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Order In The House -

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(generated from captions) Welcome to Order in the House, in Federal Parliament. a review of the week's business Minister, isn't the real reason of Medibank Private the government has deferred the sale that Australians are opposed to it? Privatisation of Medibank Private health insurance premiums will no more raise of the Commonwealth Bank than the privatisation

raised interest rates, caused air fares to rise. and the privatisation of Qantas

Be quiet! PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Campbell! Order! Order, Senator Campbell. I ask you to withdraw that. He seemed unsinkable. He seemed invincible. He died doing what he loved best. The government's surprise decision of Medibank Private to delay the float in Question Time. provided Labor with some ammunition My question is to the Prime Minister that the government sale of Medibank and it refers to the confirmation has been put on hold. confirm for the House, Will the Prime Minister finally

three million members for Medibank's more than who oppose the sale and the 63% of voters run until after the next election? whether the government has cut and If this is the case, persisting with why is the Prime Minister legislation in this session the introduction of the sale when Australians do not want him to?

Hear, hear. the Prime Minister. SPEAKER: The Honourable of the government It remains the policy to privatise Medibank Private. from our financial advisers We have received advice INTERJECTIONS that given... SPEAKER: Order! with T3 - Given that we are proceeding $8 billion of stock in Telstra the sale of approximately some to the public - desire of the government and given that it is the strong of Medibank Private, to have a public float that, clearly, our financial advisers have suggested the two should not be run together. That stands to reason. on the opposition front bench I would have thought that even those very closely who do not study these matters try and run the two of them together would immediately acknowledge that to plainly not going to do that. would be unwise, and we are with the legislation But we do intend to go ahead of the government because it is the policy to privatise Medibank Private. for Health and Ageing. My question is to the Minister the Prime Minister's answer Minister, I refer to the Leader of the Opposition to the question from the government has given and to the fact that the only reason sale until after the next election for deferring the Medibank Private is, and I quote, government priority "Telstra is a major decisions that affect T3." "and we would not want to make any Human Services right when he says, Minister, isn't the Minister for and I quote, and liquid enough "The stock market is deep enough Telstra "to cope with Medibank Private, this year." "and a range of other listings Minister, isn't the real reason of Medibank Private the government has deferred the sale that Australians are opposed to it? SPEAKER: Order. INTERJECTIONS In calling... Order! and Ageing... In calling the Minister for Health Order. INTERJECTIONS The Minister is not required minister. to comment on remarks by another for Health and Ageing. Nonetheless, I call the Minister Mr Speaker, today's opinion poll result, if the government was scared by the sale of Medibank Private. we would have entirely abandoned We have not. of Medibank Private. We support the sale for policyholders, We think it will be good will be good for the health sector. it will be good for taxpayers and it Medibank Private, as announced, And we will proceed with the sale of in 2008,

into this parliament and we will introduce legislation in two weeks time. to make this possible botched sale Minister, given this is the third you have been responsible for, following the failure and Telstra sales, of your handling of the Snowy and arrogant obsession will you now abandon your ideological with selling Australians' assets, and listen to the Australian public do not want their assets sold? when they say they Thanks, Mr President. PRESIDENT: Senator Minchin. I suspect the Australian public and the Commonwealth Bank sold, probably said they didn't want Qantas and properly sold them. but the Labor Party wisely I was actually thinking But Mr President, from behind me on this subject, I might get a question

timely and appropriate question. so I thank Senator Evans for a very we announced in April this year Because it is the case that Medibank Private. that we were committed to selling

should continue We do not see why the government health insurance funds. to hold and own one of the 38 private We cannot see why taxpayers and that burden. should continue to have that risk can do a better job And we think the private sector a health insurance business of running job of running airlines and banks. as the private sector does a better this Labor scare campaign And we do reject will force premiums up. that a change of ownership

excessively If a health fund raises its premiums that we have, in the competitive market go to another health fund. customers can leave and They have full portability. in April, And of course we are, as we announced

approval power. retaining our full ministerial government had decided to sell, We said in April that, while the on the method and timing of the sale we had not made a decision of our decision on T3. and that that would be a function of the T3 decision, So we have now decided, in light Medibank Private that the best way to sell and we have just announced that. is by way of a share market float, a strong and independent player That will ensure MPL does remain insurance market. in the private health Medibank Private broken up, We do not want to see and we don't want to see any lessening of competition in this market. So, all Australians will be able to participate in that float. And, as we have said before, existing customers will receive some form of entitlement. I thank the minister for his answer. I would be interested to know when the minister came to the view that suddenly the sale had to be deferred. I also want to know what the minister has to say to Australians who have watched his performance in handling the sale of Telstra, handling the sale of the Snowy and now handling the sale of Medibank. Why should Australians have any confidence in the minister given that he has botched all three sales? This comes at a great cost to the Australian taxpayer.

