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Tuesday, 11 November 2008
Page: 10469


Mr HOCKEY (2:17 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. How does it improve business confidence around Australia to have a New South Wales Labor government that is dumping infrastructure projects, sacking employees, increasing taxes and running the biggest budget deficit in 15 years? Does the Prime Minister agree with his own finance minister that the future of the New South Wales economy will ‘depend on what we do’? Does he agree that the Rudd government now owns the New South Wales economy?


Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —This government has embarked upon a course of action which does not simply perpetuate the blame game of the past. This government believes that when it comes to the nation’s future challenges you work with state and territory governments, Labor and Liberal. We intend to work as closely with the state government of New South Wales as we will do with the state government of Western Australia. The state government of Western Australia has an interest when it comes to the future—it is in how we partner with them in infrastructure investments—and that is the interest of all responsible state governments.

The difference is this: state governments in the past, when they approached the previous Liberal government for assistance on infrastructure, were simply given the cold shoulder. The previous Liberal government was not interested. The previous Liberal government—and the member for Higgins will recall this very well—said that when it came to infrastructure that was exclusively a state responsibility.


Mr Hockey —Mr Speaker, a point of order that goes to relevance: I asked the Prime Minister whether he will accept responsibility for anything.


The SPEAKER —The member for North Sydney will resume his seat. The Prime Minister has the call and he will respond to the question.


Mr RUDD —The member for North Sydney’s question was about the extent to which Commonwealth governments work or do not work with state governments. I have responded to that question by saying we have an approach on infrastructure. We have an approach when it comes to COAG. We have an approach when it comes to the future of health and education expenditure and we will seek to work cooperatively with the states for the future. What is at stake here is the nation’s economy and the national interest in which the states and territories also have a significant part.

The other part of responsibility, I would say to the member for North Sydney and to the member for Wentworth, is this: it lies also, at times of global financial crisis, in supporting our major economic and financial regulatory institutions. Once again the Liberal Party has been off the leash today, this time in relation to the Secretary of the Treasury. Comments by Mr Don Randall today—


Mr Hockey —Mr Speaker, a point of order on relevance which comes back to the question: will the Prime Minister accept responsibility for anything? He has got a war against everything but no responsibility.


The SPEAKER —The member for North Sydney will resume his seat. I will listen carefully to the Prime Minister.


Mr RUDD —The member for North Sydney’s question goes to the matter of economic responsibility, and economic responsibility in turn depends on whether you are going to support the independence of the economic institutions of this country, including the Reserve Bank and the Secretary of the Treasury, and including the independence and integrity of the regulators. Once again we have the member for Canning out there today hooking into the Secretary of the Treasury. It says here:

When asked about the Secretary of the Treasury the member for Canning says that he is an ‘activist’. It is unusual for a head of the Treasury to behave in this way. He is probably the first one to show those tendencies.

We then go on to the member for O’Connor who goes on to say:

What is going on down at the Treasury? John Howard in a conversation going back to the opposition days said to me, ‘If in doubt, take Treasury’s advice.’ That was because in the past they put policy before politics. They really need to take a close look at themselves. They used to be one department that was held in high regard even in opposition.

So today, on this day when the debate on the future of the economy is again central to our concerns in this parliament, we have the attack dogs of the Liberal Party out there attacking once again—


Mr Tuckey interjecting


The SPEAKER —Order! The member for O’Connor will not encourage the Prime Minister.


Mr RUDD —the independence and the integrity of the Secretary of the Treasury. The member for Canning stood up in this place recently—I presume at his own initiative—to recant on his attack on the Governor of the Reserve Bank. Barely a week or two later—


Mr Sidebottom —I’m the attack dog!


The SPEAKER —Order! I remind the honourable member for Braddon that I might be the attack dog.


Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance. The Prime Minister cannot talk about ending the blame game and then use this kind of language in the parliament. He really should be brought—


The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Warringah will resume his seat. The question went to the matter of economic responsibility. The Prime Minister will respond to the question. As I said earlier to the member for O’Connor: no further encouragement.


Mr RUDD —Again, the member for North Sydney’s question goes to the matter of economic responsibility, which again hangs on the independence of our regulators and the integrity of those regulators. Our responsibility as the government is to defend the regulators. Those opposite seem to believe it is their mandate to attack the regulators or, as they have done today again, authorise an attack on the regulators. That is what has occurred not just through the member for Canning and not just through the member for O’Connor but also from the member for Goldstein.


Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order, again on relevance. This matter is no more authorised by the Leader of the Opposition than the Prime Minister authorised the leak to the Australian about George Bush.


The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Warringah will resume his seat. A point of order is not an opportunity to debate or interrupt.


Mr RUDD —Then we have the member for Goldstein, who is quoted in today’s Australian online as saying about Treasury’s role in the production of MYEFO documents:

It’s got the smell of manipulation about it.

So we have, therefore, not just the attack dogs from the backbench but the attack dog from the frontbench unleashing on the integrity and the independence of the Secretary of the Treasury. Does the member for Goldstein stand by that attack?


Mr Robb interjecting


Mr RUDD —He nods his head. He has accused the Secretary of the Treasury of manipulating MYEFO. This is an extraordinary statement. We had also a report in the Australian newspaper online about what appears to have been an active debate in the Liberal Party party room, because the member for Kooyong told the party room, it is said, to be ‘very, very careful about attacking Treasury or their institutional representatives’.


Mr Hockey —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. It goes back to relevance—about whether the Prime Minister, the guy that wanted the job, will accept responsibility for anything happening in Australia.


The SPEAKER —Order! The member for North Sydney will resume his seat. The Prime Minister will bring his answer to a conclusion.


Mr RUDD —So, on the question of the integrity of the institutions, we have the Leader of the Opposition saying:

I’ve never criticised Dr Henry, and in fact, I spoke about him in such glowing terms yesterday in the house that even his mother would blush. So I have very high regard for Dr Henry.

Yet today we have an orchestrated attack by three members of the Liberal Party on the Secretary of the Treasury. Again, with the member—

Opposition members interjecting—


The SPEAKER —Order! Has the Prime Minister concluded?


Mr Robb interjecting


The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Goldstein has not got the call.


Mr Albanese interjecting


The SPEAKER —The Leader of the House and the member for Goldstein will resume their seats. I think that it would be better if everybody could just calm down slightly and if the Prime Minister would now bring his answer to a conclusion.


Mr RUDD —The question for the Leader of the Opposition is not what he says but what he does on the question of the independence of the regulators. The question from the member for North Sydney was about taking responsibility for the economy. I would say this to the member for North Sydney: as Prime Minister of Australia, I take responsibility for the good news and the bad news, and when the bad news comes I will take responsibility for that as well, because what the nation wants is not some political game plan whereby you flick responsibility to someone else all the time—where you flick responsibility to the states and territories. What the nation wants is national leadership in the national interest. What the nation wants is tough decisions in tough economic times. This government is prepared to take them.