Tuesday, 9 October 2012
What a shameful day this is. Those opposite should be hanging their heads in shame at what they are seeking to do here—plucking a piece of evidence from an ongoing case in the Federal Court of Australia and bringing it here seeking a rush to judgement before the Federal Court has even ruled on the abuse-of-process application in which this piece of evidence was tendered, seeking to rush to judgement, let alone before the actual case, before the case brought by Mr Ashby in the Federal Court of Australia is ruled upon. There are two stages in this case in the Federal Court. To remind members opposite, at the moment the judge has heard an abuse-of-process application which says that the whole case brought by Mr Ashby should be thrown out of court, and the judge is presently considering his decision in respect of that application—he reserved last week. In the course of that application for abuse of process the judge made some highly critical remarks about the conduct of this case, but those opposite would have us rush to judgement on the Speaker of this chamber before the judge in the Federal Court has ruled on abuse of process, before the judge in the Federal Court has ruled on the case brought by Mr Ashby and before anyone in this parliament has the chance to examine anything about these texts and anything about the context in which they were tendered in the Federal Court of Australia in evidence.
It might be said, and I picked this up from reading the newspaper accounts about these texts, that the particular text in question—and it is an offensive and sexist text; I do not make any bones about this—was an exchange that the Speaker of the House of Representatives had with Mr James Ashby before the member for Fisher became Speaker of the House of Representatives and before Mr Ashby became his employee, indeed when he was a Liberal-National member of this place. As the Prime Minister has said, the member for Fisher was preselected on no fewer than eight occasions—first by the National Party for the 1984 election, then by the Liberal Party of Australia and more latterly, the last four, five or six times, by the Liberal-National Party of Queensland.
We hear from their Leader of the Opposition, falsely it seems, saying, 'We were trying to get him out of our party room.' They were pretty slow about it. They have taken since 1984 to get the member for Fisher out of their party room. They were not exactly hurrying at the 2010 election when this Leader of the Opposition stood side by side with the member for Fisher and endorsed him for election as member for Fisher. The Leader of the Opposition comes in here not only inviting this House to act as a kangaroo court, which we should resoundingly reject, not only inviting this House to rush to judgement on the Speaker of our chamber on the thinnest piece of evidence plucked from the Federal Court of Australia, but also seeking to comment, if you please, on the merits of the case before court, saying of Mr James Ashby, 'His only fault was seeking to assert his rights against the Speaker of this parliament.'
The Leader of the Opposition should have a look at what Mr James Ashby did and might care to listen to the comments that Justice Rares made last week in the Federal Court of Australia. Extreme criticisms were made of Mr James Ashby by this judge in the Federal Court, in particular criticisms of the way in which Mr Ashby chose to bring his case against the Speaker of the House of Representatives and chose to make allegations of criminality which were given the most extreme publicity possible, only then to have them withdrawn. The judge commented as well on the publicity that Mr Ashby had sought to bring to every aspect of this case. And yet this opposition seeks—and I will come back to this—to attack the Attorney-General for doing her job, which is to explain the way in which proceedings involving the Commonwealth are being conducted, because the people of Australia are perfectly entitled to be informed about the way proceedings are being conducted.
No institution is safe from this opposition. No convention is safe from this opposition. The courts are not safe from this opposition and this parliament is certainly not safe from this opposition. It is an opposition that does not believe in due process. It is an opposition that does not believe in fairness. It is an opposition that has no shame and is prepared to tear down any institution, tear down any convention, to get at its objective, which is power for this Leader of the Opposition. This is a Leader of the Opposition who will let no institution, no convention, stand in his way. We have heard of that from the member for New England. No trick is too low, no stunt is too wild and no effort will be spared to create an atmosphere of disorder in this chamber when none exists.
The Leader of the Opposition should in fact be explaining to this chamber what the involvement of Mal Brough, a former member of this chamber, was in the bringing of this case in the Federal Court. The Leader of the Opposition could well explain the involvement of the member for Sturt in the planning of the attack on the Speaker of our chamber. Indeed, let us hear from the Leader of the Opposition about the involvement of Mark McArdle, a Liberal National Party minister in the government in Queensland, who was also, we have learnt from proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia, directly involved in the planning of this attack—using court proceedings in the planning of this attack on the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
I said a moment ago that there is a misguided attack being made in the speeches that we have heard from the opposition this afternoon. There is a misguided attack being made on the Attorney-General for comments that she has made in the course of this proceeding in the Federal Court about the way in which the case has been conducted. I say—and we should all say, loud and clear—that the comments made by the Attorney-General have been entirely appropriate. This has been, as the judge has commented himself, a very, very unusual case. Because it is such an unusual case—when the Commonwealth brings an application for the proceeding to be struck out as an abuse of process, that is a pretty unusual application—it is entirely appropriate for the Attorney-General to say: 'Yes, the Commonwealth's view is that this case is an abuse of process. This is the basis for the application we make to the court; this is the reason we have engaged lawyers to put that application to the court; and these are the details of it.' It is entirely appropriate for the Attorney-General to explain the basis on which the claim against the Commonwealth was settled.
As for the nonsensical statements that we continue to hear from those opposite about the expenditure of $50,000 in settling the case, as any legal practitioner would know—and there are a few on the other side who would know this—it is entirely appropriate to compromise proceedings. Compromise of proceedings, settlement of disputes, is what the legal system exists for—not to magnify disputes, not to exaggerate claims, which is what those opposite would always wish to do. No; the objective, the purpose, of the legal system, is to bring disputes to an end in an orderly way. It is always potentially entirely appropriate for any litigant, including the Commonwealth of Australia, to settle claims brought against that litigant if it avoids further cost, further difficulty and further trouble to the litigant to do so.
It has become very clear that there is no respect for the office of the Speaker of this House from anybody in the Liberal Party, anybody in the National Party or anybody in the Liberal National Party of Queensland—none. It has become clear in the course of the proceeding which the Leader of the Opposition now seeks to take advantage of—the court hearing last week—that James Ashby did not complain to the Speaker about his conduct at any time before bringing the complaint in the Federal Court. Mr Ashby did not complain—