Isn't the burden to the Australian taxpayer the minister's failure to do his job properly? Why should we not come to the conclusion that the minister is driven by ideology rather than the interests of Australian taxpayers? We have not done Medibank Private and T3 yet. So you will get your chance to say I botched it, if you like, but not until they have occurred. It's going very well, thank you, Senator Evans. Order! Senators on my left! Mr President, I said in April that we had not decided on the method or timing of this sale because we had to see what final decision was made in relation to T3. I very explicitly said back then, and in subsequent interviews, that the timing of the Medibank Private sale would be very much influenced by what we decided to do with our remaining shares in Telstra. There is no deception there - we were quite clear in our position. The history of the Snowy is well known. We only had 13% of the shares. The New South Wales government initiated this sale with their majority stake of 57%. We decided, after they had initiated the sale, to tip in our 13%. But as the Prime Minister clearly announced, given the public reaction to that, we decided to withdraw our 13%.

Victoria and New South Wales could have gone ahead and sold their 87% if they so chose. It is interesting to go back just a few short months, to 26 April, when the minister for finance and the minister for health, full of swagger and arrogance at that stage, masters of the universe, they were out there to tell us what would happen with Medibank Private. It was all full steam ahead then.

These men were on a mission, and they knew exactly what they were doing. In the course of outlining their intentions for Medibank Private, there they were telling us how quickly it was going to be sold. You might well ask yourself what's changed since 26 April and now. The answer is quite clear, because every day, in every way the sale of Medibank Private has fallen apart in front of this government's eyes. It has been the most ham-fisted attempt to get anything done that we have seen from this government to date, and that is a pretty high high jump bar when you think about some of the incompetent displays this government has engaged in. The first problem this government had was they ran into legal difficulties about who owned Medibank Private. They did not even know, at the end of the day,

whether it was clearly theirs to sell. The Labor Party had raised with the library the question of the legality of selling Medibank Private, and on a Friday the library releases this parliamentary research brief entitled 'The proposed sale of Medibank Private -

'historical, legal and policy perspectives'. This research brief comprehensively went through the arguments as to who owns Medibank Private and who is entitled to sell it and concluded that the government was in difficulties. The government was in difficulties in selling all of the Medibank Private fund because the members of Medibank Private had an interest in that fund. So the first big problem for the government is this research brief that says, "Well, maybe it isn't the government's to sell." The second main problem it encountered was increasingly its claim that the sale of Medibank Private was going to put downwards pressure on private health insurance premiums was becoming a laughing stock. That claim was just viewed as increasingly laughable by anybody in the health sector who knew anything about the private health insurance market, and Australians beyond that. Of course, the nails in that coffin, of putting to bed this absurd claim that somehow Medibank Private's sale was going to be good news for private health insurance premiums, they came from all sources. Most particularly, they came from noted economic commentator Terry McCrann, who basically said if you had an economics degree of any sort, you would see through this argument in one second flat. He said - and I quote -

"There's also a particular problem with a float over a trade sale." He was talking about the government's preferred method of selling at that stage. "That would mean a company listed on the stock exchange "which would have to make a profit for shareholders. "In contrast the entire private health insurance sector is today "at least nominally non-profit. "So what does the introduction of a profit-based player "in the private health insurance sector mean? "They all switch to profit-making? Or Medibank Privatised can't compete?" So there you have it in the words of a noted economic commentator - someone who has been quoted time after time with approval by the Prime Minister - who is basically saying that privatising Medibank Private,

particularly by way of float, is going to introduce a profit motive

not only into Medibank Private itself

but possibly more broadly across the private health insurance sector, and that is going to be bad news for premiums. But what does this government do? It does not do the right thing. The right thing would have been to actually walk out today to a press conference with the cameras and say, "On 26 April, we got it wrong. Selling Medibank Private is wrong. "We will keep Medibank Private in government ownership." That is what they should have done. But of course that is not what they have done. What they have done is to put off the sale until after the next election

in the hope that they can hide it behind that election, in the hope that people will vote at the next election having forgotten about this issue. The day after the election, there they will be, actioning the sale of Medibank Private. So no-one should be confused about this - the return of the Howard government means the sale of Medibank Private. HON. TONY ABBOTT: Privatisation will be as good for Medibank Private as it has been... The member for Chisholm is warned! ..for Qantas and as it has been for the Commonwealth Bank. That is why this sale has been deferred - certainly not abandoned - because privatisation of Medibank Private will be good for policyholders, it will be good for taxpayers and it will be good for the health sector as a whole.

