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Order In The House -

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(generated from captions) The National Party has delivered. PRESIDENT: Order! there being 37 'Ayes' and 35 'Noes'. The result of the division, in the affirmative. The matter is resolved SHOUTS AND JEERS legislation dominated the week. The passage of the Telstra sale

it would be cleared by the Senate There were early indications that when key National, Barnaby Joyce motion to delay a vote. failed to support an Opposition Thank you, Mr President. Labor is seeking extra time of the Telstra privatisation bills for the consideration because we believe that it is clear that to date the terms of these bills to be properly reviewed. have not even been able

of the bills to be considered. Let alone the full consequences straight from introduction So far, the bills have moved to second reading speeches. to speak on this bill Senators rising of the second reading debate at the commencement to prepare their comments on bills were given just minutes regulatory package. outlining a complex

And providing for the sale of the Australian public's assets. of $30 billion worth an inadequate process. This was clearly On top of this, held into the terms of this bill the Senate inquiry that has been was farcically rushed. It is worth noting for the record

the conduct of this inquiry. a few pertinent facts about was holding this inquiry The fact that the Senate

in one newspaper was advertised for one day of hearings that were held. on the day before the only day promotion of this inquiry The government's was so rushed that the word 'Senate' was misspelt in the advertisement. to prepare and submit submissions Witnesses had less than 24 hours

of legislation on five complex pieces surrounding the sale dealing with arrangements of $30 billion in taxpayers' assets.

that this inquiry received Now, given the limited promotion allowed for submissions, and the ridiculously short time in rural and regional Australia, Australians, particularly

were effectively excluded a say during the inquiry. from being able to have put himself in the position I think Senator Joyce has

where all of the pressure is on him. I guess that's...his doing. So to some extent But at least he has had a go. is to keep having a go. And my message to him when you come down here... You always feel and the instant pressure is going on. ..you've got everyone in your ear

Uh, but as he would have found to Queensland over the weekend, when he went back rather you take your time. people would much live with your decisions Because you've got to for the rest of your life, putting up for a few days rather than just unnecessary pressure on you. with people providing the motion before the Senate. Mr President, I rise today to support community has not yet seen In particular, because the Australian

on the sale of Telstra. the family impact statement

Now, Mr President, the last election campaign Australians will recall during the famous or infamous deal John Howard and Family First. between the Prime Minister, Where Family First agreed $1 million attacking the Greens to spend, I believe,

was done with Family First. and in return the preference deal But the agreement was...

impact statements would be made The agreement was that family on every major cabinet submission. cabinet submission, Mr President, Now, if Telstra is not a major I don't know what is.

Australia were told And people throughout that these family impact statements

would be there for all to see. what the sale of Telstra means So we should be able to see for families in Australia. there's been a lot of criticism Now, Mr President, of the brevity of the hearing. The hearing was a one-day hearing. It was a full eight-hours hearing. to what Senator Conroy Unlike... Contrary through you, Mr President, who, if I may pay him a compliment his usual aplomb in that hearing handled himself with

quite a bit of information and I think managed to get WOMAN: Don't encourage him! out of the witnesses... Senator Conroy said a moment ago, The bills...contrary to what the bills were not exhaustive bills. but there are only two There is a package of five the matters before the committee. that had an immediate bearing on One of them was about 19 pages long

about 12 pages long. and the other was I must say, Mr President, And it wasn't evident to me, in seeing the line of questioning and Senator Lundy and Senator Allison pursued by Senator Conroy,

were not across the issues. that they were un...that they they did very well. As I said a moment ago, The hearing was a thorough hearing, committee hearings unlike a lot of Senate

stream of consciousness questions in which one hears unfocused from certain senators. imposed by the brevity of time, Perhaps because of the discipline the questions were focused, relevant before the committee. and bore upon the issues are too important to rush. Look, the Telstra bills be prudent at this stage And...more time would

consideration is given. to make sure that full people buying a house. You think about than we are in this Senate They spend more time considering...looking at Telstra. that is being put forward here. And I do support the issue structured in such a way The committee hearing was equal question time to both parties. that the chair did try to allocate was that that resulted The bottom line in single-figure numbers at some time

to actually ask questions. many senators at the table And whilst there were that felt the frustration I certainly was one the questions that I had prepared. of not having ANY time to ask were in the same position. And I know that other colleagues for the debate has expired. PRESIDENT: And time I'll now put the motion Senator Conroy be agreed to. that the motion moved by SOME: Aye. Those that append, say 'Aye'.

SOME: No. Against, say 'No'. I think the 'Noes' have it. Division required? 'Ayes' have it?

Ring the bell. CHATTERING Lock the doors. The question is the motion to suspend standing orders moved by Senator Conroy be agreed to. The 'Ayes' will pass to the right of the chair.

The 'Ayes' will pass to the right of the chair. The 'Noes' will pass to the left of the chair. I appoint Senator Kirk teller for the 'Ayes'. Senator Ferris teller for the 'Noes'. Order. The result of division. There being 35 'Ayes' and 36 'Noes', the matter is resolved in the negative. The Opposition did its best to pour doubt on the state of the Telstra network.

