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Order In The House -

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(generated from captions) at the airport's basement corridors. Black spots not under surveillance duplicate keys. Engineers with unauthorised criminal convictions. 39 security screeners with serious to avoid century inspections. being diverted to domestic carousels of narcotics containing large amounts including passengers' baggage at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport, identifying security breaches a Customs report since September 2004, that the Government has held Can the Minister confirm in criminal activity. staff have been involved showing that some Sydney Airport report over a leaked Customs Department Minister John Anderson to task The Opposition took Transport to be condemned by all Australians. This is a disgraceful act as a biological agent. has tested positive The initial analysis of the powder his temper a bit today. Mr Speaker, he seems to have lost minister to answer the question? Mr Speaker, could you ask the idiot at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport? posing a potential terrorist threat caution the Government about staff provided to the Government But did the Customs report Mr Speaker. subject of a terrorism incident, that we will not one day be the and no-one can guarantee I can't guarantee in Federal Parliament. a review of the week's business Welcome to Order in the House,

of over 900 cargo agents, the regulation security programs, 350 approved transport 170 airlines regulated, We've had 180 airports regulated, go through this place. Transport Security Act itself We've had the comprehensive Aviation recapping them. and I think it's worth a very large number of measures in fact, instituted the Government has, of material was conducted since research for that piece just making this point, it's worth it, Mr Speaker, but I can - and I think or to my department, was not made available to me, I can confirm that the report and of police. of the Customs service - into the responsibility Those matter rightly fall concerning criminality at airports. raise a number of issues it does, in fact, to the report itself, Mr Speaker, in relation that was announced at that time. Aviation Security Package in the $93 million enhanced very substantially addressed they were to what happened at the end of 2003 If you go back and refer I'm asked how... and they were very substantially - that the report raised the very issues the Government was addressing that at that very time Mr Speaker, it's important to note completed in early 2004. and so far as we're able to assess, in late 2003 that the report was researched And I can tell the House now from Customs, Mr Speaker. Security to secure a copy of it I asked the office of Transport When I became aware of it, the 'Australian' this morning. on the front page arising out of the story which deserve to be taken seriously there are serious matters and acknowledge that member for his question Mr Speaker, I thank the honourable the Deputy Prime Minister. The Honourable were "an extremely high risk". despite evidence showing that they are rare, And that Customs checks of air crew

to the issues that our authorities and comprehensive response is that they constitute a very full and would be well taken in the House I think the point that I would make was undertaken. in the 'Australian' this morning that research referred to since the time that have been implemented Mr Speaker, these measures at our airports. paid for by the private sector in new equipment and several hundred million a year by Qantas alone around $300 million a year of Commonwealth outlays, Indeed, Mr Speaker, some $162 million at regional airports. to increase security $48 million worth of measures to powered aircraft, anti-theft devices passenger screening points, at domestic and international explosive-trace detection officer network, The AFP protective security liaison and international routes, Mr Speaker. on selected domestic services of our armed air security officers The deployment, of course, at our airports. APS presence and ASIO presence Increased AFP presence and entering airport sterile areas. The screening of goods and persons carry-on screening takes place. where passenger and An increase in the number of airports on international flights. A 100% check bag screening funded by the Government. on aircraft of more than 30 seats of hardened cockpit doors checking for pilots, the introduction of background We've had, of course, to note, Mr Speaker. And I think that's very important who have not had them reissued. who sought those cards a significant number of people Mr Speaker, there are they have not been reissued. those cards should not be reissued, have identified reasons why the Australian Federal Police or ASIO is that where DIMIA, to reassure the House And what I would want 65,000 of them. Mr Speaker. in circulation have been reissued, all of those ASICs cards that are Since the report was researched, The ASICs. Security Identification Cards. for the issue of the Aviation of criteria the broadening and tightening to airport secure areas. greater controls over access

the Deputy Prime Minister. Mr Speaker, in general terms, it alerted Customs officials to what I think was obvious - that the question of international terrorism and the chance for incidents at our major airports was a very real one and had to be taken seriously. Yes it did, in a generic sense, Mr Speaker, and of course, that has been, as I outlined in my earlier answer, very comprehensively responded to. I ask the Deputy Prime Minister in respect to his comments earlier where he said that "The Customs report previously referred to," I think his words were, "in a general sense," "advised of the threat of generic terrorism." Isn't it the case that the report said one security guard and his family were members of a fanatical religious group and further, some of these persons have affiliations with radical groups and are seen as possible security liability. Deputy Prime Minister, when were you briefed on SPEAKER: The Honourable at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport? posing a potential terrorist threat caution the Government about staff provided to the Government did the Customs report Deputy Prime Minister, every right to expect we would be. as the travelling public would have Mr Speaker. have been, and remain, vigilant, and the private sector the Government and its agencies But I can say this - the subject of a terrorism