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Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Page: 2152

Senator ABETZ (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (6:56 PM) —The coalition does not support this motion. This is a government that has been out of control with its agenda and out of control with its minister in relation to the matter that it wants to discuss. Now, as a result of last-minute deals having been done with certain Independents, where they have been given documentation which is farcical in the extreme and without any robust assessment of that summary documentation, we can advise those on the other side that if we do sit longer hours there will be very forensic examination for a lengthy period of time on the matters that are part and parcel of the legislation before us.

Honourable senators interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Troeth)—Order! There should be far less noise in the chamber while Senator Abetz is on his feet.

Senator ABETZ —As I was saying before those opposite tried to drown me out, this is a government that is out of control. It has lost control of its agenda. Indeed, we had the spectacle of the Labor Party insisting that we discuss all manner of things because they did not have any genuine legislation to go ahead. Now, as the parliament is about to rise, they have all of a sudden discovered that they might be able to squeak through some legislation, and they have already voted for the gag. This is the new paradigm that the Greens signed up to with the Labor-Green alliance: there would be transparency; there would be no motions to gag debate. But that is exactly what the Greens tried to do. When they could not do it, their lapdogs in the Labor Party did it for them. The Labor-Green alliance is well and truly on foot.

The bizarre thing is that this motion to extend the sitting hours today is being moved and supported by the Australian Greens, who had the audacity to come in here and move a motion that calls today Go Home On Time Day. What absolute nonsense. What absolute hypocrisy. But, with the Australian Greens, consistency has never been their strong suit. They will say one thing and then immediately do the exact opposite—

Honourable senators interjecting—

Senator ABETZ —And that is what the Australian Labor Party have signed up to—

Honourable senators interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Troeth)—Order!

Senator ABETZ —in making this Green-Labor alliance.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Abetz, resume your seat, please. There is far too much audible noise in the chamber and it is impossible for any speakers to be heard. I would ask senators to have conversations outside the chamber or maintain a reasonable level of silence in the chamber. Senator Abetz.

Senator ABETZ —What a wonderful spectacle! I am not sure who is giving instructions to whom over there—whether it is Senator Arbib, the queenmaker, or Senator Bob Brown giving the other instructions. But it is quite clear that the Labor-Green alliance—unfortunately, aided and abetted by the crossbenches—have voted for a gag. That was not supposed to happen in this new paradigm. How long has it taken the Australian Labor Party and the Greens to sell out on all those high and mighty words? As we have seen so often and as we know in this place, just because it is Labor Party rhetoric, just because it is Green rhetoric and, with great respect to my friends on the crossbenches, just because it is their rhetoric, does not mean that they will deliver.

Let it be noted—and I am sorry to say this—that Senator Xenophon and Senator Fielding both voted for the gag. They both voted for the gag. Do not give us any more hypocrisy at the doors or at press conferences, suggesting that you are concerned about every parliamentarian being allowed to ventilate their particular point of view on an issue and that everybody should be allowed to enter a debate and put their point of view. By your actions today, by your vote this evening, you have shown that that means nothing. It was just a stunt to try to justify why the Greens sided with the Labor Party, and certain other Independents in the other place. They joined with the Labor Party to form government, but the Labor Party treat the Independents in the other place with contempt. They have broken their word to the Independents in the other place. Senator Bob Brown and the other Greens, those great champions of free speech who always believe that everybody ought to be allowed to have their say in this place, have voted to apply the gag.

Of course, this is a gag motion in the context of the Labor Party gagging the release of information to this parliament. They are not allowing information to be put before us in relation to the business plan, the government response to the implementation study and, chances are—most importantly of all—the Greenhill analysis of the NBN business plan.

Senator Conroy —You still haven’t got it right. It’s amazing.

Senator ABETZ —Senator Conroy has the audacity to interject, saying he still has not got it right. This is the man who was humiliated on national TV when he asserted that this legislation did not deal with the NBN, only to be shown by Senator Joyce that the legislation referred to the NBN not once, not twice, not a dozen times, not 50 times but 62 times. And he has the audacity to interject. I suggest you crease the backbone of the bill, crease the backbone of the explanatory memorandum and actually read what you are seeking to put before the parliament before you make those very silly interjections.