And the telco's commitment to regional services. And with the Prime Minister overseas his deputy was in the firing line. Is the Acting Prime Minister aware that there has been little or no investment to upgrade exchanges in regional South Australia since they were converted from manual to automatic 40 years ago? Is he aware that during peak periods such as harvest time

many farmers cannot even get a line out because the network is overloaded? How can the Acting Prime Minister describe a situation where farmers cannot even make a simple phone call as satisfactory? Why is the Acting Prime Minister supporting the sale of Telstra and selling out the bush? SPEAKER: The Honourable the Acting Prime Minister.

I thank the Member for Corio for his question. And we are not selling out the bush. We are guaranteeing... SPEAKER: Order!

We are guaranteeing investment... SPEAKER: Order, order! ..into the future in bush telecommunications. We are guaranteeing that there will be an ongoing ability to deal with the need for future technology in regional Australia with what we are proposing. I am not aware of the exact and specific circumstances

that the Member for Corio raises. SPEAKER: Order! I am quite happy if he gives me the information on specific exchanges. I will take that up. My question is to the Acting Prime Minister. Is the Acting Prime Minister aware that in Queensland since 2000, there have been a large and increasing number of rural faults not repaired within the specified time by the customer service guarantee? Given that the standard of services

in regional and rural Queensland continues to deteriorate, why has the National Party, with the possible exception of Senator Barnaby Joyce, sold out its own constituency and rolled over on the sale of Telstra? SPEAKER: The Honourable the Acting Prime Minister. I thank the Member for Hotham for his question.

I again just direct the Labor Party's attention to the published statistics with regard to fault repairs. The public statistics from ACMA show that more than 99% of services were fault-free in July 2005.

The regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, publicly releases information every three months.

SPEAKER: Order, the Member for Melbourne! The information is released every three months. Mr Speaker, if I can just draw... SPEAKER: The Member for Melbourne is warned! If I can just draw the Labor Party's attention to some of the things that we ARE doing in this package. It was the Coalition government that introduced the USO, that legislated the USO,

that legislated the community... the consumer service guarantee.

It wasn't the Labor Party! We've set the standards. We propose to tighten those standards... We propose to tighten those standards as part of the current package. And on top of that, under the network reliability framework, we propose to instruct Telstra

to deal with about 480 of those cable runs each year. Is the minister aware of the existence of a 104-page document

prepared by Telstra Chief Operations Officer Mr Greg Winn, which details plans to slash jobs and services from Telstra as part of the CEO Sol Trujillo's strategic review of Telstra which is scheduled to be released next month? Has Telstra briefed the minister on the contents of this document? Is the minister aware that this document details up to 14,000 job losses from Telstra,

including thousands of workers in rural and regional Australia? Is it true that the government is keeping this document a secret pending the full privatisation of Telstra and doesn't this explain the government's desperate efforts to rush the legislation through the parliament this week?

MAN: Has Barnaby gone missing again? SPEAKER: Sorry... Senator Coonan.

Thank you, Mr President. And thank you to Senator Stephens for the question. No, I am not aware of the leaked report. What I am aware of is a press release from the CEPU which calls on all independent-minded federal parliamentarians, read the 'ALP', to vote against the sale of Telstra. So that is what this is all about.

You have belled the cat, Senator Stephens. This is precisely what this is all about. The last ditch attempt is from the ALP to try to obfuscate, to try to scare Australians about something that certainly hasn't been brought to my attention or to the government's attention. What the situation is, is that I understand that Telstra has been reviewing staffing policies for many months.

And it's public knowledge that at Telstra's AGM last week, Telstra CFO John Stanhope outlined a $100 million plan for some staff changes. In relation, of course, to Telstra's expenditure plan, if you look at the figures Telstra's capital expenditure has in fact hit a record high.

And last week it outlined a further $536 million plan to boost capital expenditure even further. Isn't it the case that, just as Telstra provided the government with its 11 August advice, Telstra has also provided or briefed the government on the 104-page document? Isn't it the case this details up to 14,000 job losses from Telstra

including in rural and regional Australia? Isn't it the case that the government is keeping this information secret until after the legislation for the full privatisation of Telstra goes through the Senate? Isn't this why the government is rushing the Telstra fire sale through the parliament? SPEAKER: The Honourable the Acting Prime Minister. MARK VAILE: No. Is it the case

that the 104-page document contains potentially market-sensitive information? Does the Acting Prime Minister support Labor's approach to the Stock Exchange

for the document to be released generally rather than provided selectively? Will the Acting Prime Minister ensure the public release of the information before the vote to fully privatise Telstra takes place in the Senate? SPEAKER: The Honourable the Acting Prime Minister.

I can't pass comment on the document because I haven't seen it. Is the Acting Prime Minister prepared to ensure the tabling in the House of a document prepared by Telstra's chief operations officer, Greg Winn, detailing plans to cut jobs and services from Telstra before the Telstra bills are voted on in the House?

