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Thursday, 10 November 2011
Page: 8860

Senator JOHNSTON (Western Australia) (15:12): This matter is extremely serious. There is only one way that a duly elected government in this country can do business and acquire non-government services, products, assets and work—and that is through a tender process. Without a tender process that is full and laden with integrity, government cannot function. The basic responsibility of every minister in our country, in our system, is to oversight and conduct a proper, fair, equitable, transparent, honest and decent tender process. This minister has failed not once, not twice but three times—he has completely botched tender processes. There are very few people in public life who can stand up and say that they have been directly responsible, through their fumbling of the ball, for costing the Australian taxpayer $30 million. Not many people can say that, but Minister Conroy has the ignominy of being able to proudly proclaim that he, through his own fumbling and incompetence, has lost $30 million in the failure of NBN mark I—as identified not by us in politics: the Australian National Audit Office have pinged him! He then dropped the ball on the $36 billion construction tender; it collapsed in April.

This tender is another classic example of his raging, glaring, naked incompetence. This man not only has mucked up a $223 million tender; he has done so whilst under the massive cloud of a conflict of interest. In discussing this contract in estimates he said, 'I have seen the ABC tender proposal; it is a fine tender.' If he knows it is 'a fine tender', when the Prime Minister gave him the guernsey to oversight this thing he should have said, 'Whoa, hold on; I am the responsible minister for the ABC.' But, no, his understanding of public policy responsibility is zero. He is the prince of dunderheads. He is functioning under the most glaring identifiable—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Johnston, you probably need to withdraw that last remark. Thank you.

Senator JOHNSTON: I withdraw. He is functioning under the most fundamental and basic conflict of interest.

What do we see here? The government embarks upon advice contrary to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on this important tender. The government has refused to disclose the names of the members of the evaluation board who are adjudicating the tender. So they are not acting in accord with the government department's advice and they are not telling anybody who is making the decision. But the leaks tell us that on two occasions that independent board said, 'Give the contract to Sky.'

Why aren't they doing that? The answer is: because Sky is owned by the 'evil empire'—News Corporation. So, the Prime Minister has rolled her sleeves up and dived in and said, 'We are not going to give this tender contract to the evil empire. They are the bad guys. They are saying that we're doing terrible things like the carbon tax and the mining tax.' This is what this government has brought to the table—no integrity. Indeed, the Solicitor-General's advice that we have heard from the minister says it all: this contract has the potential to be tainted and corrupted.

But it does not stop there. Look along the front bench in both chambers. 'Tainted' and 'corrupted' are the two glaring words that come to mind when you look at these people. Not many ministers can stand in this place and say, 'I personally, of my own ability, have burnt $30 million of taxpayers' money,' but he can. He will go down in history as one of the great spendthrift incompetents. (Time expired)