Coalition Senators' Dissenting Interim Report
This inquiry is unworthy of the Senate.
Never before has the Senate directed any of its Ministers to appear
before one of its Committees. Ministers are accountable through
questions with and without notice, and through the Estimates process. The
motion establishing this inquiry stands without precedent and violates
well-established Senate practice.
The usual process is for a Committee to invite a Minister to
attend. Senator Arthur Sinodinos invoked the words of former Senator Mark
Arbib, then a Minister in the Rudd Labor Government, in his declining a request
to appear before a Senate Committee. The Committee refused to recognise the
principle invoked by a Labor Senator when applied to a Liberal Senator.
The Electoral Commissioner, Mr Tom Rogers - the sole witness at the
less than two-hour Committee hearing - noted in his submission that
this space of public policy has already been the subject of 'significant
scrutiny' and the Committee has a short reporting period. Mr Rogers also
highlighted that the Australian Electoral Commission has already made
numerous submissions to parliamentary inquiries, including to the Joint
Standing Committee on Electoral Matters - the proper Committee to inquire into
We note that the majority of associated entities are affiliated with the
Australian Labor Party and that these entities declared in total more than
$800 million of income to the AEC for financial year 2014-15, representing more
than 90 per cent of all associated entities declared income. We also note
that unions alone gave the ALP direct donations worth more than $5.3
million in financial year 2014-15.
We asked for a number of witnesses to be invited to give
evidence at this inquiry's hearings, including the Hon Bill Shorten
MP, Mr Cesar Melham MLC, Mr Noah Carroll, Mr Lance Wilson, Ms Fiona Ward, and
Mr Ted Lockyer. Labor and Greens Senators on the Committee did not entertain
inviting these witnesses to appear.
These witnesses could have testified about the washing of a $40,000 in
kind donation from Unibuilt Pty Ltd to Bill Shorten's 2007 Maribyrnong election
campaign via the Australian Workers Union – an associated entity.
The Chair's attempt to justify the exclusion on these witnesses on
grounds of their being “not relevant to the terms of reference” further
demonstrates the partisan nature of this exercise.
Asked why these witnesses were not relevant to the terms of reference,
the Chair posited that “it was not possible for the Committee to discuss that
because...” before receiving riding instructions from Senator Wong to proceed
regardless. The Chair then proffered that she was unable to disclose
private Committee deliberations and that such questions were out of order.
Clearly questions about the activities of the Victorian AWU – an ALP
associated entity - are relevant to the inquiry's terms of reference.
This was underlined by the fact that the Electoral Commissioner answered
a series of questions about this donation, which went undisclosed for eight years
until Mr Shorten fronted the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and
For the record it should be noted that the Royal Commission made no
finding in relation to whether this donation breached the Electoral Act. A
number of issues about it remain unresolved.
Senator Wong's intemperate criticism of Mr Rogers during the
Committee's hearing on 28 April, also deserves comment.
Consistent with his past practice, the Electoral Commissioner rightly
refused to be drawn on questions about evidence to a NSW ICAC inquiry, much of
it contested, put to him by Senator Wong, preferring to wait until ICAC reports
That Senator Wong should twice accuse him of “turning a blind eye” and
ignoring evidence, thus impugning his integrity and independence, simply
because he wouldn't fall into line with her partisan line of questioning,
further illustrates the purely political nature of this exercise,
notwithstanding Senator Wong's unsuccessful attempts at parsing.
In conclusion, the establishment of this inquiry, the conduct of the
Chair and Senator Wong at its one hearing and the content of the majority
report, has been a partisan political exercise, unworthy of a Senate Committee
and unworthy of further consideration by the Senate.
Senator for South
Senator Joanna Lindgren
Senator for Queensland
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