INTERJECTIONS

The Honourable the Acting Prime Minister. Mr Speaker, I would have thought that the Leader of the Opposition would have been aware that any information such as this, that Telstra has is a matter for the Telstra board to decide when it should release it. Will the Acting Prime Minister guarantee

that there will be no radical moves to strip Telstra workers out of rural and regional Australia following the passage of the legislation to fully privatise Telstra? Yesterday the Australian Labor Party, both here and in the other place, are asking questions about some report as far as the staffing of Telstra in the future is concerned. That has turned out to be questions based on some commentary in the media

over a week ago. And it forced Telstra to release a statement yesterday basically saying Basically saying there was no such report. The Telstra document says, Mr Speaker, and I quote from it... Telstra sent a letter to the ASX which, and it says in part,

"Telstra has not taken any decision to cut 10,000 jobs "as stated by Senator Conroy or 14,000 jobs as reported in the media. "Senator Conroy referred to a 104 page document. "Telstra is not aware of the specific document referred to. "There are no documents of which Telstra is aware

"recommending job cuts of the magnitude

"referred to by Senator Conroy." I refer the Acting Prime Minister to an email

sent by Telstra's chief executive officer, Mr Greg Winn, to other Telstra executives on the 16th August 2005. Which states in relation to Telstra job losses and I quote, "Do not expect any radical moves to strip people out "until we are ready."

Acting Prime Minister, isn't Telstra waiting for the Telstra bills to pass before cutting thousands of jobs across Australia? Why won't you come clean before the bills are passed? The Honourable the Acting Prime Minister. Mr Speaker, can I refer the Leader of the Opposition to the correspondence released publicly by Telstra, not private emails.

There should be a question asked about how the Leader of the Opposition got a copy of the email. INTERJECTIONS Order. That is a matter on the public record in terms of what Telstra proposes to do. All I have to say in response to the Leader of the Opposition with regard to employment in Telstra what happened to Telstra's predecessor, Telecom,

under the guidance of the Leader of the Opposition when he was the minister during the '80s and '90s, in NSW, there were 20,000 jobs cut from Telecom in New South Wales alone while he was the minister. Is the Treasurer aware that the Chairman of ASIC, Mr Jeffrey Lucy, has stated that, "Last evening I advised "the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services

"that the comments attributed to the Prime Minister "regarding obligations of Telstra executives "were included among those matters being considered, "that is, in an investigation by them "into the provision of information to the markets."

Is he further aware that Mr Lucy has said,

"I can categorically state that ASIC

"is not undertaking any investigation of the Prime Minister." Can the Treasurer advise the House

whether he or any member of his office or department or the Prime Minister's office or the Acting Prime Minister's office contacted ASIC in relation to this after Mr Lucy's original evidence last night suggested the Prime Minister was being investigated? The Honourable the Treasurer. I am aware of those statements because ASIC has released a media release today which says them. I will come to the gravamen of the allegation that is put in a moment, but I can confirm that certainly my office has been in touch with Mr Lucy. I can also confirm that I have spoken to Mr Lucy today. You would have expected me to do so, so that I could actually answer questions in relation to the matter. The Member for Melbourne will remove himself under 94A.

INTERJECTIONS The Honourable the Treasurer has the call. Mr Speaker, I have spoken to Mr Lucy today myself. The reason why I would speak to Mr Lucy today

is so that I would be in a position to answer any questions

So I am in a position to answer any questions which might be asked of me. We did not actually discuss the investigation as it turns out. I regret to inform. INTERJECTIONS I regret to inform.

She was licking her lips waiting for blood to come from the guillotine.

Our Madame Defarge over there was knitting away and licking her lips, waiting for blood.

The Treasurer will resume his seat. The Chief Opposition whip. Members should be referred to appropriately by their electorates.

There is no exemption for the Treasurer from the standing orders. The Chief Opposition whip will resume his seat. I'm sure that the Treasurer is aware that he must refer to members by their title. The Honourable the Treasurer. I should have referred to her as the Member for Lalor. I come to the gravamen of the question.

I presume that the implication of the question is that Mr Lucy has somehow been suborned into issuing a false press statement. You can impute improper motives to me, you do regularly, but can I say this, to impute an improper motive to Mr Lucy... MAN: You are a sook. ..to suggest that a person...

Order, order. The Member for Lilley. No, forget me. You do it to me every day. You are quite welcome to do it to me. But to impute an improper motive to Mr Lucy, to suggest that Mr Lucy, who is a statutory officer, who is a law enforcement officer... Order. The Member for Ballarat is warned. ..could somehow act in breach of his statutory duty,

engage in illegal conduct or turn a blind eye to an investigation is an imputation against Mr Lucy which is not warranted and does not befit a Leader of the Opposition. The Senate approved the sale in acrimonious atmosphere. With the opposition parties accusing the government of curtailing debate and subverting established process. This week you have done the cut-off motion,

you have forced and bludgeoned your way through this Senate. You have done the cut-off motion not once but twice. There are five bills that were to be debated in this House in relation to the Telstra debate and what you have done is to ensure that your will, and that of the National Party, will prevail irrespective of what should properly happen in this place. There should be proper debate in this House and what you have done is ensure that there won't be

proper debate in this House in this matter.

