Senate hearing descends into chaos: ‘You are a tyrant and dictator’


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GILLIAN Triggs was today given a wild send-off from the Senate where so often she has been the subject of personal attacks.

A Senate committee hearing broke up in turmoil and jokes about getting “physical” after a prominent Green was ordered out.

And in a significant embarrassment to the government chairman of the committee, the LNP’s Ian Macdonald, later official advice was the expulsion attempt was illegal.

The hearing erupted and could not continue after a clash over questioning, by Liberal Eric Abetz, of departing Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs, a frequent target of government criticism, in the legal and constitutional affairs hearing into Budget matters.

The Greens’ Nick McKim interrupted a question from Senator Abetz and challenged its legitimacy, saying it wasn’t related to the May 9 Budget.

Chairman of the committee, Senator Macdonald, ordered him out of the hearing.

Senator McKim replied: “I’m not going. What are you going to do about it?”

He said: “You are a tyrant and a dictator.”

Senator Macdonald replied he would then refuse to recognise the senator — that is, allow him to ask questions of witnesses.

In the hubbub that followed Senator Abetz was heard appealing, “No need to get physical, no need to get physical.”


A Labor source — no friend of Senator Abetz — said the appeal was a joke but the hearing ended in turmoil.

A peacemaking meeting of all parties was held in a Parliament House corridor, and Senator Macdonald had to admit he didn’t have the power to expel anyone, or to refuse to let them ask questions.

When the peace talks concluded and all senators promised to be respectful, the hearing resumed with Senator Macdonald noting “the unruly activities, interruptions — continuous interruptions”.

“I’ve been advised by the Clerk (of the Senate) I do not have power to evict anyone or to prevent anyone from asking questions,” he said.

“I do have an undertaking by all committee members in future they will not interrupt questioners or answers and that they will show some respect … not to me, I don’t need that … they will show respect to other senators asking questions and witnesses.”

Professor Triggs told the committee she was leaving her job on July 31. Asked if this would be her final Estimates Committee appearance she replied: “I certainly hope so.”

Senator Macdonald’s hard-line management of hearings has been a source of constant complaint.

Earlier, he had declined to allow questions from crossbench senators Pauline Hanson and Derryn Hinch because their names were not on his “list”.

Again, he did not have that power and Senator Hinch was allowed to ask questions after the uproar.

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