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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 1045


Senator BACK (Western Australia) (16:08): It is amazing to be lectured by the Labor Party on economic responsibility—I am reminded of Dracula and the blood bank! If Senator Feeney and any of his colleagues in the cabinet or on the front bench had any business acumen—and they have none; all 22 of them they have a maximum of eight years—they would know that the best predictor of future behaviour and performance is past behaviour. I think back to the $96 billion—as Senator Feeney leaves—that Treasurer Costello paid back. We not only paid back the $96 billion but also saved $6 billion a year in interest. What sort of a challenge have we got next time? We have upwards of $220 billion of debt that is going to cost well in excess of $100 billion in interest alone without paying back the principal.

This is a Labor government that came in on the promise of honesty, transparency and accountability. I remember Prime Minister Gillard saying 'let the sunshine in'. It was the former Prime Minister, and recently foreign minister, who said only last week, 'Julia has lost the trust of the Australian people and we must change her or we will end up in opposition.' The former Attorney-General said:

... I don't think we have a realistic prospect of being re-elected under Julia Gillard ... I don't think we have captured the attention or the support of the broader Australian community, and obviously if we want to win an election, they have to listen to us, they have to trust us, they have to have empathy with us ...

How true. The best and only way to test that in a democracy is to go back to the people and let the people decide whether we have seen honesty, transparency and accountability from this Gillard led government.

Let me start a long litany. The mining resource rent tax: where was the accountability, transparency and honesty when now Prime Minister Gillard negotiated with three multinational overseas companies—BHP, Rio and Xstrata—and left all the Australian mid- and small-cap miners out of that equation? Where was the accountability when my colleague Senator Cormann asked repeatedly for the financial modelling that shows the government was actually going to make any funds out of it? They have flatly refused to present those figures. We had a lecture from Senator Feeney about the carbon tax. Honesty, transparency and accountability—only two quotes will suffice. Prime Minister Gillard said, 'There will be no carbon tax under any government I lead.' And days before the 2010 election the world's best Treasurer, Wayne Swan, said: 'Well, certainly what we rejected is this hysterical allegation that somehow we are moving towards a carbon tax from the Liberals in their advertising. We certainly reject that'—and I reject every assertion made by Senator Feeney in his condemnation of the coalition.

If time permitted I could move to how Ms Gillard is going to move to the trade exposed, emissions intensive industries of this country when they are decimated by their competitors. How are they going to explain to import competitive companies here in Australia how the carbon tax is going to drive them into an uncompetitive situation? How are they going to explain to our exporters how they are going to fare when they are exporting into markets where their competitors do not have a carbon tax around their necks? How are they going to explain it to households? That simply has not come to the fore with this openness, transparency and honesty in government.

I turn now to a more serious, in some ways, instance of a lack of honesty and accountability, and that is the question of government grants. We learnt only recently, as a result of an Australian audit, that Ms Gillard, when she was Minister for Education, on more than three occasions approved grants to schools in her electorate and other electorates in defiance of the recommendations of her department and failed to comply with then Prime Minister Rudd's requirement that she report her decision to the then finance minister Lindsay Tanner.

As one who has run his own businesses I make the point that, in government trading entities and government departments, excellence or rot starts at the top—and do we not see evidence of that here now. In that audit, there were no fewer than 33 cases where ministers failed to alert the finance minister to the fact that they had made grants in their own electorates—and in 11 of those 33 cases, that was against the advice of their departments. That is the calibre, the honesty, the transparency of this government. I turn to the government's recent record on regional grants, the responsibility for which lies with Mr Crean's portfolio. The Australian National Audit Office examination indicates that some $200 million has recently been allocated to seats held by Labor and Independent members in regional Australia. Isn't that interesting, when Labor holds less than 30 per cent of seats in regional areas? So the rot starts at the top and then disappears down into the organisation.

I could go on for ages about Senator Conroy and the NBN, but just briefly I will focus on the Australia Network. For those of us who have spent much time overseas in the last decade, as I have, that station—which is broadcast by the ABC—is an embarrassment. Fortunately, the Australia Network was put out to tender on a $223 million contract. The advisory committee recommended that the contract go to Sky, but Senator Conroy said, 'No, I don't want that; go through and examine it again.' However, his own audit team came up with the same conclusion, and unfortunately that got leaked. What did Senator Conroy do in this climate of alleged transparency, accountability and honesty? Far from pulling the contract and giving it to the party that legitimately won it, he attacked the leaker.

I go to the matter of the answering of questions on notice in Senate estimates. Prior to this last round of estimates 75 per cent of questions were outstanding by departments, including broadband and communications and health and ageing. One hundred per cent—the perfect record; or the imperfect record—of questions were outstanding from immigration, infrastructure and transport and AusAID. Yet the Australian community is asked to believe that this is evidence of the light shining in—evidence of honesty, transparency and accountability.

Then there are the super funds, in which $1.3 trillion are invested. The portfolio responsible for them is controlled by Minister Shorten, and he is hiding from scrutiny the fact that there is very little accountability by fund managers. Super funds are not obliged by law to disclose detailed investment outcomes or senior executive and board remuneration. Unlike public companies, they are not even required to provide members with a full set of audited accounts. What has Mr Shorten been doing? He has been trying to reverse what could be a miscarriage of justice in these matters. Which are the super funds that are most at fault and most at risk? You do not have to go too far to find out. They are led by MTAA.

I turn finally to the debacle that has been the investigation of Mr Craig Thomson by Fair Work Australia. It has been four years, and there has not yet been any advice to the wider community. In fact, in Senate estimates the other day we were told by the person responsible that the report might not be released, even though Mr Thompson himself is on the record as saying that he would like to see this information come out so that the due process of the law can be dealt with. Here are some comments from members of the public about the matter. One person said, 'What is the point of this organisation if it simply covers up union corruption. Isn't it supposed to protect workers? Another one said, 'Why are they hiding this? Have their political masters told them to? 'A further comment was: 'Totally weird—if he's innocent, say so; if the report is not published, he must be guilty.' That is the level of confidence that the Australian community now has in this Labor government. The only way to see a restoration of honesty, transparency and accountability is to hold a general election. (Time expired)