incident. that we will not one day be and no-one can guarantee, And I can't guarantee, a terrorism incident. We have not had in Australia The Member for Swan! Mr Speaker... by making this point - Mr Speaker, I want to conclude by making this point - Mr Speaker, I want to conclude Mr Speaker. have been alerting us to, the contents of this report and when did you, in discharge of your responsibilities of security at Australia's airports, request to be provided with a copy? SPEAKER: The Honourable the Deputy Prime Minister. Ah, Mr Speaker, as I thought I'd made plain to the House, I didn't become aware of the report until this morning. (Members interject) Order! I made that plain, Mr Speaker. This was...you weren't listening. And I asked...I made at the beginning of my remarks, I said I asked my department to go and find a copy of it from Customs. Mr Speaker, it was not provided to me, it was not provided to the Minister for Customs, it was an internal report, a speculative report, that was intended for Customs' use and consideration. Now, Mr Speaker, in terms of the claims that it make I reiterate the remarks that I made earlier, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, they go back quite a while. The issues raised in it are precisely the reason that we took the action that we took in the Enhanced Aviation Security Package including, Mr Speaker, and I reiterate again the points made here, including the reissuing of the ASIC cards. We wanted to make certain that we didn't have people who might have been inclined to engage in politically motivated violence working in our airports. Mr Speaker, let me spell it out more basically yet again. That is why we said to everyone who had an Airport Security Identification Card, must subject themselves to a thorough background check again by the Australian Federal Police, by DIMIA and by ASIO. And Mr Speaker, on that basis, the cards have been reissued to those that we deem do not pose a security risk. I don't think, Mr Speaker, I can spell it out more clearly than that. You see, you're not just any member of parliament, Deputy Prime Minister, you're the minister in charge. You're the fellow who knows, not only the generic threats, you're there to know if there is specific one. And here is what your operational report said and I cannot believe... I cannot believe if this is so, that you, or one of your ministerial colleagues, did not have a synopsis of this on your desk. The report said, "One security guard and his family "were members of a fanatical religious group." And again quoting - this is the newspaper quoting from the report: "Some of these persons have affiliations with radical groups." These are the people who are being supervised, these are the employees that they're talking about. This is in this report. "Some of these persons have affiliations with radical groups" "and are seen as a possible security liability. "Some have associations with gangs, predominantly in Sydney's south-west. "The vulnerability of Sydney Airport again "should not be under-evaluated in terms of counter-terrorism "or other criminal activity." Now, these don't refer to generics, Minister. They don't refer to possibilities that are out there which fertile minds sitting around a desk in Customs could conjure up as a possible scenario, either for his superior officers or for a movie script. What these are are the product of Customs officers and police examining the practices that are in place at Sydney Airport understanding the character of at least some of the people that they're dealing with at Sydney Airport, matching that to what they know in this community of people who've adopted extremist positions and have been, potentially at least, persons of interest to security officials in that regard. And saying then, having analysed their practices and all the things that they've been doing, all of these things constituted together add up to a situation where quite possibly a serious potential terrorist threat is emerging from here or could emerge. Now, know that there's nothing as far as I can see in all the report may say something different, in which the minister could rock into this place, table a report, settle all our minds at rest. But there is nothing here to say that in September of last year that the Department of Customs considered all these threats obviate. There is nothing whatever to say that. There is nothing there to say that in September of that year that the Customs Department considered that of screeners, there was no longer a problem with people who are employed who are convicted of matters, of unauthorised duplicate keys, there was no longer a problem of black spots not under surveillance in the airport's basement - corridors that are being used as drug drop-off points. There was not a suggestion, at least nothing in the newspaper account of this report that said that um, that there was no longer any theft by airport employees from baggage and aircraft duty-free trolleys. And indeed, logic would suggest that there is good reason for the September 2004 completion of this report for presentation to more senior officers, because what do we know since then? Since then, people have been emptying out baggage and running around with camel heads, people have been... issuing reports to Qantas at the rate of 35 a - 35 a week, I think it is. 35 a week that their baggage has been tampered with. The Federal Police have announced that they are surveilling and have shown us all these shock-horror photos that have made their way through with appropriate pixilation to our television sets of people that are persons of interest and that they are examining. All of these things have occurred since September 2004 and there is nothing to indicate anyway that that report of September 2004 was a historical, as opposed to an operational document. What I want to say, Mr Speaker, that I am disappointed that a matter as serious as this, is being plainly sensationalised by the Opposition. Let me say this, it's quite appropriate for the Opposition to raise its concerns about security and transport. Quite appropriate. But, Mr Speaker, if they were serious, the first thing that the Leader of the Opposition would do because he's been a senior member in a government, is that he would know how important and how sensitive security matters are and he would begin by doing something that he and his Shadow spokesman haven't done. Rather than going out, sensationalising this before you know the facts you would have sought a briefing on any of these recent media reports