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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 521


Senator McGAURAN (6:36 PM) —I join my colleagues in this momentous debate. It is one of the most important, significant, momentous pieces of legislation to go through the parliament in my time. I was party to many such reforms when we were in government. They were tough reforms and we undertook them. The GST comes to mind, which was a very big one. Previous to that, during the Hawke-Keating government, a debate that took up a great deal of emotion and time in this chamber was the native title debate. I could run through a whole list of momentous occasions where both sides of the parliament made exchanges in the debate, as is their responsibility and as is their duty to their public office.

I say to those listening to the broadcast, we have a very bizarre situation here in the parliament. We have a government whose Prime Minister recently—and on more than one occasion, I should add—has gone on television, looking all so ashen-faced, to alert the Australian public to the crisis that befalls the nation. He has done it twice. He did it for the $10.2 billion package and he did it for the $42 billion package. He has elevated this issue to priority 1, which, by the way, it is—of course it is—and that is why we are in the chamber.

Opposition senator interjecting—


Senator McGAURAN —Mr Acting Deputy President Forshaw, you can see where I am heading with this. The point I am making is—you are asleep, are you?


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Forshaw)—Order, Senator McGauran! I ask you to withdraw that. I made no comment. Your colleague interjected on you; I made no comment about your remarks. I ask you to withdraw that. I find it most insulting. I am sitting here listening to your speech. I ask you to withdraw your comment and apologise.


Senator McGAURAN —I withdraw my comment to you.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Thank you. You should withdraw, particularly given that we are being broadcast.


Senator McGAURAN —Indeed.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —And you might ask your colleagues to refrain from interjecting on you.


Senator McGAURAN —I do not have the courage to do that.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I will call them to order otherwise. Carry on.


Senator McGAURAN —I do withdraw with all sincerity. Such is the emotion of the issue and, as you rightly point out, we are being broadcast. That is the point I want to make: we are being broadcast on an issue that the Prime Minister, the government and the world are deeply involved in, yet look at the speakers list. Not one government member has come in to speak on this bill. Are they out there being clever? I would say they are out there—most of them have flown home. I would guarantee it. We ought to call a quorum on this just to see if anyone stayed behind. The point is this: they may think that they are being clever by not speaking on this issue—and this is what they will tell their electorates—‘so that we could get it through the parliament’. Parliaments are not for that, and this issue most of all is not for that. This issue is for debate. They ought to get up and justify it, not just to us in this parliament, which is their responsibility; they ought to get up, justify it and debate it with us whilst we are being broadcast and on the internet. Not one government member is on the speakers list. As a Victorian senator I find it doubly offensive that the Victorian government senators have not come into the parliament and debated this momentous issue, and it is a momentous issue.

Where is Senator Conroy, representing the Treasurer, who should be leading this debate? Where is Senator Conroy? He has gone home. I would guarantee that Senator Conroy has gone home. Where is the other Victorian senator, Senator Marshall? Senator Marshall is never short of a word, but today he is quiet—nothing.


Senator Birmingham —Gag order.


Senator McGAURAN —The gag is on him. What courage do they have against the whip or the leader? It would be coming from the Prime Minister’s office, because everything comes from the Prime Minister’s office on that side, even such disgraceful instructions. It is an offence to their oath as part of their public life. Where is Senator Marshall, who is never short of a word? He is one of the great filibusters in this parliament. He has gone home and refuses to debate one of the most important issues to ever go through this parliament, one that is going to affect generations, as my colleagues before me have said—and how true is that? You do not ratchet up $200 billion and not affect several generations, quite frankly. The previous speaker, Senator Bushby, mentioned the Whitlam government. It took generations to flush all the errors of the Whitlam government out of the system. Quite frankly, it was not until the Howard-Costello government that all those errors of debt and deficit were flushed through the system. It took generations, and here we are faced with the same economic madness and approach, as we see it, as the Whitlam government. It is worse, frankly, and I will speak about that later.

