Australian Livestock Road Transport Association Conference Speech - The 46th Federal Parliament: A View from the Crossbench

15 June 2019

Good evening and thank you for the opportunity to be here tonight.

I’d especially like to thank the national president Mr Stephen Marley and the South Australian president David Smith for the invitation because it gives me the opportunity to address people from all over Australia.

I had initially been asked to speak about the issue of Road Safety.

However because of the election result and recent events in Federal Politics I have since been asked to outline what I think we can expect in the new Federal Parliament.

There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, it provides you with a view from one of six crossbench senators who hold will the balance of power in the new Parliament.

Secondly, in the past fortnight I have also found myself in the thick the nation’s latest political controversy.

In case you don’t know, I was, and still am highly critical of the recent Australian Federal Police raids on a Newscorp journalist and the ABC.

The AFP’s seven and a half-hour search of a Annika Smethurst’s home raises a number of questions that the AFP will have to eventually have to answer when the Parliament returns, such as “What did you think you were going to find in her undy drawer?” or “Why did you raid her home and not the parliamentary press gallery office in which she does her work?” “Who thought it appropriate to not seek warrant approval from a judge, instead going to a court registrar?”

The raid on the ABC the following day on a different matter involved a warrant that gave the AFP a number of extraordinary rights, including the right to add, copy, delete or alter documents.

I guess, when talking about police evidence, “alter” is the new politically correct expression for “tamper’.

Thankfully, the ABC has wisely decided to mount a legal challenge against the raids, just as Seven West Media successfully did a few years ago.

At this point I might clarify the importance of media freedom.

Media connects the community with its government, and vice versa. It facilitates participation in the political discourse.

Media keeps an eye on the executive government, judicial officers and politicians. I understand there could be up to three journos here tonight, amongst other things, keeping an eye on me.

Without free media we will only receive the Government’s approved messages. Thomas Jefferson once said

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

National security is a there to protect our democracy, but without a free press there is no democracy.

Seriously, forget the leaker, forget the journalist reporting his or her leak, how did we get to the point where an allegation that our soldiers in Afghanistan were involved in unlawful killings was to be kept secret from Australians? How did we get to the point where a discussion about using the Australian Signal’s Directorate to spy on Australians was to be kept secret from Australians?

As I stood up for freedom of the press, a second controversy developed over a simple remark that I made suggesting that “Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo clearly hate media scrutiny".

Nothing too controversial there, I would have thought.

However Mr Pezzullo, the very powerful head of the Home Affairs department, saw it differently.

He personally called me last week to say he considered my remarks had “a slanderous element to them”, and asked me to “reflect” on what I had been saying.

I have reflected and tried to reconcile in my mind what the phone call was about, and the only thing I can think of is that he was trying to get me to be quiet in respect of my criticisms of the Department of Home Affairs.

After I went public about the call, both the Prime Minister and Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton conceded that Mr Pezzullo’s call to me was inappropriate.

However in a curious piece of logic, Mr Dutton somehow managed to blame me for Mr Pezzullo’s conduct.

I am a Senator. I’m not a Senator for Rex’s sake. I’m a Senator representing South Australian’s with a constitutional responsibility to call out Government and officials when they are acting in a manner not consistent with the needs and expectations of South Australians.

Indeed, attempting to prevent me from doing so could constitute contempt of the Senate.

Notwithstanding that, I've got pretty broad shoulders, I'm a former submariner, I've lived in an environment of sharks — and much bigger sharks than Mr Pezzullo or Mr Dutton.

That they head the portfolio area covering the Federal Police, border force and Australia’s domestic spy agency, ASIO, doesn’t really bother me.

That reminds me, the owners of the red commodore and silver Mercedes that I’m parked in between, you might want to move your car – when I jump back in mine and turn on the ignition, I can’t guarantee the explosion wont damage your car.

As some media outlets noted in their subsequent reports on the matter, some Coalition members were uncomfortable with Mr Dutton’s attack on me, given that my support may be required to pass Government legislation in the new Parliament.

However as I also said in those reports, Mr Dutton’s remarks will not affect my negotiations with the Government.

So when it comes to things like the Government’s proposed $158 billion income tax cuts package the Centre Alliance will, as always, study the effects of each piece on legislation on its merits.

For example, with regard to the tax cuts, we are of the opinion that for the average income earner Australia’s ever-increasing power costs alone are likely to eat up the spoils of a tax return.