concerning criminal activity at airports or on aviation security. I'm glad you asked what I do because I will come to that in a moment, I'll explain what I do. (Interjection) Now, Mr Speaker, I couldn't have sat on this, it wasn't made available to the minister or to me. (Interjections) SPEAKER: Order. Mr Speaker... Order. Mr Speaker, I make this point again. The charge I make against the Leader of the Opposition is that he's been a senior member, minister in government and he knows that sensitive issues like this, all over the front page of the paper. He says he hasn't got a copy, I have. I have got a copy of it now. As of today. And I'm not going to retable it, and I'll tell you why. For the very obvious reason that in fact there may be some material in it that perhaps could still be acted upon. And which should not be, in the public interest, released. And it might warn people. Now I don't think there is any of that in there because I think we've addressed all of the issues that I've said in the Parliament. Order. But, Mr Speaker, I just make this point. That the Leader of the Opposition would know full well that if he were being genuinely responsible on this, he would have sought a prior, private briefing on it from my department. That's what he would have done. And he knows that. He's yabbering away over there as is his want. But he knows full well that the right thing to have done here would have been to have sought a proper briefing. If he didn't want to sensationalise it, he would have sought a proper briefing. And I say this, he would have got it without question. And he'll get it now, without question, if he wants it. And so will his spokesman. But until he does, he stands charged with this, he's more interested in sensationalising it than he is in ensuring that he makes a responsible move to help us reinforce, bolts and braces, if you like, Australia's transport security arrangements. Thank you, Mr Speaker, my question is to the Foreign Minister - and I refer to his statement of 7 March, 2005, following his meeting with Ms Schapelle Corby's defence team where he stated, and I quote, "Of course it's a situation where the defence wants to try "and get as much information as they can from the airlines "and from Customs and so on. "Obviously we're happy to try and get as much information as well "that it is possible to obtain", unquote. Minister, I refer to media reports today, that in September, '04, customs concluded an investigation which reportedly uncovered incidences where baggage handlers at Sydney airport had been involved in drug smuggling operations. Minister, did this report contain any information relevant to the Corby defence team? And if so, was this information provided to them? SPEAKER: The Honourable Minister for Foreign Affairs. Well, Mr Speaker, as I understand it, Ms Corby was arrested in October 2004, I think I'm right in saying that. So the report, you're telling me was produced during that year, but earlier than that. Earlier than that, it was an internal report of the Australian Customs Service. So if you're trying to make a party political point here. Which I suspect you might be, which is a little disappointing, which of course, it's outrageous, isn't it? To even mention that you're trying to... Order. Order. It's perfectly obvious you are trying to. Order. The minister will resist from using the word 'you'. (Interjections) Mr Speaker, the point I'd make is exactly what the Deputy Prime Minister has said, that this was an internal working document of the Australian Customs Service. None of you saw it and nor did I. And nor did the Deputy Prime Minister. It relates to information that... ..now, now, now, stop shouting, it relates to information which I understand was collected in when? September, October, November, that sort of time, 2003. I understand Ms Corby was arrested in October, 2004. Cheap party politics, mate. The Foreign Affairs Minister denied misleading the public about when his department became aware that Vivian Solon had been wrongly deported. My question is to the Foreign Minister. Does the minister recall telling the Australian people on 16 May this year, in relation to the Vivian Alvarez-Solon case and I quote, "I can only say to you that as far as my department is concerned, "we didn't know anything about her case "until the end of last month, meaning the end of April 2005." Is the minister aware of a letter from the Department of Immigration, tabled in Senate estimates today, that the Immigration Department has now, and I quote, "Learned of an exchange between "the Queensland Police Missing Persons unit and DFAT "in September, 2003 "and that the papers we have received from DFAT "relating to this exchange show that Queensland Police, "in providing DFAT with the context of their request, "indicated that Ms Alvarez was actually an Australian citizen." Minister, is it not the case, at the height of the public debate in this country on the Vivian Alvarez matter, on 16 May, you mislead the Australian people about when your department first knew that Vivian Alvarez was an Australian citizen, and why haven't you corrected the record? Here, here. Order. Before I call the Minister for Foreign Affairs, I'll remind the Member for Griffith that the use of the word 'you' is to be desisted. The Honourable Minister for Foreign Affairs. Oh, oh. (Labor members heckle) You miss Keating, don't you? Order. Well, what is a laughing matter, Mr Speaker, is the way the Opposition They don't provide the full quote. What I actually did was make it perfectly clear, in the interviews that I did on this subject, that this was according to the advice I had been given by my department. (Interjections) Mr Speaker, it might come as an enormous surprise to the Labor Party but bearing in mind that my department receives in Canberra, 130-140,000 cables a year, plus infinite numbers of emails, I personally, don't read every single piece of material that comes into my department. And actually, no minister since January 1901, ever has done. And Mr Speaker, the fact is that I provided the information that had been provided to me in a submission, a written submission from my department, at that time. Mr Speaker, I've asked my department to scour through their files and see whether they could find anything and as they have found two or three pieces of information, they passed that on to the Palmer inquiry. And Mr Speaker, there is nothing less and nothing more to it than that. And to try to sex-up a story like this as though somebody has done something terribly wrong or