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Monday, 30 August 2004
Page: 26653

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (3:28 PM) —In debating the motion to take note of answers, or non-answers, to questions asked in question time today, we have in many respects an encapsulation of what we will get in the election campaign from both Labor and Liberal: lots of accusations backwards and forwards, and both parties avoiding the real issues that actually affect the Australian people. We have seen already in the first 24 hours of the election campaign, including question time today, Mr Latham saying that the Prime Minister has lied and deceived and been dishonest. We had Mr Howard this morning saying that Mr Latham has lied. The Democrats believe that neither Labor nor Liberal can be trusted, and certainly not trusted and given the absolute power that rests in the hands of a Prime Minister without the protection of an independent Senate to control and prevent that abuse of power.

It has already come down to accusation versus accusation. I do not know if people remember the old cartoon Spy v. Spy. It is a bit of a liar versus liar campaign already. When Mr Howard starts talking about the `l' word, we know he is not talking about the `l' word that he is trying to ban from Playschool; he is talking about the accusations against Mr Latham and of course the accusations coming back at the Prime Minister. We need to do better than a liar versus liar campaign. We need to do better than a liar versus liar form of political debate and mechanism for determining decision making in government in this country. That is why having an independent Senate that can examine the truth is so important and why the role of the two larger parties, such as in the Senate in question time today, really exposed what a lack of any substance to debate we get from them on the issues that affect people. We had a simple question today—it could not get more simple—to the Minister representing the Treasurer here: do you still believe the Senate should have the power to block supply?

Senator Ferguson —It was an out of order question.

Senator BARTLETT —It was not out of order and it was not ruled out of order to ask: does the representative of the Treasurer believe that it is economically responsible for the Senate to block supply? This government is already going on about how it is economically responsible. The Democrats agree that being economically responsible is important. That is why we have taken that approach in the Senate on a whole range of economic legislation. We agree that you need to get those foundations of prosperity and those foundations of a solid economy in place to more effectively address other issues of importance like more protection of the environment and assisting people in need with social services and all the other aspects of society. We can make the economy work better—we can certainly make it work fairer—but we do need to be economically responsible.

How laughable is it for them to emphasise economic responsibility but then refuse to rule out the simple action of blocking supply? Nothing could be more economically irresponsible and disruptive to this economy than preventing the passage of legislation that allows the ordinary annual services of government to occur, yet this Liberal Party would not rule it out. We all know—and it is quite clear—there is a possibility, even if the Labor Party moves into government, that the coalition could well have a blocking majority—38 out of 76 seats. They on their own could block anything passing. Certainly, as has been demonstrated by vote in this Senate, the Greens quite openly say they also believe the Senate should retain the power to block supply. The Democrats disagree with them on that, as do the Labor Party.

There is clearly a prospect of Labor being in government but a majority in the Senate being willing to block supply. You do not get much more economically irresponsible than that from a government that likes to preach it, yet here it is slithering all around the place, dodging straightforward, black-and-white simple questions. It is no wonder people cannot trust the Prime Minister when he talks about economic responsibility and it is no wonder they are not confident that they can trust Mr Latham to perform responsibly, to tell the truth and to not backtrack on core promises, because we have already seen that even in the short time he has been opposition leader. That is why you need a strong Senate, independent of whoever is in government. I urge everyone listening to remember that they have two decisions to make on polling day—not just whom they put in the Lodge but whom they put in the Senate to watch over them. The stronger the Senate is, the more freedoms are protected and the more responsible our system of government will be.

Question agreed to.