Let me quote the chief executive of NIB, a gentleman called Mark Fitzgibbon, who said, I quote, "The pressure on premiums will be reduced if Medibank goes private. "We expect much more aggressive competition "from a privately owned Medibank." Then, of course, there was Francis Sullivan, the chief executive of Catholic Health Australia, who said, I quote, "Medibank Private has outgrown its government parentage. What is needed is to open the market to new players who bring serious competitive tension and innovation to the health system." There was even a time when the Leader of the Opposition himself supported privatisation. In this chamber, in February 1995, the Leader of the Opposition said, "We as a government have a considerable rate of success "in relation to privatisation." "We have two airlines undergoing privatisation. "We are getting the airports in place.

Commonwealth Bank. "We have privatised the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories "and the bulk of defence industries." He went on to say, "The total number of privatisation projects "under the Fraser-Howard government amounted to Belconnen Mall." He even mocked the Coalition for being insufficiently in favour of privatisation. How times have changed, and how the Leader of the Opposition has so totally shrunk in stature since those days. Let us make it absolutely clear - privatisation of Medibank Private will no more raise health insurance premiums than the privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank raised interest rates and the privatisation of Qantas caused airfares to rise. There are two conclusions to be drawn from the Labor Party's cheap populism on this point. The first is that they are still socialists at heart. They absolutely hate the private sector. The second is that the Leader of the Opposition is a much less principled politician now... The member for Lilley is warned! ..than he was when he had real leaders

like Bob Hawke and Paul Keating to tell him what was right.

The Opposition continued to exploit changing economic circumstances, pursuing the Government over the cost of housing and interest rates.

My question is to the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister aware that new figures produced by the Reserve Bank from last week's June quarter national accounts show a new record 9.1% of household income is consumed by mortgage interest repayments? Is the Prime Minister aware that, under the new interest rate reality, this level is 50% higher than the peak reached under Treasurer Keating in 1989? Is the Prime Minister concerned that the interest burden is likely to go even higher, once the last rate hike on 2 August is included in the figures? Why does the Prime Minister continue to deny interest rate rises under his Government hurt middle Australia more than they did under Mr Keating? The Honourable the Prime Minister. Mr Speaker... Order! The figure is higher because the size of mortgages is much higher, because the cost of housing is much higher. That is the reason. The question must be rhetorically asked, can you imagine what it would be at

if we were paying 17%, as we were under Mr Keating. Has the Prime Minister seen reports in the 'Sun Herald' on 10 September on the sharp increase in mortgage repossessions in New South Wales since interest rates started to climb in 2002? Did the Prime Minister see the comments from accountant Anthony Bell, who said, "Interest rate rises have made loan service ability harder and harder"? When will the Prime Minister finally admit that it is his seven back-to-back interest rate hikes that are causing some families to lose their homes? The Honourable the Prime Minister. I have seen the reports in the weekend press, and my understanding of those figures is that they do not relate solely to dwellings - they also include actions

to repossess properties involved commercially, and it is not possible on the figures available in the media to know precisely how many of those relate to homes. He asks me a question relating to interest rates. It is true that interest rates rose by 0.25% recently, and there have been three interest rate rises in the last 18 months.

I acknowledge that. That is a statement of fact.

The other statement of fact is... The Member for Hunter is warned! Under the former government were... ..they averaged in 13 years, the housing interest rate averaged 12.75%. It peaked at 17%! 17%! Can you imagine how many repossessions there would be now were it 17%, Mr Speaker? Let me assure the Member for Werriwa that any government would be concerned about any repossessions, but the proposition that housing affordability now is a function of the interest rate rises that have occurred since the last election is false. I notice that in this morning's press there are a few things attributed to an interview given

by the retiring Governor of the Reserve Bank. He had something to say about housing affordability when he appeared before the House of Representatives Standing Committee on 18 August. He was asked a question about houses being less affordable. In the case of the Manager of Opposition Business, who makes a point of order, I would have thought a question about repossession action does relate to housing affordability. This is what he had to say about houses being less affordable. This could be a very good answer for the Member for Werriwa - Mr Macfarlane ? "They are. "That is caused more than 100% "by the fact that house prices have gone up, "not because of interest rates going up. "Interest rates are lower than they were 10 years ago, "and are obviously lower than they were 15 years ago." Dr Emerson - that's the Member for Rankin - "But affordability is no different?" Mr MacFarlane - "The story is all about house prices. "The story is not about interest rates." End of story. Has the Prime Minister heard other comments from the Reserve Bank Governor, Ian Macfarlane,

on ABC radio last night...

..on ABC radio last night, where he said he was 'disappointed' with the Coalition's interest rate campaign at the last election, which was "accepted by some members of the community"? Prime Minister, is this why Mr Macfarlane said the Coalition's interest rate campaign was 'incorrect' and "not plausible"? The Honourable the Prime Minister. The answer to the first part of the question is yes, I have heard those comments. They were part of an answer given to Maxine McKew. The question reads as follows - "Did you think their line was defensible, "within the context of an election?" This is what he said - "Ah, well, it was logically defensible, yes. "It was a logically defensible position." Then he goes on to say that it was disappointing.

