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Thursday, 19 March 2015
Page: 1952

Prime Minister


Senator DASTYARI (New South Wales) (14:14): My question is the minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Abetz. I refer to the Prime Minister's repeated comments before the election that Australia was facing 'a budget emergency' with net debt forecast at 13 per cent of GDP. I also refer to comments yesterday by Mr Abbott, who said:

… a ratio of debt to GDP at about 50 or 60 per cent is a pretty good result looking around the world.

Minister, when did the Prime Minister mislead the Australian people—before the election or after it?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:15): The Prime Minister did not mislead the Australian people on either occasion. The very simple fact is that, before the election, we had a profligate government that oversaw, with the assistance of the failed finance minister sitting opposite me, the wrecking of this country's future by ensuring that we were on an unsustainable trajectory into debt and deficit, which would have hung like a millstone around the neck of the next generation. We promised the Australian people that we would fix that. Despite that promise to fix it, along with the Australian Labor Party—who, on a road-to-Damascus-type conversion, promised that they would introduce $5 billion worth of their own savings, then voted against it when the new parliament resumed—we as a government have sought to do the right thing by the next generation of Australians, to bring the debt trajectory into a sustainable pattern.

Why are we doing that? Because we want to see for the future that we have a national disability insurance scheme that is affordable, that we have a pension scheme that is affordable and that we have a health system that is affordable. Whilst we are continuing to pay over $1,000 million a month just on interest—

Senator Wong: It's going up under you.

Senator ABETZ: on the debts incurred by Senator Wong and her colleagues, those sorts of projects and programs of disability insurance, of health and of education become unsustainable. That is why it is so vitally important that we as a nation get our economic parameters back into shape. Not to do so prejudices the future of important social programs like disability insurance schemes. (Time expired)




Senator DASTYARI (New South Wales) (14:17): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, is Australia's leading business newspaper, The Australian Financial Review, correct when it says on this morning's front page 'Tony Abbott loses the plot on debt'? Is it any wonder that business confidence has collapsed to zero since the budget?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:17): I am not going to use question time to try to advertise for The Australian Financial Review, as Senator Dastyari just has. But, when it comes to matters financial and public disclosure, I do not think Senator Dastyari is in a very strong position to seek to lecture us. What I would say—

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock.

Senator Dastyari: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I would ask that the minister retract that statement.

The PRESIDENT: I am not aware of a statement that the minister has used that I would regard as unparliamentary.

Senator ABETZ: If the hat fits, wear it, Brother.

Senator Wong: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The minister just said: 'If the hat fits, wear it, Brother.'

The PRESIDENT: No, we are not talking about that. That was an interjection.

Senator Wong: I am putting that on the record, because it makes clear the imputation about financial irregularity—

The PRESIDENT: What is your point of order, Senator Wong?

Senator Dastyari: The minister should withdraw. There was clearly an imputation. I am asking you to ask the minister to withdraw.

The PRESIDENT: That was an interjection. The first point of order was Senator Dastyari asking the minister to withdraw, and I am at a loss to understand what the minister needs to withdraw.

Senator Dastyari: Mr President, there was a clear inference and imputation to my character. I understand meanings that have been held to be a personal reflection. From statements that you have made to us privately and publicly about raising the standard in this place, I do not think that was an appropriate part of the discussion.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Dastyari. I will invite the minister to continue, and I will invite the minister, if he deems it necessary, to withdraw any statement he made.

Senator ABETZ: I am not sure that anything that I said could be taken as offensive, unless there were certain other matters at play in the honourable senator's conscience. Given that, I will withdraw—for the benefit of his conscience.

Senator Wong: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. That should be withdrawn.

An honourable senator: That's what lawyers call a guilty denial of truth.

Senator ABETZ: Yes, a guilty conscience.

Senator Wong: And that should be withdrawn.

Senator ABETZ: What?

Senator Wong: 'Guilty conscience' in the context of that withdrawal—that should be withdrawn, too.

The PRESIDENT: I will ask the minister if he would assist and withdraw that comment. I will review the vision and the sound of the last question and come back to the chamber if I need to. Minister, if you wish to withdraw that last remark, that would assist. I invite you to complete your answer.

Senator ABETZ: To assist the laughing senator opposite, I will withdraw. That is how seriously he took the matter.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Minister.

Senator ABETZ: Let us just get all that on the record. This is the immaturity of the Australian Labor Party—a Labor Party that will not deal with the real issues of the country. To say that the Prime Minister has lost the plot in relation to debt is— (Time expired)
























Senator DASTYARI (New South Wales) (14:21): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I refer to Mr Abbott's comments yesterday that the government has got 'nearly 80 per cent of our budget measures through the Senate'. I also refer to Mr Abbott's description of the Senate as 'feral' and the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate's claim yesterday that the Senate is a 'house of refusal'. Minister, which of these statements is correct?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:21): The Prime Minister is, as I understand it, completely correct when he says that about 80 per cent of our budget measures have passed the Senate. I also understand that my good friend and colleague, who I understand did an exceptionally good job in my absence yesterday, said that this was a house of review. And, of course, I would agree with him, and I think that is what our Constitution and our forefathers had in mind in relation to this place.

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock.

Senator Dastyari: Mr President, I raise a point of order on relevance. I think the minister did not hear the comment, the quote, because the quote was 'house of refusal'. It was the 'house of refusal', not the house of review.

The PRESIDENT: I can confirm that that is what Senator Dastyari had in his question, but the minister was still answering the question.

Senator ABETZ: Mr President, Senator Dastyari yet again unwittingly makes my point—but I will not withdraw on this occasion. What Senator Brandis said to the Senate was that this is a house of review—a house of review, not a house of refusal—and I would have thought that everybody around this chamber might actually agree with that, which is so self-evident. Can I simply say that the Australian Labor Party has been escaping for too long— (Time expired)