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Monday, 22 September 2008
Page: 5205

Senator FERGUSON (2:14 PM) —My question is to Senator Evans, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Given that the Prime Minister’s trip to the United States was first announced on 28 August and the financial crisis on Wall Street was not sparked until three weeks later, on 15 September, when Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy, is it a fact that the Prime Minister’s trip was scheduled well before the Wall Street meltdown and was not about the economy at all?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —I thank Senator Ferguson for the question but you have to ask: where has he been? I know he is a good traveller himself, but I think everybody in Australia would know that the financial difficulties in America and in the world financial markets did not start on 28 August. The subprime crisis has been around for months, and obviously Senator Ferguson reflects the opposition’s lack of economic understanding in claiming that the financial issues affecting world markets are very recent news.

The opposition may well think that the Prime Minister going to the United Nations General Assembly is not appropriate; that is a decision for them. But I do not think anyone seriously maintains that it is not a huge advantage for the Prime Minister to engage with other world leaders in response to one of the greatest financial crises that we have seen for many a year. There are really difficult circumstances confronting the Australian economy. There are really difficult international circumstances, which Senator Sherry outlined in his answer to the previous question. To somehow suggest that it is not important that the leader of the Australian government engages in international discussion, engages in confronting those challenges and engages in trying to work out solutions that provide security for international markets and for those who invest in them, I think, is a sign that the Liberal opposition have just absolutely lost the plot.

We had Senator Coonan raise the question about the banks. We had a question last week about the impact on Australian superannuation accounts. These are really important issues, issues that this government takes seriously. These pressures from the international financial turmoil are putting pressure on financial institutions and are putting pressure on investments. Those issues directly impact on Australian citizens, on their savings and on their investments. We think Australia is well placed to resist the worst impacts of these developments, but these are developments that threaten us. They do put pressures on our economy, and we are working very hard to try to ensure that we protect Australia to the best extent possible. That is one of the reasons why we are very keen to get our budget bills passed, to have the surplus established—so that we can protect the Australian economy and protect the economic conditions that act as a buffer to us and help protect us against the worst impacts of this financial crisis.

It is perfectly appropriate that the Prime Minister provide leadership in Australia’s response, that the Prime Minister engage with those involved in the international response to financial market developments, and I think all Australians would appreciate that the Prime Minister takes these issues very seriously. I would urge Senator Ferguson and the opposition to treat these issues much more seriously than they appear to be and to take economic responsibility seriously and pass the budget. Help us protect Australians from these conditions.

Senator FERGUSON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is it a fact that the Prime Minister has shortened his trip to the United States in order to attend the AFL grand final on Saturday but will not be around this week when parliament debates a pension increase? Why does this Prime Minister think attending football is more important than attending to the needs of pensioners?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —Again we see the opposition concentrating on stunts rather than real policy. The Prime Minister—

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Evans, resume your seat. Senator Evans.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Thank you, Mr President. The Prime Minister is seeking to promote Australia’s interests and engage in an international response to one of the most difficult financial situations we have seen for many a year. On occasions the opposition accuse the Prime Minister of working too hard, of keeping the pace too high. The fact is that the Prime Minister is making a fairly short trip to coincide with the UN assembly, to coincide with timing set by them. He will attend and return after doing what we think is very much in the national interest.