I simply say to the Member for Lilley that if he wants to quote the Reserve Bank governor on this issue, quote him in full and do not be selective. Is the Prime Minister aware of new figures from Deutsche Bank which estimate that household debt is now a record 171% of household disposable income ? double the level of a decade ago? Does the Prime Minister agree that this greater exposure of households to debt means that the slightest increase in interest rates hurts households' budgets? Doesn't this new interest rate reality explain why household debt servicing obligations are higher today after your seven back-to-back interest rate hikes

than when interest rates were 17% under Mr Keating? The Honourable the Prime Minister. I am generally aware of that report.

I am also specifically aware of a speech made by Mr Ric Battellino, the Assistant Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia ? a speech he made on 22 August, 2006. He had this to say - "In judging the health of household finances, we should not look at trends in debt in isolation - we need to look at the overall financial position of households. If we do this, we see that households' financial assets have increased by substantially more than their debt... As result, even though household debt has increased, "the net financial position of households has improved noticeably." In other words, Australians are much wealthier now than they were 10 years ago. Is the Prime Minister aware that, according to data from the Supreme Court of Victoria, in the first half of this year there were 1,474 mortgage repossessions ? more than 2.5 times the 563 in the first half of 2003? What does the Prime Minister have to say to Victorian families facing repossession after the seven back-to-back interest rate rises since 2002? The Honourable the Prime Minister. I am broadly aware of those figures. As I indicated in response to a similar question asked yesterday,

I would want to know, in relation to the debate on housing affordability, what proportion of those

represented the repossessions of houses under mortgage defaults, because you can have a mortgage on a commercial property just as easily as you can have a mortgage on a housing property. INTERJECTIONS I will be interested to know whether it is the policy of the Australian Labor Party, if it wins office, to abolish any business bankruptcies. The reality is that from time to time firms do get into difficulty. It is also the case that, sadly, from time to time, individual households do. I take the opportunity of counselling people against taking on obligations beyond their capacity to repay. The relative calm of the Senate was shattered on Wednesday, when the acting president, Senator Forshaw had to deal with interjections while Greens Senator Bob Brown was speaking. PRESIDENT: Order, Senators, order. Yeah, exactly. They are taking over other rural land which grows things. Like dairy farms, potato farms, agricultural grazing land and so on ? and prime land, at that. The farmers in many rural communities say that these managed investment schemes pervert the market... ACTING PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Campbell. SENATOR CAMPBELL: This guy's lost it! Order, Senator Campbell! The minister for the environment says I have lost it, Mr Acting Deputy President, well, I say to you... ..that this minister is charged to ensure

not just that the EPBC is respected in regard to the pulp mill... This guy... ORDER, Senator! And a proper assessment is done there... Order, Senator Campbell! Order, Senator Campbell, you have been interjecting? He should come to order. ORDER, SENATOR CAMPBELL! Be quiet. Order! You've lost it. Order, Senator Campbell. I ask you to withdraw that. You have just cast an aspersion on the chair, and I ask you to withdraw it.

SENATOR CAMPBELL: I withdraw. Now, the debate will continue, uninterrupted. Interjections are out of order and your conduct is out of order. And Senator Brown, resume your remarks. A former vice-president's visit to promote a movie he's made led to a heated debate on climate change. Thanks, Mr Speaker, my question is addressed to the Minister for Industry. Does the minister recall dismissing Al Gore's climate change documentary, 'An Inconvenient Truth', as, and I quote, 'just entertainment'? Is the minister aware that the film documents the scientific consensus that global warming has led to a significant increase in both the duration and intensity of hurricanes and cyclones, and that this is consistent with the Howard government's own 'Climate Change Risk and Vulnerability Report' which it received in July last year? Minister, what was entertaining about Hurricane Katrina? The honourable the Minister for Industry, Resources and Tourism. Well, thank you very much, Mr Speaker, and I genuinely thank the member for Grayndler for his question. There's are three places I don't go for advice on climate change. One of them is... OPPOSITION INTERJECTS Order, order! Order. From unsuccessful candidates for the US presidency

who can't even convince his own people that he's right. Order! TANYA PLIBERSEK INTERJECTS

The second, Mr Speaker, is the movies... Order, the minister will resume his seat.

