Opposition Senator Anil Roberts’ two controversial videos about Senate proceedings – for which he’ll have to apologise – involved contempt of the Senate and sought to turn it into a toxic workplace.
This was the view expressed by the Leader of Government Business in the Senate Clarence Rambharat yesterday.
He made the comments during the Senate debate on a motion seeking to approve a report of Parliament’s Privileges Committee on alleged contempt by Roberts’ actions
The focus was on Roberts’ videos on February 23 and 26 from his social media show, after Senate President Christine Kangaloo asked him to leave the Senate.
In the videos he made reference to Senate issues, citing a “kangaroo court”, using a picture of a kangaroo and clips of proceedings and satire – breaching Senate regulations.
The government took issue with the way Roberts used his broadcast platform and viewership to “perpetuate his campaign of misinformation” and alleged Roberts committed contempt by making statements using satirical subtext to allege the Senate President was biased towards him.
It was noted his actions on the character and conduct of the President was such that it brought the Senate into ridicule.
The report by the Privileges Committee recommended Roberts apologise via personal explanation at the next sitting which will be after Senate returns from recess.
Guidelines will also be issued about the use of electronic devices and social media.
Yesterday Opposition members stood alone in their defence of Roberts. Government and Independent senators supported the report.
Rambharat said Roberts’ conduct was unprecedented.
“Not just in Parliament, but anywhere. It cannot be condoned – it must be stopped. The Senate’s dignity must be preserved.
“What we have before us isn’t just an issue of contempt for the Parliament and about principle – it’s the prospect of a toxic culture being created in Parliament unless we act today. Parliament is a full-time workplace… No one should leave home to go to work and end up dead,” the Leader of Government Business in the Senate said.
Rambharat said people who’ve been intimidated, harassed and bullied have committed suicide. He said sexual harassment, bullying and the like was often perpetrated by a “Boys Club” that seeks to lock out women’s participation from the workplace, leadership posts and in politics.
“This situation reeks of the Boys Club wanting to continue keeping women quiet,” Rambharat said.
Rambharat detailed the team’s work including communications to Roberts, futile waiting for him to appear, attempts for an attorney to appear with him and Roberts saying his attorneys were concerned the Committee was breaching COVID protocols by meeting and he didn’t want to do that by appearing before the Committee.
Rambharat said he declined to appear even after being offered a separate room.
Rambharat also panned Opposition senator Wade Mark’s minority report on the issue. He dismissed Mark’s view that Roberts was just reacting emotionally. He cited Roberts’ statements inviting viewers to tune in and future chapters, Rambharat said, “This wasn’t a knee jerk reaction…or a Facebook post, Instagram or Tweet – this was deliberate, well constructed, planned and executed.”