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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 1893

Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (15:16): Senator Wong is not telling us the truth about her involvement in the selection of the new chair of the Future Fund. Very clearly again in question time today Minister Wong was hiding behind tricky semantics. What is now clear for all to see is that Mr Gonski told the government that, in his considered opinion, Mr Costello was the most qualified person on the Future Fund board to be its next chair. Minister Wong today was unable to reconcile Mr Gonski's public statements today that the government was told that a majority on the Future Fund board wanted Mr Costello to be the next chair with her own claim that Mr Gonski did not make any recommendation about who to appoint.

There are some important points to be made in relation to the Future Fund. It was the coalition government that established the Future Fund. We established the Future Fund in government to invest the budget surpluses Peter Costello delivered year after year. Ten out of 12 coalition budgets, of course, were surplus budgets. The first one was not, because we inherited a $10 billion black hole and $96 billion worth of government net debt left behind by the then Labor government. The Future Fund would not exist if it were not for Peter Costello. After the last coalition government had paid off $96 billion worth of Labor debt, we set up the Future Fund to put money aside to fund the future Public Service superannuation liability. Every single dollar of capital in the Future Fund has come from Peter Costello's budget surpluses. Labor has not put a single dollar of capital into the Future Fund. Having inherited a strong $22 billion surplus, having inherited $70 billion worth of Commonwealth net assets, Wayne Swan and Penny Wong have turned that around to deliver $167 billion worth of accumulated deficits and taken us to $133 billion worth of government net debt. In the 12 months from December 2010 to December 2011 the budget deficit for this financial year has blown out by a staggering $25 billion. No wonder Wayne Swan and Penny Wong did not want to appoint Peter Costello chair of the Future Fund; clearly Wayne Swan and Penny Wong did not want to be shown up by somebody who actually knows what he is doing.

David Gonski was asked by the government to sound out the Future Fund board to identify who should be the next chair. The verdict was clear: the most qualified person on the board to become its next chair is Peter Costello. But this incompetent, dysfunctional and divided Labor government could not rise to the occasion. They did not have it in them. You do not have to look any further than the Treasurer's press releases about former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to see what a churlish, politically vindictive character our Treasurer is. They could not get this decision right.

The only thing that disqualified Peter Costello from being appointed as the next chair of the Future Fund is that he is a Liberal. This is churlish and politically vindictive in the extreme. Most Australians would not agree with the judgment of this government that being a Liberal should automatically disqualify you from being appointed as the chair of a board like the board of the Future Fund. Most Australians understand that it was Peter Costello who set the Future Fund up and that it was Peter Costello who through sound financial management and surplus budgets put all of its capital in place. People across Australia know that Peter Costello would have provided fine service. Indeed, Mr Gonski, who has now been appointed by the government and whose appointment we have welcomed, actually had the same perspective on the issue.

Then, of course, there is the issue of the Gonski memo. Mr Gonski provided a two-page memo to the Department of Finance and Deregulation summarising the views of Future Fund board members about who should be the next chair of the Future Fund. What does Minister Wong's office do? Minister Wong's office walks up to the press gallery and hands a copy of that memo to Laura Tingle from the Australian Financial Review. She is allowed to read it. She is allowed to know what Future Fund board members think about this, but we, the Senate, are not. I advise the Senate that today I have lodged an FOI application asking for the release of that particular memo, because I think it is in the public interest for it to be released. (Time expired)