Back to the matter in hand. This is now an attempt by the Greens and Labor to have the parliament sit longer. They are willing to apply a gag to force through this place legislation that clearly has not been adequately prepared. The minister himself is not adequately prepared. We have legislation that the minister does not understand, does not comprehend, and we as a Senate have still been denied the business plan. We have been given a summary, 36 pages of it. Some of those pages only have one line on them, so when you start condensing it you will find that the summary of the business plan is in fact less than 36 pages long.

What that summary of the business plan tells us is that the business plan is ‘robust’. It is robust! It reminds me of my days in the Court of Petty Sessions, when the police prosecutor would get up every time and say, ‘We have a strong prima facie case, Your Worship.’ I never once heard a prosecutor acknowledge that the police did not have a strong prima facie case. Similarly, can you imagine a business plan that states ‘we don’t think this is a robust business plan’? Can you imagine a business plan that does not paint a rosy picture of the future? That is what business plans are all about. They are designed to convince people that ‘this is a good idea’. And, because the government themselves question that assertion, they got Greenhill Caliburn to do a robust assessment of the assertion that the business plan is robust. Surely that should have sounded alarm bells, especially for Senators Fielding and Xenophon. But, no, they do not need the Greenhill Caliburn assessment; they are just willing to accept that the NBN says they have a robust business plan. It is a matter of concern that now we are going to be forced to debate and, potentially, vote on this matter without that vital information.

Labor and the Greens have done a deal; they are now in an alliance where all the promises they made to the Australian people go out the window. Remember, on the day before the last election there was a solemn promise: there will be no price on carbon. The Greens simply twisted the arm of Ms Gillard and now they are looking at a price on carbon. And, with the same cynicism, the deal that the Greens, Labor and others did for a new paradigm—for the functioning of the parliament, where everybody would get their say—has similarly been thrown out the window this evening by vote of the crossbenchers, the Greens and Labor, just because it happens to suit them.

What was also thrown out the window tonight was going home on time. In a wonderful display of inconsistency and hypocrisy—a display of rhetoric not matching action—the Greens, on the day that they claim should be designated as Go Home on Time Day, have voted for the gag to ensure that we do not get home on time today. I just love the inconsistency of the Greens! I just wish our friends in the media would report it a bit more often to expose this sort of hypocrisy and cant. That is why I congratulate the Liberal Party and the coalition in Victoria for ensuring that the Greens are put last. The people of Victoria should not be subjected to the sort of hypocrisy and cant that the federal parliament is currently being subjected to, courtesy of the Labor Party and the Australian Greens.

If we are to believe the Australian Labor Party—and the facts speak for themselves on this—we are considering the biggest infrastructure project ever funded by an Australian government. It is worth $43,000 million—approximately $2,000 per man, woman and child in Australia—all to be funded, ultimately, by debt. The money will be borrowed. We were not given the business plan; we are given a sanitized version of it. We do not know what the government’s response to the implementation study is. We do not have the analysis of the business plan but we are being told that we need to vote on it before the parliament rises.

Why wasn’t this legislation brought on much earlier? Why wasn’t this legislation considered earlier? The reason is that the government has lost control of its own agenda. The Australian Greens are dictating what happens and what the government can and cannot do. The government have become prisoners of the Greens. Indeed, it is a very sorry sight when some 30 Labor senators become the pawns of five Green senators. The Australian Greens, in breach of standing orders, tried to move that the motion be put. They had complete disregard for the forms of this place in their ambition to be the ones to move the gag motion. They were not even relying on the Labor Party to move the gag. They wanted the notoriety. None other than the Leader of the Australian Greens wanted the notoriety. He wanted to be in Hansard as having moved the gag.

He is in Hansard, albeit in breach of the forms of this chamber. That is why the hapless Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, the minister for communications—the minister who has not even read his own legislation—has been forced to move the gag motion as Senator Brown’s lap-dog. What a pathetic sight it is to see a once-proud Labor Party reduced to becoming the lap-dogs of the Australian Greens in this place! The blue-collar workers of this country will be horrified. Australian Greens supporters would also be horrified to see the Leader of the Australian Greens move a gag motion in this place which flies in the face of everything he has asserted and everything he has claimed to the Australian people about the way he and the Australian Greens believe that the parliament ought be run.

We know that economic management is not the strong suit of the Australian Greens. It does not really worry them whether it costs $4 thousand million, $40 thousand million or $43 thousand million; they are not concerned about the economic viability or any cost-benefit analysis of the National Broadband Network, as proposed. They are not concerned about having that submitted to the Productivity Commission for a robust analysis, because that has never been the strong suit of the Australian Greens.

