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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8132


Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (6:42 AM) —The cold, hard reality of the debate surrounding my colleague the Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Revenue is that the attack Labor tried to build against Senator Coonan and her husband, former Justice Andrew Rogers, is a scurrilous and disgraceful one. This has become obvious to the public and all but the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. The attack on former Justice Andrew Rogers is particularly disgraceful. He is not a member of this place; he is one of the most respected former judicial officers and legal identities in Australia. Labor have made this scurrilous attack at a time when their own leadership is under serious question and their poll ratings are very bad. They are resorting to the lowest form of politics: the politics of personal attack.

I have watched this attack take place—as I have the great privilege, honour and delight of sitting next to Senator Helen Coonan— and I have watched it ebb and flow over the last couple of weeks. The thing about political attacks—and I myself ran a few in opposition—is that you have got to have some oxygen to keep the fire burning. If you start the attack at the beginning of a sitting fortnight, you have got to have enough new material to keep that political fire burning for eight sitting days and eight question times.

I said to Senator Coonan on about Wednesday of last week—when Labor stopped asking questions after making a pathetic attempt at a nasty character assassination by terrible slurs against former Justice Rogers—that they had run out of firepower. They moved this return to order to try to keep the issue bubbling along. Senator Ludwig is honour bound to thump the table and act a little bit indignant. He had to go through the motions, and that is what Labor has been doing.

Yesterday we had a scurrilous attempt by the member for Werriwa in the other place to, effectively, pass off to the House of Representatives some shoddily photocopied extracts of a landscaping plan as a development application. That was reminiscent of Senator Stephen Conroy's behaviour in this place last week when he was waving around what he would have had us believe was an electoral enrolment form and alleging that it was a document that had been falsely signed by former Justice Rogers and falsely witnessed by Senator Coonan. Of course, we found out the facts the next day. It was no such document. The only thing false about the document was Senator Conroy waving it around. It was a forgery. It was a facsimile. Senator Conroy did not know what was on Justice Rogers' enrolment form, and the document that he was waving around was not that form. He was at least playing charades, but it was a pathetic and puerile attempt. Mr Latham's attempts in the other place do him no credit either.

This attack is a reflection on the Australian Labor Party's paucity of ideas, paucity of policies and paucity of leadership at the moment. It is a sad reflection on some of the Labor figures for whom I have had the most respect. I was saddened to see yesterday that Senator Mark Bishop tried to string along the attack in the most pathetic and puerile attempt at a question I have seen for a long time. I have enormous respect for Senator Bishop; I think he has a great contribution to make in trying to rebuild the Labor Party. Senator Bishop should not and does not need to get down into the gutter with people like the Member for Werriwa, because he is far more intelligent and has a far stronger contribution to make to the fortunes of the Australian Labor Party than the Member for Werriwa will ever have.

This scurrilous and disgraceful attack is also a reflection on the Fairfax media and in particular the Sydney Morning Herald, which has worked closely with the Australian Labor party—almost in a coalition, dare I say it—to run this attack. It is a reflection on the Sydney Morning Herald, and the people who own it—I do not particularly know who is in control of it—need to have a look at their own game. They run a major metropolitan paper in one of the most important cities of the world. Sydney is a very important city that should have a newspaper that people respect. I looked at the Sydney Morning Herald's circulation figures this morning, and what do they show? In a city that has grown by seven per cent in the last five years and enormously in the last two decades, what has happened to the Sydney Morning Herald's circulation? In September 1996, 255,000-odd copies were sold in a city of millions. The population has grown by seven percent since then, and what has happened to the circulation of the Sydney Morning Herald? It has gone down to 251,000.

If they want to run a paper in that way and employ journalists who are prepared to pick up muck from the Australian Labor Party on respected figures in that great city of Sydney—respected figures like Senator Helen Coonan and former Justice Andrew Rogers—that is where the Sydney Morning Herald will continue to go. Its circulation will continue to go down as that city gets bigger, and it will head towards the gutter, where Labor politicians have wallowed for the last few sitting days.

Senator Helen Coonan and Andrew Rogers can hold their heads high as great Australians and great members of the Sydney community. Those people who seek to attack them, particularly those like the member for Werriwa and some senators opposite, have been proved wrong. They have been making allegations of false witnessing of declarations. If the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Crean, wants to try to improve the Labor Party's standing in the community, and his own standards, he should require those frontbenchers who ran this attack to either resign their positions or at the very least make an apology—just as Senator Heffernan did on this side.

Question agreed to.