Whatever our argument is, whatever we believe is right—and we do—where are you to tell us your case in this parliament? It is not just us—although you are responsible to the whole parliament—but those following the proceedings via the broadcast or the internet, and those back in your electorates, who want to know, who want to see the Hansard and who want to see you present the case. I am labouring this point because I will duplicate everything else that speakers before me and to follow say about the ineffectiveness, the inefficiency and the sheer danger in $42 billion. I will get onto that, but I particularly want to focus on this point and the Victorian senators. Where is the Victorian Senator Collins who has been in and out of this parliament and replaced Senator Ray just recently? She is an experienced senator; she is not inexperienced. She knows how to get up in this parliament and argue her case. She has replaced the godfather of Victorian Labor politics, Senator Ray, who I should add would never kowtow to such an instruction as to not get up and speak on this issue, but Senator Collins has. Is she in the parliament? She has gone home.


Senator Stephens —She’s in a committee hearing.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order, senators! You should not be having this across-the-chamber chat.


Senator McGAURAN —She ought to—


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Forshaw)—Excuse me, Senator McGauran, but I just want to advise you that I have listened closely to your remarks—all of your remarks, despite your earlier comment—and you are potentially reflecting improperly upon members of this chamber, particularly those who may actually be in this building attending a Senate committee hearing on this particular legislation. So I think you should address the matters before the chamber, as distinct from reflecting upon other senators.


Senator McGAURAN —Are you on the speakers list, Mr Acting Deputy President, at some point?


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator, I ask you to return to your remarks.


Senator McGAURAN —The remarks are hugely significant and I will reiterate the point: no government senator has risen to speak on this bill. That is hugely significant. Those watching or those listening ought to know that and those back in the electorates ought to know that. We have a government who are laying down the foundations of generational debt and have a facility within this bill for $200 billion of borrowings, of debt—future debt—and who would doubt they are going to spend it?


Senator Birmingham —The Prime Minister couldn’t even be bothered voting for it.


Senator McGAURAN —Yes, thank you, Senator Birmingham, who is to follow me. Last night the House of Representatives went to five o’clock in the morning on this bill and even then, I should add, many opposition members—Liberal and National party members of parliament—never had a chance to speak because the guillotine came down. But five o’clock is fair enough, to a degree; I am not going to dispute that there was significant debate. I should add that some of the government members did rise to speak. It was a long and tiring but hugely significant debate.

When you go to five o’clock in the morning in this place, it is for a debate of national interest. Now, this is a debate of national interest and the bells ring but where is the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister? They are nowhere to be seen. This is a Prime Minister who, ashen faced, does not mind taking up a bit of dramatic time on television to alert the nation to the crisis that we behold and to say that he is available to fix it, but he will not turn up and put his name to the legislation. You are paid to vote in this place and in the House of Representatives. You are paid to vote, but the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister did not turn up. No doubt—separately—they had gone to bed. They left it to the juniors to fix up. You cannot do that. It is an insult to the parliament and it is an insult to the constituency—an utter insult. As for the Prime Minister, as we get to know him, as the Australian public get to know him, we see that this is the man, this is the fake, this is the fraud who went to the Australian public before the election calling himself the economic conservative. We always knew it was a fraudulent statement but we see now he is railing against neoliberalism and economic conservatism. Quite frankly, it must be a great relief to the likes of Senator Cameron and Senator Carr that this facade of economic conservatism has been dropped. No-one ever believed it. The Australian public may have bought it at one stage but now the facade has fallen—and what a relief to Senator Cameron and Senator Carr! They could not get off the blocks quickly enough to condemn economic conservatism under, as they put it, the banner of neoliberalism—whatever that means. Both of them have stood up here espousing their old and dearly held socialist policies and the Labor Party policy of tax and spend.


Senator Birmingham —The comrades are back.


Senator McGAURAN —‘The comrades are back,’ says my colleague, and no two epitomise that more than Senator Carr and Senator Cameron. Where are they? Where are they in this debate?


