 2021-08-06 10:22:22


  • Bills — Ministerial Suitability Commission of Inquiry Bill 2021; Reference to Committee
  • Ministerial Suitability Commission of Inquiry Bill 2021 - Refer to Committee


  • <p class="speaker">Nick McKim</p>
  • <p>At the request of Senator Waters, I move:</p>
  • <p class="italic">That the Ministerial Suitability Commission of Inquiry Bill 2021 be referred to the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 1 September 2021.</p>
  • The majority voted against a [motion]( introduced on behalf of Queensland Senator [Larissa Waters](, which means it failed.
  • ### Motion text
  • > *That the [Ministerial Suitability Commission of Inquiry Bill 2021]( be referred to the [Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee]( for inquiry and report by 1 September 2021.*
  • <p class="speaker">Larissa Waters</p>
  • <p>[by video link] I rise to debate whether the Ministerial Suitability Commission of Inquiry Bill 2021, my private member's bill to set up a commission of inquiry into whether Mr Christian Porter is fit to remain a minister of the Crown given the rape allegations against him, should be referred to the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee for consideration. Bills normally go through this process, but not this bill. Anyone listening might remember that back in June I kept trying to progress this bill, which seeks a pathway to justice for Kate Thornton and to uphold standards for our parliament's ministry. On multiple occasions the government blocked me from having the bill being read a second time, which is unprecedented. I kept trying, and the warnings from the Senate President kept escalating. So today I am again trying to speak for my bill, which has been properly introduced, to follow the normal process of being subject to a Senate inquiry, which will then make a recommendation as to whether or not the bill should be supported.</p>
  • <p>We'll see if the government, with their backers in One Nation, will again vote to stop this. Let's face it, this is not the first time the government have shut down efforts to investigate their actions or their members. This government can't manage a vaccine rollout but they sure can manage a protection racket.</p>
  • <p>This bill would do one thing: it would establish an independent process to determine whether Mr Christian Porter is a fit and proper person to hold a ministerial position, to sit at that head table when decisions are made in this country, to have a say on this government's position on sexual harassment reforms, to have a say on responses to the Foster review or the Human Rights Commission's review into the safety of parliamentary workplaces and to have a say on whether we should have a code of conduct for politicians.</p>
  • <p>Mr Porter has been the subject of very serious allegations&#8212;allegations of rape. He has strenuously denied those allegations and sued the national broadcaster for reporting on them. Those proceedings were discontinued, and Mr Porter fought hard to have the evidence that was submitted to the court kept hidden from the public. The evidence that was revealed through that case raises serious questions about Minister Porter's suitability.</p>
  • <p>You would think that a prime minister wouldn't want such questions hanging over the head of any of his ministers. You would think that an innocent person would welcome an investigation to clear their name. Yet the Prime Minister seems completely disinterested in getting answers to these questions. He hasn't read the dossier of allegations sent to him many months ago. He obviously hasn't had a chat with his wife, Jenny, about what the moral thing to do is, either. Instead, the Prime Minister has repeatedly tried to move on from this issue. He evidently thought a belated ministerial reshuffle would fix it. Imagine underestimating the women of Australia so much that you think that moving an alleged rapist sideways into a different ministry would address the concerns that at least half the population has about sexual assault. The Prime Minister's response reeks of male privilege, and it fundamentally misjudges the anger and the injustice that women feel about continued rape, sexual assault, harassment, discrimination and just plain sexism.</p>
  • <p>If the Prime Minister can ignore that in Parliament House then it says to women everywhere that their experiences are not valid, not important and not to be believed. The Prime Minister doesn't believe that Minister Porter raped Kate Thornton. He asked Minister Porter, who denied it, and that's enough for the Prime Minister&#8212;he just takes his mate's word for it. He didn't read the dossier of allegations. He didn't ask for or order any form of independent inquiry. He didn't even consider whether Minister Porter might have been in breach of the Prime Minister's own ministerial standards. Instead, he appointed Mr Porter to a fresh ministry, and this week he promoted him. Minister Porter is now the Acting Leader of the House&#8212;his old job&#8212;just like harassers everywhere, who stay in their jobs while survivors are the ones who leave their jobs, are pushed out or, worse, as in Kate's case, are so let down by the justice system that they give up.</p>
