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Thursday, 9 December 2004
Page: 117

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (4:30 PM) —I have great pleasure in rising in tonight's adjournment debate to address some remarks to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Centenary House Lease. Isn't it interesting that just after four o'clock on the last day of sitting Senator Abetz sneaks into the chamber, without having tabled the report in the Senate, and tries to put his spin on a tremendous embarrassment for him, a tremendous blow to the political campaign that the Liberals have waged on this issue for 10 years now. And what has the royal commission found? That there is no case to answer. It clears the Labor Party and it does not support any of the outrageous accusations that Senator Abetz, Senator Brandis and Senator Ian Campbell have tried to make as the basis of their political careers for the last 10 years.

I would be embarrassed if I were you, Senator Abetz, because you wasted $3.8 million of taxpayers' money for a second royal commission that found nothing, that found that you were wrong. You sneak in here and you do not quote the report; you try and find subclauses that might help you maintain the innuendo that was not supported. The royal commission said:

... it is appropriate that I do state that no ... criticism should be levelled at the conduct of John Curtin House Ltd or the Australian Labor Party.

That is the finding of the royal commission. Your low attack on the Labor Party over 10 years has come to nothing—two royal commissions, no result.

Senator Abetz —Mr President, I rise on a point of order.

Senator Wong —You're very sensitive today.

Senator Abetz —No, it is just along the lines of Senator Evans's points of order. If he wants to address remarks to me he should not do it across the chamber but through the President in the third person.

The PRESIDENT —I think Senator Evans is well aware of the fact that he should not respond to interjections and he should address his remarks through the chair.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Quite right, Mr President. I am sorry if Senator Abetz is getting sensitive, but he ought to be sensitive and he ought to be embarrassed. `What a waste!' is what taxpayers ought to think. Another $3.8 million of taxpayers' money was wasted on a second royal commission. Do you know how many royal commissions we have had in the last 10 years? Five. Do you know how many have been into the Labor Party and Centenary House? Two. Two of the five most important things the Howard government have had on their agenda, of the things they thought were wrong in Australia, were inquiries into Centenary House. And what have they got at the end of the two royal commissions? Nothing. They have got a finding that says:

... it is appropriate that I do state that no ... criticism should be levelled at the conduct of John Curtin House Ltd or the Australian Labor Party.

You cannot escape that. Now front up, apologise and pay back the money.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Address your remarks through the chair.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —The minister ought to have the money taken out of his salary. These ministers, for political purposes before the last election, set up another royal commission to have a second go at it. The results came out and what happened? Absolutely nothing. The whole thing has been a complete disaster for the Liberal Party, because all the findings are that there was no improper conduct. The report shows that there was no suggestion of corruption, fraud or political impropriety on the part of any person involved in the lease of Centenary House to the Australian National Audit Office; no misleading statement was made in the negotiations; no minister or other elected representative of the then government encouraged or caused the ANAO to enter into the lease; the terms of the lease were negotiated at arm's length between representatives of the Commonwealth and the landlord of John Curtin House; there is no basis for any suggestion that there exist any grounds to set aside the lease or have its terms varied. The Centenary House lease was not the first nor the last lease entered into by the Commonwealth which included a long term, a fixed escalator and no provision review. The royal commission also found, despite the arguments that Senator Abetz and others have been making for the last 10 years time and time again, that no renegotiation was possible. The government's own royal commission found no renegotiation of the lease was possible.

So what have we got? We have got $3.8 million of taxpayers' money wasted again. The minister, Senator Abetz, and Senator Brandis and Senator Ian Campbell ought to start paying that out of their wages. We will organise a repayment scheme for you, because you have had your second royal commission and it was a complete dud. Why do we have you sneaking in here at four o'clock? I could not get a copy. It was not tabled in the Senate. Why? Because they were embarrassed. They did not want to show it. Senator Abetz had a copy. Did we have a copy? No. Why not? Because it was not tabled in the Senate. Why wasn't it tabled? Because of its indictment of your political career, failure after failure. You have banged on for 10 years and you have got nothing.

