It’s very important that something goes on the record about the conduct of this particular inquiry of which the Senate has just received an interim report. This is a very, very important inquiry, looking into the affairs around water marketing in the Murray-Darling Basin. It has within its terms of reference an ability to look at allegations such as those that were aired on the Four Corners program, which essentially went, in part, to some governance issues around the management of water in the Murray-Darling Basin. It brought concerns with respect to the conduct of the New South Wales government and, indeed, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority itself in relation to how they have oversighted.
The problem is, colleagues, that one of us, in this case, Senator Hanson-Young, went public and crippled the work of this committee. She made an allegation that the committee, referring to this Senate—because it is a committee of this Senate—was running a protection racket for people who were offending along the Murray-Darling Basin. I recused myself as the Deputy Chair and the government members recused themselves from the hearing. We don’t intend to return to the hearing until such time as this allegation is either withdrawn or particularised with accompanying evidence. Senator Hanson-Young has been called on, on two occasions, to produce evidence, but she has sat mute. There’s a reason for that: she has zero evidence. She’s been called on to particularise the allegations that the committee—a Senate committee; your committee; this Senate—was running a protection racket for people along the Murray-Darling Basin who are subject to allegations that there is wrongdoing. She has refused to particularise.
There is a reason for both of these refusals: the woman has nothing. Senator Hanson-Young has zilch. She was like a rabbit in the lights of a car when she was called upon to put evidence before this Senate inquiry. It remains under consideration as to whether she should be sent to the Privileges Committee. The fact of the matter is: you have to ask yourself why she would do this. She does not want this committee to proceed. She does not want this inquiry into the Murray-Darling Basin to proceed, because, if it were the case that it turned up no evidence, or evidence different to the allegation she is making, she will be once more—as is a frequent state for her—seriously embarrassed.
I call on my colleagues in the Senate to take note of the fact that Senator Hanson-Young has made an allegation about one of their committees. It includes members of the crossbench and members of the Labor Party. The chair is Senator Sterle. I’ve got to say, you’d think twice when allegations are made about someone’s integrity in this place, unless it is around people like Senator Sterle. That fella is way above any suggestion that he, or Senator Gallacher, would participate in any process that even remotely resembled a protection racket for the government in relation to the allegations about the Murray-Darling Basin. Today, a motion laying down these nefarious sorts of allegations was supported by the Labor Party, indicating that they’ve got a zero tolerance if they form a view that something is happening.
Additionally, to make the committee’s work almost impossible, Senator Hanson-Young collaborated with the Minister for Water and the River Murray in South Australia. He is regarded by many as one of the most inept politicians in the nation. He has no peers in that space. In fact, he was ordered from a public hearing at one of our Senate committees by a Labor chair. Here’s a Labor minister of the Crown in South Australia who embarrassed himself. I’ve got to tell you, I don’t often get embarrassed about the conduct of Labor members, particularly state Labor ministers, but I felt embarrassed for this poor individual as he attempted to take over the committee. He was a bully, he was boisterous, and he did so because he knew he had the support of the Greens—in particular, Senator Hanson-Young.
I leave it with this: Senator Hanson-Young needs to have the courage to come onto this floor—or she can do it out on the footpath if she wants—to make her allegation on the basis that she particularises it and she produces the evidence. There are 76 of us here, so this could cost me a quid, but I bet all of you—London to a brick—a carton of beer that she will never appear in this chamber and repeat the allegation with anything that resembles evidence or particulars in relation to it. I bet you a carton of beer. For the ladies, I don’t want to make it separate, but if you want something else, I’m happy to consider that.
Senator McGrath: Can I take rum?
Senator O’SULLIVAN: Rum? Any other bids here? I’ll get rum for Senator McGrath. This is a serious matter. She has brought this committee, a committee of this place, into disrepute by her allegation which is not particularised and which has no evidence. The reason is she has none, zilch and zero. She is absent from this chamber. I’ve talked long enough. She is up there watching me on the television. I thought she might have darted down now to take up the offer, but, of course, you won’t see her in this place on this subject.