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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 4321

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (1:46 PM) —The Greens will not be supporting this legislation. I will give cogent reasons for that in a moment. First, I want to refer to the contribution from Senator Abetz. He has turned his guns on the journalists today, saying that some of the members of that group have been prepared to go to prison rather than reveal their sources. But there is no journalist who has the power in the first place to veto a court that might hear the case that would lead to that outcome. This is not so with Senator Abetz. Today in this parliament, when a motion was put up by Senator Ludwig to refer matters to the Privileges Committee, the coalition and Senator Fielding effectively abolished the court, by refusing that reference. So there is not a clear analogy here at all. What should have happened, of course, was that the reference to the Privileges Committee—which, by the way, meets in camera and does protect sources—should have gone ahead. But it was blocked. Senator Abetz may have fled the chamber at the time of the vote—

Senator Abetz —I rise on a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President. Firstly, it is a reflection on a senator to suggest that I ‘fled’ the chamber. Secondly, I was paired. Given that the motion related to me personally, I thought that I should not be casting a vote and that a pair was appropriate. But Senator Brown cannot help himself; he has to reflect on me.

Senator BOB BROWN —As I was saying: Senator Abetz fled the chamber, through the pair mechanism, and that is on the record. Senator Abetz has at least now—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Carol Brown)—Senator Brown, I ask you to withdraw your comments about Senator Abetz ‘fleeing’ the chamber.

Senator BOB BROWN —Absolutely. He left the chamber—if you see a difference there, Madam Acting Deputy President. He said he did himself.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Brown, I ask you to withdraw your statement about Senator Abetz ‘fleeing’ the chamber.

Senator BOB BROWN —I did and I do. He left the chamber, as he said, and was not present for the vote. What we have established now is that Senator Abetz knew—I did not—that the reference to the Privileges Committee involved him. That is his own admission. He said, ‘I invite anyone to read the Hansard.’ Well, I do read the Hansard. On page 35 of the Hansard of the economics committee proceedings last week, Senator Abetz says, ‘A person, a journalist in fact, has suggested to me that there may have been a communication from the Prime Minister’s office.’ I asked Senator Abetz to say who that journalist was, and—

Senator Abetz —I don’t reveal my sources.

Senator BOB BROWN —He is not going to reveal his sources! I asked him if he would talk to that journalist and say, ‘Do you mind if you have me reveal the source?’ You see, what is happening is that there are double standards; one applies to journalists but the other applies to—

Opposition senators interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senators will remain quiet and we will listen to Senator Bob Brown in silence.

Senator BOB BROWN —There is one set of standards that applies to journalists, who Senator Abetz has turned his aim at. But the other set of standards applies to unknown people, who he says are journalists—and only he can tell us whether they are fictional or not—that he wants to protect. He says that the role of the opposition is to test material provided. Well, so is the role of the Privileges Committee. Its role is, above all, to defend the integrity of the committee system and this chamber and to make sure that there is no avenue for deceit, cover-up, misinformation or the Senate being left without information which ought to be before it. If there were integrity and honesty in the stand of Senator Abetz, who now identifies himself, he would have ensured that, rather than being paired, he came across and voted for the inquiry, because the inquiry would have enabled him to clear any inference at all about him. But instead—in a very sad day for the Senate—the numbers were used in a political exercise to block the Privileges Committee from defending the interests of this Senate and its committee system. I would ask all members of the coalition and Senator Fielding to reflect on that. That motion should be back in here and reversed before the day is through, and it is up to them to decide whether they are going to do that or not. But, of course, there is no chance, because there is a political influence on the vote in this chamber to defend the opposition.

Senator Parry —Madam Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: Senator Brown is referring to a vote of the Senate early today which, under standing orders, he is not allowed to do.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Brown is allowed to refer to the vote. I do not believe he is reflecting on it.

Senator BOB BROWN —Senator Parry has not been here nearly as long as I have, or he would know better than that.

Senator Parry —Madam Acting Deputy President, could I ask you to refer that matter to the President. That matter was reflecting on votes. Senator Brown asked us to come back and vote again. That is reflecting on a vote of the Senate.

Senator Faulkner —Madam Acting Deputy President, I heard the point of order as I was entering the chamber and, in a disorderly comment, I actually said that you are able to refer to a vote in the chamber. Madam Acting Deputy President, you may well accept Senator Parry’s invitation to raise that matter with the President, but I would make this point to you: there is nothing to prevent any senator at any time from referring to a vote in the chamber. There is, of course, a standing order that relates to reflecting on a vote in the chamber. When Senator Parry made his point of order, he actually used the terminology ‘referring’, and I made a comment as a result of that. But I would respectfully suggest that that is a very different issue from a point of order that might be taken—a matter for ruling, of course, by the chair—about reflecting on a vote of the Senate. There is a substantive difference, and I would respectfully suggest that Senator Parry needs to take account of that.

Senator Parry —I do believe Senator Faulkner may be correct about my terminology being incorrect. However, I still ask that the President review this matter, look at Hansard and determine whether or not Senator Brown was reflecting on a vote of the Senate.

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

Senator BOB BROWN —I endorse that reference, Madam Acting Deputy President. The Greens will not be supporting this legislation. We believe there is a much better use for this guarantee money than the use to which the government now wishes to put it. But we do not want to back an estimated $550 million more of taxpayers’ money going to this industry. It must be seen in the context of a much wider support base for the industry from government in Australia. The fringe benefits tax concession was worth $1.9 billion. The Commonwealth recently gave $149 million to Holden for the production of four-cylinder cars. The government announced last year a $1.3 billion Green Car Innovation Fund. The government is carrying on the Howard government’s move to continue to provide $2 billion more to industry over the period 2006 to 2010 through tax credits on imported cars. The Rudd government has committed a further $3.4 billion in assistance for the industry, which it plans to roll out from 2011 to 2020.

The addition $550 million in support for car dealerships stands in contrast to the outrage expressed by the industry against the increase in the luxury car tax in 2008. There are legitimate questions over why this industry is supported above funding for the public transport sector. The government indicated in the last budget that it will spend $3.2 billion on metro rail over five years at an average of just $637 million a year. This is just one-third of the annual assistance provided to the car industry from the fringe benefits tax. Surely, that is totally out of whack in an age of climate change and an age of a very great need for infrastructure to go into the public transport sector. Such funding further institutionalises car dependence, increases our vulnerability to rising oil prices, and creates costs to our health and our community.

In the second reading debate the coalition indicated they are largely supporting this bill because it will support and protect jobs in country areas. We believe the money could be much better spent not just on protecting jobs in country regions but through a green new deal creating thousands more jobs in the country. The government ought to be equally concerned about the impact of climate change on many more jobs in rural and regional areas, including 128,000 jobs in the Murray-Darling Basin and 63,000 jobs on the Great Barrier Reef. It ought to be willing and prepared to support a higher renewable energy target and a higher greenhouse gas abatement target. That will do much more to generate employment than ensuring the car industry in the diminishing way in which this program has been put forward. It is public money. There are alternative uses. There are better uses for creating jobs in rural and regional Australia. The Greens have put those uses forward, and we want to see the money go in that direction instead.

Debate interrupted.