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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 390

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (10:12 AM) —There are, even now, ongoing negotiations among the non-government benches to come to some form of agreement on how we progress with this monumentally important package of legislation from the government. We the Greens take it extremely seriously. We do not like the fact that such a massive amount of money has to be dealt with in such a short period of time. We do not agree with the government that these five bills, which involve $42 billion—ultimately of taxpayers’ money—should be dealt with in this place today or even tomorrow. Therefore, we are in agreement with the opposition that the Senate should fulfil its role as watchdog of the people and extend the period of review of this legislation to next Thursday—a week from today. That will involve some very serious scrutiny by the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration. We are also looking to have at least the housing component looked at by a committee to see what the public input on that huge outlay can be and to see if there are improvements or alterations that can be made.

We recognise the urgency. The government has a real point there. We want to see a finite end to this process and have flagged midnight next Thursday for an assured passage of the legislation through the Senate so that we can all have a target to work to—and hopefully raise the quality of the debate—because, through a gentleperson’s agreement, we know that that is the target. Under the prescription that is now reaching some finality on the non-government benches there would be speeches in the second reading debate today and Monday, but the Senate scrutiny—the inquiry by the committees—would take place tonight and tomorrow and extend into Monday. That would mean that by the time we get to the committee stage of looking at these packages, from Tuesday through to Thursday evening, we will be informed by that committee scrutiny of this legislation.

I just want to point out that at the doors this morning I held up the bill and pointed to what appeared, and what we were told by government yesterday, was a typo involving $2 billion. After further pressure to find out exactly what was going on there it appeared that it was not a typo at all; it is just an apparent discrepancy between what is in the bill and what is in the information being provided to senators. It is a clear example of the sorts of things that we need to clear up. We are dealing with big money here, and that money does not come out of thin air; it eventually comes out of the pockets of Australians.

I think the government may be concerned that it will face the blowtorch, as well as scrutiny, on occasion in the coming days but that is how it is meant to be. The Senate has a role, which comes to the fore at moments like this, for the nation. We are in extreme financial circumstances where we are skidding towards a recession. There is a global recession afoot and therefore it is incumbent on government to deal with that and on the Senate to make sure that in these circumstances the government gets the scrutiny the public requires of us.

I will be adding the Greens’ support to this amended motion coming from the government and Senator Fielding. It is a good outcome. It has required negotiations around the chamber, and it is an example of the Senate coming to the best possible configuration for scrutinising these bills, given the circumstances.