Disgraceful Labor stunt defeated by the Senate

  • Written by Eric Abetz

Canberra 8 September 2015. The Senate has today voted down Labor’s disgraceful attempt to misuse Parliament for their base political ends to protect corrupt unions.

The Labor Party has repeatedly made baseless allegations against a respected Royal Commissioner that even the lawyers for the ACTU and CFMEU have refused to argue.

It is because the Labor Party knew that its claims would never stand up in court that they sought to circumvent the courts by asking the Governor-General to sack the Royal Commissioner.

This motion has shown that the Labor Party is not just bereft of policy ideas, but bereft of principle.

Labor knew this was improper process yet proceeded anyway.

They jettisoned their so called article of faith since 1975 that the Governor-General must act on the advice of his or her ministers in a shabby abuse of process.

There was a time when Bob Hawke led his Labor Party to deregister a militant union after criminality and corruption was revealed by another Royal Commission.

When this Royal Commission reveals serious allegations of criminality and corruption, Mr Shorten tries to shut it down and refuses to accept the undisputed evidence.

He should simply stand against corruption.

His actions shows to whom his real allegiances lie and it isn’t honest workers and honest trade union members.




Mr President, as you know, the purpose of dealing with matters formally is so that they are not debated in the Chamber and the practice of making short statements is to explain the Government’s or the Opposition’s position. I’m not going to descend into the debate other than to say that the attack on a very illustrious Australian jurist we have just heard from the Leader of the Opposition is utterly contemptible.

Mr President for the Senate to pass this resolution would be a serious violation of basic constitutional principles. It is a fundamental principle of constitutional government that the Governor-General only acts upon the advice of his Ministers. The only exception is the extremely rare case where the Governor-General exercises the reserve powers of the Crown. Nobody suggests that this case falls within that exception. By requesting that the Governor-General act contrary to the advice of Ministers, the resolution asks the Governor-General to act unconstitutionally.

Further, the resolution asks the Governor-General to act on the advice of the Senate, although the House of Representatives has a different view. The Governor-General cannot be asked to favour the view of one House of the Parliament in preference to the other.

Finally, the appropriate place for any challenge to the Royal Commissioner’s decision not to disqualify himself is the Courts. If the Senate were to pass this resolution, it would be an interference with judicial process and a violation of the separation of powers.

On two previous occasions Governor’s-General have considered this situation. Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson in 1914 and Sir Isaac Isaacs, like Mr Heydon, by the way, a former member of the High Court of Australia, in 1931 where a Senate resolution asked the Governor-General to act at variance from the advice of Ministers. This is the way Sir Isaac Isaacs disposed of the matter in 1931, if I may quote him:

“My plain duty in such circumstances, as it appears to me, acting, not as the representative of His Majesty the King as a constituent part of the Commonwealth parliament, but as the designated executant of a statutory power created and conferred by the whole parliament is simply to adhere to the normal principle of responsible government by following the advice of the Ministers who are constitutionally assigned to me for the time being as my advisers, and who must take responsibility of that advice. If, as you request me to do, I should reject their advice, supported as it is by the considered opinion of the House of Representatives, and should act upon the equally considered contrary opinion of the Senate my conduct would, I fear, even on ordinary constitutional grounds, amount to an open personal preference of one house against the other – in other words – an act of partisanship.”

That is the position that this motion seeks to put His Excellency. That is the position into which this motion seeks to place His Excellency the Governor-General. Regardless of what one might say about the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, this is plainly an attempt to use the Senate to achieve an unconstitutional end, an end at variance from constitutional precedent and practice which seeks to embarrass His Excellency the Governor-General by asking him to act at variance from the advice of his Ministers.


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