Here we have the big boys, the millionaires and the billionaires, dictating to this government, through this government, in the interests of themselves against the interests of average Australians. The government is saying that we cannot debate this, that we cannot hold a debate on that in the Senate or in the House of Representatives.

for democracy. for proper parliamentary procedure. This is a disgraceful day for a parliament that should be representative of, listening to and reacting on behalf of the people of Australia. We have had a total gutting of the committee process,

a farcical one day process. And to quote Senator Joyce, "One day is not enough. "A one day inquiry is inadequate." Of course, the same Senator Joyce voted to allow that one day inquiry to happen, along with all the other National Party

and Liberal Party senators in this place, so complaining about it afterwards is pretty extraordinary. But he will also prevent scrutiny and questioning in this chamber, the committee of the whole process in this chamber. To quote another National Party MP, the Leader of The Nationals in Queensland, Mr Lawrence Springborg, "You can't bake a good fruitcake in 10 minutes." Well, this will not be a good fruitcake. It will not even be one decent pumpkin scone. It will be, clearly, a rotten and decaying piece of inedible trash

that will disintegrate not long after the vote is railroaded through, later on this evening.

It is farcical of others to suggest that this is in some way untoward. There is a precedent for using order 142. As I have pointed out, the previous Labor government used it on many occasions,

and in fact this government has used it with the Opposition's support on previous occasions. It is important that we get on with these bills. We have always made it clear that we wanted these bills to be dealt with this week. This issue of the privatisation of Telstra has had longstanding public exposure.

I will not go into the details again of the number of inquiries there have been, the number of times the Senate committee

has looked at various aspects of this. We have the Senate committee report and we have amendments which are due to be dealt with in the committee stage. We should get on with that committee stage. What I want to make clear is the government has gagged Senator Barnaby Joyce. Under their resolution, he will not be allowed to speak in the debate on Telstra. They are so arrogant, they are so afraid,

that they will not even let their own people speak on Telstra. They are not scared of us. They know we have the support of the Australian people. They know we are right. They know they cannot win the argument.

But they are so afraid, so very afraid, that they will not let their own people speak. At least three Nationals who are selling out the bush will not speak in this debate.

Senator Joyce, the Hamlet of Australian politics,

will he or won't he? Will not be allowed to speak because they are not sure what he will say. Order. Point of order, Senator Hill. Mr President, surely it is against standing orders to deliberately mislead the Senate.

This motion does not prohibit any individual senator or senators from contributing to the further parts of the debate,

the second reading and the committee stages. Are you reflecting on the chair, Senator? Because if you are I'll warn you. I'm ruling on the point of order, there's no point of order. Senator Evans. That is a pathetic attempt because the government cannot defend itself. Under the resolution on the hours, by 11:30 today the second reading debate is over.

I have the list of speakers. One Senator Joyce is not on it. MAN: He hasn't asked for it.

MAN: He hasn't asked for it. So Senator Joyce isn't interested in Telstra now? Apparently the bullyboys from The Nationals and the government

have told him he is not really interested. Senator Fielding did not get his family impact statement but he will not get to speak because you are so afraid. You cannot win the debate, you cannot win the argument,

so you gag your own. I propose to take a speaker from that side and I call Senator Joyce

and I'd ask you to resume your seat, Senator Brown. I'd ask you to resume your seat. I've ruled on the point of order. Senator Joyce. Thank very much, Mr President. There's been a number of calls from the other side of the House that I've been gagged, so it's very important... Point of order, Senator Fielding? Point of order, Mr President. You were saying that you go from one side of the chamber to the other. I happen to be on the other side of the chamber to the previous speaker and I happen to be on the speakers list. I think it would be more than appropriate for Family First to have their say in the second reading speech on this particular bill. PRESIDENT: Well, there's been a lot of time wasted this morning and Senator, I'm sure you'll get the opportunity,

either now or in the committee stages. Senator Joyce. Thank you very much, Mr President. It's important that we get on the record today that the... PRESIDENT: Senator. Point of order, Senator Brown. I dissent from your ruling that that Senator Joyce be heard ahead of the other senators who are listed. Senator, it's not a ruling,

it's the right of the chair to call from one side or the other. It's the right of the chair, it's not a ruling. So I'd ask you to resume your seat. INTERJECTIONS Well, you... INTERJECTIONS PRESIDENT: No, well, look, we're not going to have a debate on standing orders. I've called Senator Joyce and I'd ask him to continue with his - Senator Evans.

Can I seek leave to move a motion that the Senate allow Senators Stott Despoja, Joyce and Fielding

to give second reading speeches on the Telstra bills?

