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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 8445

Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales) (17:13): Yet another matter of public importance from the opposition; yet another opposition own goal. Today's MPI is particularly embarrassing for the opposition, which was left to promote its own miserable efforts at Senate estimates, because, simply put, no media outlet was interested. With four days of hearings, eight committees in session and no distractions from the other side of the building as the House of Representatives was not sitting, there was a heaven-sent opportunity for a capable opposition—that is not the one across the chamber today, of course—to make some ground. No ground was made. No political benefit was achieved and no credit should go to anyone associated with such a miserable political failure.

Hit with the cold, hard reality that the opposition had bungled their way through a rolled-gold opportunity and had failed to score any political points at all in the media, Senator Abetz panicked. He tried to remind the media that the opposition were still breathing and that the wheels of the Senate estimates process were still turning. So what did he do? He put out a press release—I even have a copy of it here. It is about the coalition's work in estimates. Then, when still no media outlet would do the right thing by the opposition and pick up on all the hard work and tough, rigorous questions that they had asked, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate tried to save the day by misusing the MPI debate here in the Senate chamber as a way of talking up the opposition's Senate estimates work. It is a pity nobody had proofread the press release and it is really a pity that no-one had fact-checked the press release in Senator Abetz's name—what a pity, anyway, that they needed such an exercise in self-promotion in the first place.

Here it is. Under the breathless Liberal Party words 'See it and read it first', we have the headline 'Senate Estimates Committees—Labor's Waste and Mismanagement'. I hope that the written Hansard will accurately reflect the monstrous assault on traditional English grammar and usage that you find throughout this document. Could I request that the Liberal Party in future use appropriate tenses, proper punctuation and upper case letters when required and even try to put some verbs in some of the sentences in their press releases. After the mangled headline of this press release, the third sentence of the release grandly claims:

Here are just some examples of Labor waste and mismanagement which was uncovered by the Coalition this week during Senate Estimates.

And it went on, embarrassment after embarrassment.

I am reminded of a column by Verona Burgess in the Australian Financial Review. This was some time ago. Ms Burgess is, of course, acknowledged on all sides of politics as the foremost public commentator on the Senate estimates process. Let me quote for the benefit of all senators Ms Burgess's words. She quotes an old hand in this article, entitled 'Bruised Libs let rancour rule', who was talking about our friends on the other side of the chamber:

"They are disorganised, with no apparent leadership, no co-ordination, too individualistic, lots of wasted effort, poor timekeeping, meaning agencies had to drop off, [and] poor impact … [They used] bad tactics. Estimates is most effective when two or three co-ordinate an attack."

Nothing has changed since those words were written in 2008. I found 2009's article, headed 'Opposition mud-throwing barely sticks', and 2010's article—and I commend these to the opposition: you read, you might learn—under the headline, 'Unruffled under estimates fire'. And so it goes on. Nothing has changed after 16 rounds of estimates. Since the Howard government lost office the opposition has simply failed to master the art of Senate estimates. The only mud the opposition has got to stick at estimates was on the Godwin Grech issue, and that mud they managed to stick on themselves. That takes some talent from the opposition—you have to give them marks for that. The only mud they managed to stick stuck all over them.

It is particularly galling, I must say, to see the opposition in their document attacking a great Labor reform like the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which I think will positively transform the disability care and support system in this country, a system that, I believe, for too long has been letting down people with disabilities, their families and their carers. That scheme will deliver a whole new approach to the way we provide immediate support to the disabled. It will continue to invest in the future for some of the most vulnerable members of our community. I am proud of that initiative and I was disappointed to see that included in this very partisan political attack from the opposition because I know many people in the community do really eagerly await the implementation of this scheme.

So it has come to this. The negativity of the opposition has plumbed new depths. They are not just opposed to taking action on climate change, Building the Education Revolution or providing high-speed broadband through the NBN. They are now against coffee machines for public servants. They are against Australia's ambassador to Rome having a place to sleep at night. They are against the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency procuring a bar fridge. We even heard them whingeing about the cost of their own policy, sending asylum seekers to Nauru.

And we now know all this thanks to the efforts of the opposition today because no media outlet would run the story for the and do the right thing by the opposition and report all this guff about their estimates achievements; we had to hear it from themselves. So even though no-one else believes it—no-one in the press gallery, no-one in the parliament, no-one in the public, no-one in the community—we now know, courtesy of today's MPI debate right here in the Senate chamber, that Senate estimates was a triumph for the Liberals. Thank you so much for informing us about that.

Let me say this. I have always said that it is a very sad indictment when politicians start to believe their own publicity. And it is an even sadder indictment when politicians start to believe their own lack of publicity.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Marshall ): Order! The time for consideration of the matter of public importance has expired.