The member for Sydney will remove herself under standing order 94(a). VARIOUS INDISTINCT INTERJECTIONS The minister. MAN: What about the economists? And the third place, Mr Speaker, is the Labor Party... Order, the member for Grayndler has asked his question. Who promote a policy, who promote a policy that will cost jobs in Australia. The inner city Sydney attitudes of the member for Grayndler are in stark contrast to Mr Tony Maher, who found himself compelled to write - Tony Maher, Mr Speaker, is the general president of the CFMEU... OPPOSITION INTERJECTS The member for Wills is warned. Who found himself compelled to write to the Leader of the Opposition complaining that the Labor Party was selling them out on jobs in the coal industry, Mr Speaker. And his letter went on to say, "My point is I fear..." Order, order, order, the minister resume his seat. The Chief Opposition Whip on a point of order. Mr Speaker, what has this got to do with whether or not Hurricane Katrina's attack... What is the member's point of order? Relevance. Relevance, of course. The Chief Opposition Whip will resume his seat.

The...I have been listening closely to the minister. He is answering the substance of the question. I call the minister. Mr Speaker, the Labor Party is asking us to ratify Kyoto and cost Australian jobs,

particularly jobs in the coal industry. Now, Mr Speaker, Tony Maher said in his letter, in his letter, that 30,000 jobs were being put at risk by the member for Charlton in her opposition to what she described as a rapacious coal mining industry. Now, Mr Speaker, this government will continue to support the jobs of Australians. We will continue to support policies that actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions, technologies that will see greenhouse gas emissions lowered, not policies supported by the Labor Party on Kyoto that will simply cost jobs. And, Mr Speaker, I table documents to back the statement. Has the Prime Minister seen comments by Al Gore on last night's '7.30 Report'... GOVERNMENT INTERJECTS Responding to those who are sceptical... Order! The member for Barker! MAN INTERJECTS The member for Grayndler has the call. Do you want me to start again, Mr Speaker? Yeah, member for Grayndler start again. Thanks, Mr Speaker. OPPOSITION LAUGHS Has the Prime Minister seen comments by Al Gore

on last night's '7.30 Report', responding to those who are sceptical

about scientists' so-called gloomy predictions on climate change, as follows, and I quote, "It's not a question of mood. "It's a question of reality. "There's no longer debate over whether the world is round or flat." Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that the scientific consensus about climate change is accurately reflected in the documentary 'An Inconvenient Truth', or does the Prime Minister agree with comments by the Industry Minister... Order, order, the member for Grayndler resume your seat. The honourable member for Mackellar. INTERJECTIONS Mr Speaker, The standing orders and practice clearly state that long and protracted preludes to questions are out of order. And this is merely a resuscitation of a television program last night and is out of order. The member for Mackellar will resume her seat. INTERJECTIONS The... The member for Grayndler will come to his question. I call the member for Grayndler. JENNY MACKLIN: Start again! The member for Grayndler come to his question. Thanks, Mr Speaker. Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that the scientific consensus about climate change is accurately reflected in the documentary by Al Gore, 'An Inconvenient Truth', or does the Prime Minister agree with comments by his industry minister dismissing the documentary as, and I quote, "Just entertainment, that's all it is"? The Honourable, the Prime Minister. Mr Speaker, the answer to the question is, no, I haven't seen the movie. Mr Speaker, I will possibly at some stage see the movie.

But on the subject of seeing movies, and I have heard a lot of what Mr Gore has said. It's been hard to escape Mr Gore on the ABC over the past 24 hours. He's appeared on just about every conceivable program but I will just make that as a factual statement. But I did hear him on, I heard him, I think it was on Radio National this morning and he was... MEMBER INTERJECTS The Member for Brisbane. It's interesting about seeing movies, he was asked whether he'd seen 'The Path to 9/11' and he said, "No, I haven't seen it". It's interesting, of course, 'The Path to 9/11' was mildly critical in various stages of the policies of the administration that Mr Gore once belonged to and he was at pains to make the point that these movies aren't always factual, and they have an obligation to be factual. Well, I think that's right. MEMBER INTERJECTS The Member for Hunter. But to sum it all up, Mr Gore and I actually had quite a pleasant but short telephone conversation yesterday, which he initiated and I think it's fair to say... MEMBER INTERJECTS Order. The Member for Chisholm. ..that in relation to this issue... MEMBERS INTERJECT Order. The Prime Minister has the call and the Prime Minister will be heard. MEMBERS INTERJECT Order. MEMBERS INTERJECT The Member for Grayndler's on very thin ice. MEMBERS INTERJECT Order. The Honourable, the Prime Minister.