INTERJECTIONS PRESIDENT: We are...order, we are, we are,

we are now under the rules of urgency and I've got no alternate but to call Senator Joyce. And...Senator. MAN: Leave is denied by the Government, thank you. PRESIDENT: Senator Joyce. JOYCE: Thank you very much, Mr President. Mr President, I think it's very important to get on the record what the National Party wish to extract from the Telstra legislation.

And what they have extracted and what we've done in the last week and how the process goes on. How the process goes on. It's very important for people to know exactly what the resolutions were that we came down to this chamber with. In Queensland, we had two resolutions that were given to us. One resolution was to not sell Telstra at all.

And from the 350 or so delegates

at the National Party State Conference, it managed to attract two votes. Because the people in Queensland realise the political dynamics that we have to work with and the fact that we have to go out and do the very best deal we possibly can. As such - and realising that we don't actually have every vote in the chamber, although a lot of people think we do have every vote in the chamber. And I'm flattered to think that a lot of people think that I'm the only senator in the chamber.

And it's great to see that - it's great to see that - it's great to attract the attention from the Labor Party. And the free advertising they give me. And I welcome, I welcome... PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Carr! It's great to see in the last week, the National Farmers' Federation coming out in support of us. In fact, in fact, imploring me to vote for this bill. MAN: Imploring you?

It's great to see that there's been recognition by the minister to get a wider involvement in the Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee group. They will now get peak industry bodies involved with it. All this is part of the work you do

when you are not involved in the semantics and filibustering that is going on here but you are actually reading the legislation - when you're actually reading the legislation and working out what is wrong with it and getting them fixed.

'Cause that is what we do in the National Party we actually read the legislation. And it's very important to read the legislation because in this chamber you are supposed to check the veracity of the legislation. All the theatrics here have amounted to nothing. Your theatrics have amounted to nothing because nobody's listening. 'Cause nobody's listening to you. For some of us who've been here - and we've been here for... (Sighs) ..more than almost a decade. 63 of you have come in since I was in this place

and this is the most shameful, shameful day and display I have seen. A guillotine is not unprecedented. But a gag on a guillotine almost is. It's been done before, yes, I know, through you, Mr President, they're as bad as each other on times when they want to get their legislation through. But this is shameful. And the irony of someone voting for a gag... ..voting for a gag and then jumping up a speakers list that they weren't even on to have their say. I hope they understand as they get more blooded in this place that there are certain conventions. That there are procedures and standing orders in this place that some of us have learnt to observe over the last decade or so. So, for those new senators, it was not always thus, I can assure you. What we've seen today

has been the worst abuse in my 9.5 years of parliamentary process. Let's just recount very quickly. The bills were available last Thursday at 12 o'clock. The ad for the senate inquiry appeared before the bills. One day's hearing was allowed and it started before submissions closed.

We've got to the stage where they have gagged the debate. And in the most extraordinary, the most extraordinary display I have seen in my 9.5 years, they have actually asked Dorothy Dixers

in the committee stage of a bill to filibuster and talk the time out so that we couldn't get to the bottom of a number of shady little deals that this government has entered into in the last 48 hours.

We know that a deal has been done with the NFF. We have not had a chance to ask one simple question about what is going on here. This government is bordering on corrupt in its dealings with public moneys. When this bill is passed it will bring to fulfilment and glorious completion 55 years of history.

55 years in which my side of politics has been on the progressive side. We have led the argument, we have set the agenda. Our approach was followed by the Hawke and Keating governments. But there has been some recalcitrance and recidivism, sadly, by the modern, directionless Labor Party which Senator Conroy is embarrassed to have to in the chamber this evening, apologise for.

So today, Mr Acting Deputy President, is a great day for free enterprise. A great day in Australian history PRESIDENT: Order.

It being 6:30pm, I put to question that the bills be read a third time. Those of that opinion say 'Aye'. Against say 'No'. I think the 'Ayes' have it. MAN: 'Noes' have it.

PRESIDENT: Division required. Ring the bells.

PRESIDENT: Lock the doors. The question is the bill should now be read a third time. The 'Ayes' all pass to the right of the chair, the 'Noes' to the left of the chair. I point Senator Eggleston teller for the 'Ayes'. Senator George Campbell teller for the 'Noes'.

Order, the result of the division there being 37 'Ayes' and 35 'Noes'. The matter is resolved in the affirmative. SENATORS: Here, here! The release of vitriolic snippets from Mark Latham's diaries gave the Government plenty of ammunition to attack the Labor Party. For those of us who fought the last election

will recall during the last election, Mr Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Latham, who fought the campaign on the basis that all you had to do to keep interest rates down

was to sign a big pledge. All you had to do was sign this big pledge and once you'd pledged to keep interest rates down, that was it.

Members of the Opposition might laugh at that proposition but they put out leaflets all over Australia claiming that the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr Mark Latham, would be able to keep interest rates down. And I have, actually, an election leaflet which was an open letter to the people of Western Australia.