DFAT were involved in some sort of conspiracy to send Vivian Alvarez-Solon back to the Philippines. Oh, come on, grow up. My question is to the Foreign Minister - and I refer to the fact confirmed today by the Immigration Department. That the Minister's own department had been advised by the Queensland Police Missing Person's unit in September 2003, that Vivian Alvarez was actually an Australian citizen. If the Minister has since discovered this his Department had known for 18 months that Miss Alvarez was an Australian citizen why didn't the Minister choose to correct the public record? And, Minister, what action did the Department take, following receipt of this information in September 2003, in order to locate Miss Alvarez in the Philippines following her illegal deportation and return her to Australia, the country of her citizenship? SPEAKER: The Honourable Minister for Foreign Affairs. Well, Mr Speaker, the mock indignation is quite alarming. Um, Mr Speaker, um... Actually we have set the record straight, I would have thought. 'Cause the re... SPEAKER: Order. Right, you're still here, are you? SPEAKER: Order! Mr Speaker, uh...jabbering away over there in Opposition. Shouting away, day in and day out. Mr Speaker, uh, if I may be permitted to answer the question - The...oh no, I may not. SPEAKER: The member for Griffith. The member for Griffith has the call. Mr Speaker, could you ask the idiot Minister to answer the question? SPEAKER: The Member for Griffith will res... will withdraw that. The member for Griffith will come to the microphone and withdraw. I withdraw that reference in relation to the Minister and his state of mind. The Honourable Minister for Foreign Affairs. Mr Speaker, he seems to have lost his temper a bit today. Um, look, Mr Speaker, the...I would have thought bearing in mind the two questions the Minister has asked - that a Shadow Minister has asked, that it's kind of obvious that we have made the material available? The letter from the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration was actually cleared with me. It was on my desk there, I read it. And I said, "Yes, that's absolutely fine. "Absolutely fine, and that letter can go out." The Opposition has got hold of it - new conspiracy theory... um, abuse, denigration... look, honestly, you cannot take these guys seriously, Mr Speaker. There is the Palmer Inquiry... SPEAKER: Order. Minister, resume his seat. The Palmer Inquiry... The Member for Griffith on a point of order. Yes, Mr Speaker, on relevance the Minister was asked what action he took to return Miss Alvarez Solon to Australia in the 18 months since he first knew she was an Australia citizen? The Minister for Foreign Affairs. Mr Speaker, as I was saying, this material has been passed to the Palmer Inquiry, all of that will be looked into by the Palmer Inquiry. And when the Palmer Inquiry reports we're not doing the Palmer Inquiry here. The Palmer Inquiry is... SPEAKER: Order! ..being done by Mick Palmer and when it's complete even the member for Griffith will be able to read it! My question is to the Foreign Minister and it follows the last asked by the Member for Griffith. And it concerns the issues related to his Department's awareness a couple of years prior to when he first advised the public. They understood that an Australian citizen had been, uh, removed from Australia, deported from Australia - effectively, illegally. Uh, Foreign Minister, is it not the case that the Palmer Inquiry firstly is not necessarily going to make public findings and reveal its processes and its deliberations publicly uh, as the Minister herself has announced? The second question related to that, uh, the Foreign Minister - is it not the case that the Palmer Inquiry is not only going to definitively find on Rowe, it's going to makes recommendations on um, how the issues with regards Alvarez Solon should be pursued. And about a couple of hundred other cases as well. In fact, Minister, is it not the case that the circumstances you so arrogantly dismissed will not be answered by the Palmer Inquiry? And will you now answer the shadow Foreign Minister's questions that you so arrogantly dismissed? SPEAKER: Order. I again remind the Leader of the Opposition to desist from using the word 'you'. The Minister for Foreign Affairs. Mr Speaker, first let me say in relation to the member for Griffith. I guess he got off to a bad start by not, uh, providing the full quote of what I said on the 'Lateline' program, so. Secondly, Mr Speaker, if you're going to engage in debate in this House, you need to make sure that you're putting forward your case with a bit of integrity, not misquoting deliberately people. Secondly, Mr Speaker, let me make this point. That, um, material has been referred to Mick Palmer and his inquiry in relation to Miss Alvarez. And, uh, he is handling that issue - as I understand it, I mean you can check with the Immigration Minister, but as I understand it, he is looking into her case. But in terms of further cases, which he doesn't believe he has time to deal with, he's going to make recommendations for how they should be dealt with. I refer to the relegation in Senate estimates yesterday that in September 2004 when approached by the Immigration Department the Minister's Department refused to provide Miss Alvarez's passport details. Why, one year after his Department had first been told by the Queensland police that Miss Alvarez was an Australia citizen, did the Minister's Department refuse to cooperate with the Department of Immigration's enquiries regarding Miss Alvarez? Or, like yesterday, does the Minister simply regard this as a laughing matter? SPEAKER: The Minister for Foreign Affairs. And in answering that question, he'll ignore the last part of that question. Mr Speaker, first of all... I'm advised by my Department, that it was approached in September 2004 by the Department of Immigration for Miss Solon's passport dossier. No...it's not the question, he asked the question. You don't want to hear the answer, you just want to talk, do you? No reason was given for the request at the time. SPEAKER: Order. Well, I'll start again, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, my Department... well, you asked the question - do you want an answer or is it just a time for interjections? Mr Speaker, my Department was approached in September 2004 by the Immigration Department for Miss Solon's passport dossier - no reason was given for the request at the time. And DIMIA did not provide the necessary privacy authorisation required by the privacy