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Question Time included Defence sports facilities; VIP flights; and Centenary House.

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Wednesday 3 March 2004

Question Time included Defence sports facilities; VIP flights; and Centenary House


MARK COLVIN: In Federal Parliament, on a day when polls in the Fa irfax press gave Mark Latham his biggest boost yet, the Labor Party turned its attack on Government spending, while the Howard team intensified its criticism of Mr Latham. 


The Nielsen poll says Labor has surged since the leadership change, to command 54 per cent of the two party preferred vote to the Government's 46 per cent. 


In Question Time when Labor accused the Government of wastefully using VIP aircraft to carry the Treasurer to Canberra, the Prime Minister warned that such scrutiny could backfire.  


From Canberra Chief Political Correspondent Catherine McGrath reports. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: The polls for Labor are too good to be true and that's the feeling in Labor circles. They're pleased the two party preferred vote is up, but they are sceptical about the lead.  


On the Government side, many backbenchers are privately concerned, but they won't say so publicly. They're worried that the Latham surge seems to be continuing, but they're not yet panicking.  


Peter Costello played down the polls results. 


PETER COSTELLO: When you look at the polls, who is best to manage the economy, I think that it shows very, very clearly that the public has a clear view on who is best to manage the economy. 


REPORTER: So is it just that Mark Latham is a more popular leader? 


PETER COSTELLO: Well, he's enjoying a honeymoon, there's no doubt about that. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: But yesterday the Prime Minister said that politics was beginning to return to normal. Clearly this Latham honeymoon is being extended. 


The Question Time tactics employed today prove the Government is intensifying its efforts to try to destroy Mark Latham's credibility. No surprises there, but it's talking up Centenary House once again and describing Latham's style as 'google politics'. 


In Question Time, Mark Latham sits calmly and coolly. He doesn't respond to the Government's taunts. He did start the questions on the Government's spending priorities, but he linked that the reading programs and he left it to his colleagues to intensify the attack. 


Simon Crean was first, accusing the Government of trying to spend its way to re-election and then fellow ALP front bencher Bob McMullan wanted to know more about Defence Department golf courses.  


BOB MCMULLAN: Can the Prime Minister confirm that ministers, including the Prime Minister, received a report from the Department of Finance recommending selling the 22 golf courses currently owned by the Department of Defence? 


Can the Prime Minister confirm that he intervened personally to remove this proposal from the savings list? 


JOHN HOWARD: I have no reluctance at all in saying that I believe that the recreation facilities available currently in relation to our Defence Forces are totally justified, Mr Speaker, and I don't intend to play politics with the recreational facilities available to the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, Mr Speaker. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: And the Government clearly isn't going to sit idly by and allow Labor to score political points. When Labor front bencher Craig Emerson continued with the theme of spending priorities, this time attacking the use of VIP flights, the Prime Minister fought back. 


JOHN HOWARD: I will investigate it, Mr Speaker, and if the leader of the Opposition wants the rules enforced more rigorously as a consequence of allowing the member for Rankin to ask this question, well, that could well have consequences for the Opposition.  


CATHERINE MCGRATH: The Government is trying to draw some reaction from Mark Latham, but he isn't biting. 


Tony Abbott was next. 


TONY ABBOTT: The leader of the Opposition likes to go round the country talking about the housing commission house he once lived in. What about the Centenary House which now funds him, Mr Speaker?  


What about the Centenary House that now funds him, Mr Speaker? He's very concerned about golf courses and things that benefit other people… what about the Centenary House rent rort which directly benefits him, Mr Speaker? It directly benefits him. 


MARK COLVIN: Tony Abbott in Parliament, ending Catherine McGrath's report.