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Tuesday, 23 August 1994
Page: 18

Senator TAMBLING (3.21 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Gareth Evans) and the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Senator Collins), to questions without notice asked by Senator Burns and Senator Tambling this day, relating to the effects of drought on the rural sector.

The issue of drought is probably the most important issue that this parliament can currently address. What we got today were totally inadequate and inept answers. It was difficult for a while, when I asked that first question today, to work out who was the organ grinder and who was the monkey, because the government very obviously could not decide who was to take responsibility for the question.

  I asked the question very specifically of the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Gareth Evans, with regard to the inconsistencies of the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) and the government's lack of understanding of this particular issue. Senator Evans had no acceptance of any responsibility whatsoever in addressing that point. He side flicked it over to Senator Collins, who attempted to be on this issue the expert on all things to all people, as he usually is. But Senator Collins did not give any comprehensive answers either to the important question asked by Senator Burns or to that one asked by me.

  The issue that needs to be addressed is the inconsistencies and the lack of understanding. I am very pleased to note that my colleague Senator David Brownhill has proposed a matter of public importance to come before this chamber shortly this afternoon that will go into this very issue. I know that my colleagues on this side of the chamber will detail all of the areas where the government has totally failed.

  We did not get an answer today to the question about how the Prime Minister totally misunderstands the issue. I mentioned in my supplementary question, in which I again put the barbs straight at Senator Evans, the whole issue of the comparisons that are invited—the assistance given to a very needy part of the community, those people and communities that are being affected by this severe drought, compared with Senator Evans's largess and comprehensive giving away of lucky dip funds in his portfolio of foreign affairs. I mentioned the Mekong bridge, which obviously Senator Collins then got wrong in his answer.

  Senator Kemp has also pointed out to me a similar area, and that is the area of the out of court settlement of over $100 million of funds to settle a court matter at Nauru. That particular issue has been raised by Senator Kemp on a number of occasions. When we talk about spending $80 million or $100 million on a project like that, let us compare it with the petty cash items that Senator Collins got when he lined up at the cabinet table, was patted on the head and told that the marginal seat strategy of the Labor Party obviously did not accommodate these areas that are affected by drought. It is nothing like Mrs Kelly's throwing around of money in particular areas off a white board last year. It is nothing like the distribution of funds that go through the Department of Employment, Education and Training, where it wants to patch up problems. The drought is the most severe problem. This dreadfully harsh and severe drought is affecting the productive sector of Australia. It is affecting entire communities throughout Australia. It is affecting thousands and thousands of families who make up the backbone of this very country.

  We get from the government pious and ignorant answers to questions. The fact that Senator Evans would not tackle the problem today, would not come to the defence of his Prime Minister—whom he represents in this chamber—and would not even stand and attempt to explain the Prime Minister's—

Senator Panizza —He hopes to take his place later on.

Senator TAMBLING —As Senator Panizza points out, Senator Evans is obviously gingering up and engineering the preselection processes in Victoria so that he can make a challenge to Mr Keating in a few months time. It is no wonder. I think that over the next few weeks we should aim some very deliberate questions at Senator Evans to see whether he will support Mr Keating—or have we started to see the engineering of the revolt to replace the Prime Minister?

  I have no objection to the Prime Minister being replaced. He is useless. He certainly cannot sympathise or in any way identify with the families and communities throughout Australia which are being affected by this severe drought. That was borne out today by the inadequate and inappropriate answers given by Senator Collins. I trust that these issues will be very carefully addressed by my colleagues this afternoon.