And on the front of it has, it has a letter, which was signed by Kim C Beazley. Now, the Opposition would have you believe today, of course, that Mr Latham is erratic or untruthful or can't be believed. That was not the story 12 months ago during the federal election. MAN: Tell us your story, then.

And I want to say what this poster reads. SPEAKER: Order! Order! Here's what it says. Here's what it says, with a lovely photo of the current Leader of the Opposition and the former leader, Mr Mark Latham. It says this. Listen to this. (Reads) "Labor is ready to govern

"and Mark Latham is ready to be Prime Minister."

We now have a letter which is signed by Kim C Beazley. "Labor is ready to govern "and Mark Latham is ready to be Prime Minister." Well, Mr Speaker, both of those comments were false. Labor is not ready to govern and there would be no Australian today that believes that Mark Latham is, or was or ever will be ready to be Prime Minister.

Now, Mr Speaker, why would Kim C Beazley circulate that to the people of Western Australia? Well, there are two alternatives. Maybe he has no judgment and really did believe that Labor was ready to govern under Prime Minister Latham. Or maybe he did not believe it and he was less than honest

with the people of Western Australia. (Reads) "Labor is ready to govern "and Mark Latham is ready to be Prime Minister." This weekend some of us are to going to the football. Some of us are looking forward to having some time off. Myself, I'm going to tuck myself away with a good book for a quiet read.

And when I am reading that book, I'll be thinking to myself - "These are diaries that Kim C Beazley thought

"was a man who was ready to be Prime Minister." And whatever he says today, Mr Speaker, whatever he says today, he put this man forward as a credible leader of the country less than 12 months ago. There are no serious alternative policies because members opposite are now indulging in an orgy of political cannibalism, Mr Speaker. Back in December...back in December, the Shadow Minister for Health said of Mark Latham. She said, can I quote, she said, (Reads) "Can I say that my faith in him is undiminished. " That's what she said back in December. (Reads) "Can I say that my faith in him is undiminished."

In fact, the Shadow Minister for Health and the former Member for Werriwa seemed to have had the undying political devotion to each other of Lord and Lady Macbeth. Mr Speaker, perhaps health reform, was discussed at a dinner the Shadow Minister for Health attended last night. It's a new di - a new Labor dining society Labor MPs have put all their eggs in the one basket case. Mr Speaker, Mr Speaker, of course, of course, Mr Speaker, of course, Mr Speaker, they are not interested in health reform because, according to the former leader the current Leader of the Opposition is more interested in preparing a dirt file

than he is in developing good policy. Let me, this is, this is what, this what the former leader says of the current leader. SPEAKER: Member for Grayndler! (Reads) "People are still writing Beazley up as a decent loser -

"people are still writing Beazley up as a decent loser. "But he's one of the most indecent politicians I have come across." Well, Mr Speaker, Mr Speaker,

when Labor MPs were last asked to choose between health reform and health inertia -

they were asked to asked to choose between health reform...

SPEAKER: The Minister to resume his seat. The Manager of Opposition business. On a point of order, Mr Speaker, and relevance, I was just wondering if the minister could explain whether he's the best friend David Clarke's ever had. The member will resume her seat.

There is no point of order. The Minister...

Well, Mr Speaker, at least there is a bit of friendship on this side of the house. INTERJECTIONS We are friends on this side of the House, Mr Speaker, not 'snakes' and 'sewer rats' - out of your own mouths.

'Snakes' and 'sewer rats,' Mr Speaker. SPEAKER: Order! But Mr Speaker, Mr Speaker, the last time Labor members were asked to choose between health reform and health inertia - between Mark Latham and Kim Beazley - Kim Beazley lost.

Labor members trusted Mark Latham more than they trusted Kim Beazley. Mr Speaker, I went onto Labor's website yesterday, looking for their health policy. Well, today I went back on their website. And you know what, you know, Mr Speaker, what did I find? (Stammers) I found some political clothing, Mr Speaker.

I found political clothing - political merchandising. The 15th of September - this very day - available on the Australian Labor Party website.

It says - what does it say?

It says, "Mark Latham for PM."

They won't hang his portrait in their party room but they're still flogging his T-shirts, Mr Speaker. It was $30, now $15. And, Mr Speaker, I bet they'll be giving them away tomorrow. What this proves, Mr Speaker, is that there are still people, many people opposite, who would always prefer Mad Mark to Cowardly Kim.

SPEAKER: The...order, order. The - Order - the Leader of the Opp... The Leader of the House.

The Leader of the House. The minister will withdraw that last remark. ABBOTT: If he's upset, I'm happy to withdraw it. I'm happy... Even if he's not upset, I'm happy to withdraw, Mr Speaker. Employment Minister Kevin Andrews came under pressure after an independent study raised questions about the government's Welfare to Work scheme.

