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Thursday, 10 February 2011
Page: 418

Senator CAMERON (10:01 AM) —Senator Mason’s contribution to the second reading debate on the Social Security Amendment (Income Support for Regional Students) Bill 2010 was more bluster than substance. The two key issues that anyone of substance has to deal with in this debate are the constitutional issues and the economic issues. The constitutional issues were not addressed by Senator Mason. They were completely ignored. And what was his contribution on the economic issues? ‘This will cost us money but it has to be addressed.’ There is a three-letter word that comes up after that: ‘How?’ How do you address it? Senator Mason, you just went on with all that bluster. You had 11 years in government to do something about this and you failed. You did nothing about this issue. It was because we had a weak Treasurer, Peter Costello, who could not control the spending urges of John Howard, so it was money in one side and tax cuts out the other side. In those days there was no thought about regional Australia, no thought about universities. It was cutting money out of universities. It was destroying the building funds of universities. It was destroying young people’s capacity to get training. That was the record of the Howard government. It is utter hypocrisy to come here now and argue that the Labor Party should be doing more for students in regional areas. You had 11½ years and your bad economic management meant that there was no vision, no plan for students in the country areas.

I do not agree with what the Greens are saying, but at least the Greens addressed, from their perspective, the economic issues—something that the coalition failed to do. The Greens said, ‘Yes, more money should be spent, and this is how it should be done.’ I do not agree with them. We have got an agreement with the mining industry and we are going to stick to that agreement, but at least the Greens came here and tried to address the issue of how their changes to this legislation would be funded. That is fine. I do not agree with them, but at least they came here with an economic approach—something that the coalition failed to do.

I want to deal with the constitutional issues now. Again, the Liberal Party failed to deal with them. It is important that the government’s position on the constitutionality of the bill is known to the Senate. It is well established under Australia’s constitutional arrangements that the government of the day is responsible for the management of public revenue and the budget. This means the government is responsible for initiating all financial initiatives in the parliament. Advice from the Attorney-General which was previously tabled in the Senate makes it clear:

A proposed law that would appropriate revenue or moneys cannot originate as a private member’s bill. A bill for such a law cannot, in any event, originate in the Senate.

There will be much water to flow under the bridge on this issue. My view is that what is being proposed here today is not only economically irresponsible; it is an act of constitutional vandalism. Senator Hanson-Young argued that it was good that people could bring issues to the Senate. I agree. You can bring issues, but you cannot bring an appropriation bill to the Senate. That is an issue that those who are arguing for this legislation have to deal with. Our priority as a government is the flood levy. Our priority is to deal with the budget cuts that will fund the rebuilding of Queensland, northern New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia. That is the national imperative for any politician in this place. The national imperative is to rebuild our nation after the worst natural disaster in our history. That is the priority for us, and I call on the coalition to start thinking about that priority in a serious manner and in a manner that deals with the national interest.

I want to come back to the constitutional vandalism and economic irresponsibility. I would not expect anything less from the National Party than constitutional vandalism and economic irresponsibility. After all, this is the party who gave us Black Jack McEwen and Barnaby Joyce.

Senator McEwen —No relation.

Senator CAMERON —No? This is a party who puts pork-barrelling before the national interest, a party who has no economic credibility, a party who builds false hope and panders to populist views and demands. That is what we are seeing at the moment. This is the party who gave us the Regional Partnerships program. I do not want to go into all the ins and outs of the Regional Partnerships program, but we know all about that. This is a party who is desperate to maintain its diminishing relevance to rural and regional Australia.

The Libs are not much better. They know this proposal is a dud, but they need the Nationals because Tony Abbott’s leadership is under pressure. That is what this is about. It is about pandering to the coalition partner, because they have major problems in terms of solidarity within the coalition. They are prepared to abandon fiscal responsibility to pander to the Nationals, and it is about nothing more than papering over the disunity that is there in the coalition. The current Leader of the Opposition must stand up to Barnaby Joyce on this issue. That is what he has to do. He has to stand up to him. But that will not happen, because the Liberals have abandoned any guise of good economic managers. The opposition leader should exercise leadership, but I think he is incapable of doing that.

We heard much the other day about the ‘night of the long prawns’. What did we have on Tuesday? We had the afternoon of the long stare. What should have happened is that Barnaby Joyce should have been given the long stare by Tony Abbott when he went in and demanded to be the finance spokesman for the coalition. The long stare would have worked better then, don’t you think? It would have left them with some economic credibility, because they have none now. The long stare should have come out, the nodding head should have been there and Barnaby should have been left in absolutely no doubt that the Liberal Party will not be led by the nose by the Nationals.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Moore)—Senator, I hate to break your stream, but that is not the way to refer to another person in this chamber.

Senator CAMERON —I apologise. Senator Joyce should not have led the Leader of the Opposition by the nose. That should not have happened, because it was an act of economic vandalism, putting Senator Joyce in the finance portfolio. It was an act of economic vandalism to concede to the demand from the National Party. This is what we have here. This is typical of what is happening. The long stare should have been out there. The problem for the Leader of the Opposition is that he has lost control. We now have a battle between the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow foreign minister, Julie Bishop. We now have a brawl between the shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey, and the shadow finance minister, Robb. We have the Western Australians trying to throw their muscle around and muscle over the Victorians. We know that is what is happening. We know that you are in absolute disarray. We know you are a rabble, and that is what this bill is about—trying to move away from the rabble that you are. (Time expired)