But I thought one of their strong suits was parliamentary democracy—free debate in this place and an absolute abhorrence for the gag motion. Well, tonight we have seen them exposed. They have been exposed by themselves, because the Leader of the Greens did not even know the forms of this place. He moved the gag motion after he had spoken. Isn’t that so typical of the Australian Greens, especially its leader? ‘After I have spoken,’ he says, ‘after I have vented everything I wanted to say, then it is appropriate for me to move the gag.’ The standing orders protect this place against that sort of hypocrisy, thank goodness. That is why Senator Brown was unable to continue with moving that gag. But, as I said before, the lap-dog Senator Conroy came in to take his place.

This matter is a signature indication of how the Senate will operate after 1 July next year, when—and I say this with great respect—Senator Fielding will no longer be with us and Senator Xenophon will no longer be as important in the equation of numbers in this place. So we are seeing how Labor and the Greens will run this show with complete disregard for the rights of individual senators. It is a matter of concern. It would fly in the face of their solemn promise to the Australian people.

We in the coalition believe that there should not have been a gag motion this evening. There has been. Those that voted for it will wear it. Further, we do not believe that there should have been an extension of hours on this, the Greens-designated Go Home On Time Day—what hypocrisy! And they do this straight-faced. That is one thing you have to give the Greens. They can be so hypocritical and two-faced, they can speak out of both sides of their mouths, they can speak with a forked tongue and keep a straight face, apart from Senator Milne. I think the foolish position that the Greens have got themselves into is finally dawning on her.

Senator Brown still sits there, as he always does, like the Easter Island statue, with no expression on his face. I am sure, with great seriousness, he will get up and tell us that there is no contradiction in saying we should go home on time today and then moving an extension of hours. It will be wonderful to witness the contortions. Who knows—Senator Brown, even this late in his parliamentary career, may well win a prize for parliamentary gymnastics before we rise. This use of the Senate to try and force through a motion on going home on time and then voting to do the exact opposite on the very same day is absolutely contradictory. I would have found it humiliating, but the Leader of the Australian Greens does this with a straight face, as if there were no contradiction in his position. But, of course, this is the man who calls for renewable energy and then does not support hydro power. He says he believes in natural products, but he does not believe in a sustainable forest industry. So the hypocrisy, the cant and the duplicity go on each and every day. Today he has been caught out himself with the nonsense of having moved the gag motion.

The Greens may well think that they can get out of this by tiring the opposition. I say to them: they have another think coming. We see the NBN project, costing Australians $43 billion, as a matter of grave moment in the life of this parliament, worthy of very detailed consideration. The legislation which helps establish the NBN, which we are considering now—it is on the Notice Paper now—is vitally important to the future economic wellbeing of our country, and we will examine it by comma, by semicolon and by clause to ensure that the Australian people are not short sold like they were by the crossbenchers and the Australian Greens in rushing through pink batts, the green loans scandal, and the Building the Education Revolution scandal. They were all rushed through on the pretext that the government had to get its agenda through and somehow it was within our economic interests.

The disasters are there for all to see. The Greens and crossbenchers are supporting another. (Time expired)

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Troeth)—Senator Brown.

Senator Bob Brown —Madam—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Fifield.

Senator Fifield —Madam Acting Deputy President, I call your attention to the state of the chamber.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The state of the chamber appears to be deficient; we need a quorum. (Quorum formed)

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! It being 7.20 pm, I propose the question that the Senate do now adjourn.

Senator Bob Brown —Madam Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. It is not 7.20 pm; I move that the question now be put.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I am sorry, Senator Brown. It is now 7.20 and I propose the question that the Senate do now adjourn.

Senator Bob Brown —On a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —It is 7.21 now, Senator Brown.

Senator Bob Brown —On a point of order, I rose to my feet before 7.20 and put the question before 7.20 that the question now be put—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Brown, Senator Fifield called attention to the state of the chamber before 7.20. By the time we had a quorum and you rose to your feet it was 7.21, which is after the time that the Senate needs to propose the adjournment. Pursuant to standing orders, I have to put the question that the Senate do now adjourn.

Senator Bob Brown —Madam Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: I have not finished yet.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I have ruled on the point of order.

Senator Bob Brown —I put a different point of order: I ask that you seek the President’s ruling on the fact that I was called by you before the call for the quorum.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I will check that, Senator Brown, but the time will show that it was 7.21 pm.

Senator Bob Brown —Thank you.