My question is to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. I refer the minister to the report released today

by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling - NATSEM - an organisation which the Prime Minister has described as respected, independent and objective. Is the minister aware that this respected institute has found that people with a disability will lose up to $122 a week

under the Howard government's extreme changes to welfare? Doesn't this come on top of a previous report by NATSEM that showed that sole parent families will be up to $91 a week worse off under the changes? Minister, will you guarantee that people with disabilities and sole parents who are already looking for a job will not be financially worse off? The Honourable Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations.

In reply to the Member for Sydney, can I say that this government has a simple proposition upon which it is elaborating its Welfare to Work measures. That proposition is this - people who can work should work. People who can work should work.

That is, if people are capable of working part time, who are capable of working 15 hours or more a week, then there is an expectation that they should work. In parallel with that... INTERJECTIONS They ask a question, yet they do not seem to want to hear the answer. In parallel with that,

those people who are not capable of working for 15 hours a week - that is, people who, because of a disability, are not capable of working 15 hours or more a week will remain on the disability support pension. In the future, people in that situation will be on the disability support pension. The Minister will resume his seat.

The Member for Denison. Thank you, Mr Speaker. I draw attention to relevance. This government has reduced handicapped employment. Each year, this government... AUDIO CUT The Member for Denison will resume his seat. The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Mr Speaker, Mr Speaker... In relation to those on disability support pensions at the present time, I understand - I am indeed informed - that only 10% currently of people on the disability support pension actually engage in some form of paid work. If you make a comparison between what a person receives with no paid work under the disability support pension, namely, a total of $290.05 a week - compared to what that person will receive on the Newstart allowance

when they are undertaking 15 hours of paid work, you find that the effective money in their pocket at the end of the week is $382.25. $382.25. The Member for Lyons interjects and says that is pretty mean. That is $382.25 compared to the $290.05 that they get at present. Let me say this - the government does not resile from the proposition that if people in this country are capable of undertaking part-time work

then there is an expectation that they should do so. I refer again to today's report by the respected NATSEM institute. In particular, I refer the minister to the report's findings

that the Howard government will take back as much as 75c of every dollar that people with a disability earn. Why does the minister find it acceptable for people with a disability to work for an effective return of $2.27 an hour? Why do the Howard government's proposed welfare changes make it less worthwhile to move from welfare to work than it is now?

Why doesn't the government at least listen to its own backbench when the Member for Pearce says: "I am concerned that people are going to lose income support "when they move back into the work force.

"They are on such a small amount of income now. The Honourable the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition would be aware,

the minister is not required to comment on backbench colleagues. The question is otherwise in order.

Can I repeat for the benefit of the Member for Jagajaga that a person who is on Newstart under these new arrangements and working the minimum of 15 hours a week

would effectively have in their pocket at the end of the week some $382.25. That compares to a person on the disability support pension without work who has $290.05 a week. If the Member for Jagajaga could simply subtract one from the other,

she would find out that there is a difference ? an advantage ? of some $90 between those two figures. As for the suggestion that somehow this person is effectively earning only $2.27 a week, let me just nail that, the reality is that a person who works 15 hours and receives Newstart allowance in addition to what they are earning effectively have in their pocket, at the end of the week, somewhere in the order of about $24 or $25 an hour. The principle which underlies this... INTERJECTIONS Order!

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has asked the question! The principle which underlies this is very simple. We in the government believe that if a person is capable of working 15 hours or more a week and the person has the ability to do that, they should do so. I believe that the overwhelming majority of Australians also believe that. We have a generous safety net in place for people who are incapable of working 15 hours a week. That safety net remains. People will still be on the disability support pension if they cannot work for 15 hours a week, but somebody who is capable of working 15, 20 or 25 hours a week,

there is some expectation they will contribute to their own wellbeing. What sort of incentive is there to work if you know that you only get 25c in every dollar earned? How can the government seriously come into this place and argue that it has a Welfare to Work package when it has so massively increased the barriers to work, when it has so massively increased the financial disincentive and when it is seriously proposing to claw back up to 75c

and when it is seriously proposing to claw back up to 75c of every dollar earned from someone with a disability who moves into the work force and works 15 hours a week? Those are the findings of the NATSEM report released today ? 75c of every dollar earned and the effective return of $2.27 an hour. NATSEM said that a person with a disability

will have an effective return from work of $2.27 an hour and be up to $122 a week worse off. We had the minister in question time today unable to answer this question. He was unable to answer whether or not he would actually work for $2.27 an hour. I challenge most senators in this place to find a constituent who thinks it is reasonable that

a person with a disability in this country should be required to work for $2.27 an hour. With petrol prices soaring, the Treasurer was urged to investigate alleged price gouging. Thank you, Mr Speaker. My question is to the Treasurer - and I welcome him back - Can he confirm that on August 12, the Singapore price for petrol was $95 per barrel but more recently it rose to $120 per barrel

while the crude oil price a month ago and today has more consistently hovered at $89 per barrel. If so, does the Treasurer agree with ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel

who said and I quote, "Something funny is going on with refiner margins." Will the Treasurer now do what the Prime Minister did not do and direct the ACCC to formally monitor fuel prices

and in the Prime Minister's absence, will the Treasurer show some leadership and pick up the ball that the Prime Minister dropped? The Honourable the Treasurer. And the Treasurer will ignore the last part of that question. INTERJECTIONS Order! The Honourable the Treasurer has the call.