Mr Speaker, the argument in relation to this issue is not an argument about whether... Order. The Prime Minister will resume his seat. The Member for Hunter will remove himself under Standing Order 94a. The Member for Hunter will remove himself. The Honourable, the Prime Minister. Mr Speaker, the argument over climate change is not whether there is a threat posed by climate change, there seems to be a broad agreement on that although there's a lot of debate and a lot of legitimate debate about the speed of that change, the nature of the threat, and I don't think it's right to say that there's total unanimity in the scientific community over that. But that's one part of the debate. The other part of the debate is how best to respond to it and I've made it very plain on behalf of the government that we do not intend to sign a protocol which would export Australian jobs to other countries, Mr Speaker. And those, Mr Speaker, from the other side who interject so vociferously do not include the quiet contemplative Member for Batman, whose views on this subject, of course, are a little closer to reality

than the man who sits immediately on his left that is the spokesman in this area. It's an inconvenient truth for this government that over coming weeks hundreds of thousands of Australians will become more aware about climate change due to Al Gore's movie 'An Inconvenient Truth'. I've had the privilege of watching that documentary on a number of occasions and it is extremely powerful. The former Vice-President of the United States puts a great case for why this is the moral cause of our generation in the interests of future generations. And that's because climate change threatens the very conditions that allow human civilisation to live on this planet. However this important documentary has been dismissed by the Prime Minister's industry minister Ian Macfarlane, who stated the following, "This was just entertainment. That's all it is." Now, that reminded me of one of my favourite songs 'That's Entertainment' written by Paul Weller and The Jam, but what that was about was using 'That's Entertainment' in the ironical sense. It was a devastating social critique of social dislocation in Thatcher's Britain. But from this mob over here there's no irony at all in saying that Al Gore's movie, which documents the threat to our water supply, the increase in extreme weather events, the potential for over 100 million environmental refugees,

the catastrophic future that we face unless we act is just about entertainment as far as this government is concerned. But we shouldn't be surprised because on the date that the Kyoto Protocol came into effect the minister said the following, "Whether or not those emissions are causing climate change, "I don't know. "If you go back across history millions of years

"carbon dioxide levels go up and down and global warming comes and goes." An extraordinary statement from a senior minister in the Howard Government. If you can't see the stark evidence of ice caps and snow-covered shrinking, of lakes evaporating, if warming trends on temperature graphs heading upwards, if you continue to view these pictures through the prism of mad singular scientists or neo-conservative op-eds, if you continue to look at the photos and the images that are placed in front of you courtesy of the former Vice-President of the United States and his film 'An Inconvenient Truth', then you're simply blind. You're blinded by your ideology. When you ignore, as this government regularly ignores, the pleas of our Pacific neighbours already struggling, as the Member for Grayndler pointed out, to contend with rising sea levels,

they're building small walls around their vegetable plots to stop the seawater coming in, then you're deaf to the pleas of our neighbours who face climate change and global warming now. And when you dress up your arguments you're exposed because it's all about self-interest, it's all about sectional interest. The government can't escape its ideological straitjacket and when you do that, you're not taking the national interest into account at all. Facing a revolt from some of his own backbenchers over changes to media ownership laws, the Prime Minister indicated he might consider some changes at the margins. Hear, hear. My question, Mr Speaker, is to the Prime Minister. Can the Prime Minister confirm that under his proposals

the number of media owners could fall from six to four in regional markets such as Albury-Wodonga, Ballarat, Bundaberg, Dubbo, Gladstone, the Gold Coast, Mackay, Maryborough, Mildura, Nambour, Newcastle, Orange, Rockhampton, Shepparton, Toowoomba, Townsville and Warwick? Why won't the Prime Minister listen to the member for Hinkler,

whom he trusts to chair his backbench communication committee

and who opposes the Prime Minister's plan, and admit that such a massive concentration of media ownership is not in the national interest? MEMBERS: Hear, hear! SPEAKER: The Honourable, the Prime Minister. Mr Speaker, I listen very intently to the member for Hinkler. He is a very valued colleague and friend. What is more, the people of Hinkler listen to the member for Hinkler. And despite the worst and perfidious attempts of the Australian Labor Party, he has repulsed them on every occasion since he has been elected. The media laws recognise the way in which the media landscape in this country has changed since they were introduced in 1987. And the House ought to be reminded that the media changes that were introduced in 1987 weren't designed to promote good public policy - they were designed to cripple two media companies then that did not enjoy the patronage of the Australian Labor Party, namely, the old Melbourne Herald group and, at that time, the Fairfax group, Mr Speaker. So all of this malarky I hear lately about how there was some inspired motive in 1987 - it was all cheap politics in 1987, and now we're getting a bit of proper examination

with the aim of getting decent public policy, Mr Speaker. We've introduced the legislation and the Senate committee will have a look at it. I'll be very happy to look at reasonable suggestions made by colleagues, but I certainly won't be taking too much advice from current or former leaders of the Australian Labor Party. PRESIDENT: Senator Conroy. Thank you, Mr President, my question is to Senator Coonan, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. I refer to the government's... PRESIDENT: Order! I refer to the government's plans to weaken the cross-media ownership law. (Senator interjects) PRESIDENT: Senator McDonald, come to order! Shall I start again? PRESIDENT: Order! Senators to my right! Thank you, Mr President. I refer to the government's plans to weaken the cross-media ownership rules. Can the minister confirm that, under the government's diversity or voices test, the number of owners of major commercial media could fall from 12 to 6 in Sydney and 11 to 6 in Melbourne? How can the minister continue to claim that the government wants to protect media diversity when its plans allow the number of owners to halve in our major cities?

