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Thursday, 29 October 2009
Page: 7689

Senator HUMPHRIES (6:22 PM) —I want to make a brief contribution to this debate. I want to commend the Senate Economics References Committee for its report on the government’s economic stimulus initiatives. Like Senator Macdonald, I would like to draw attention to the flawed thinking which is evident in the way the government has approached this stimulus spending. Obviously, anybody from blind Freddy upwards can see that the government is using a large amount of this stimulus spending for pork-barrelling.

This was emphasised today in question time when the Minister for Employment Participation, Senator Arbib, very clumsily suggested that any criticism of the way economic stimulus spending occurred and was distributed around Australia was a call for those senators to have stimulus spending made in their own electorates or jurisdictions. Of course he was referring to my criticisms earlier this week of the government’s neglect of the ACT in allocating stimulus spending, particularly for school science labs and under the Jobs Fund program. I reject the suggestion that criticising the government stimulus package’s fairness of distribution in any way amounts to a call for a stimulus package of the size and scale which the government has in fact rolled out. It is perfectly appropriate to say that the government is wrong to attempt to borrow as much money as it has and to spend it in such a wayward and targeted way and then to suggest that it needs to reconsider how it has distributed that money between Australian jurisdictions and between different citizens of Australia.

I think the spending was wrong, and I am very proud to have voted against that spending. That is not to say that the opposition does not believe a stimulus package of some sort was warranted. The opposition has never pretended that stimulus spending was not needed; but, as Senator Macdonald made reference to in this debate already, it did not claim that spending need be on such a scale and in such a badly targeted way. I think the corollary of the argument which was used in question time today—that a member of the Senate who voted against the stimulus package has no right to criticise the way the money is spent in his or her electorate—is presumably that the government is free to not target for funding the electorates of those senators who voted against the government’s package. Is that what the government is actually suggesting—that because the member for an electorate in Queensland or a senator for the ACT voted against the package of government stimulus spending the government is entitled not to spend money in those places? That is what it sounded like in question time today.

Just because we oppose legislation does not mean we walk away from our obligation as legislators to scrutinise the way money is spent. That is our obligation to the electors who return us to this place. We do that job; irrespective of whether we support the package in the first place or not. If members of this government think they can avoid scrutiny because their package is not supported in the first place, they are very sorely mistaken.

Question agreed to.