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Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Page: 1479


Senator MASON (3:08 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by ministers to questions without notice asked today.

Taking note without a particular theme is always fun for senators, but governing without a theme is not a good thing for the country. This is a government without a theme, without a rationale, except of course for political survival. Whatever you think of Labor, you could always say in the past that they were passionate and committed. You cannot argue that any more. Some of my friends sitting down here today argue that Labor’s greatest failure is their incompetence and they always point to things like turning a $20 billion surplus into a $50 billion debt within a year. They think that is pretty incompetent. My friend Senator Joyce said earlier today in his contribution that continuing to borrow $100 million a day is pretty incompetent as well.

I have often argued in this place that the Building the Education Revolution was an absolute and utter shambles. It was a shambles because the Commonwealth did not have sufficient oversight mechanisms to ensure that state governments were spending Commonwealth taxpayers’ money appropriately. That is the argument that sticks in the opposition’s craw. It is a failure by the government to ensure that money is well spent by state governments, and what happened as a result of that? School halls built by state governments cost much more than they should have. That is also incompetent.

We know about pink batts as well. We know there were deaths and electrified roofs, and a massive and expensive clean-up campaign. That was also a shambles, and that has been Labor’s answer to the global financial crisis: pink batts and building school halls. If only President Obama had known it was that simple! But, as you know, Mr Deputy President, I am generous: Labor’s failings are not just their incompetence; Labor’s failings are that they do not have an agenda. When Senator Fifield asked Senator Evans yesterday about Labor’s agenda, Senator Evans, for all his great skill at answering questions, did not have an answer.

The government limps from week to week looking for something to believe in. If the Greens do not provide the government with convictions then Labor cannot find them. It is now the Greens providing the Labor Party with conviction. Labor can no longer claim to be the party of conviction. We have heard Senator Faulkner, one of the respected elders of the Australian Labor Party, in the last few weeks say the ALP is long on cunning but short on courage. Doesn’t that summarise where the Australian Labor Party today is in government? Senator Cameron, whose contributions I always enjoy, said that the Labor caucus is full of zombies who do not believe in anything anymore. They used to but they do not now, except for political survival.

The great salvation apparently is the NBN. Senator Conroy is going to save the government with the NBN. The NBN is going to be the saving grace of the Australian Labor Party. But even Senator Conroy does not believe that the NBN is good value for money, that it would pass the cost-benefit analysis. Senator Conroy does not even believe that because he tells the independent members of this place that it would not pass that test, let alone what the OECD says. So the bottom line is: the Labor Party virtually have nothing left. They believe in nothing, and if you think for a second that the BER was a shambles—and the world now knows that—just think of what is going to happen to the NBN over the next 18 months to three years. It will be failure on steroids.

I know the clock ticks down and Christmas awaits us. Santa Claus will hopefully give a president—sorry, a present—and that might be an agenda for our nation’s future. At the moment this government is running off some pathetic synergy between the Greens, the Independents and the Labor Party, and a pathetic synergy is not a recipe for good government.