I rise to express my disappointment with the Government’s behaviour in the Senate.
As we speak, the Government leadership in the Senate is tearing up the rule book on long-standing pairing arrangements. It’s a long held bipartisan view that voting in the Senate should reflect the will of the Senate and each state is entitled to have the 12 votes in the Senate it is entitled to and in a way which reflects recent elections.
The Government is at the moment walking away from those principles. This is deeply distressing to me. As a member of this Parliament for some 22 years and as a former Chief Government Whip, I understand the importance of adhering to these long-standing principles and how important they are to the effective operation of the Westminster model.
They are not principles either major party should walk away from lightly. There is another reason I am very concerned about the Mexican standoff now playing out in the Senate. The reason is a boondoggle known as the Regional Investment Corporation. A very bad proposed law, a very badly constructed piece of legislation, a bad idea and one which is no more than a pork barrelling exercise in a town where the Nationals recently suffered a major defeat in a state by-election.
The Opposition is opposed to this shocking waste of taxpayers’ money. But unsure we will be unsuccessful in defeating the Bill, along the way we have been at least trying to improve the Bill, and to improve transparency, to improve accountability and to improve the governance arrangements within the Bill or more importantly the lack there of them.
Our amendments in large part reflect the recommendation of the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee which is one of the most damning reports into a Bill I have seen in my 22 years in this place. Mr Deputy Speaker, most of those amendments have been defeated in the Senate, unfortunately. But each of them has been defeated by the barest of margins. Indeed one of them was lost on a tied vote.
Now at that time when those votes were taken, and there were more yesterday one of which we won by the way I’m happy to say, Jacqui Lambie was voting in the Senate. But at that time the Opposition, the Labor Party, was granting pairs to both Senators Canavan and Nash. If we had not done so, those amendments would be part of the on-going debate as we speak. But of course we did allow those Senators to be paired in adherence to those long-standing principles.
We cost ourselves the opportunity to win those very important amendments. But now, with Jacqui Lambie not in this place, they are denying her a pair. They are, by the way, providing a pair to the Nick Xenophon Party, another minor Party. So the pairing arrangements deemed still to be in place for everyone but the Jacqui Lambie Network.
What is the difference? I ask the Parliament Mr Deputy Speaker. Now I heard Senator Cormann say in the Senate yesterday, now we don’t know what Jacqui Lambie would be thinking about this Bill, we don’t know what she would do in the context of the debate if she were here. Well I thought that was not that bad a point Mr Deputy Speaker. He made it notwithstanding that in her last speech she made very, very clear that her Party would be voting against this Bill.
So I rang Jacqui Lambie yesterday Mr Deputy Speaker and in addition to reinforcing her view on the phone, she decided she needed to send me a text, and I will quote it verbatim: As the Leader of the Jacqui Lambie Network, I want to make it clear we do not support the RIC in its current form, close quotes. I say to the Government in the Senate, don’t push us. Don’t walk away from the pairing arrangements. We will stand our ground and the pairing arrangements will be dead. My advice to the Government members in the Senate is to defer the consideration on the Regional Investment Corporation Bill to next year so we can all take a chill, discuss the Bill and further reflect on the pairing arrangements. I say to Mathias Cormann and others in the Senate we are very serious about this, we will not wear this, we will not allow it, have a think, defer this Bill.