And that’s why we are suggesting a new way for the Government to reduce gas prices.

At any rate, the idea that we pay between $8 and $12 dollars on the spot market for Australian gas while Asians pay only $7 for Australians gas, tells you something needs fixing anyway.

We are also of the opinion that the tax cuts package provides nothing for pensioners, so we would want to see something done to help them before passing the legislation.

This is the way that the Centre Alliance works, and this is how we will continue to work during the next Parliament.

Of course, the major parties don’t like that.

They would like us – and you - to believe that winning a majority in the House of Representatives gives them a mandate to pass whatever legislation they like.

It doesn’t – and they know that.

However even the ABC’s Annabelle Crabb is guilty of promulgating this myth, exclaiming the day after the election that [quote] “Scott Morrison now has the mandate… to do what the hell likes”[end quote].[1]

In retrospect, had Annabelle known that the Federal Police were planning to raid her ABC I’m confident she would have chosen her words differently.

Let’s be clear - only when you have a majority in both houses of parliament do you have a mandate to legislate without consultation.

Government doesn’t have that mandate in the 46th parliament, which means it’s going to have to negotiate with the crossbench for any legislation where Labor and the Greens oppose the Government, as before.

And there’s a magic cross bench number … which you should all take an effort to understand.

The Government need 39 votes in the Senate to pass any legislation. It looks like they’ll only have 35 Senators. That means they need four cross benchers. They’ve already got Cory Bernardi, so they really only need three.

And because Labor and the Greens have 35 together, it only takes three cross benchers to stop any controversial legislation.

So – three is the magic number. Three cross benchers can pass or reject legislation.

If anyone noticed me and my cross bench colleague Senator Stirling Griff going to Tasmania on Thursday to catch up with Jacqui Lambie, now you know why. If Jacqui and Centre Alliance agree on a piece of controversial legislation, either for or against, we can be three.

That’s how it is.

So when you are looking at legislation that might affect you … step one is to work out whether it’s controversial (i.e. Labor and the Libs don’t agree) and if that is the case, make sure you’re briefing the crossbench.

Please bear this in mind over the next three years as you work towards your industry’s goals.

You are seeking a favourable review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law, improvements to safety and welfare, national projects to establish roadside effluent disposal facilities, a code of practice, a trial of user-pay unloading frames and an enforceable national ramp standard.

And I understand that you are concerned about the amount of bureaucracy that affects your industry, especially with regard to the Heavy Vehicle National Law; which many of you regard as outdated, complex, long, prescriptive and not supporting road safety outcomes.

The Deputy PM is the transport minister and he has three assistant ministers, one of whom (The Hon Scott Buchholz MP – Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport) gave your keynote address here last night.

They have a lot of resources at their disposal so what you seek from them shouldn’t be too hard to achieve over the next three years… if those ministers are seriously engaged in their work representing your industry.

In closing, the 46th Federal Parliament promises to represent a major resetting of the Australian political landscape.

Labor has a newly-minted leader in Anthony Albanese, intent it seems on ditching the disastrous economic and tactical policies that marked the Shorten years.

The Coalition has lost some of its major party room influencers such as Christopher Pyne, Julie Bishop and Steve Ciobo.

The crossbench of six senators will still hold the balance of power, but you will note that there are no rookie crossbenchers. We all know the ropes.

The Prime Minister is currently enjoying an extended honeymoon with the electorate, just as Kevin Rudd did in 2007/08 before the Global Financial Crisis arrived… and that’s an important point.

Ultimately, global events and how the Government deals with them are the known unknowns that can never be predicted.

Trade wars, the possibility of recession, geopolitical unrest and what our allies ask of us will all play some part in the fortunes of the Morrison Government.

Recent events in the Persian Gulf, if exacerbated, could be a first challenge for his government – noting our appalling fuel security situation.

The biggest challenge, however, will likely to be the extent to which Scott Morrison is able to keep faith with the electorate.

The fact is that since the departure of John Howard, Australians have shown a remarkable tendency to turn on their Prime Ministers in the opinion polls almost overnight.

As such, the stage is set for the 46th Parliament to be a fascinating combination of the old and the new, with plenty of surprises in store for us all.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the great and vital work your industry does in keeping Australia’s economy moving and I wholeheartedly support the initiatives you are seeking to keep your industry viable and your drivers and other road users safe.

I wish you all the best and I look forward to dealing with any issues regarding your industry if and when they come before the Senate.

Thank you.

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