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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 651

Senator CRANE (4.12 p.m.) —I rise to support my colleague who has moved to suspend standing orders. I want to make one point absolutely clear at this point: if it had not been for the pig-headedness of the Minister for Small Business, Customs and Construction (Senator Schacht) this matter would have been dealt with, as would the next matter and we would be on to the bill that Senator Tierney came in here to speak about. We are not trying to set a precedent today; this has been done before. We have asked for an extension for one particular point at a time when there is no matter of public importance and after the budget was brought down. Those are very significant circumstances. In Senator Schacht's typical manner, he has dug in his heels and thought that he would show his muscle.

  The reason there should be a suspension of standing orders is that the budget has just been brought down—a budget which is being described by every political commentator almost across the board as one of the great gambles ever taken in this country. A number of things have not been dealt with here today in terms of question time and taking note of answers, none less than the current account, which is the particular issue that I want to address for just five minutes. As I said before, I could have dealt with that and been done with it. I will take the opportunity when the time comes. But if the government is serious about having its budget analysed and scrutinised, it would not be frightened or running away, which is exactly what it is doing right now. It would have allowed that five minutes. We were not trying to abuse it and keep it going continuously; we were asking for just five minutes.

  For the benefit of those people listening to this debate it is worth noting that, when we are dealing with the current account and its impact, one of the great fears in this community is high interest rates. We saw what this government did when it allowed the current account to run berserk during the 1980s and interest rates went up. We saw precisely what happened. That was very damaging. The government wants to know why businesses are not interested in going out and investing. It is because they are that damn scared of the government, its policies and its inability to control interest rates. In fact, we are now heading towards another huge interest rate hike. I think that needs addressing in this parliament and it needs to be brought to the attention of those opposite.

  Senator Schacht should have behaved sensibly and behaved as other ministers faced with a motion for an extension of time have done. It is not something that we on this side of the chamber have abused. In fact, I think it has been only once or twice—the deputy whip will correct me if I am wrong—that we have sought an extension of time to address a particular issue arising out of question time. To say it is not appropriate to handle this issue at this particular time I believe is absolutely and totally wrong.

  The fact is that the speech that I want to make has arisen from question time. It relates to taking note of answers and it should have been dealt with then at a sensible and suitable time. Of course the government does not like it that I wish to speak about the current account. One can see very easily why, politically, it would not want this raised and why it would wish to bury it as far down the day's agenda as it can. But the government is not going to escape its bad policies. It is not going to escape the fact that it has brought down a budget which has the potential, with the blow-out in the current account deficit, to keep interest rates increasing. We have seen, even in the last six months, an increase of one per cent in the 10-year bond rate.

Senator Schacht —Speak to the suspension of standing orders.

Senator CRANE —I am speaking to the suspension of standing orders. We have already seen that increase. It is a very valid reason why I should have been allowed just five minutes so that this issue could have been dealt with at the appropriate time. Of course those opposite would not want any debate on what is happening with interest rates or what the impact of the current account deficit will be. They would walk right away from it because they do not know how to handle it. They have not been able to handle it in the past, and they will not be able to handle it in the future.