Senator Barnett, you would laugh. I know you want his spot. Quite frankly, this will improve your chances, because it proves again that Senator Abetz ain't got it. He ain't got it and he ain't delivered. He has been prepared, along with John Howard, to waste taxpayers' money time and time again in pursuing political objectives. And what did they get out of this? They got nothing. All the findings made it very clear that there was no impropriety.

Think about it: you want to put political heat on the opposition over an important issue. You have had the report for a week, I believe. You have had Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. They had four question times in which they could have attacked us, they could have ridiculed us—and they could have really hurt us with clause 23(1)b on page 21 or whatever! But what did they do? They snuck around; they hid the report. Senator Abetz kept it in his pocket until Thursday afternoon at four o'clock. When everyone is going home, when the parliament is over for the week—

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! There is too much noise in the chamber. Senator Abetz, you are making enough noise for the whole opposition, I think. Come to order.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Senator Abetz sneaks in and says, `It does really support me. If you look at clause 37(b) on page 122, that almost says what I would like it to say.' Well, it does not, Senator Abetz. It does not say anything else. What it says is that you have got a fizzer, mate—and you have made the taxpayer pay for it again. Two royal commissions have been complete fizzers. The main finding was that there was no suggestion of corruption, fraud or political impropriety on the part of any person involved in the lease of Centenary House to the Australian National Audit Office.

We did not hear you quote a lot from the report, because you do not like it. You did not have the courage to table it. You did not have the courage to bring it in on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, but on Thursday, at a time when everyone is about to go home, you thought you would come in and make a few remarks and say: `This really does support me. The written word does not, but if you interpret it through my understanding of all these matters this is terribly damaging.' If this is the best damage you can do to us, mate, carry on, because you are not up to it!

The PRESIDENT —Through the chair.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Sorry, Mr President. Senator Abetz is not up to it. But what really irks me is not the royal commission—

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Where are Senator Ian Campbell and Senator Brandis, the other great heroes of this charge, the other political geniuses behind this? They are not here. You would think that, if this were such a political embarrassment to the Labor Party, they would be making the most of it. But you did not bring it in on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday and you did not come in here today and table the report and give us the advantage of reading it—because you do not like it! Why? Because it says you fell on your face. But what is really irking is that you spent three—

Senator Abetz —You keep believing it.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I believe it, and you will hear about it a lot. You spent $3.8 million of taxpayers' money—again, another waste. It was not the first royal commission but the second. You thought: `We'll have another go at it. Ten years on we will have another go. Maybe we can find a royal commissioner who will support our argument.' Well they did not. They found a royal commissioner who did a thorough job and said there was no finding of impropriety; that what you had been banging on about for 10 years was a complete waste of time—that it was a slur, a denigration of good people for a cheap political point. And you were prepared to waste taxpayers' money to denigrate your political opponents. I do not mind you having a go at us. We will take it head on. We will not sneak in when parliament is about to go home and try to have a go. We will do it up front. But you come in late, sneak in and try to make a cheap political point, to try to misrepresent what is an absolute indictment of you. I know why Senator Barnett and the other Tasmanians are so sick of you—because you ain't up to the job!

The PRESIDENT —Order! Interjections are disorderly too, Senator.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Mr President, I ought to direct my comments through you, but I do get angry and upset that taxpayers' money has been wasted on a political witch-hunt which has totally vindicated the Labor Party and totally refuted all the innuendo. All the slimy little claims made by Senator Abetz over the years have been refuted completely by the royal commission. He ought to apologise and he ought to think about how he might help recompense the taxpayers for the waste of money that he spent on the royal commission. His political career is in tatters again because the one thing he had was slurring the Labor Party—and the royal commission said that it was a fizzer, that there was nothing in it.

Senator Abetz —You're a new leader; make a difference.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator, continual interjection is disorderly.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —The findings completely absolve the Labor Party of any impropriety at all.