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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 28

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (2:29 PM) —My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I too refer to the $42 billion package which the Prime Minister announced just before question time. How many pieces of legislation will the government be presenting to the parliament to seek the implementation of that package? What is the program that the government has in mind, taking into account that the Senate is a chamber of scrutiny and will need due consideration if the parliament is to handle this legislation and package responsibly?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank Senator Brown for the questions. Senator Brown, my information is that there will be five bills introduced to the House of Representatives tomorrow. I will check if that is not correct, but I think that it is five bills. They will seek to give effect to the package, the Nation Building and Jobs Plan, announced by the Prime Minister today. I understand that they will be brought on in the House of Representatives for debate tomorrow.

In terms of when they reach the Senate and when we will have the opportunity to debate them, I cannot give precise details other than to indicate that it is my intention to talk to the leader of each of the parties and the Independents this afternoon about the question of the bills and the time lines required for implementation of each of those bills. Some of them will be time sensitive because of the operative dates that are required to implement payments. A number of them provide tax bonuses et cetera. Part of the whole stimulus package is designed to try to get that money into the economy in the second half of this financial year and to get that money to help support jobs and growth in the economy quickly. That is why the package has been designed in that way.

So there are tight time lines involved. Clearly the Senate will want to consider the legislation and we will enter into discussions with the opposition and the minor parties and Independents about how best we manage that. I have already had a quick chat to Senator Minchin across the table, but we will formally do that this afternoon or this evening. We have been constrained a bit by the fact that the package was not announced until just prior to question time, but obviously we will want to engage with you in discussion about those matters. (Time expired)

Senator BOB BROWN —Mr President, I thank the minister and I ask a supplementary question. Is there any component in any of those five bills that the government is seeking to have through this place by Thursday? If so, how is that going to be done in an informed and responsible way? Was the government unable to release the package or any component of it until today? Would the minister check one statistic which I have, the ceiling insulation program for 2.7 million Australian houses which do not have it? The Australian Bureau of Statistics figures are that there are 3.9 million Australian houses without ceiling insulation. Is the government going to ensure that the urgency is met—and I am sure that the Senate will do that—while at the same time due diligence is allowed and is sought from the Senate?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —Thank you, Senator Brown, for your supplementary question. Senator Brown, as you know, the Senate will always deal with all matters in an informed and responsible way, and I am sure that this will be no exception. I will brief you on the time limits required by the government to get the legislation passed and implement the payments, and I will do that this afternoon. I will look to find a cooperative way through so that the Senate has the appropriate opportunity to look at the legislation but also to ensure that the government is able to implement its package. It is a package designed as an emergency response to a worsening financial situation and, clearly, the package is designed to have some immediate impact on the economy. So deadlines will be tight and they will require the cooperation of the Senate, but I will be happy to discuss that. (Time expired)

Senator BOB BROWN —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I am not quite so secretive; I am really inviting the minister to discuss it in public. We will certainly go into private discussions about it. But I ask the minister: how on earth can any piece of legislation pass by Thursday and, if it does not, is the government considering changing the Senate sitting timetable? Secondly, this is a massive budgetary matter. Has the government got a new budget direction for the nation built into this package and, if so, what is it?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —On the second part of the supplementary question, clearly, this is a very detailed statement of both the financial situation that now confronts Australia and the deepening financial crisis and its impact on our budget and the forecasts and a very large response of more than $40 billion by the government. All that detail is certainly in the package. I am not in any way trying to keep the discussion on these matters private, but I think that we make more progress by having interaction about what is possible in relation to the progressing of the legislation. In terms of your concern about the ceiling insulation, I think that the difference may be between privately owned homes and rental properties and other properties. I will check that for you and get back to you.