Newly independent Queensland senator Glenn Lazarus has taken the Prime Minister to task for referring to the Senate as “feral” at a partyroom meeting.
Senator Lazarus told the Upper House the word feral was defined as “existing in a natural state, as animals, not domesticated, like a pack of feral dogs or wild animals roaming the woods”.
“Did the Prime Minister have any senator in mind when he referred to the Senate crossbench as feral, and is the Prime Minister going to apologise to each and every one of us for such an appalling and disrespectful statement?” he asked Leader of the Government in the Senate, George Brandis.
Tony Abbott told his coalition colleagues at the partyroom meeting on Tuesday that the Senate was “feral” but Senator Brandis insisted the description did not apply to the crossbench.
“It may be that the Prime Minister had some senators in mind, Senator Lazarus, but if he did it wasn’t you,” he said.
“I suggest you look to your right and your immediate left.”
Greens Leader Christine Milne jumped to her colleagues’ defence.
“Immediately to Senator Lazarus’s left is my colleague Senator (Rachel) Siewert, and I’d be horrified to think that she would be referred to as a feral, and I’d ask the Attorney-General to withdraw it,” Senator Milne said.
Tasmanian Labor senator Lisa Singh also threw her hat in the ring, as she sits to Senator Lazarus’s right.
“Was it actually me that Senator Brandis then was referring to as feral?” she said.
“I thought on good advice, we were unrepresentative swill,” said veteran Liberal senator Bill Heffernan, citing a Keating-era characterisation.
Government frustration at blocked legislation grows
On Tuesday night, the crossbench of eight independent senators knocked down the Government’s university deregulation legislation – the latest government measure frustrated by the Senate.
And Senator Lazarus has indicated the language will not help the Government’s efforts in future negotiations.
“I understand this is to mean that every crossbench senator in this chamber, in the eyes of the Prime Minister, is feral,” Senator Lazarus said.
“Does the Minister believe such language will be helpful to positively negotiate with the Senate in the future?”
Senator Brandis defended the Prime Minister, saying he and “every Minister in the Government has the greatest respect for the eight crossbench Senators”.
“We may disagree with you, as plainly we do, on a number of important measures,” he added.
“But we respect you personally, we respect your constitutional position.”
Senator Brandis conceded the comments may have been borne from the Government’s frustration with the Senate for blocking legislation, such as the higher education reforms voted down last night.
“I was merely speculating on what might have been on the Prime Minister’s mind, I wasn’t making a comment about any individual senator,” he said.
“The Senate, Senator Lazarus should be a house of review, not a house of refusal.
“Yet time and time again, at the insistence of the Labor Party and the Greens … which the crossbench Senators on occasions have joined, have blocked important legislation.”