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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 719

Senator COATES(4.29) —We have had a very excited Senator Watson trying to match the performance of his Leader. We started this debate with Senator Chaney stacking on a real performance to impress his colleagues. He put on his angry head and played to the gallery on his side with a performance to help bolster his leadership. I suppose that there must be a general feeling in the Opposition, the so-called coalition, that one of its leaders had to do something to help his image. Obviously, the Liberal Party, in particular, is scared stiff of being supplanted by the National Party in this place so it has pulled on a time-wasting stunt like this.

One of the things Senator Watson had to say was that the document tabled yesterday contained a true statement. It may be a statement with which the Opposition might or might not agree, but it happens to suit the Opposition's political purpose. It cannot be described as a true statement when it is one person's opinion. There was no denigration of the officer concerned by the Government. To say that the Government's view on such a matter as interest rates is different from the view of one officer in one department is not a surprising thing to do and should not be objected to. Perhaps the most amazing thing Senator Watson had to say was that the May economic statement is to occur only because the Opposition has pressed so hard for it. If I had been asked several months ago to bet on whether there would be an economic statement in May, I would have willingly bet large amounts that there would be. I knew that such a statement would be a very likely event. For the Opposition to suggest that it was its pressure that brought on this announcement is nothing more than rubbish.

The main point as far as the Finance and Government Operations Committee is concerned-and I am the Chairman of that Committee-is that it is hardly appropriate for it to investigate every paper tabled by a Minister at Question Time. There are probably several documents tabled every day by Ministers as a regular occurrence. They have not been in the habit of claiming confidentiality, as the other side was prone to in the past. There are usually several documents tabled every day and the Senate committee system would be totally bogged down with business, even more than it is already, if there were references every time such a document was tabled. I regret very much that the courtesy that used to exist in this place, of a senator consulting with the chairman of a committee before proposing a reference to the committee, has been thrown out of the window by the Opposition. Not only was there no attempt by Senator Chaney to consult me about this matter, but he did not even advise me of it, either before or after giving notice.

It is about time that the Opposition stopped hijacking the Senate's program of business. This week alone we have had the hijacking of the program on Monday, by stacking on an extended and unnecessary debate about suspending Standing Orders to prolong the defence debate; then on Tuesday we had that extended debate where the Opposition went on and on ad nauseam about the defence statement. Today we have the Opposition stacking on a turn to attempt to suspend Standing Orders for this reference to a committee. Hardly any Bills are being dealt with at the moment. The legislative program is falling further and further behind. The Opposition just wants to take control of this chamber for self-indulgent debates such as this.

I turn to the question of this document which the Opposition is claiming is of such enormous urgency that it should be referred to a committee. I think that Senator Chaney even went as far as suggesting that the Committee should come back with a determination of what will happen to interest rates this year and next year. He seemed to want the Finance and Government Operations Committee to hold an economic seminar.

Senator Robert Ray —Get Doug Anthony as a consultant; he is an expert.

Senator COATES —A name from the past, who has been around these corridors recently trying to help the Opposition with its problems. Senator Chaney wants an economic seminar to receive the opinions-they would be only opinions-of every economist or politician who wants to spout about interest rates. What a waste of time that would be for the Committee and for those economists concerned. In case Senator Chaney has not noticed, there is not unanimity about interest rates. The fact that the Opposition is performing as it is proves that point. It is hardly a matter on which the Committee could come back with a report about the facts, because we are talking about what interest rates will be in six months or 12 months. It is a matter not of fact but of prediction. If it were a matter of fact, there would not be the range of answers, opinions and advice which the Government has been given and which the Opposition wants to give us as well. Obviously there is a range of opinion which the Government receives on a matter such as future interest rates, and those opinions depend upon a whole lot of other economic factors and past and future decisions which the Committee cannot go into. The Opposition ought to make up its mind whether it is attacking or praising Senator Ryan. Honourable senators opposite have been totally contradictory about the matter.

Senator Ryan —I would rather be attacked.

Senator COATES —I am sure she would feel that her honour was higher if she were attacked, but Senator Sir John Carrick said that she was being terribly honest and then other Opposition speakers told her that she had sinned. I think they said that she had sinned because she tabled the document and because she has been, as this Government has tried to be, open and honest. We have an open and honest Minister amongst an incredibly open, honest and competent Ministry, the best and most stable Ministry there has ever been, leaving former coalition governments for dead.

This issue is not one that is appropriate for reference to the Finance and Government Operations Committee. I wish that the debate could be concluded and we could get on with the program that was intended for today, but obviously the Opposition wants to prolong the debate and, as I say, stack on a turn about the whole matter for its own political purpose. I oppose the motion for the suspension of Standing Orders.