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Wednesday, 15 August 2007
Page: 96

Mr SWAN (3:51 PM) —This debate goes to the core of the honesty and the trustworthiness of the Treasurer. Last night, three respected and senior journalists indicated that the Treasurer had lied, on national television, and everything that we saw in the parliament today indicates that that is exactly what he did. He refused to honestly and directly answer nine questions that were put to him in this parliament this afternoon, and he has, in effect, confirmed the statements that have been attributed to him in the media by three senior and respected journalists.

This is a sign of someone who is prepared to be slippery, a sign of someone who does not tell the truth and a sign of someone who really should not be in charge of the high office that he holds. We saw evasion. We saw hairsplitting. We saw him at his slippery best. He did not at any stage dispute the substance of what those senior journalists were saying. He did dispute the date and he did dispute whether they were off the record. The Leader of the House had the hide to say that if it is off the record then it did not happen. Well of course it happened—and it was confirmed today by the Treasurer that it did happen. What he wanted to do in the House today was to shoot the messenger. He could not shoot down the substance of the message because it unquestionably happened. When you have three senior respected journalists all saying the same thing, then it absolutely happened. He confirmed that by his trickery and slippery behaviour in the House today. But he has gone further, because essentially what he is doing is attacking these three senior journalists. He implies that somehow they have fabricated their notes or collaborated to ensure their versions of statements are consistent. These journalists have risked their reputations on this issue. They have put their honesty and their integrity on the line. I tell you what, I know whose integrity I would choose when it comes to a choice between those three senior journalists and the Treasurer of Australia, who makes a speciality out of slippery behaviour in this House. It was all let out of the bag by the Treasurer when I asked him whether his press secretary contacted the journalists after the dinner to confirm the accuracy of their notes. Why would the press secretary have rung them after the dinner if the Treasurer did not think that he had said something that was a problem? This is a small bit of logic that really points to how this Treasurer has become.

What we saw today was a low-rent barrister, not a reforming Treasurer—not someone who has a plan for the future and who is tackling the great challenges of inflationary pressures in the Australian economy. No-one is doing that. The Treasurer has got his eye on the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister certainly has his eye on him, but neither of them have their eye on the main game—which is looking after the national interest. So we know from these three senior journalists that he was at that dinner, having the odd red wine, denigrating, as usual, the Prime Minister and doing his best to undermine the Prime Minister. I guess he was demonstrating why former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett nicknamed him ‘dog’. Why did the former Premier of Victoria nickname the Treasurer ‘dog’? It is because he said that he had all the attributes of a dog except for loyalty. Of course, that was on display for everybody to see on that night in 2005. You can be sure that there have been plenty more dinners around this country and plenty more discussions in plenty of boardrooms where the Treasurer has repeated his very low opinion of the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister had a scintilla of leadership left in him then he would not cop it. If the Prime Minister had any political strength, he would not cop it. But we all know that he is copping it because the election is only weeks away and he is not game to do anything about it. So what we have on display in this parliament is not only the lack of ticker from the Treasurer to challenge the Prime Minister but also the lack of ticker from the Prime Minister to throw the Treasurer out. We see the lack of ticker in this Prime Minister, who wants a political fix and who will not face up to the reality.

We now have a dangerous combination in Australia: a Prime Minister who will say anything, do anything and spend any amount of money to cling onto office, and a Treasurer who will not do anything about it. That is a dangerous situation in a climate of higher inflation and rising interest rates. We have a Treasurer who will not do his job and who is incapable of restraining the Prime Minister in an inflationary environment. And they want to lecture us about experience and strength! What about a Treasurer who has the strength to stand up to a Prime Minister when it comes to the vital economic question of the security of lower interest rates in this country? He will not stand up to the Prime Minister when he goes on spending sprees. And of course the Prime Minister will not do anything about the Treasurer’s insubordination because we have a dangerous combination of them being linked together by a political imperative, not the imperative of looking after our national interest and the interests of all Australians.

Why does all of this really matter? It matters because, if they are not capable of working together properly in the national interest, that endangers strong and effective economic management. It absolutely does do that. We have seen the evidence of this from the Treasurer himself, who complained to the Howard biographers that during the last two election campaigns the Prime Minister went on a reckless, unsustainable spending spree. Here we are, on the cusp of another election, with a Prime Minister who has made it clear as day that he intends to buy the next election and a Treasurer who is too weak to stop him. How can you trust the Liberals with interest rates when they have plans to buy the election? You cannot trust a party planning to buy an election with interest rates, and we have seen today that you cannot trust the Treasurer to do anything other than to pursue his own personal interests.

Of course, in a roundabout way, the Prime Minister has confirmed this. He confirmed this in an interview on radio 5AA on 19 July. He said it is impossible for the economy to be properly managed ‘if you do not have harmony between a Prime Minister and a Treasurer’. I think it just got more impossible. How can we properly manage an economy with harmony? It is obvious to everyone in this country that there is little harmony between the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. That was on display for everybody to see only this week. The Prime Minister, dare I say it, had an honest moment. When we brought out our rental affordability scheme he went on the radio and said, ‘We might have a look at that; maybe that has something going for it.’ Five hours later the Treasurer emerged to do his Herman Munster act—to come out and monster our affordability scheme and to tell his usual lies about Labor policy.

It was a very embarrassing performance. No matter whether you are dealing with the level of interest rates, the causes of interest rate rises, what is going on with housing affordability and how to fix it, or what is happening with climate change—all the critical areas of policy that go to the core of the personal security and environmental sustainability of our country—this Treasurer will be on the wrong side of the issue. There is a failure to understand it. If he cannot understand the problem when it comes to housing affordability, if he cannot understand the pressures that interest rates are putting on Australian families, how can he be part of the solution? He cannot be part of the solution because he is so far out of touch. Why is he so far out of touch? Because he is obsessed with his own personal advancement and not the advancement of the nation or standing up for the national interest.

All of this pervades the government’s approach to policy issues, which are critical to future wealth creation in our community. You see it in the dishonesty of the government when they brag about the current boom as if they are responsible for the mining boom, as if they are responsible for the strongest world conditions in 30 years, as if they are responsible for the fact that the terms of trade are at a 50-year high. What they are doing is squandering the opportunities that are coming from this marvellous opportunity. The government is consumed by a power struggle between the Costello forces on the one hand and the Howard forces on the other. The losers here are the Australian people. It is as the Prime Minister accurately said; ‘You cannot manage the economy if you do not have harmony between the Prime Minister and the Treasurer.’ (Time expired)