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Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Page: 212


Senator McLUCAS (Queensland) (15:20): I rise to speak on the motion that the Senate take note of answers given today in question time. This was the first question time in the Senate for this new government. It was the first time that opposition senators have had the chance to ask legitimate questions of the government. This is an important part of the operation of the parliament, and I am pleased that young people are sitting in the gallery and will understand why we have question time. The purpose of question time is to provide the opportunity for questions to be asked, so that the community can better understand what their government intends to do and what their plans for Australia might be. It is also an opportunity for the opposition to undertake a very important part of parliament's role, and that is to provide scrutiny of the government of the day.

Today's question time fell very far short of meeting that benchmark. We had questions of Senator Abetz that went to the fairness of superannuation charges. Was it fair that 16,000 Australians will in fact be richer as a result of this government's changes? The 3.6 million people are people who are on very low incomes in this country—under $36,000—and the 16,000 people who will get more money under this government are millionaires. They are people with millions of dollars in their superannuation funds. Did we get an answer? I did not see one. I did not get an answer about fairness to that question.

The second question that Senator Wong asked of Senator Abetz was to give an assurance to the Senate that there will be no cuts to education and health over the term of this government, and we got those very interestingly selected words 'every intention'. That will give no comfort to people in Australia who are planning for the education of their children or who are thinking about the provision of health care to their families, and to their children in particular. The government have 'every intention', hand on heart. Well, I am sorry: you need a lot more than that to make Australians feel confident that the programs that were put in place under the good Labor government policies will be delivered.

But then we got to the final question of today, where Senator Cash was asked by Senator Sterle about a boat in Darwin: was there a boat in Darwin Harbour? We got a lot of words but we got no reference at all to whether or not there was an asylum seeker vessel in Darwin Harbour that she could respond to as part of the role of question time to provide clarity about what is happening. So the theme that is developing is one of secrecy—a theme of limited disclosure of information and selective sharing of what is happening out there. What we saw today was avoidance, rhetoric and a lot of bluster—a lot of non-telling of the answers to questions that we asked.

We have two things happening at the moment. We have, on the one hand, this Commission of Audit. I am from Queensland. I have heard about commissions of audit before. We have had a commission of audit in Queensland, and that saw deep, deep cuts to both our health sector and our education sector—deep cuts right across the state. We were told that no front-line services would be touched. Doctors and nurses were cut out of hospitals right across the state. Mental health workers in Cape York Peninsula lost their jobs; they were not 'front-line workers'! I do not know how much more front-line you can get than providing mental health services in Cape York Peninsula. So we know what a commission of audit will do, and I say to Australians: look to Queensland, because that is what you can expect out of this Commission of Audit. At the same time, we have the speech last week from Maurice Newman, chairman of the Business Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, who tilled a field to say that we need to wind back the costs of need-based funding and—this is close to my heart—DisabilityCare Australia. We are watching. (Time expired)