Democratic Labour Party senator John Madigan has slammed Clive Palmer for verbally abusing senate staff last week – and criticising them again on Monday – saying Mr Palmer’s behaviour has set a “very bad precedent".
Mr Palmer reportedly yelled at senate staff on Wednesday evening last week when they ruled that one of his party’s amendments to the Coalition’s carbon tax repeal bill was unconstitutional.
Their ruling made the negotiation over the Coalition’s repeal bill tumultuous, throwing into confusion the government’s attempt to repeal the tax quickly and leaving Environment Minister Greg Hunt and Senate leader Eric Abetz to explain the confusion to media.
But when asked on Monday if he had yelled at clerk of the Senate Rosemary Laing, Mr Palmer said he never raised his voice at her – he only threatened her with an injunction from the High Court to force them to circulate his party’s amendment.
"I didn’t do it in a raised voice. I just ... made it very clear to her that if she didn’t do it we would be going to the High Court to get the appropriate injunction," Mr Palmer said.
“It’s not for a bureaucrat, whatever their position, to say ‘I’m going to veto that, I’m not prepared to circulate it, because that affects Australian democracy.
“It’s not the position of the clerk of the Senate to decide whether a senator will move a motion in the Senate, it’s the senator’s position.”
On Tuesday morning, Mr Palmer renewed his attack on the Ms Laing, saying she should resign if she could not follow instructions from Senators.
''Our party will always want to put things that we decide, not what the clerks decide,'' Mr Palmer said.
''She's employed by the Parliament to draft legislation in accordance with instructions - and she can't really refuse those instructions, I don't believe, if that's her job. Well she has to get out of that job.''
Dr Laing is not commenting on the issue.
But Mr Madigan told the ABC’s Lateline program on Monday that he was “very concerned” about Mr Palmer’s behaviour towards Ms Laing.
“This attack, a personal attack on Rosemary Laing, is uncalled-for. It sets a very bad precedent,” Mr Madigan said.
“If the clerk advises you that the way that you’ve constructed an amendment or a motion or something is not right, it’s not going to go through in the way that you’ve put it together, these people are experts. They’re there trying to help you. Why attack them?” he said.
“Don’t bring the Senate and the staff of the Senate into disrepute. They don’t deserve that.”
Independent senator Nick Xenophon accused Mr Palmer of bullying and demanded he apologise.
‘‘These are the remarks of a bully,’’ Senator Xenophon told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.
‘‘He should be ashamed of himself.’’
Greens leader senator Christine Milne said it was appalling that a leader of a political party was showing disrespect and contempt for the clerk’s professionalism. The Senate staffers had always been impartial and hardworking, she said.
Labor senator Lisa Singh said Mr Palmer’s criticism of the clerk was unwarranted. Dr Laing was a woman of great integrity, Senator Singh said.
Mr Madigan is one of eight independent or micro-party senators with whom the government will have to negotiate to get bills through the senate.
Senator Madigan, who was elected at the 2010 federal election and began a six-year term in July 2011, said he was present during the tense negotiations outside the senate last week where Mr Palmer is accused of abusing senate staff.
Mr Madigan also said that he had been attempting to talk to the Abbott government on “many issues” recently but some government ministers were not interested.
He said he was particularly concerned about job cuts at the CSIRO.
“Minister Ian Macfarlane can’t spare me five minutes to tell him about my concerns about what’s happening to these scientists,” Mr Madigan said.