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator McGauran, I ask you to refrain from making improper imputations against members of this Senate because they are not here in this chamber or in this debate at the moment. I can advise you that Senator Cameron is actually attending the hearing of the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee—as a member of that committee—dealing with this legislation and that that is sitting through till 10 o’clock tonight. I ask you to refrain from making those improper imputations. It is disorderly and it is contrary to the standing orders.


Senator McGAURAN —I take it you are entering my debate; you are debating with me.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —No, I am drawing to your attention—


Senator McGAURAN —No, it is most—


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —that you have—


Senator McGAURAN —I consider it most improper—


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order!


Senator McGAURAN —the issue that you would raise to defend two colleagues in a debate that I have raised.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator McGauran, I have just called on you to refrain from making that improper imputation that was made against Senator Cameron, and I explained my reasoning for doing so. I ask you to return to the debate.


Senator McGAURAN —I do return to the debate and I do ask you, in your role as chair, to reflect on what I would consider an entry into my debate. I would like a ruling from the President on that matter.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I am happy to refer it to the President.


Senator McGAURAN —Thank you.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I will ask the President to consider all of the remarks that have been made. I ask you to continue.


Senator McGAURAN —Whatever the circumstances, I have here a printed speakers list. This is what we go by, and it is in black and white. People can try and justify their absence from the speakers list, but the whole government crew are not on the speakers list. Unless they—the likes of Senator Cameron, Senator Carr and Senator Conroy—throw themselves on it on Monday to speak, unless they finally break the shackles of the Prime Minister’s gag and get up in here on Monday, it is fair enough for me to say and take it that no-one from the government is going to speak on this matter. I stand my ground on that. It is pretty basic. I do not know—or care—where they are in the parliament; I would like them at some point to stand up here in the parliament and speak on this bill. It is highly significant. It is critical. I bet you this: the next election will turn on this issue.

As our leader, Mr Turnbull, said, we may cop a bit of short-term unpopularity on this because we are saying that the cash handouts are ineffective and ought not be given, but I would say, as he said, that we are about doing the right thing. We have the record, we have the runs on the board, in regard to prudent economic management—successful economic management. Even when we were in government we took the hard decisions, the short-term unpopular decisions, in the national interest, because we thought they were right, and most of the time we were right. Most of the time Australian households were better off for it in the long run and for generations to come—until Labor were elected.


Senator Birmingham —They’re not better off now.


Senator McGAURAN —They are not better off now, not since Labor were elected. The legacy of the previous government was the envy of the world. I do not know of another government that has zero debt—


Senator Colbeck —It used to.


Senator McGAURAN —When Labor came into government, yes. ‘It used to,’ says my colleague; that is quite right. In just over 12 months, since they came into government, the zero debt—the jewel that we left them that would have greatly helped them ride through this crisis—is gone. No other country that I can name had zero debt. It took 10 years to pay off the former Labor government’s debt, their legacy of $96 billion of debt. I note the previous speaker quoted Paul Keating recently coming out and congratulating this government on their $42 billion racking-up of debt just with this one stimulus package. Of course he did, because this is classic Labor. The Treasurer of the previous Labor government congratulates the Treasurer of the existing Labor government for ratcheting up debt. We do not believe in the reduction or the minimising of debt for the sake of it; there is a reason behind it. That reason is the interest payments. A country makes itself vulnerable to the world circumstances and financial markets and has to pay it all out in interest rates, when that money could be better spent elsewhere.

I support my colleagues’ comments in condemning this ‘significant’, ‘important’ legislation. I condemn the other side not just for introducing the bill but for their sheer cowardice in not coming in to debate and defend it and put it up to the Australian people, to the tens of thousands that listen to this broadcast—and there are tens of thousands who listen to the broadcast. Sheer cowardice, that is what it is. We are going to continue to debate this all next week and we are going to take it into the committee stage. Maybe someone on that side will have the courage to stand up and speak. This bill ought to be rejected.

Debate (on motion by Senator Stephens) adjourned.