How can such a massive concentration of media ownership possibly be in the public interest? What guarantees can the minister give that the government's plans won't inevitably see newsrooms merged, reporters sacked and local content reduced? The Minister for Communications, Senator Coonan.

Thank you, Mr President. And thank you to Senator Conroy for the question. The government has absolutely no plans to weaken media laws - let me make that perfectly clear. So the premise of Senator Conroy's question is entirely false. What the government is proposing to do is to reform the media industry in the benefits of consumers. And what we have decided will be appropriate

is to ensure that there will be strenuous safeguards to prevent concentration of ownership.

That will be secured by the number of voices not being able to fall below five in a metropolitan region and four in...regional and rural Australia, bearing in mind that there are very few markets that would qualify for that particular voices test. Then on top of that, Mr President, the ACCC has a mandate to ensure that no mergers infringe the competition principles of substantially reducing competition in a market. The ACCC has put out a paper issuing guidelines as to how they will approach media mergers, and it very clearly says that they will be looking at whether or not it also includes matters such as advertising revenue, what will be a market,

and that they propose to take into account news and opinion. On top of that, Mr President, I think it's very important to understand that the only media rules that will be affected will relate to the regulated platforms of commercial television, commercial radio, print, and certainly won't relate to pay television, to out-of-area newspapers such as 'The Financial Review' and 'The Australian', will not relate to the internet, will not relate or to the ABC. No matter how many mergers there are, there will still be other additional outlets. Now, Mr President, people can run around and make all sorts of scurrilous comments about this. And I notice Mr Keating was out last night doing that. And it's very interesting, Mr President,

the media laws are 20 years old. They were fashioned last century, before the Internet had practically been invented, when the Internet was all about academics, when IPTV had never been thought of, when the sorts streams of content you get over mobile phones and the Internet had never even been dreamed of. Mr President, then we have Mr Keating coming out from somewhere because there's such an absence, a total absence of any policy on the part of the Labor Party. The best they can do is to trot out a 20-year-old policy from a former failed prime minister and suggest that that's the way for the future

when we have to ensure that consumers have got the benefits of being able to take advantage of all the news services that this media package will enable. Mr President, this media package is all about consumers.

It is all about providing benefits to consumers. Why should Australian consumers be worse off than consumers right around the world who are able to access these services?

It is important that Australian media can grow, can invest. Subject to these appropriate safeguards, which will look after diversity, they will be reforms that will move Australia into the 21st century. SENATORS: Hear, hear. PRESIDENT: Supplementary question? Thank you, Mr President. Is the minister aware that leading Australian law firms, including Phillips Fox, Blake Dawson Waldron, Holding Redlich and Freehills, have all cast doubts on the ACCC's ability to stop cross-media mergers? PRESIDENT: Order! Given the weight of legal opinion against her, why is the minister pretending, pretending that the ACCC will be able to do anything to ensure continued media diversity? Isn't it really the case that the minister's plans contain no effective safeguards against a dangerous concentration in media ownership? Senator Coonan. Well, Mr President, it would be diverting, to say the least, if those opinions that are touted for by Senator Conroy actually did address the issue that was part of his primary question, which related to cross-media mergers. The ACCC looks after all mergers in this country. Unless you are going to say that the ACCC is incapable of managing mergers and acquisitions throughout the whole country, you cannot sustain that proposition. It is extremely important that the ACCC, like every other industry, will be also able to regulate competition in the media sector. It ill behoves Senator Conroy to try to trump up some argument to the contrary.

I refer to the government's proposal to require regional radio stations to produce a local content plan setting out how they will provide local news and information if they become part of a cross-media group. Can the minister confirm that this idea is similar to the local presence plan that the government imposed on Telstra? Isn't it the case that Telstra's local presence plan has allowed the company to announce the sacking of up to 12,000 workers and the removal of 5,000 payphones? Given this experience, why should anyone in regional centres like Orange or Dubbo or Albury believe that their local news service won't be gutted if their radio station gets swallowed up in a merger? What guarantees can the minister give that this won't happen? Where regional commercial radio licensees change ownership or become part of a cross-media group, they will be required to meet minimum local content levels, including local news and weather bulletins, local community service announcements and emergency warnings, maintain at least the existing level of local presence, including staff levels, as well as studios and other production facilities. And submit local content plans, which will specify how licensees will meet their local licence conditions to the Australian Communications Media Authority for consideration and for approval. Local content obligations may also be imposed where the format of the service is narrowed or when the Minister for Communications directs ACMA to consider imposing local content requirements. The local content requirements and the need to protect consumers and the need to ensure diversity in rural and regional Australia

