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Thursday, 21 August 2003
Page: 19249

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (4:39 PM) —This evening I want to speak about cronyism and the very important story about the three Dicks who have the Howard government in their pockets. It is a story about Dick, Dick and Dick and their reach into infrastructure, transport and safety policy-making in Australia. Their power is derived because they are mates of the Prime Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister. Not just any Tom, Dick or Harriet can access this power; only the elites who have the Howard government in their pockets.

Let us look firstly at the influence of Mr Dick Estens on communications and infrastructure. Mr Estens is a fellow farmer and a very close personal friend of the National Party member who holds the seat of Gwydir. Who better to roll in to calculate how many pieces of silver it would take to change the views of National Party members on Telstra privatisation? Dick Estens, the loyal local Nat and mate of the Deputy Prime Minster, was given the power to determine what it would take to buy off his mate's colleagues. Mr Estens, a man who had had no prior communications experience to speak of, delivered the whitewash, as requested, ignoring hundreds of submissions decrying the quality of telecommunications.

Then we have a very special Dick: Dick Honan—another mate at the Liberal Party court. Mr Honan's company comprises about 90 per cent of the ethanol industry and has been selected for a leg-up of close to $50 million from the taxpayer. Any other Australian businessperson unable to stimulate demand for their particular product would be told to fix it themselves—but not when you are a friend of the Liberal-National Party court. Dick Honan just visited his mate the Prime Minister and did a deal for a slug on the taxpayer to prop up his business. The PM also threw in the services of his deputy to market his product; he was told to hold special meetings with fuel producers, retailers and fuel users to force them to ignore what their customers were saying and to use more ethanol.

Then we have the final Dick: Mr Dick Smith. Dick, to be fair, is an enthusiastic amateur pilot, adventurer and successful marketing man. Mr Smith and the Minister for Transport and Regional Services are not the best of mates. They had a very public stoush in the lead-up to Mr Smith's leaving the CASA board. Mr Anderson, as we were told then, was not going to work with him again. We then had Mr Smith embarking on a strategy to get back into the tent. He threatened to stand against the minister in Gwydir.

Before we knew it, Dick Smith visited the Liberal Party court and soon announced that he would not run in Gwydir. We do not know what happened in those discussions but, soon after the election, the minister put him in charge of airspace design and reform. The design and development of our airspace has been outsourced to Dick Smith. The result is that not one person on the Airspace Reform Group has air traffic control or airline pilot qualifications.

The proposed NAS system does not have widespread industry support and it will put the Australian travelling public at risk. It is one thing to lose ownership of Telstra, and it is another thing to spend millions of dollars to prop up a friend's industry; but to risk the aviation and the travelling public's safety to deliver a political outcome—in essence, to get Mr Dick Smith not to run or support a candidate in Gwydir at the 2001 election—is unforgivable.

I consider the Howard government to be shameless in its reach for political patronage. This week we have had the member for O'Connor, better known as `Ironbar Tuckey', now become known as `Wee Willie Tuckey'—`Will he or won't he go Tuckey'. I simply say that the facts speak for themselves: he should go. He gives this House a new version of `family assistance'. Forget the laws that ordinary Australians are expected to live by. We have seen the member for Berowra using his ministerial powers to fatten his campaign funds and to look after friends—forget the rules that others have to live by. They have lost perspective and they are a disgrace. They have ignored the integrity of the Australian political system.