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Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Page: 8699

Senator STERLE (3:07 PM) —I rise to take note of answers given to questions today. But before we go any further, I would like to respond to Senator Mason’s contribution. There is a bit of a history lesson there that I would like to touch on before I go to the core of taking note of the answers. I do remember November 24, 2007. What a remarkable day that was. What a fantastic day it was. I am still celebrating, as are a lot of other Australians. Fortunately we on this side of the chamber are a responsible government—there are no ifs or buts about that. We have a major job at hand. We have just come through the biggest global financial crisis since the Depression in the thirties. We on this side of the chamber are very disciplined because there is a task at hand—that is, to nation build and to deliver the best outcomes that we possibly can for Australian voters. It is not to display absolute disunity and disgust in our leader like those on that side over there do. We actually support our leader for doing a fantastic job, as we do our entire leadership team. Senator Mason touched on the November 2007 elections. The thoughts of those on the other side of the chamber were that somehow there was this political mistake made. I do not think it was a political mistake when the former Prime Minister actually lost his own seat of Bennelong. That says something in itself.

Senator Mason also wanted to talk about the National Broadband Network. He blamed us because computers have not been connected to the National Broadband Network. Let us take a step back here. In the 12 years of government of those on the other side, under Mr Howard, I do not recall any broadband networks being flagged and I do not recall any infrastructure spending on a broadband network. There was nothing—it was not even in the pipeline. Yet Senator Mason stands up in here and grandstands and lectures us about waiting for Senator Conroy and our National Broadband Network. That side of this chamber has voted against all our legislation. Let us not forget that those on that side over there voted against it, and yet they stand up in this chamber and slag us off for having a go—for wanting to deliver a national high-speed broadband network to 98 per cent of Australians. Those opposite will not even vote for it. I am not going to get emotive and carry on and scream like others on that side do in taking note. I am just gobsmacked at the hypocrisy of that side of this chamber at times, and those in the other place as well.

Let us talk about the national apology—that fantastic day. I had the absolute good fortune—and I am sure that a lot of senators and members on the other side of politics had the same heartfelt warmth that I did—to actually stand in the centre of this great building and watch for the first time ever a welcome to country ceremony, recognising the traditional owners on whose land we meet. It was a very rewarding day. It was moving to see the thousands of Indigenous Australians out there with tears in their eyes that they had actually been recognised and that the stolen generation was not something that we would turn our back on or put our head in the sand about and pretend did not exist. It did exist, sadly. The Prime Minister has done the right thing. I spend a lot of time in Aboriginal communities in Western Australia and the feeling in the Aboriginal community is still one of warmth and happiness when they talk about the national apology. It was also the start of closing the gap—and, my God, don’t we need to close that gap. To quote some words of the Leader of the Government in the Senate ‘over the years—and this is not being political—governments so far have not got it right’. We are determined that we will get it right.

We will also get it right on closing the gap in the Building the Education Revolution. I must go back for a minute to the 12 years of the Howard government. There were no great infrastructure projects—sorry, I take a step back: there was a railway line built from Adelaide to Darwin. I do remember that. It still has not made any money, but it was built. Apart from that, what were their great nation-building projects?

Senator Ian Macdonald —It was Alice Springs actually.

Senator STERLE —Senator Macdonald, I will take that interjection, through you, Mr Deputy President. Senator Macdonald, you were a minister in that helpless government. Be very careful about wanting to have a crack, because you were the one who actually got taken out in that Christmas of 2006. I remember that.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Sterle, please address your comments through the chair.

Senator STERLE —Yes, Mr Deputy President, I will. Let us go back to the Digital Education Revolution. I do remember the Prime Minister making it very clear that education was a very important platform for our election in 2007. As Senator Carr said, $2.2 billion is to be spent over six years. I will stand corrected in this place if anyone on that side of the chamber can highlight for me where the Howard government spent $2.2 billion on education—they did nothing for young Australians.