I thought it might be helpful and in the public interest to explain the important matters that took place in and around the Australian Senate last week.
During last Wednesday night (9 July), Palmer United senators considered a draft amendment for the repeal of the carbon tax.
The draft amendment was one which the government and the Palmer United team had negotiated. Based on advice the Palmer United Senate team received on the Wednesday night the position was clear. Any saving brought about by the repeal of the carbon tax would not be mandatorily passed on to the consumers of natural gas and electricity.
This was not what the Palmer United team wanted.
If Australian families, industry and citizens were not going to receive a reduction in their electricity and natural gas bills, then the Palmer United Senate team resolved it could not in moral conscience vote to repeal the carbon tax.
The Palmer United team took a positive approach. We redrafted the amendment to deliver reductions to electricity and natural gas consumers from benefits the repeal of the carbon tax would deliver to generators of electricity and producers of natural gas.
The amendment was delivered to the clerk of the Senate office around 8.30am last Thursday morning (10 July), with instructions to circulate the amendment. I personally informed a government minister of the changes. Palmer United senators entered the Senate Chamber believing the amendment would be circulated by the clerk of the Senate office. It wasn’t.
This meant the previous draft was listed as the Palmer United amendment and as the government moved quickly to secure the passage of the amendment and the repeal of the carbon tax without the Palmer United senators’ most recent amendment.
The situation was discovered by my office in the House of Representatives. I ran from my office to the Senate Chamber and informed Palmer United Senate team of the situation. Why wasn’t our 8.30am amendment circulated by the clerk of the senate? I went to find out with members of our team. On encountering representatives of the clerk of the Senate office, I was informed that their view was our amendment was not in accordance with the constitution, so they had decided not to circulate it.
To me it seemed incredible that a public servant would form such a view and not carry out responsibilities to circulate the amendment, and had made no attempt to advise Senator Lazarus that such amendment had not been circulated. This meant the Palmer United team would be voting for a different amendment than the one they thought they were voting for.
In Australia, our democracy benefits from the separation of powers between the executive, the parliament and the courts. If a public servant can make a declaration that a proposal by an elected representative of the Australian people cannot be discussed in the Senate, the separation of powers and democracy itself is threatened.
I made this clear to the person I encountered and advised them in no uncertain terms that this matter would be referred to the High Court without delay if the amendment was not circulated. I understand a draft was subsequently circulated. I was then told the clerk’s office would advise the President of the Senate to rule it out of order. I took independent advice and based on that advice, and my own legal knowledge and experience, I was able to conclude what the clerk of the Senate office had said and the allegation itself was untrue.
The President of the Senate, to whom the clerk of the Senate reports, is a member of the Liberal Party of Australia. I took the view that the clerk’s office was being manipulated by the Liberal Party, or through time had assumed power it does not have to veto laws before they have been proposed by elected representative of the Australian people.
I then went back to the Senate to discuss the matter with our senators and on arriving I was confronted with the government’s leaders in the Senate who were taking the line of the clerk’s office.
I pointed out to them that regardless of the clerk’s advice and any ruling from the Liberal Party President of the Senate, the Senate had the power to move a dissent motion from any ruling the president may make.
They also confirmed to me that irrespective of the clerk’s advice, they had agreed that once the matter was referred back to the House of Representatives there could be no issue. So why not proceed and allow our amendment to be put and supported by the government?
I concluded that the reason was the government did not actually support the amendment and only wanted to appear to do so.
I could see no reason why Australian manufacturers should be forced to pay higher costs for power just to give the generators a higher profit, or to save them from poor investment decisions. I could not understand why Australians should be expected to continue to pay higher electricity charges just to make some failing enterprises appear profitable when they lacked the ability to compete in the market.
I suggested the amendment be adopted and I was advised that the Liberal Party would not vote against the proposed ruling of the President of the Senate. I was advised by the government’s leadership in the Senate that Palmer United should vote for the repeal of the carbon tax and the government could consider amendments in the House next week. This was unsatisfactory. I concluded that sincerity is always subject to proof.
I then consulted with my Senate team. It was decided to withdraw the amendment which was now being circulated so as not to waste the Senate’s time and to vote against the government proposal to repeal the carbon tax.
In so doing we noted the legislation had a start date of the 1st July 2014 and this would not change if the bill was introduced in the lower house the following week. It was too important to the rights and fairness for 23 million Australians to allow them to be forgotten in the rush for cash.
This crisis was brought on by the government. A government which has refused to recognise Palmer United as a political party, despite the fact that Palmer United received 5.6% of the national vote at the last election, while the Deputy Prime Minister’s party, the National Party, only managed 4%.
This was despite the fact that the Prime Minister only became Prime Minister because he received the Palmer United preferences. This was despite the fact that the Palmer United Party holds the balance of power in the Australian Senate and is the nation’s fourth largest political party. The Prime Minister has the discretion to recognise Palmer United Party as a political party in the parliament, but refuses to do it.
This means the Palmer United Party members have no party room at Parliament House and have been forced to set up a parliamentary office at the Press Club in Canberra, just so they can meet to discuss proposed bills.
The Greens have around 14 staff attached to the Greens Leader Christine Milne’s office who are able to consider government bills and legislation prior to it being introduced to the Senate. Palmer United has zero staff attached to my office to consider such matters.
The Greens have a party room at Parliament House and the staff attached to their leader include senior advisors, advisor level classifications and rights to travel across Australia. I have no such staff. I do however occupy the smallest office in the parliament.
The government has the support of many thousands of officers and can swamp senators with detail and endeavour to rob from them of the rights bestowed upon them by the Australian people, which is to exercise their vote in an informed and considered manner.
Be assured, Palmer United senators will stay true to the people who elected them regardless of any pressure the government or foreign media owners may seek to place upon them.
Australians must work together so that man can be as he was meant to be; free and independent.