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Treasurer criticises Opposition plan to use Future Fund for national broadband network; Question time covers awarding contracts for aged care beds in Brisbane.

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Wedne sday 21 March 2007

Treasurer criticises Opposition plan to use Future Fund for national broadband network; Question time covers awarding contracts for aged care beds in Brisbane


MARK C OLVIN: 'Try to move on' was the Federal Government's approach today, after the Queensland Senator Santo Santoro surprised Parliament last night by resigning. 


The Prime Minister said it was Senator Santoro's own decision to go, and he only had himself to blame for his failure to disclose more than 70 share transactions. 


Then, it was back to more familiar territory, with the Government trumpeting its economic record, and accusing the Opposition of a 'smash and grab' raid on the Future Fund, to pay for its promise for a national broadband network. 


The Santoro shares scandal isn't completely over though, with Labor still asking some niggling questions. 


From Canberra, Peta Donald reports. 


PETA DONALD: An angry Prime Minister had virtually left Santo Santoro out to dry, but today he said it was the Queensland Senator's own decision to resign from Parliament, and that he's paid a high price, losing his political career. 


JOHN HOWARD: It's possible, simultaneously, to be completely unsympathetic about his non-disclosure but still feel, as a human being, sorry for him. Isn't that possible? 


PETA DONALD: But when it came to Question Time this afternoon, the Opposition leader Kevin Rudd took a different tack. 


KEVIN RUDD: Prime Minister, given that high speed broadband is needed to lift Australia's productivity and economic growth beyond the mining boom, why has the Government failed after so many years to deliver an effective national broadband network?  


PETA DONALD: The Prime Minister swung back to his comfort zone - his Government's economic record. Neither side of politics, he said, is against improving broadband; it's just that Labor would be prepared to use the Future Fund to pay for it. 


JOHN HOWARD: This is the tip of the iceberg. Once, once you have started... 




JOHN HOWARD: … once you have started with... 




JOHN HOWARD: … once you've started with the Future Fund, in relation to broadband, once you've tasted it, you'll find it irresistible. You'll be seduced into doing it for something else, and what this is, Mr Speaker, this is old Labor back in business, Mr Speaker. 


PETA DONALD: The Treasurer Peter Costello accused the Opposition of a smash and grab raid on the Future Fund. 


PETER COSTELLO: Smashed the glass, taken the key, opened the fund and announced a plan to spend the money. Mr Speaker, this is absolutely irresponsible. And if people want to know why they can't have Labor trusted with money, Mr Speaker, this proves it - you cannot trust the Labor Party with money.  


PETA DONALD: When Kevin Rudd turned his back to speak to a colleague, the Treasurer went into full flight. 


PETER COSTELLO: And I call on him to turn around, and to listen to some economic policy…. 


(sound of jeers from the House) 


PETER COSTELLO: …Mr Speaker! Oh! Oh! The people of Australia need to know this: that the leader of the Opposition... 




PETER COSTELLO: ... studiously turns his back... 


SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Order! Members will hear the Treasurer. 


PETER COTELLO: ... in Parliament on a daily basis. Oh, hurray.  


(cheers from the House) 


… the leader of the Opposition has just turned around, Mr Speaker, to face the music.  


PETA DONALD: Eventually, Labor returned to the issue of Santo Santoro, and whether the Prime Minister's office knew before last week about the extent of his trading in shares.  


The Prime Minister admitted that it was Tony Nutt in his office who initiated the contact with Senator Santoro's office last December. 


JOHN HOWARD: Mr Nutt got in touch with the Senator's office and said, 'Look, I've had a look at your return, or the Senator's return, and it's obvious from the number of investments listed that that doesn't amount to trading, it's a misdescription and you shouldn't give the description of trading to something that manifestly does not amount to trading.' 


PETA DONALD: The new Minister for Ageing, Christopher Pyne, was sworn in today - receiving his first question from Labor's deputy leader Julia Gillard.  


JULIA GILLARD: I refer the Minister to his statement this morning, in relation to the investigation in to Senator Santoro, and I quote, "We have absolutely no reason to believe that there is anything untoward." Given that the Minister was only sworn in a couple of hours ago, how come he has already made up his mind? 


SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The Honourable the Minister for Ageing. Order! 


CHRISOPHER PYNE: Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank the Honourable Member for her question to me on my inaugural Question Time. And I can answer that by saying that because I knew that I was being appointed on Sunday, I've obviously taken the time to do a bit of briefing, a bit of work before this morning's swearing in. 


PETA DONALD: He assured the Opposition his investigation into the awarding of aged care beds in Brisbane will be nothing less than thorough. 


CHRISTOPHER PYNE: So you can be confident that if there's anything at all wrong, I'll get to the bottom of it.  


(sound of "hear, hear" from the House) 


MARK COLVIN: The new Minister For Ageing Christopher Pyne, ending Peta Donald's report.