When a government senator was asked if he knew he was voting on 'It's ok to be white', he replied 'I don't know and I don't care'

Mark Metcalfe/Getty ImagesThe Australian Senate

Queensland LNP senator Barry O’Sullivan, a former police detective, grazier, and property developer, is perhaps best known in federal parliament as the politician with the biggest real estate portfolio – more than 30 properties, although that figure is well down on the 50 he had when he entered the Senate in 2014 as Barnaby Joyce’s replacement.

When the former Nationals leader was in a spot of bother last year over his relationship with a pregnant former staffer, it was O’Sullivan who memorably offered his support to Joyce by saying you don’t “shoot your best horse because he jumped the fence and was found in the neighbour’s paddock”.

He was also one of the 12 senators who voted no against 2017’s same-sex marriage legislation, but led the charge last year for a commission of inquiry into Australia’s banks as a part of a rebel group who threatened to cross the floor on the issue. Former PM Malcolm Turnbull announced a royal commission just hours later.

As part of his Senate duties, O’Sullivan chairs the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee and is deputy chair of the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee.

Despite his hard work, however, O’Sullivan will depart politics following next year’s election after being dumped in the preselection ballot for the Coalition’s Queensland Senate ticket earlier this year.

Nonetheless, his comments during yesterday’s now infamous “It’s OK to be white” vote, which government senators supported, before a backflip today blamed it all on “administrative error” were telling.

The ABC has the moment when senators filed in to vote on Pauline Hanson’s motion and Greens whip Rachel Siewert called out “Do you know what you’re voting on?”

O’Sullivan responds: “I don’t know and I don’t care, because you’re over there, which means I’m over here. It’s all I need when I come in. I don’t look for the whip, I look for you people.”

What the Queensland National is saying is that whatever way the Greens vote, he’ll be voting the opposite way.

Others in the Coalition were less certain about where they stood on Hanson’s “it’s OK to be white” bill, as this footage from Buzzfeed’s Alice Workman shows, with government senators checking their advice as Labor heckled them over joining One Nation’s side of the division.

Today, the government went into damage control and backtracked, with attorney-general Christian Porter blaming the Coalition’s support for the bill on “administrative error” after an email was sent from his office “without my knowledge”. Porter said he’d have picked up the racist undertones in the motion if he’d been made aware of it.

Hanson attempted a similar bill back in September and it was opposed by the Coalition. Senate leader Mathias Cormann and Prime Minister Scott Morrison both described Monday’s support as “regrettable” before they called for another vote today and defeated the bill for a second time, but this time on voices.

Today’s revelations coincided with Gold Coast MP Stuart Robert, recently forced to repay nearly $38,000 he’d billed to taxpayers for internet charges – $2000 a month, 20 times more than the average claimed by other MPs – told a local radio station that “I probably just wasn’t paying enough attention” as the bills went through.

Robert is the assistant treasurer.

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