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Thursday, 27 February 1997
Page: 1023

Senator SHERRY —My question is to Senator Kemp, representing the Treasurer, Mr Costello, and the Minister for Finance, Mr Fahey. I refer to the Mid-year economic and fiscal outlook 1996-97 and the corrigendum with 170 corrections to the nine pages of errors.

Senator Bob Collins —How many?

Senator SHERRY —One hundred and seventy corrections to the nine pages of errors. The Minister for Finance, Mr John Fahey, in defending the mistakes, including the $1.2 billion blow-out in the general government sector, said `it was regarded as a minor tabling error'. Mr Rod Shogren, the chief of Treasury's Fiscal Policy Division, describes some of the errors as `major errors'. Who is right—Mr Fahey or Mr Shogren?

Senator KEMP —I cannot believe the question I have just received. Senator Sherry has been relentlessly consulting all question time with his advisers. He has been on the phone, he has come out and checked with Senator Faulkner, and that is the best that he is able to do. That is a pathetic effort. It is an absolutely pathetic effort.

Senator Sherry, these matters were very well canvassed last night and the explanations were clearly given to you. These include particularly, Senator Sherry, so that we get no confusion on this matter, that the errors identified by the Department of Finance do not relate to the budget sector of government. Of course, as you will be aware, Senator Sherry, the budget sector includes the great bulk of government outlays and includes government departments. Senator Sherry, I put it to you that your questions were very well canvassed last night. The department recognised that an error had occurred. That error was brought to the attention of the public and there was an apology given.

It is an incredible cheek for the Labor Party to be asking this question, Senator Sherry—and you of all people. You will have a chance in the supplementary question you are going to ask me to see whether you will take Gary Gray's advice and apologise. That is what you will have to do, because—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Kemp, resume your seat. Question time ought to be able to proceed so people at least can hear. I would ask senators to restrain the amount of noise they feel they must make today.

Senator Sherry —It would be good if I could get an answer to the question.

The PRESIDENT —You will get a chance to ask a supplementary question if need be.

Senator KEMP —That is precisely right, Madam President. That is most useful advice. I am looking forward to the supplementary question from Senator Sherry to see whether he is able to pick up the challenge.

Senator Faulkner —On a point of order, Madam President: Senator Kemp may be looking forward to the supplementary question. We are looking forward to an answer to the question Senator Sherry asked. The minister was asked: who was right—Mr Shogren or the minister? Could you direct him to answer the question he was asked by Senator Sherry?

The PRESIDENT —There was a preliminary to that question being asked. He is entitled to canvass the preliminary statement first and come to the question.

Senator KEMP —The question of course, as I said, relates to the errors identified by the Department of Finance. Those matters were brought to the attention of the public and the errors were corrected.

Senator Sherry —Where is your press release? We are still waiting for it.

Senator KEMP —Unlike you, Senator Sherry, we are still waiting for the confession of error that you made in the last midyear review that the Labor government released. It was a $10 billion error. Remember that? Take Gary Gray's advice—stand up, acknowledge the error and apologise.

Senator SHERRY —I have a supplementary question, Madam President. Senator Kemp still has not—as is his habit—answered the question. Who was wrong—Mr Fahey or Mr Shogren? Why do you continue to describe the error to personal benefits payments—previously a decrease of $400 million, changed to an increase of $221 million; a reversal of $621 million—the error in personal benefits payments of $731 million, the error in grants to governments of $719 million, and many, many more, as `a minor tabling error'?

Senator KEMP —One tries to help the good senator, but nothing seems to succeed. Senator Sherry, the errors were discovered and they were brought to the attention of the public.

Senator Sherry —By me! What did you do? Where is your press release?

Senator KEMP —Senator Sherry, I noticed that you have not apologised for the $10 billion black hole as a result of your midyear review. When you do, you might be slightly more credible.