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Thursday, 24 November 2011
Page: 9601


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (21:26): I want to participate in this important debate on the Corporations (Fees) Amendment Bill 2011, which is yet another piece of legislation that requires very careful scrutiny. But Mr Acting Deputy President Cameron, you called me Senator Ian Macdonald, so before I start I will indicate to those people who might be listening that I understand the name Ian Macdonald and 'parliament' have been in the news a bit tonight. A number of friends and acquaintances have rung me and said, 'What have you been doing? We have heard on the radio that the police are investigating ex-parliamentarian Ian Macdonald.' I just want to say to anyone who might be listening to this debate, lest they might tune out when they hear Senator Ian Macdonald speaking, that I am not the Ian Macdonald who is currently being investigated by—I am not sure who it is—the police or ICAC. The Ian Macdonald referred to is a former Labor minister in the New South Wales parliament. At one stage in our earlier careers I was the federal minister for fisheries and the other Ian Macdonald was the minister for fisheries in the New South Wales government. I want to make that clear lest acquaintances or people listening to this debate might think that I am the Ian Macdonald who has been referred to.

Having got that aside, it is important that this bill is fully debated. I indicate that what is in the bill is almost inconsequential; it is hardly controversial. But I rise to support the amendment that has been moved by my colleague Senator Cormann. The fact that Senator Cormann has moved the amendment should attract attention and support because Senator Cormann has done a fabulous job looking after the assistant treasurer portfolio on behalf of the opposition. He will do a great job after the next election in that role in government. That in itself should be enough to gather support for this.

I am concerned that this bill imposes fees but does not tell us anything about them. It says that the way it is done and the amounts involved will be dealt with by regulation after parliament has risen for the Christmas break and before parliament returns. Under this government it will not be early in the new year. This government seems to be averse to parliamentary sittings. This is the shortest period of parliamentary sittings in any financial year that I can recall in the long time that I have been in parliament. It is just a disgrace. For some reason, this government does not seem to want parliament to sit, and when parliament does sit, it curtails debate, in conjunction with the Greens. The Greens and the Labor Party ensure that debate is not appropriate.

Tonight, in the next 20 minutes, we have to deal with this bill, the amendment put by Senator Cormann and four other bills. I have asked before, 'Why can't we deal with some of these bills on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week?' The parliamentary calendar that was set nine months ago provided that this parliament would sit Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. As far as we all know, that is what the arrangements are at the present time: we are going to be here for the next three days. But nobody knows what we are going to do because the government manages this parliament so poorly that they do not have an agenda for the next three days. So why aren't we dealing with this bill and the other bills in the full fullness of time in the next three days that we have available?

I have heard rumours around the traps—perhaps Senator Siewert from the Greens can confirm this for me—that the government and the Greens have done another shady deal, another dodgy deal, to shut parliament down next week so that the Greens and the Labor Party can wander off to Durban and wander around the world stage and say, 'Aren't we great—we're the first country to ruin our economy by putting in a nationwide carbon tax at $23 a tonne.' You can be assured that when they say that they will be strutting around thinking how great they are, their lefty mates will all be clapping and applauding. You can be assured that the economic rulers in China, Japan, the United States, Europe, Korea and India will all be sitting there saying: 'Good on you Greens; good on you Labor Party. Here is a major competitor of ours. This Australian economy was tremendous. They used to have a manufacturing industry that was better than ours,' but thanks to the Greens and the Labor Party we are shutting down the Australian manufacturing industry and sending Australian jobs to India and China.

As I understand it, that is why we cannot debate this bill next week when we are scheduled to sit—because the Greens and the Labor Party want to go and wander around the world stage at the next climate change conference in Durban. I wish them well in their endeavours. In fact, I predict that the Prime Minister will come back from Durban and say: 'Look, we brought this carbon tax in good faith. We took the word of all of these other countries—China, India, the United States, Russia—that they were going to impose a carbon tax. But we have now been to Durban and we find that that is not going to happen. So, look, we have come back to Australia and we will ask forgiveness. We will say, "Although we have passed the carbon tax, we are not going to implement it for a little while."' With that, the Greens will have an enormous fight with them and then Ms Gillard will say: 'I am fighting with the Greens. We had better go and have an early election.' I have wandered off the subject a bit, but there is my prediction. We will see.

For those listening to this debate who may not understand the processes of legislation, primary legislation such as we are dealing with now, the Corporation (Fees) Amend­ment Bill, comes through this parliament and is discussed—if you get a chance; I think I am going to be the only speaker here. Because of the guillotine imposed by Labor and the Greens, few other people will be able to participate in debate on this bill. The primary legislation is voted on by parliament after discussion—in this case, truncated discussion. Regulations that follow from the bill are legislative instruments that have the force of law, in the same way as bills passed by parliament. Regulations are done by public servants and signed off by a minister and then become law. There is no opportunity for the elected representatives of the people of Australia to have a say on those regulations. Sure, they can be disallowable instruments, which means that 14 sitting days after parliament resumes next March or whenever the Labor Party deems to call this parliament back together, you can move to set them aside, but by that time they will be in place. Once you have these regulations in place, particularly where fees are involved, they are practically impossible to undo.

We do not know, the Labor Party cannot tell us—I hope that in the Committee of the Whole they will be able to indicate this—what the fees are going to be, how the fees are going to be levied and exactly who is going to pay. Is it going to be the same fee for stockbrokers as for other financial advisers? In the Committee of the Whole we will probably ask those questions, and I will be interested to see if we get an answer. No matter what the answer is, we will not really know until the regulations come before us sometime in the never-never.

While I do not want to impugn the integrity of the minister at the table, I do repeat a concern that most Australians have, and that is this. We have a Prime Minister who solemnly promised there would be no carbon tax under the government she led. That same Prime Minister, within 12 months of making that solemn promise, on the eve of an election broke her word. She in effect told a lie. So it does not really matter what the ministers of the Labor government tell us. It does not matter what they say in this parliament or anywhere else. Who could believe them? Who could have any confidence in the truthfulness of anything they might tell us in this debate or elsewhere? We have the evidence before us that this is a government, a series of ministers, led by a Prime Minister who simply cannot be trusted. That is my concern about this bill. These regulations are to be drafted, as I said, some time into the never-never.

As I think Senator Cormann said in his principal speech on this bill, we cannot trust the Labor Party with money. To support that claim can I remind those people who may be listening to this debate that when the coalition took over government in 1996 from the last profligate Labor government we found to our surprise that there was a deficit of some $96 billion. The Labor government in the past had run up a debt on behalf of Australian taxpayers of some $96 billion.

In the next four, five, six or seven years the Howard-Costello Liberal-National Party government, through good financial management, actually got together sufficient money to pay off that $96 billion debt that the Labor Party had run up and that they expected every Australian to pay off. The Howard government did, by careful management, pay off Labor's last debt of $96 billion. It was not always popular, it was not always easy; it was very difficult—I was there. More than that, we actually put aside some $60 billion for a rainy day. Not only did we pay off Labor's $96 billion debt but we put aside in different funds—in the Future Fund, in the education fund—some $60 billion so that future governments would never again have to run up deficits. Within two short years not only had the then Rudd Labor government blown the $60 billion in credit but they had started to borrow again. Here we are after just four short years of a Labor government and we now have a gross government debt of over $200 billion—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! The time for consideration of this bill and four other related bills has expired.

Question put:

That the amendment (Senator Cormann's) be agreed to.

The Senate divided. [21:44]

(The President—Senator Hogg)

Question negatived.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.