ABC AM > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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MENTONE VIC 3194

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03-November-2016

RADIO NATIONAL
7:10am AEDT
3 November 2016

E & OE

 

BRISSENDEN:

I’m joined now by the Manager of Government Business in the Senate, Mitch Fifield. Senator Fifield good morning.

FIFIELD:

Good morning Michael.

BRISSENDEN:

There is political advantage for you in not having Rod Culleton in the Senate isn’t there?

FIFIELD:

We deal with the numbers in the Senate as they are. They have changed as a result of Senator Day departing the Senate. Senator Culleton has indicated that he will be abstaining from significant votes. So what we will do is deal with the Senate as it is.

BRISSENDEN:

So why did you join this action in the High Court?

FIFIELD:

The Attorney-General has made clear that as a result of the proceedings that were before the High Court in relation to Senator Culleton that he sought advice from the Solicitor-General. The Solicitor-General furnished that advice. It was received by the Attorney on Friday. And on Saturday the Attorney-General wrote to the President indicating this advice that had been received. And we will, when the Senate resumes, be referring the matter to the High Court.

BRISSENDEN:

Senator Culleton, it’s well-known he’s expressed concerns about the ABCC legislation. Presumably if he’s removed he would be replaced by someone more sympathetic to the Government’s cause wouldn’t he?

FIFIELD:

The Attorney-General has simply been doing what you would expect him to do. There were proceedings before the High Court. He sought advice. Advice received. That has been provided, as is appropriate, to the President of the Senate. And to make sure that we have clarity as to the eligibility of Senator Culleton to sit in the Senate, that matter will be referred to the High Court.

BRISSENDEN:

Rod Culleton says he’s not going to vote on any contentious bills while his position remains under a cloud. That is going to make it pretty complicated and messy for the last three sitting weeks of the year isn’t it?

FIFIELD:

Well the Senate as always is a many-splendored thing. And so it is. What we will be doing is transacting the people’s business. We have a full legislative agenda. We have important pieces of legislation such as the Plebiscite bill, the Appropriations bills and what we want to do is get on with the ordinary business of governing.

BRISSENDEN:

Do you still intent to bring the ABCC bill in, before the end of the year?

FIFIELD:

The ABCC bill and the Registered Organisations bills are both before the Parliament. They are important elements of our legislative program.

BRISSENDEN:

Sure, but will they be coming into the Parliament as expected before the end of the year now?

FIFIELD:

As I say, those bills are already before the Parliament. What we do is we consider the legislative program one week at a time. We have issued the draft program for next week. We’ll be transacting the business that’s on that program and then we will be issuing the program for the following week next Wednesday.

BRISSENDEN:

Right, and the ABCC bill isn’t on the list for next week but really the question is, you’ll be considering whether you bring it to a vote before the end of the year, next week will you?

FIFIELD:

As I say, we take each week in the Australian Senate one week at a time. We’ve issued our program for next week. That's the business that we’ll be seeking to transact next week. Registered Organisations and ABCC remain incredibly important parts of our legislative program and we will be seeking to legislate those.

BRISSENDEN:

Right so you will be seeking to get it through before the end of the year. Or not? I’m just, I mean obviously you’re looking at the Senate and you’re looking at the numbers and you’re obviously looking for your own political purposes and what the best time to introduce this bill is. Or to vote on this bill.

FIFIELD:

Michael I can tell you two things. One is that we are absolutely committed to the ABCC legislation and absolutely committed to the Registered Organisations legislation. We took these bills to a double dissolution election. These are core elements of our agenda. And the second thing is, we take our legislative program one week at a time. We have three sitting weeks left. We've got a full agenda next week. And we’re going to be getting on with the people’s business.

BRISSENDEN:

Alright we can take from that that it might not be before the end of year then?

FIFIELD:

Michael, what I’m telling you is that we’re absolutely committed to that legislation. We have an agenda before us. It's an important part of our legislative agenda. ABCC and Registered Organisations are already in the Parliament. They're already being considered. But in terms of what we deal with in each particular week that remains, that’s something we take a week at a time.

BRISSENDEN:

Alright Senator Culleton was convicted of this larceny, charged before the last election. At the time of the election the conviction stood; it’s since been annulled. But why was he allowed to nominate in the first place? Surely that’s a weakness in the system isn’t it?

FIFIELD:

Well the system relies upon the information the candidates provide to the Australian Electoral Commission. This matter is before the High Court. It's been raised by an individual. The Attorney cognisant of that sought advice. And the Senate will be seeking to refer it to the High Court, to make sure that there is clarity.

BRISSENDEN:

Alright, but in the Bob Day case, there were warnings from the Finance Department in 2014, well before the last election, about the financial arrangements involving his electoral office. Why wasn’t this dealt with by your Government much sooner?

FIFIELD:

Well in terms of any questions about the Constitutionality of the arrangements that Senator Day found himself in, as soon as Senator Ryan became aware that there could be issues, he sought internal advice, then on the 7th of October he terminated the lease...

BRISSENDEN:

But wasn’t the previous Minister Michael Ronaldson made aware of this in 2014?

FIFIELD:

Let me just continue. Senator Ryan sought internal advice on the 7th of October. He terminated the lease. He sought the advice of David Jackson QC. That advice was received. The Senate President was written to. And when the Senate resumes, we will be referring Senator Day’s eligibility to have sat in the Senate, to be have been a candidate for office, to the High Court. Senator Ryan has done everything that you would expect him to do.

BRISSENDEN:

What I’m really asking is why it wasn’t done before that though; given the warnings given by the Finance Department in 2014?

FIFIELD:

Well 2014, the issue was one of the location of Senator Day’s office – as far as I understand it – and there were requirements sought from Senator Day that there would be no net cost to the Commonwealth in relation to his office arrangements. As soon as there were any constitutional issues, and this is a separate matter, as soon as there were any questions in relation to the Constitutionality of arrangements, Senator Ryan did the right thing. He sought advice. That advice has been provided. And the Senate will now seek to refer the matter to the High Court.

BRISSENDEN:

Okay we’ll leave it there, thanks very much Senator Mitch Fifield.

FIFIELD:

Thanks, Michael.

BRISSENDEN:

That’s Communications Minister and Manager of Government Business in the Senate, Mitch Fifield.

 

[ends]