First of all I thank the honourable member for his welcome back. And it's good to be back. I missed him. I missed him. Very badly, Mr Speaker. I don't have the price of Singapore oil on particular days with me.

But I can tell you that the ACCC doesn't need any direction from the government

to investigate improper practices in this market or indeed any other market.

If there is monopoly conduct or if there is predatory pricing, or if there is some other breach of the Trade Practices Act, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has full power

to bring proceedings and investigate. Indeed, we would recommend that it do so. If Mr Samuel wants to know the government's view, the government's view is of course that the ACCC should investigate any evidence ? any credible evidence at all ? of profiteering or anti-competitive conduct in this market.

Is the Treasurer aware that the consumer confidence index has recorded a 13-point drop, the eighth biggest drop in the history of the survey? Does the Treasurer accept that this is due largely to the impact of petrol prices? When will the Treasurer direct the ACCC to investigate petrol price gouging, as suggested by the Labor Party 51 days ago? The Honourable the Treasurer.

I have seen the Westpac consumer confidence index for the month, and it is true that consumer confidence has declined to something like the long-term average. Mr Speaker, in the last couple of months there have been enormous volatilities, with a big decline after the interest rate rise back in March - a huge rise after the budget in May -

and a recent decline, which could well be related to... INTERJECTIONS Order! The Member for Lalor! Could well be related to petrol. As I said yesterday, petrol prices are punishingly high. These high petrol prices are punishing consumers. Petrol prices are not good for business,

for the government, and petrol prices are not good for the economy. Mr Speaker, if anybody is welcoming high petrol prices, let me suggest to them that it is not in the interests of the Australian consumer or in the interests of Australian business. Unfortunately, as we know, the reason why petrol prices are increasing is the world oil price.

As to improper conduct by any oil company or service station operator or retailer in Australia, the ACCC is instructed It has full powers to take action against them. It does not need any recommendation from the government, but I give it on a daily basis. As soon as there is any evidence whatsoever of any improper market conduct, the ACCC will investigate and, if there is a breach of the law, it will take a prosecution and, if there is a conviction, it has heavy penalties at its disposal. It needs no instruction from me to do so - but, as I say on a daily basis,

the moment it finds any evidence, it should do so. Unfortunately, any action by the ACCC in Australia is not going to reduce the world oil price. Nor is it going to increase world refining capacity. First and foremost, the government could direct the ACCC to formally monitor fuel prices. The Treasurer likes to suggest that the government should not do this type of thing. In question time today, in terms of investigations and responsibilities, how many times did the Treasurer labour the point about ASIC and the responsibility of Telstra to have a full and proper investigation about the performance of Telstra? If it is good enough for ASIC, at the request and direction of the Treasurer,

to accept those responsibilities

perhaps it is time for the Treasurer to direct the ACCC to formally monitor fuel prices. Perhaps that might not produce the result that the consumers want at the moment, but I tell you what, it would provide a certain peace of mind to Australian motorists that someone cares about them

and that someone is prepared to investigate their concerns

to the fullest. I do not consider that oil companies should mind. If you have a look at the media, you will see that in some of the tabloid journals, there have been some pretty cheap shots by some second-rate journalists about the problems that confront us on the oil price front at the moment. Some of those shots are directed at the oil companies.

I would have thought that the oil companies had nothing to hide from the ACCC formally monitoring on a regular basis fuel prices, because they're the ones whose reputation is being damaged at the moment, with blame being apportioned for price gouging and no-one ? particularly the Prime Minister and the Treasurer ?

bothering to give the Australian community a decent explanation about petrol prices both within Australia and internationally. The ACCC has instituted proceedings against 16 respondents, alleging a number of competitors in the Ballarat region were part of a longstanding arrangement to fix retail petrol prices.

On 17 March 2005, the Federal Court imposed penalties totalling $23 million

in response to these allegations. So the ACCC not only has the power - it has exercised it, and very significant penalties have been imposed. I encourage anyone who has evidence of illegal practices within the Australian fuel retail, wholesale or refining sector to report it to the ACCC. Labor should put up or shut up if they believe that there is evidence of price manipulation

or ineffective competition in the marketplace. But the reality is that the ALP, at least in private, and according to the writings of the Member for Rankin - who is not just an ordinary backbencher of the Labor Party - he happens to be chairman

of the federal Labor caucus economic committee, so presumably he is speaking with some kind of economic authority from the other side ? when he said - "Nor is it true that an oil cartel "is artificially spiking petrol prices. "The petrol retail market is highly competitive." The Opposition has effectively ruled out the conspiracy theories and the arguments about a lack of transparency. It has ruled out all those things. So it is unfortunate that, from time to time, we get this crass attempt to break out on those sorts of issues and seek to blame people who cannot reasonably be held responsible.