act, So the information was not passed on and DMIA did not pursue the request. Two things need to happen immediately. Mr Speaker, immediately. The first is - the Palmer Inquiry should be shut down and replaced by a Royal Commission. Properly empowered to investigate all of those issues which, uh, have been referred to the Palmer committee. But the Palmer committee has refused to consider. It is not good enough for the Prime Minister simply to sit there and say that there's transparency because the Minister refers 200 cases to him. And then he comes out and says, "Well, all I'll do is point to you "to how you might consider investigating those 200 cases." That is not actually an answer. It cries out for a Royal Commission. There was shock and condemnation from both sides of the House when a suspicious package turned up at the Indonesian Embassy. And I can advise the House now that an envelope has been taken to a laboratory at the Canberra Hospital for further analysis at 12:25 today. The initial analysis of the powder has tested positive as a biological agent, though further testing will need to be carried out to determine what that substance actually is. As such, there is a possibility that the Indonesian Embassy will be shutdown for quite some period of time and the 22 staff will remain in isolation for the next 48 hours. I'd just like to extend the House's concern about this, our condemnation, all of us, our condemnation of this action. And our hope that none of the staff will have in any way been harmed. And the assurance that Australian authorities, be they federal or ACT authorities, will do all they can to provide assistance to the Indonesians. ALL: Hear, Hear. SPEAKER: The Honourable Leader of the Opposition. May I have your indulgence to address the House? We completely support the remarks and the tone of the Foreign Minister's statement on this. This is a disgraceful act to be condemned by all Australians. And, ah, it's very necessary, I think, to learn from this, that people should view the circumstances now surrounding the particular case which may have generated this, with a bit of calm, dispassion and commonsense. And there is no doubt at all that this is a very serious thing to have happened. If the circumstances are that the biological agent was sent it would be the first instance of that occurring in this country and would amount to an extremely serious development indeed. So this is a situation which, no doubt, the Government will want to keep the House apprised of as time goes by. But in the meantime, there should be absolutely no doubt in the public mind at all that the House is of a combined and united view that this sort of outrageous behaviour must not be encouraged. And an atmosphere which encourages it must not be sustained. Thank you, Mr Speaker. My question is to the Prime Minister. Can the Prime Minister detail the latest information regarding yesterday's shameful act against the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra? Can the Prime Minister inform the House as to the welfare of the Indonesian Embassy staff? Does the Prime Minister have concerns about the possibility of retaliatory threats against Australian diplomats abroad? If so, will the Government be implementing additional security measures to maximise their protection? SPEAKER: The Honourable The Prime Minister. Well, Mr Speaker, I think as the Honourable Member will be aware the preliminary results of the analysis of the substance would indicate that it, in all probability, is not toxic. Um, I think the basic circumstances are well known. I have been briefed on the broad substance of the note which accompanied the material. For police investigation reasons I'm not at liberty to disclose what that substance is. Although I would be willing to privately inform the Leader of the Opposition of what I've been told. And also I extend to him and the Member for Barton who, I think has the portfolio responsibility in the Opposition, the facility of any briefing that he would like to have. As far as additional security measures are concerned in light of this incident the Government is reviewing that and if any further measures are needed they will be implemented. Ah, in so far as the welfare of the staff is concerned it is my advice that none of them have reported ill at present and after the decon...decontamination process last night they were allowed to go home. In so far as possible retaliatory action is concerned in Indonesia, there is always a danger of that. Just as we cannot guarantee a random act of stupidity with an evil intent from amongst our 20 million people won't occur. Equally I cannot expect a guarantee from the Indonesian Government that some evil act of retaliation won't occur in that country. I can only repeat, and I think I speak for all Australians in saying this, that this was a reckless, evil act. Some grim economic figures led the Opposition to accuse the Government of driving the economy into a debt trap. Does the Prime Minister recall launching the Debt Truck in September 1995, when foreign debt was $180 billion? And that time stating, and I quote, (Reads) "If it weren't for the level of foreign debt, "interest rates in this country would be much lower. "If it weren't for the size of the foreign debt, "we'd all be paying lower amounts on our mortgage. "I can promise you that we will follow policies which will, "over a period of time, bring down foreign debt." Is the Prime Minister aware of the latest foreign debt figure released today of $425 billion? Prime Minister, for how long will you let Australia sink further and further into unsustainable debt? SPEAKER: The Honourable The Prime Minister. Mr Speaker, the answer to the first part of the question is 'yes'. The answer to the second part of the question is also 'yes'. The answer to the third part of the question which is the allegation of sustainability is that the Leader of the Opposition has it wrong, Mr Speaker. A debt sustainability is, in most people's experience, and most nation's experience, measured by capacity to service. The net foreign debt servicing ratio measured as net interest repayments as a proportion of exports, remains below 10%, indeed at 9.7% in the March quarter 2005. This is below the peak of 20% recorded in 1990 and below the 1990s average of 13%. Importantly, Mr Speaker, the bulk of the foreign debt accumulated, 96.8% belongs to the private sector, that's not surprising because we've paid off most of the public sector debt, Mr Speaker. But the person who asked me the question at left to this government. Australian net debt peaked at 19.1% of GDP in 1995-96 and it's estimated to be just 1.9%, Mr Speaker. 