  • <p>There is no justice for women survivors anywhere while rape allegations are allowed to persist against a Commonwealth minister of the Crown without any avenue for those allegations to be resolved, and that is the case here. With the defamation case documents not being released and with Kate having, tragically, ended her life there are no avenues remaining to inquire into the accusations. The Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales police have confirmed that no further investigation is possible. The only avenue is for the Prime Minister to call an inquiry. And since he won't&#8212;or hasn't yet&#8212;that's what this bill would do. It would set up an independent inquiry into whether Minister Porter is fit to remain a minister given the unresolved rape allegations against him.</p>
  • <p>The Prime Minister's Statement of Ministerial Standards requires ministers to 'act at all times to the highest possible standards of probity'. Those standards are not worth the paper that they're written on, because there are multiple incidents where the Prime Minister is not enforcing them. The Prime Minister failed to take action to inquire into the allegations and to inquire into whether Minister Porter is deserving of a ministerial position. The Prime Minister has declared Mr Porter an innocent man based on his assurances alone. Despite tens of thousands of women and their allies rallying in March demanding, amongst other things, an independent inquiry, this week the Prime Minister promoted Mr Porter back to the position of Leader of the House&#8212;acting, at least. Women do not trust this Prime Minister, and nor should they. The Prime Minister doesn't believe women. He is sending us back to the 1950s and is in dangerous denial about the epidemic of sexual assault and violence against women.</p>
  • <p>In an opinion piece in the newspapers today the courageous Grace Tame, Australian of the Year, gave voice to the disgust felt by women around the country. She said:</p>
  • <p class="italic">Prime Minister Scott Morrison has just overseen Christian Porter&#8217;s assuming of the role of acting leader of the House of Representatives. Amid a burgeoning, pre-eminent mass awakening to the endemic issue of sexual abuse, this decision marks a proverbial slap in the face of our entire nation.</p>
  • <p>She went on to say:</p>
  • <p class="italic">Outside of Parliament, positions of public trust are governed by codes of conduct that stipulate one must be a &#8220;fit and proper&#8221; person in order to occupy them, such as in the case of doctors who are bound by the Hippocratic oath. Furthermore, their adequacy&#8212;in terms of both knowledge and ethics&#8212;is repeatedly challenged and updated through mandated continuing professional development.</p>
  • <p class="italic">In Parliament, however, no such requirements exist. It is the Prime Minister who sets the standards and maintains them by appointing cabinet ministers at his or her discretion.</p>
  • <p class="italic">Given the seriousness of the allegations against Porter, the bare minimum test of his fitness to hold ministerial office would be an independent inquiry. How damning it is that the government refused to allow for one.</p>
  • <p class="italic">If the Prime Minister&#8217;s recent rhetoric about wanting to support assault survivors and protect women&#8217;s safety was indeed true, he would surely go to any lengths possible to ensure there was not an accused rapist amongst his own staff. Clearly, it has been nothing but lip service. His actions speak volumes that drown out his every word.</p>
  • <p class="italic">And now, not only has Porter been permitted to remain in office, he&#8217;s been temporarily elevated. His are circumstances steeped in the protective privileges of a patriarchal Parliament.</p>
  • <p class="italic">There is no way this decision was accidental. It is a transparently deliberate, definitive statement that reeks of abuse of power and a blatant disregard of the people.</p>
  • <p>As Ms Tame says so powerfully, without an independent and rigorous inquiry, serious and unresolved allegations hang over the head of a sitting minister; and they damage the confidence of the Australian people in government and, more importantly, in this institution of government, the parliament.</p>
  • <p>This bill is not seeking a predetermined outcome. It is not a witch-hunt&#8212;as the folk in One Nation, who regularly defend and vote with the government, have characterised it. It does not ignore Mr Porter's strenuous denial of the allegation. Instead it recognises that an independent, credible examination of Mr Porter's suitability is necessary to restore public faith in the accountability and integrity of parliament and the functioning of Australia's democracy. Referring the bill to the Finance and Public Administration Committee will allow any concerns about the independence, the operation or the confidentiality of the commission of inquiry to be discussed and, if necessary, address amendments to the bill.</p>
  • <p>This year has repeatedly challenged the government to take women's safety seriously, to listen to survivors. Ms Tame, in her opinion piece, reflected on what Mr Porter resuming his role as Leader of the House this week says to survivors and what message it sends to perpetrators. She said in conclusion:</p>
  • <p class="italic">My heart breaks at the thought of survivors still living in silence, looking to our leaders for hope.</p>
  • <p>We need to provide some hope that this parliament will take women's safety seriously, that it will not just sweep serious accusations under the carpet, that it will ensure allegations are tested and that those wielding power in this country are deserving of that privilege. I urge the Senate to refer this bill to the committee for consideration.</p>
  • <p class='motion-notice motion-notice-truncated'>Long debate text truncated.</p>