has been a key part of the government's development of the media package,

and ensure that you will...those in rural and regional areas will be able to maintain a level of live and local content and will ensure that there is important journalistic presence in respect of both news and in respect of broader local content. PRESIDENT: Senator Stephens, supplementary question? Thank you, Mr President, and I thank the minister for her answer. It probably would have been helpful had she been able to describe what the levels of minimum service she described and what that actually represented in real terms. It gives me a real concern about local presence plans and the local content plan that...surely it will be, as many of her National Party colleagues suggested, media moguls will be able to drive a truck through the local content plan, just as Telstra has been able to do so with the local presence plan. Doesn't this mean that the minister can't give any guarantees, really, that local news and radio services in the bush won't be cut? After failing to live up to its commitment on Telstra

in relation to regional services, is there any reason why anyone should trust the minister to protect regional media services? PRESIDENT: Senator Coonan. Well, that's a bit rich coming from Senator Stephens who is a member of a party that doesn't even have a policy on rural and regional Australia

either in telecommunications or in media. The shadow minister goes missing and they have to trot out a 20-year policy to try to give themselves a bit of oxygen on this issue. It's important that we understand... SENATOR: Point of order. PRESIDENT: Point of order, Senator? My point of order goes to question of relevance. A supplementary question is not an opportunity

for the minister to sort of launch some attack. She was asked about a serious concern about radio services in the bush under her plans.

And I think the senator deserves an answer to that question. Well, I think the senator has been answering that question, particularly in the main balance of the question. And she has 32 seconds to complete her answer. Thank you, I'm afraid, Mr President, 32 seconds does not give me enough time

to really wind up some sensible assessment of the absolute policy paucity of the Labor Party in relation to telecommunications and media policy. An absolute disgrace, reliant on poor old Mr Keating. Let him retire. Let him go back somewhere where he does not have to trot out on media.

Try and develop your own position on these things. SENATORS: Hear, hear. Last week it was Steve Irwin. This week the party leaders honoured another famous Australian who died tragically while pursuing his passion. In a nation which reveres its talented sports men and women, the sport of motor racing has seen few to match it - in the eyes of many, none to surpass - the contribution of Peter Brock. He died doing what he loved best.

And he will be remembered very warmly by those who follow that support and millions - sport, and millions of other Australians for his great skill and flair. Born in 1945 in Melbourne, motor racing was in his blood from a very early age. He started with a homemade signature car, his two-door Austin A30, with a Holden engine. He dominated the sport for three decades. As has been widely reported in recent days, he won the Bathurst 1000 nine times, earning him the title of 'King of the Mountain'. He ran many other great events, including the Sandown endurance classic nine times, around Australia trial, and three Australian touring car championships. He retired from full-time V8 supercar racing in 1997 and established the Peter Brock Foundation.

And that has provided support to a wide range of community programs,

particularly youth charities and road safety initiatives. He was awarded the Order of Australia in 1980. And he was awarded an Australian Sports Medal in 2000, and a Centenary Medal in 2001, for outstanding service to the community through fundraising. Mr Speaker, I am sure that many members on both sides of this House would have come into contact with Peter Brock over his long career because of the natural intersection at various events of people in politics and those in sport. He was a lively, entertaining, enthusiastic person. He gave an enormous amount back to the sport of motor racing. He gave an enormous amount to the many causes with which he was associated. He seemed invincible. He seemed unsinkable. And the circumstances of his death - totally, totally unexpected. From my point of view, I, I cannot claim, Mr Speaker, to be in any shape or form, a revhead. I do attend the odd Clipsal event, and I've been seen at, at, at one or two other events, but there many Australians who are more...

..more passionately engaged than I am. But even somebody, such as myself, who probably related to it more like an... ordinary member of the community, Peter Brocks work on road safety was just simply outstanding. The example that he set to, to young Australians - the, the way he would be filmed taking people through the processes by which one could drive cautiously and effectively performed an invaluable service in an area which, too often in this country, produces some of the starkest human tragedies - the death toll associated with road accidents. He poured himself into that. The Peter Brock Foundation that he set up did much more, of course, than simply focus on those issues, and it reflected his own predilection towards

seeing disadvantaged youths, battling young Australians,

get a bit of a chance in life. So like all Australians, I've come, over the time to... admire Peter Brock. And I want to extend, on behalf of all my colleagues in the Australian Labor Party, our profound sympathies to his family, his friends, his colleagues, his colleagues at Holden, of course, at this time of their terribly sad loss. Closed Captions by Captioning and Subtitling International .