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Wednesday, 4 November 1992
Page: 2564

Mr DOWNER (3.31 p.m.) —Mr Deputy Speaker, the Treasurer (Mr Dawkins) is working on the basis of the old slogan that was so popular in the 1930s—

Mr Keating —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. Where is the shadow Treasurer?

  Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Ronald Edwards)—There is no point of order. The Prime Minister has made his point and there is no point of order.

Mr DOWNER —Sit down! Sit down! Wash your mouth out with soap and water. Why do you not get up? I presume from the intervention of the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) that he is going to speak in this debate, so we will all have the opportunity to hear what he has to say—or will we? Is the Prime Minister going to come to the defence of the Treasurer or is the Prime Minister aware of what is little more than the obvious, that the Treasurer takes the view that the bigger the lie—the old 1930s slogan—the more believable it is going to be?

Mr Dawkins —I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask that the honourable member withdraw.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —The Treasurer has sought the withdrawal; the honourable member for Mayo should withdraw.

Mr DOWNER —I withdraw, Mr Deputy Speaker. The propositions that the Treasurer has put forward bear no relationship in any instance to the truth. To begin with, his speech was about the dreadful things that had happened when the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard) was the Treasurer of Australia. The figures the Treasurer used about the Budget deficit, by the way, were totally untrue. The Keating-Hawke Government spent an additional $7 billion after the 1983 election to get a Budget deficit of $8.6 billion, and the claims that those opposite are making about what the honourable member for Bennelong knew or did not know at that time are totally and utterly false: they are utterly untrue.

  So for that matter is the defence that the Treasurer put up after nine minutes of rhetoric from him about the dreadful days of the coalition Government. Before I go to that, let me make one other point. The Prime Minister thought it was very smart to comment during Question Time about the freedom that the States had to borrow as against the present arrangements under the Loan Council. But I do not think the Prime Minister should forget that when he came to power in 1983 with his mates—he will scurry away from hearing this because he will not want to hear it—every State in Australia and the Commonwealth had a AAA rating. Those ratings are not only an indictment of the way you have conducted business in this country but also confirmation of the slogan that Labor can never be trusted with money.

  You could not be trusted in Western Australia—and the Leader of the House (Mr Beazley) knows that. You could not be trusted in South Australia—anybody who lives in South Australia, such as I do, knows that. We all know that even the Labor Government in Canberra would not trust the Labor Government in Victoria and, as a result, covered up for as long as it could the misfeasance of that Government. Federally, you have blown the country's AAA rating, you have blown out its foreign debt and you have blown the economy to pieces. You have put one million people out of work. That is proof, if ever proof were needed, that Labor cannot be trusted with money.

  But let us look at what the Treasurer has done here. It is a massive cover-up of the financial affairs of the previous Victorian Labor Government. In order to do that, the Treasurer has done something which is seldom done without the resignation of a Minister—and should never be done without the resignation of a Minister. He has deceived the Parliament. That act of deceit is contrary to hundreds of years of tradition under the Westminster system. So great is his contempt, the contempt of the Prime Minister and that of the Labor Party for Parliament that we see guillotine motions and Ministers just walking out. They never stay for the debate; they wander around, not interested in what anybody has to say, and interested only in themselves. The Treasurer is off; he is on his way. He does not want to listen to the debate. He would rather not hear it because parliament does not matter. It never did matter to you people; it is an inconvenience.

  Mr Snowdon interjecting—

Mr DOWNER —You agree! It is an inconvenience to the Prime Minister and it is an inconvenience to the Treasurer. He deceived the Parliament and the public. He has also done something which the markets have responded to very badly. You people—particularly the Treasurer, with the support of the Prime Minister—have deceived the financial markets of the international community. This act of deceit—the revelation that the books which are published by the Federal Government simply do not add up and the realisation by the financial markets that your figures are shonky and politically driven—has led to a serious run on the Australian dollar and an undermining of international confidence in the status of Australian finances. Frankly, I think that is a monstrous indictment of what the Treasurer has done, supported by the Prime Minister.

  Let us come back and look at what actually happened here. We will examine the Treasurer's defence. He claims that the footnote on the document submitted by the Victorian Government was apparently of no particular concern—it did not really matter. So in Budget Paper No. 4 the Treasurer decided, very deliberately, not to publish that footnote and not to make any reference to that footnote or those borrowings. Apparently, that was all because he took the view that you could not really be sure that there was any breach of the Loan Council guidelines; and, what is more, the Victorian Government had not lodged an application for the extra money in any case, so until it lodged an application it did not really matter.

  That is what he says and that is the basis of his defence. But what do the documents which he himself has released actually reveal? They reveal that, for all his rhetoric in this House, he was writing to the then Treasurer of Victoria, Mr Sheehan, drawing his attention to this problem and asking him to do something about it.

  A minute dated 24 July which came from the Victorian Treasury has a footnote about the borrowings which exceed the Loan Council guidelines. What do we discover? We discover that, on the one hand, the Treasurer's defence is that this was not any concern; this was not a breach of the Loan Council guidelines. But the letter which he signed and sent to the Victorian Treasurer only three days after that minute was sent made things perfectly clear. It said:

While I do not wish to canvass the issues in detail in this letter, I am sure that you—

that is, the Victorian Treasurer—

appreciate that Victoria's actions, and your proposal are not consistent with either the spirit or the letter of the Loan Council agreements . . . for the Loan Council to simply agree to the proposal would put in serious question the credibility of those arrangements.

