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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 7895

Senator BRANDIS (2:04 PM) —My question is directed to the distinguished Special Minister of State, Senator Abetz. Given the Howard government's proven commitment to the prudent expenditure of taxpayers' money, is the minister aware of Commonwealth property arrangements that do not represent value for money? What is the financial impact of these arrangements on government finances and, especially, the impact on taxpayers?

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) —I thank Senator Brandis for his timely question. Senators will remember that, in 1993, Labor arranged to lease their Canberra property Centenary House to the Australian National Audit Office. The lease was for 15 years, which is considerably longer than the usual five years. To make matters worse, Labor claimed a rental increase of nine per cent per year or the increase in market rents, whichever was the larger—a gross example of greed. Hardworking Australians are now paying $845 per square metre for office space at Labor headquarters. Yet the Audit Office sought a sublease and it could only ask market rates of $320 per square metre—a massive $525 per square metre less than the amount the Audit Office is forced to pay Labor.

This year, Santa Claus will be bringing Labor a present of $3.3 million, and that is not the whole amount: that is just the amount above market rates. That $3.3 million present has been ripped out of the pockets of hardworking Australians. Over the full life of the lease, the rip-off will be $36 million. In the past, other senators from this side, such as Senators Campbell and Brandis, have called for the lease to be renegotiated to reasonable levels. On every occasion, the Labor Party, under its ineffectual leaders of Messrs Beazley and Crean, have rejected those calls. They use the weasel words such as, `It isn't illegal.' Just because something is not illegal does not make it right, and Labor's rip-off is plainly wrong.

But I would ask Labor to consider what this ill-gotten $3.3 million could actually buy. It could actually buy 25,000 Bob the Builder tool kits for Senator Lundy and her mates in the CFMEU, or it could buy 125,000 Tonka trucks for Senators Conroy and Hutchins and their mates in the TWU, or it could buy 82,000 stuffed sheep for Senators Forshaw and Buckland and the shearers of the AWU. But I have a funny feeling that they have enough of those over that side already. It could buy 165,000 Barbie gift sets for Joan Kirner and the EMILY's List sisterhood.

Senator ABETZ —Or it could buy more than eight million public phone calls for Senator Bolkus. Sadly, one thing Labor cannot buy is leadership and integrity, let alone policies. Now is the time for Labor to show its Christmas spirit and give back the ill-gotten gains rather than being the Grinch. We know that Labor is not good at giving. It has not given us a leader or a policy over the past six years. Labor needs to make a New Year's resolution to kick its addiction to the Centenary House rental rip-off. Though I doubt that this will be my last question for this year, can I wish everybody a happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.