Lidia Thorpe says she is ‘not going anywhere’ as Senate investigates relationship with ex-bikie

Greens senator Lidia Thorpe has declared she is “not going anywhere” shortly before the Senate ordered an investigation into her undisclosed relationship with ex-bikie Dean Martin.

On Tuesday, Thorpe and the Greens leader, Adam Bandt, gave parliament personal explanations about the events which triggered Thorpe’s resignation as the Greens’ deputy Senate leader on Thursday.

It came as the Senate approved a motion referring the matter to its privileges committee.

Related: Lidia Thorpe to refer herself to privileges committee over relationship with ex-bikie

The motion noted Thorpe’s “undeclared personal relationship” while she was a member of the joint committee on law enforcement. It asked the privileges committee to investigate whether Thorpe’s failure to disclose the relationship had obstructed, or improperly interfered with, the work of parliament’s law enforcement committee – and whether she had committed any contempt of parliament.

Thorpe told the Senate she met Martin through “blak activism” and “briefly dated” him in 2021, although the pair “remain friends and have collaborated on [their] shared interests advocating rights of First Nations people”.

“All confidential information I received … was treated in confidence,” she said. “I strongly reject any suggestion that I would do anything other than comply with the committee’s requirements. I note: nobody has offered any evidence to the contrary.”

Thorpe accepted that she should have disclosed the connection with Martin to Bandt and the law enforcement committee and said she had resigned as a result of that failure.

“Thank you to all who have sent messages of love and solidarity,” the Victorian senator said. “The support has been overwhelming. I’m not going anywhere, especially while we don’t have a treaty in this country which I will continue to fight for.”

Thorpe said that after giving her explanation she would turn her attention to her “important portfolio work especially fighting for First Nations justice.”

Earlier, the Senate president, Sue Lines, said it was “unusual” for a senator to seek to refer themselves to the privileges committee but granted precedence to a debate about the need for an inquiry.

Lines said Thorpe’s letter “doesn’t go to her reasons for [the referral nor] give additional details about the allegations or her responses to them”.

Lines noted the privileges committee would take submissions, including seeking information from Thorpe and the law enforcement committee, which would have access to relevant records and whose members would be “well placed to determine if interference occurred”.

Once precedence was granted, Labor senator Anthony Chisholm moved for Thorpe to be referred.

He told the Senate the “publicly known facts have brought into question the potentially serious implications of Thorpe’s conflict including the possibility the work of the committee has been obstructed”.

“These are concerning revelations and Australians are entitled to believe that the oversight processes here in the parliament … will be maintained in a way that ensures integrity,” Chisholm said while quoting the prime minister, Anthony Albanese.

The Liberal leader in the Senate, Simon Birmingham, said confidence in the Senate and its committees was of “supreme importance” and disclosure obligations were important to ensure integrity.

“Those disclosure obligations matter all of the time, completely,” he said. “They are of supreme importance when dealing with sensitive information and matters going to law enforcement operations.”

Birmingham noted that in August 2021 the law enforcement committee concluded a review of an amendment to reinforce the legality of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s (ACIC) powers to conduct special operations and investigations.

The ACIC has coercive powers to investigate serious criminal activities. In July 2020 it established a special operation on outlaw motorcycle gangs.

In its report, the committee noted the ACIC had offered to provide detail on “the importance of evidence obtained through its exercise of coercive powers in tackling serious and organised crime”, including “in camera” in a private session.

Related: Staunch or stubborn? Lidia Thorpe on the voice, the treaty and real power

Earlier, in the lower house, Bandt said he first became aware of Thorpe and Martin’s relationship when contacted recently by the media.

Bandt said Thorpe’s then chief of staff raised the issue with his chief of staff, Damien Lawson, who “did not inform me of these matters at the time”.

Bandt said Lawson was a “very good and competent chief of staff” who made many good decisions but “this wasn’t one of them”.

“I should have been told, but I wasn’t,” the Greens leader said. “In failing to inform me, my chief of staff did not meet the expectations of my staff in such matters. I have counselled my chief of staff.”

Bandt said the “principal responsibility” to inform him lay with Thorpe but he backed her to continue her work because she had assured him information was treated in confidence and “nobody has suggested otherwise”.

Bandt said his office had been emailed by Martin in 2016 to protest his brother Shane Martin’s deportation but it was “not clear” his office took any steps to help him.

Bandt also referred to a “complaint by a former staff member” suggesting the Greens had not followed its own rules for dealing with complaints against Thorpe.

He noted an “independent review auspiced by the Department of Finance” had commenced into Thorpe’s office and the parliamentary workplace support service was reviewing the Greens’ procedures.