On 27 July the Treasurer wrote to the Treasurer of Victoria making it perfectly clear that the Victorian Government had breached the Loan Council guidelines. He received the information from the Victorian Government dated 24 July, three days earlier, but somehow this did not appear in Budget Paper No. 4. Somehow there was no need to reveal what was going on.

  The correspondence went on and on. The concern of the Federal Government, the Federal Government's case, was continually put and yet, of course, the key point of this is that the Treasurer never revealed in the Budget what in fact and what in reality was going on. In that respect, the Treasurer has misled the Parliament, deceived not just the Parliament, deceived not just the people of Australia, but deceived the financial markets of the international community, caused a run on the dollar and an undermining of international confidence in the way Australia manages its economy.

  I ask honourable members to look at the letter that the Treasurer wrote on 7 August. The Budget, remember, was on 18 August, and remember that the $1.3 billion loan in excess of the Loan Council requirements was not in that Budget, but on 7 August the Treasurer wrote to the Treasurer of Victoria saying:

In any case, the replacement on 1 May 1992 of the Treasury bills with medium term borrowings should not have been undertaken without Loan Council approval of the necessary special addition to Victoria's global limits.

That is evidence signed by his own hand. That is evidence if ever evidence were needed. That is evidence that the Treasurer knew all along that Victoria had exceeded its Loan Council guidelines. It is evidence that he accepted that the additional figure in the footnote of the minute from the Victorian Treasury was part of the borrowings of the Victorian Government in the terms of the Loan Council guidelines, that they had been exceeded, and he was writing back saying something ought to be done about it. If that is true—which it is, according to his own correspondence—why ever is it that the Treasurer chose apparently not to reveal that information in the Budget? The fact is that by having failed to do that, he has acted with the greatest deceit, deliberately misled the Parliament and, I said before, he has deliberately misled not just the people of Australia but also international financial markets.

  Of course, the former Treasurer of Victoria—fortunately for the people of Victoria he is now the former Treasurer of Victoria—this morning simply admitted this on the AM program as he bumbled his way through trying to explain away yet another case of Labor not being trusted to handle money. When asked about this question of the exceeding of the Loan Council guidelines, he said:

It was reported to Dawkins.

They are his words. It was reported to the Commonwealth Treasury on 17 June. Subsequently, Treasury briefed the Treasurer and the Treasurer in turn wrote to the Treasurer of Victoria on a couple of occasions about it. At the end of the day, what is the ultimate proof, if that is not proof enough? I would have thought it was black and white proof for anybody but the most blatant partisans in the Labor Party. It is black and white proof for anybody other than them, but what more evidence is needed than the fact that the Treasurer is absolutely determined, as can been seen from Question Time today and his comments in the last 24 hours, to ensure that he does not appear before inquiries or release information, so that he does not have to discuss this matter any more?

  What he has been saying and what the Prime Minister, too, has been saying in answers to questions today is perfectly clear. The Treasurer was asked:

Why will you not appear before the Senate parliamentary inquiry?

He did not give any answer at all. No relevant answer was given to that.

Mr Gear —Would you?

Mr DOWNER —I will come to that. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition asked a second question:

Will you or will you not personally appear before the Senate committee? If not, why should the public not conclude from that that you are still trying to cover up?

Which they should. He said:

The point is that I would not even expect to be called . . . if . . . it is a sensible exercise . . . of course we will cooperate.

A bit later in Question Time, we had the Prime Minister, the man with less credibility, I think, than any member of parliament since 1901, saying:

Mr Speaker, I can assure you that there will be no House of Representatives Minister appearing before a Senate committee of any kind while ever I am Prime Minister.

Mr Melham —Hear, hear!

Mr DOWNER —I know. That is what the Government says. But, you see, what it says is not what it does, and the Australian people know that. It sends Ministers before Senate inquiries. The Attorney-General (Mr Duffy) has appeared before a Senate inquiry within the last year. The Minister for Higher Education and Employment Services (Mr Baldwin) has appeared before a Senate inquiry in the last year. The Treasurer, in his reply, before his boss got in and wanted to stamp on the whole issue as quickly as he could, said:

The point is that I would not even expect to be called . . . if . . . it is a sensible exercise . . . of course we will cooperate.

He concedes the point that he may very well appear before it, but the reality at the end of the day is perfectly clear. The Prime Minister, with his Treasurer, is utterly determined to change the rules, suddenly, so that this matter can die, so that this gross act of deceit can disappear. It will not disappear because this Government has deceived the international financial community and undermined the credibility of the finances of this country. It has caused a run on the Australian dollar and undermined the wealth of this nation. Honourable members on the other side of the House do not like this. They have deceived the Parliament and the Australian community. Not only is it an indictment of the Labor Party, but proof, if ever proof were needed, that the Labor Party cannot, never can and never will, be trusted with the taxpayers' money. (Time expired)