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Tuesday, 21 June 2011
Page: 6775

Mr ROBB (Goldstein) (16:30): I had the misfortune of being here at about the same time last week. I had the responsibility of exploring with the Assistant Treasurer the various matters to do with the appropriation bills. Unfortunately, last week it was a total waste of time—an absolute and categorical waste of time. I just wanted to put it on the record because I am still very cross about what happened. The Assistant Treasurer turned up with half a dozen goons, most of whom did not speak except to intervene and interject in an attempt to disrupt proceedings for the whole hour with inane and mainly quite offensive comments. They were not even comical. Every attempt was made to not cover the substance of any of the questions. The questions were asked in good faith. As always, there is politics on either side of this chamber. Points are made, and I am not oblivious to that. I am pleased to see the Special Minister of State because we have had some healthy debates. We will make our political points. If he does not know the answer, because the Minister for Finance and Deregulation is in another chamber, it would be appreciated if we get the answer in due course. I just felt that last week's session was the worst experience I have had. The previous Minister for Finance and Deregulation made a serious attempt to canvass answers in this chamber, to make political points where appropriate and not waste the time of everyone involved.

Firstly, I would like to explore some of the issues to do with the government's proposal to increase the debt ceiling from $200 billion to $250 billion, which was included in Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2011-2012. This is a cognate budget debate and this session is our only opportunity to explore any of these issues. While this is incorporated, we do feel that this is an opportunity to get some understanding of a very important matter which has never been put in an appropriation bill in the past. It has always been properly debated separately, but it was snuck into this bill with no explanation on the evening of the budget. The opposition are very interested to know which minister made the decision to incorporate the debt raising proposal in the second appropriation bill. Firstly, is the minister aware that this is without precedent, and could he explain why the government has gone down this path and not put the proposal in a stand-alone piece of legislation?

Secondly, I would be grateful to know why the government is so averse to having this item debated in detail before the House? We sought to move an amendment to allow us to debate this in detail. I wrote separately to the Leader of the House and asked, again, if he would give consideration to this being debated in some detail and separated out from the other appropriation bills, and I got back what was a fairly nondescript response. Basically, it was trying to take the mickey out of me at every opportunity on this issue, but there were no substantive reasons at all as to why it could not be done. Certainly, it was a very perfunctory 'no' to the question of whether it could be considered in some detail.

Thirdly, is the minister aware of the stark contrast in how the debt issue is being handled compared to the United States, where there is a very public and robust debate in Congress with the Congress being given the opportunity to vote on the fund-raising proposal? (Time expired)