19.1% to 1.9%, Mr Speaker, and this is the measure of the debt the Government's run up, Mr Speaker. This is the measure. And we've peaked, Mr Speaker, at 19.1% in the last financial year that Labor was in office. And it's just going to be 1.9% of GDP in the current financial year. My question is to the Treasurer and it concerns today's record foreign debt and record current account deficit. Does the Treasurer recall stating in this place on 30 June, 1995, when the current account deficit was 6.5% of GDP, and I quote, (Reads) "How long do we have to put up with this? "How long do we have to watch this convoy of trucks "run over Australia, month after month? "How long must the Australian people watch this humiliating performance "in world and economic terms?" SPEAKER: The Member will come to his question. Treasurer, with the current account deficit now at 7.25% of GDP, how much longer do the Australian people have to watch this humiliating performance? SPEAKER: The Honourable The Treasurer. Well, Mr Speaker, the Australian people have been watching the Member for Lilley - a humiliating performance, for quite some time. Can I say, in March of 1995, Mr Speaker... In March of 1995, Mr Speaker, and I welcome the first question that the Member for Lilley has asked since the budget. First question, Mr Speaker. SPEAKER: Order! Order! I must say, Mr Speaker, we have had some bad Shadow Treasurers but none up to the record of the Member for Lilley. SPEAKER: The Treasurer The Treasurer will resume his seat. The Leader of the Opposition. Goes to relevance. He's been given a very serious number today, Mr Speaker, and he ought to be answering the questions on it. SPEAKER: The Leader will resume his seat. The Treasurer is answering the question. In March of 1995, Mr Speaker, mortgage interest rates, and I covered this in my last answer, were 10.5%. Today, Mr Speaker, they are 7.3%. In March of 1995, Mr Speaker, the unemployment rate was 8.4%, today, Mr Speaker, the unemployment rate is 5.1%. But, Mr Speaker, seeing as we're talking about savings, which the current account represents the difference between savings, Mr Speaker, and investment and consumption. Seeing as we're talking about savings, in March of 1995, compared to a budget surplus of 1.1% today, in March of 1995, the budget was not balanced, it was not in surplus, it was a deficit of 2.8% of GDP. Mr Speaker, back in March of 1995, the Government was adding to foreign debt by having a deficit of 2.8% of GDP. Today, the Government is detracting from foreign debt by having a surplus of 1.1% of GDP. Mr Speaker, can I also make one... SPEAKER: Order! The Member for Wills and the Member for Hotham. In relation to the question which was asked of the Prime Minister earlier, back in March of 1995, Australia had had its credit rating downgraded twice. In today, which is May of 2005, Australia has had its credit rating upgraded twice to a Triple A credit rating, Mr Speaker... SPEAKER: Treasurer, resume your seat. The Member for Grayndler. On a point of order? On a point of order, prior to question time commencing, you reiterated to the House that the only standing order that mattered over there was relevance. I asked you to uphold... SPEAKER: The Member for Grayndler will... The Member for Grayndler, resume your seat. The Treasurer is in order. Mr Speaker, I'm talking about Australia's credit rating in relation to its debt position, Mr Speaker. In March of 1995, Australia had had its credit rating downgraded twice under the Labor Party. Mr Speaker, because the Government now has essentially no net debt, its credit rating has now been revised upwards twice to a Triple A rating. The consequence of that, Mr Speaker, is that Australia, now a Triple A rated for foreign currency bonds, no longer pays any premium in relation to its interest rates which it was paying in March of 1995. Which puts back into the context the Prime Minister's statement, we were paying a premium for foreign debt in March of 1995 because our credit had been downgraded on two occasions. Anybody on this side of the House will know this, if you have a Triple A credit rating, the premium on your interest rate is a lot lower than if you have been downgraded. And the consequence over those years, Mr Speaker, is that premium on foreign currency bonds has been taken out as a result of the Government getting its budget back in balance, reducing its net debt and getting two upgradings to Triple A rating for the Australian economy. My question is to the Prime Minister. And it relates to the Treasurer's claim yesterday that our record foreign debt poses no threat to interest rates. Is the Prime Minister aware of reports today that Australia's snowballing foreign debt could pose a threat to the Government's credit rating? With credit ratings agency Standard and Poor's saying, (Reads) "Australia's foreign debt is," and I quote, "pretty high for a Triple A rated country." And that our foreign debt is 50-60% more than another other current country with a Triple A rating. In light of these warnings, how much long will the Prime Minister allow Australia to sink into unsustainable debt? SPEAKER: The Honourable The Treasurer. Ah, Mr Speaker, can I...? SPEAKER: Order! Order! The Member for Grayndler. I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his question and point out, of course, Mr Speaker, that as a proportion of the economy, foreign debt actually fell yesterday. Which means the premise of his question was completely wrong. Can I also, Mr Speaker, point out to him that he's running off a story

