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Wednesday, 1 November 2000
Page: 21796


Mr HORNE (9:49 PM) —I rise to make a small contribution to the Wool Services Privatisation Bill 2000. I cannot let the comments from the member for Wannon go unchallenged. What he misses is the fact that the opposition support the concept of this bill. We have made that clear right from the start. We have no objection to the concept that wool industry services should be managed by the wool industry itself. We know, we understand, that wool and the history of wool are an integral part of the development of the nation of Australia. We have to move on and we support what this bill is about. We accept that the legislation is a response to the McLachlan report that was tabled on 30 June 1999. This legislation is going to be implemented in 61 days time, on 1 January 2001, and it is being presented to the parliament and debated in the parliament today—61 days, out of which you take the Christmas and New Year period.

The point we most strongly object to is the way that this has been brought into the House. This is a government that talks about transparency and openness, but this is a piece of legislation that, even at this late stage, is short on detail. The shadow minister—and I have spoken with him this morning—has advised me that he has asked for a number of documents that he has not been given the courtesy of seeing. They are not being passed over to the opposition even in a draft form, yet we are being criticised by the member for Wannon and others because we are opposing the legislation. We are opposing the way this government does business. We are opposing the arrogance of this government to simply think that they can walk into this chamber and, by weight of numbers, put up any piece of legislation, bulldoze it through and have it go out and move off to the Senate without challenge in this place. Well, that is not the way we do business. We say that, if the Howard government prides itself on being open and transparent, it will cross every `t' and it will dot every `i'. That is what the people of Australia expect, and it is what they are not getting.

What about the wool growers? I listened with interest to the member for Corangamite, who made the claim last night that the detail was in the annual report of AWRAP. I just happen to have a page from a Hansard of the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee. Mr Connors, who I am sure is known to the members on the other side, was giving evidence to the committee. I understand that Mr Connors is the president of the Western Australian Pastoralists and Graziers Association. There was the following exchange:

Senator FORSHAW—I have just one question. I want to go back to Cape Wools again. When did you first hear about this issue?

Mr Connors—Time and day?

Senator FORSHAW—Was it recently?

Mr Connors—Yes, very recently. It was within the last couple of weeks.

And let me tell you that this is dated Friday, 8 September 2000, so we are not going back a long time. It continues:

Senator FORSHAW—So you were not alerted from the annual report last year to any potential negotiated settlement or whatever?

Mr Connors—Definitely not. It was within the last couple of weeks. Everybody seemed to know at once. So I cannot even tell you who the first source was that I heard it from.

CHAIR—As a studious reader of AWRAP annual reports, you did not pick it up?

Mr Connors—Me either.

Mr Connors is a man who is very involved in the wool industry. Despite what the member for Corangamite said here last night—that the detail was in the annual report of AWRAP—that is challenged by evidence that was given to a committee by a member of the wool industry. Those comments were made in September of this year, just seven weeks ago. Whilst members of the wool industry are out there saying, `We are not aware of the detail,' and the government is claiming that the detail was in the annual report of AWRAP, I can tell you that the opposition certainly are being kept in the dark because we have not been given the courtesy of any documentation at all. The government will say, `Well, it's all in the fine print; it's all in the detail.'

Where are things like a deed of agreement? Where is the documentation to show what control the government will have over the expenditure of $11.3 million R&D funding. Do we simply hand it over? Do we simply say that this new privatised organisation will do the honourable thing? Do we have any controls? If we do, we in the opposition have not been told of them. Maybe the next member to speak will advise us of exactly what controls are in place. The $11.3 million is considerably more than the ABC is asking for, but we cannot be told what control the government has over it! Where is the constitution for this privatised organisation? I guess there is one. I guess there is a draft in place. Maybe we can be told that. Maybe we can be shown just a draft of a constitution. But at this stage there has been no constitution tabled—and this is from a government that claims it is open and transparent. The member for Wannon has come in here and criticised the Labor Party for not supporting the legislation; I just point out the reasons why. There is the liability to Cape Wools of South Africa for their 8.3 per cent ownership of Woolmark that will have to be bought out as a result of this new arrangement and this privatisation. What is the extent of commitment of government funding to that? I know that the Deputy Prime Minister has been asked that in question time on a number of occasions, but the people of Australia, the taxpayers that will be paying that, still have not been advised of the extent of our commitment to that buy-out. And where is the regulation governing the future relationship between the Australian government and this new privatised entity that we are talking about today?

I will conclude my comments simply by saying that the way this legislation has been presented to this parliament brings no credit to the government. That this government can simply come in here and present a piece of legislation without the necessary detail of government expenditure—because there will be associated government expenditure with this legislation—and simply expect the Labor Party to support it epitomises the arrogance that my colleagues and I believe this government has in the way it treats this place. It is arrogance, because the government has known all along that we support the concept behind the legislation. The government cannot claim that it has been lack of time. As I said, the McLachlan report was tabled back on 30 June last year. Now, with less than 21 sitting days to go before the end of the year and the implementation of this legislation on 1 January next year, there is an urgency to get it through. We say that is shameful. We say it is not acceptable as parliamentary practice. We say that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry should have done the right thing and ensured that this legislation went through with the support of both sides. All he needed to do was provide the detail that was asked for. That will go down to the discredit of this minister and this government and be another mark on the wall to show the arrogance of the Howard government.