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Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Page: 4206


Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) (6:21 PM) —I note that we do not have much time left in the debate. I notice there are three minutes left. I will start and then seek to incorporate the remainder of my contribution. I start by saying that the position of the government is generally—and this is quite well understood in this place—not to produce iterative working drafts. There is no need to table the draft statement or the draft correspondence, because, for the purposes of transparency, accountability and scrutiny, I have tabled the final version of each.

And here is the record of open and transparent disclosure in relation to this issue. The expenditure was approved as part of the budget process for the purposes of openness, transparency and accountability. It was specifically identified and published in the budget papers. In other words, we told the entire world, including the opposition, the Greens, Senator Fielding, Senator Xenophon, the media and the public on 11 May that this campaign was funded and was going ahead. The department was made aware of the Treasurer’s request for an exemption on 12 May. This bears reiterating: at the time, after 12 May, the department was aware that a request for an exemption existed and was on foot. I made the decision on granting the exemption on Monday, 24 May.

The next day, on Tuesday, 25 May, I appeared, for the purposes of openness, transparency, accountability and scrutiny, at Senate estimates from 9 am to 11 pm and was questioned extensively on government advertising with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and its agencies. Had the opposition seen fit to ask on 25 May about the exemption, I would have been at the table and answered questions that were put to me about the decision I made the night before.

I appeared, for the purposes of openness, transparency, accountability and scrutiny, at Senate estimates on Thursday, 27 May from 9 am to 11 pm and was questioned extensively on government advertising with the Department of Finance and Deregulation. Had the opposition seen fit to ask on 27 May about the exemption, the department would have made them aware that an exemption was in train and I would have answered that as well that I had made the decision on the 24th.

For the purposes of openness, transparency, accountability and scrutiny, I tabled a statement of reasons relating to the exemption at 9.30 on the morning of Friday, 28 May. I put out a press release to the world to the same effect. I did not wait until Friday evening, until 5 pm, when everyone had gone home; my staff actually went up to the gallery and boxed the statement in the interests of transparency, openness, accountability and scrutiny.

For the purposes of openness, transparency, accountability and scrutiny, on Monday, 31 May I declassified cabinet-in-confidence correspondence between Treasury and myself. Again, my staff personally went up to the gallery and individually handed out copies of the correspondence to interested journalists.

For the purposes of openness, transparency, accountability and scrutiny, I attended question time in the Senate between Monday, 15 June and Thursday, 17 June and was questioned on the issue by Senator Back on the 15th.

For the purposes of openness, transparency, accountability and scrutiny, on Wednesday, 16 June Senator Fielding’s loaded terms of reference were agreed by the Senate for inquiry by the Finance and Public Administration References Committee. I am not entirely sure, though, why an inquiry is needed. Nevertheless, for the purposes of transparency, accountability and scrutiny, relevant officials will be made available to assist the inquiry. Again, for the purposes of openness, transparency, accountability and scrutiny, on Thursday, 17 June the Auditor-General and the chair of the Independent Communications Committee appeared before a hearing of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit. And, again, for the purposes of openness, transparency, accountability and, for those opposite, scrutiny, I appeared at the reconvened Senate estimates on 17 June and was questioned extensively on government advertising with the Department of Finance and Deregulation.

For the purposes of openness, transparency, accountability and scrutiny, I attended question time in the Senate this week from Monday, 21 June to today and will be here tomorrow again—God willing. I was questioned on this issue by Senator Ronaldson on 22 June. In addition to this scrutiny, we have had a private senator’s bill on government advertising introduced, inquired into, reported on and debated and we had an MPI on this issue yesterday. That is just the Senate. In the other place, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have also fielded multiple questions on the issue for the purposes of openness and transparency. I would be surprised if ever before in the field of human endeavour had so much accountability and scrutiny been applied by so many to such great openness and transparency practised by so few.

Senator Ronaldson makes a lot of noise—


Senator Ronaldson —Oh, you are not fair dinkum!


Senator LUDWIG —and is continuing to do so about this issue, but what does he actually do? We are months away from an election but what do we know about the policy of the Liberals on government advertising? The answer is: not much. But we do know from the contribution of coalition senators to the report on Senator Brown’s bill that they agree with the conclusions of Dr Hawke and the government that the Auditor-General is inappropriate to be both decision maker and reviewer. This is one of the only identified rational decisions that Senator Ronaldson seems to have been able to come to, that I have seen. So why must the Senate be subject to the hypocrisy of this display of confected outrage, the howls of derision, the thumping of tables, all the while supporting the decision we took? He cannot walk both sides of the street on this matter, but he is clearly attempting to do so—and failing badly.

Senator Ronaldson wants to be in the alternate government. Senator Ronaldson wants to be a cabinet secretary and a special minister of state, yet carries on with this farce. Senator Ronaldson, a challenge to you—


Senator Ronaldson —Through the chair, I presume.


Senator LUDWIG —Through the chair, I put a challenge to Senator Ronaldson. Stand up in here and commit clearly to this parliament that, if you are a special minister of state in a future government, you will produce, if asked, on request, at any time in the future, any iterative documents that would be subject to the type of order that you have put—that you would produce drafts; that you would produce iterative documents. If you do not publicly commit to that in here, you are acting completely hypocritical on this matter.


Senator Ronaldson —I promise not to avoid scrutiny in Senate estimates.


Senator LUDWIG —I take your interjection as a no. You are not going to take the opportunity of standing up in this place and saying, ‘I will in any future government, if asked, produce iterative documents, drafts, in relation to decisions I have made.’ What that points to is that Senator Ronaldson is being completely hypocritical in this place. I know he will not make that commitment because, in any future government, he would do what this government is doing—


Senator Ronaldson —On a point of order: I promise not to mislead Senate estimates in the way the minister did.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Cash)—There is no point of order.


Senator LUDWIG —Again, all we hear is hot air from Senator Ronaldson on this matter. It reminds me of those inflatable dolls that stand outside car parks that wave their arms around. Of course, what we have not heard—and what I really expect to hear—is Senator Ronaldson committing publicly to stand in this place and make a rational decision to say, ‘I will release any iterative documents and drafts, if asked, into the future.’ Why will he not do that yet still continues with this farce? I think Senator Ronaldson needs to come clean.

Question agreed to.