in today's 'Australian' with credit rating agency Standard and Poor's. And, Mr Speaker, can I also point out to him if he actually read the full report, the spokesman from Standard and Poor's said that Australia gives reassurance to international lenders with the strength of government finances. With nearly all foreign debt held by the private sector. And that the Government has the capacity to support the private sector, in fact, if there were any problems. Now, Mr Speaker, what that says is precisely what I said yesterday which is this, that, ah, which is this. Mr Speaker, that this is a government which almost alone, amongst the economies of the developed world, has a budget in surplus. Thank you, Mr Speaker. My question is to the Treasurer. Does the Treasurer recall his comments in this House yesterday to the effect that Australia, now Triple A rated for foreign currency bonds, no longer pays any premium in relation to interest rates? Does the Treasurer still stand by that statement? Can the Treasurer explain why Australians are paying some of the highest interest rates in the world, higher than the US, the EU, Japan, Canada and Britain? Treasurer, is it a fact that Australian home-buyers are paying higher interest rates than other countries because we have a consistently higher current account deficits and foreign debt? MEMBER: Hear, hear. SPEAKER: The Honourable, the Treasurer. Uh, well, well, Mr Speaker the answer is 'no', Mr Speaker. And, uh, well, well, Mr Speaker, if the current account were the cause of domestic home mortgage interest rates, uh, why, Mr Speaker are they today 7.3 when under the Labor Party they were 17? (Members interject) Mr Speaker, why, why, why? SPEAKER: The member for Hotham. Why, Mr Speaker, why...? SPEAKER: The member for Hotham. Why would they be 7.3% when under the Australian Labor Party they were 17%? Uh, Mr Speaker, why would they today be 7.3% when the Government was elected they were 10.5%? Mr Speaker, let me make this big point. There is one...there is one clear difference. SPEAKER: The member for Wills. Mr Speaker. There is one clear difference, Mr Speaker, between now and 1996. And it's this: in 1996 the Budget was in deficit nearly 3% of GDP and today it is in surplus. (Members interject) In 1996, Australian owed $96 billion and, Mr Speaker, now by 2005-6, we could have that as low as $6 billion. Mr Speaker, this is the government that took $96 billion of Labor Party debt and will retire $90 billion of it. SPEAKER: The member for Wills is warned. Forever, Mr Speaker, taking that load off future Australians. And, let me make this final point, all other things being equal, if a government is borrowing it is driving up interest rates. If a government is saving it is driving down interest rates. MEMBER: Hear, hear. When Labor was in office, Labor was borrowing. Labor was driving up interest rates interest rates peaked at 17%, and in 1996 they were 10.5%. Mr Speaker, under this Government, this Government has not borrowed a dollar in net terms since 1996. MEMBERS: Hear, hear. And by paying off $90 billion worth of Labor Party debt this Government has put downward pressure on interest rates Now it's 7.3%, a level which was unheard of under the Australian Labor Party. I want to talk a little bit about debt servicing because this is where we see the hypocrisy of the Prime Minister. When he came into the House yesterday lecturing us about the current account deficit and foreign debt, and how it could be dismissed because we could afford to service it. Well, we've done a bit of research on the claims that the Prime Minister made yesterday and we went back to his previous statements. He said this on February 28, 1996. "There's a denial stage about foreign debt. "The then-Prime Minister says foreign debt doesn't really matter. "He thinks he will define the problem away by pretending it doesn't exist." Well, who's doing that now? It sounds familiar. Who's doing that now? And the problem is that the Prime Minister can't tell the truth... SPEAKER: The member for Lilley will withdraw that. ..can't get his facts straight about the state of our foreign debt. Let's just put the Prime Minister's denial to one side. SPEAKER: Corrected. The fact is the debt servicing ratio on our stock of foreign debt is around the same today as it was in March 1996 when the Treasurer and the Prime Minister were asserting there was a foreign debt crisis. The facts are these. In the March quarter, 2005, interest payments on our stock of foreign debt amounted to $5.2 billion. or 13.2% of goods and services credits. Let's just have that again. 13.2% of goods and services credits in March this year. In March 1996, interest payments on our stock of foreign debt amounted to 13.4% of goods and services credits. There you are. So the truth is, in the Prime Minister's own terms, the serviceability of the debt is no different - no different to that time when you were shredding the Keating Government... SPEAKER: The member for Lilley. ..for their alleged failure to deal with the current account crisis in record foreign debt. And, Mr Speaker, what exposes this government... ..are the comments today from Standard & Poor's. They expose the Government's complacency towards the risk to interest rates and the economy posed by the current account deficit. The Government announced an extra $250 million in drought relief. It won qualified praise from farmers but the Opposition said it's not enough. Mr Speaker, the first four months of 2005 have been the hottest and second driest start to a year on record, in history. So it is clear that there's no end to the drought in sight and, indeed, the concerns that farmers have for their future are, indeed, heightened when there's really no rain on the horizon. For this reason, the severity and the extent of the drought, the Government will provide an additional $254 million in benefits to support farm families during these tough times. The Prime Minister announced earlier that, effective from today, the off-farm assets test for the EC business support will double from $217,000 to $435,000. The interest rate subsidy will increase from 50%-80% The interest rate subsidy will increase from 50%-80% in the second and subsequent years of an EC declaration. And there'll be a $10,000 annual offset against the income test for the EC relief payment. All of those measures will mean that more farmers will be eligible for Exceptional Circumstances assistance. They'll get it in a more timely way. and the benefits that they receive will be even more generous. I ask the Minister, can he explain how the $500 million package he leaked to the media last week is now just $250 million? Can you explain how the cash grants, despite the fact that the NFF and other farmers requested them, disappeared from the package? Isn't this just another case of all spin and no spin? MEMBERS: Hear, hear. (Members interject) SPEAKER: The Honourable Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. MEMBER: Did someone pull the plug on the package, Warren? Mr Speaker, isn't this typical of the Opposition's response? Labor's attitudes to farmers facing difficulty. I'm appalled at the scorn... (Members groan) ..with which the Opposition Leader responds to a $254 billion boost to assistance to farmers. Now, the reality is... SPEAKER: Order ..that the Government considered a range of measures and looked at the ways in which we could best help farmers. And we took the