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Monday, 11 November 1991
Page: 2811

Senator BISHOP (3.22 p.m.) —I want to speak in support of the motion just moved by Senator Hill and simply make the statement that I wanted to make earlier. The question I asked of Senator Button was not just any old question; it goes right to the heart of the paralysis of government of this nation. We have one million people unemployed, we are in a recession, bankruptcy rates are way above any rates for 60 years, people are hurting and people's lives are being destroyed, yet all this Government continues to do is squabble and fight about who will have the leadership and the spoils of office.

  The reason we gave Senator Button the opportunity to pledge loyalty to the leadership again today was that we are concerned that this country has none. When Senator Button gave me his only too cute answer—the one that says, `I will support the leader; the leader is dead, long live the leader'—I asked him specifically whether that applied to Mr Hawke. Senator Button then told me:

I will remain loyal to the Leader of the Government, which is Mr Hawke. But I cannot say that in 12 months time Mr Hawke might not encounter the proverbial bus; I hope not.

Senator McMullan —I raise a point of order, Mr President. We have been fairly broad-minded in this interpretation of a debate about the suspension of Standing Orders. Senator Hill ranged far and wide, but Senator Bishop has not actually referred to why there should be a suspension of Standing Orders. She is debating the question which she wishes to be debate if Standing Orders are suspended. I ask you to call her to order.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Bishop, you should be speaking to why we should suspend Standing Orders.

Senator BISHOP —Thank you, Mr President. If Senator McMullan was listening, he would have heard me say that the reason we need to address this question is that this Government is in a state of paralysis; we have no leadership; the Government has no direction; and the people of Australia are suffering. That is why we should suspend Standing Orders. If Senator Button chooses to call that an inconvenience, that about sums up how he regards the business of government and the business of the Parliament.

  As I said, Senator Button gave a very cute answer and said, `I support the leader'. When he is put to the sticking point on whether Mr Hawke will remain leader, all he can say is, `It is Mr Hawke, unless he is run over by the proverbial bus'. This surely casts great insincerity and great doubt over the grand statements over the weekend of Senator Richardson, who wrote letters to the paper and made statements all over the radio waves saying that the challenge is off, nothing will happen and we will have a truce.

Senator Macdonald —He is always saying that.

Senator BISHOP —Indeed, he does always say that. One could say that the last time it was building up to a challenge Senator Richardson made exactly the same statement. But how curious it is that Senator Button chose to use the bus analysis. Only in September last, when asked whether there was a third candidate in the offering, Senator Richardson said:

I am not looking for a third candidate myself, but I would have thought that if the bus factor came into play and it ran over Hawke and Keating this afternoon, I think I'd probably have my money on Beazley.

So the bus analogy is well and truly on the agenda. One could well and truly say—at a time when this nation and the Government are paralysed; unemployment is rising; the recession is biting; the bankruptcy figures are higher than they have been for 60 years; and the Treasurer, Mr Kerin, has been told that he has to recant and re-educate himself and correct the statement he made overseas that he really did not mean to say the truth, that it was the worst recession for 60 years—that the leadership issue in this Parliament is alive and well and on foot.

  We can only ask now whether there is any way of insisting that this Government come to terms with its responsibilities and understand that it is allegedly the government of the day. Senator Richardson will be known from here on in as `the bus driver', with or without his licence—that will remain with us. But the question is: how long can Senator Button go on representing Mr Hawke in this place without saying that he will remain loyal to him?