view... (Members interject) ..that an interest rate subsidy would help those farmers most in need, those who need to borrow because of the impact of the drought and therefore, that this interest subsidy is the most effective way of dealing with the drought in these circumstances. Let me say, this is the height of hypocrisy for a Labor leader to criticise the fact that the Commonwealth is not introducing a grant scheme when the Labor Party in Victoria axed their grant scheme to farmers as soon as their State election was over. So Labor in Victoria didn't think a drought scheme... ..an assistance scheme of that nature was appropriate. And as soon as their election was over, they axed the assistance. So the reality is Labor's record... MEMBER: Like you in the Budget. ..both at State and a national level, in drought assistance, has been way surpassed by what this government is doing. If the Minister now believes... If the Minister now believes that an increased interest rate subsidy is warranted to assist farmers facing drought, and given that many farmers in NSW are now in their fourth year of drought, why did the Government act to reduce the subsidy back in 1997? Isn't it just another case of all spin and no spin. (Members groan) SPEAKER: Order. The Minister will ignore the last part of that question. (Members interject) The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Mr Speaker, it's easy to ignore the last part because the first part had enough fertile material in it to have an effective response. The reality is though, Mr Speaker, as I mentioned in my first comment, this is the worst drought in our nation's history. (Interjections) It is appropriate therefore that additional measures should apply in situations that go beyond previous experience. We are facing a drought that has gone on, as the Honourable Member in his question said, in some places for up to four years. So surely the responses that might have been appropriate in a more normal drought... (Members interject) ..are inadequate within circumstances where you go... ..where you have a drought for three or four years. (Members interject) SPEAKER: Order. I might add, Mr Speaker, that at the time that drought policy was adjusted in 1997, this Government acted to introduce a farm management deposit scheme which Labor had gutted... ..which Labor had gutted in office and made it ineffective as a mechanism for farmers to be able to put aside in their good years... SPEAKER: Order. The Member for Batman. ..to help them through the bad. We restored and rebuilt that scheme in such a way that farmers are able to use it now to help them through much of these tough times. My question is to the Minister for Agriculture. The member for and Calare and myself have had numerous concerns raised concerning farmers in their second year of Exceptional Circumstances who have had approval for the 50% interest subsidy being ineligible for the 80% subsidy as announced on Monday. Apparently, contrary to the Minister's website, the Rural Assistance Authority have been advising farmers, in most circumstances, that they are ineligible. Can the Minister publicly remove the confusion and inform the House of the real position? SPEAKER: The Honourable Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Uh, Mr Speaker, the Honourable Member has referred to what will be a relatively small group of people who are in their second or third year of EC declaration. and who have already claimed an interest subsidy and received a 50% subsidy according to the old guidelines. I can confirm to the House that those people will be entitled to a supplement so that they will receive an extra 30% interest subsidy under the arrangements that the Prime Minister announced earlier this week. Now, I will need to prepare for each of the States a new set of guidelines so that they are able to administer the new arrangements under the more generous conditions. Now naturally, that hasn't been completed as yet but that'll be done as quickly as possible so that any doubt can be removed in the minds of those who are administering the scheme. But I can confirm to all members in the House that small number of people who have received a 50% payment in their second and third year, are eligible for a top-up. The Treasurer won the backing of the Tax Commissioner over his argument that if it blocks new tax schedules Labor would hurt business and millions of taxpayers. One side of Australian politics wants Australians to have a tax cut on July 1, and the other side of Australian politics, the Australian Labor Party, opposes tax cuts on July 1. Now, Mr Speaker, the instruments that can put this into effect have now been tabled in this House. And the Labor Party has done nothing to disallow them on Thursday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday of this week. Now, this is no small matter. Here is the schedule, Mr Speaker, that employers have to put in place on July 1, if the Australian Labor Party doesn't disallow it. It consists of 22 separate schedules with weekly, fortnightly and monthly pay withholding amounts. It does those with and without leave loading. It does those for those paying the Medicare levy and those not. It has special tables for employees with HECS debts under the Student Financial Supplements Scheme. It has particular tables for particular industries such as actors, variety artists and other entertainers and it has tables for aged pensioners and low-income persons. Now, Mr Speaker, the Australian Labor Party will give an assurance... SPEAKER: Order. ..that it won't disallow this schedule in the Senate, that's what employers have to be ready to apply on July 1. Mr Speaker, if they don't give that assurance this is the second set of schedules which has also been prepared by the Australian Taxation Office which will be the ones that will apply, Mr Speaker. That too has 22 different schedules - with or without dependents, with HECS debts, without HECS debts, with Medicare, without Medicare, for senior Australians and without them. Mr Speaker, there they are. SPEAKER: Order. Now MYOB, which prepares this in a software system, says this - it says, Mr Speaker... It says, Mr Speaker, that it needs to know the cut-off date is June 6 to know whether or not you load that one on your computer or you load that one on your computer. And if the Australian Labor Party can't decide by June 6, what it will do is load that one with a manual override and password for that one depending on what the outcome will be. And these have to be applied to each and every employee.