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Thursday, 18 November 2010
Page: 1695

Senator CORMANN (6:44 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

Yet again, the government has refused to provide the information the Senate has sought. I draw the attention of the Senate to what it is that we asked for. The Senate ordered the government:

… that there be laid on the table by 5 pm on Thursday 18 November 2010, any advice (including legal advice and advice from the Solicitor General or the Australian Government Solicitor) to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet or the Department of the Treasury, or advice from these departments to their respective Ministers, concerning the need for unanimous agreement to vary the GST Agreement.

What have we got here? We have a letter from Senator Wong telling us that the original 1999 version of the GST agreement was replaced with the 2008 version of the GST agreement by COAG unanimously. There is no comment here whatsoever, no attempt at providing the information that the Senate asked for, which of course is the advice from those respective agencies that has been provided to the government. We know that the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, knows that he has a problem. We know that he knows he has a problem because it is contained in the incoming government’s brief, the red book. I will just read from it in relation to the implementation of the GST takeover proposed by this federal Labor government. On page 15 it says:

Western Australia’s decision not to participate in the NHHN reforms poses an implementation challenge. The key issue for Western Australia is the dedication of a portion of each state’s GST to health and hospital services.

It goes further. It goes into a section on the Intergovernmental Agreement on Federal Financial Relations. It says:

Western Australia has indicated that it is not prepared to agree to proposed amendments to the IGA notwithstanding that they preserve the current arrangements for Western Australia.

I am quoting: ‘notwithstanding that they preserve the current arrangements for Western Australia’. And here comes the clincher. This is in advice from the Treasurer’s own department. This is in advice from the Treasury to the Treasurer, released under FOI after the election. I will quote from the red book again:

As changes can only be made to the IGA by unanimous agreement of all parties, alternative approaches may need to be considered to give effect to the financing arrangements for other jurisdictions.

That is a polite and bureaucratic way to say: ‘You may have to find the money elsewhere. You might need to do it another way. This way might not work because you have not fulfilled a core requirement under the intergovernmental agreement—and that is to have the unanimous agreement of all the parties involved in the intergovernmental agreement.’

It continues. This is very informative advice to the Treasurer. I am not sure whether he has read it. If he had read it he would not have taken the actions he did in pressing ahead with reintroducing the legislation to grab $50 billion of the states’ and territories’ GST. He would have actually done his homework. I will keep reading, for the benefit of the Treasurer and for the benefit, perhaps, of his staff, the hollow men in his office who might be watching what is happening in the Senate right now. I will continue to quote from the advice:

… alternative approaches may need to be considered to give effect to the financing arrangements for other jurisdictions.

Ideally, these issues should be resolved before the reintroduction of the legislation.

That, again, is a very polite way for Treasury to say to their boss, the Treasurer, ‘Do your homework before you bring the legislation back into the parliament.’ But this Treasurer has a problem because he is desperate for the cash. He wants the money. But he also knows that there are two states in Australia that are going to have elections soon. There is the great state of Victoria and the state of New South Wales—also a great state.

Senator Ronaldson —Not as good as the former.

Senator CORMANN —I would not want to discriminate between states, because that would be against the Constitution, wouldn’t it, Senator Ronaldson? There are soon to be elections in Victoria and New South Wales. Wayne Swan knows very well that Labor is on the nose across Australia, that there are alternative governments in Victoria and New South Wales that are quite likely to form the next government in those respective states. In New South Wales all the Labor rats are currently leaving the sinking ship. I have to say there must be a conga line of people in front of Mark Arbib’s office in New South Wales asking for jobs. All of the state Labor members of parliament in New South Wales are walking out the door because they know they are not going to be the government as of March next year.

Here we have a Treasurer who knows that, if he continues to waste time, if he does not rush this legislation into the parliament—without having done his homework—the chances are that he will not be dealing with Kristina Keneally in March next year. He will be dealing with Barry O’Farrell—and with Mike Baird and with Ted Baillieu and with Kim Wells. These are people who stand up for the best interests of their state. John Brumby is the guy who tried to run up the pretence of standing up for Victoria and in the end the Labor mates got to him. They beat him up. He folded at the last moment. And what did he do? Hours before going to Government House to call the election, he quietly signed the deal to hand over the GST. He quietly signed the deal, hours before going into caretaker mode. That is outrageously dishonest. That is outrageously not acting in the best interests of the people of Victoria. I hope that the people of Victoria will take that into account when they go to the ballot box towards the end of November.

Minister Wong, on behalf of the Treasurer, I assume, has again wilfully ignored an order of the Senate. This government has again refused to provide information which the Senate appropriately asked for. This goes to the heart of the integrity of the Treasurer. This goes to the heart of the integrity of the government. They are out there, day in, day out, looking for new opportunities to get their hands on cash, whether it is through increased taxes, through more debt or by taking money off the states and territories. They want to cut corners. They do not want to follow proper process. They do not want to comply with the agreements that they have signed up to.

Julia Gillard, our Prime Minister, a little while ago said, ‘A deal is a deal,’ when she sought to lecture the Premier of New South Wales. She said, ‘A deal is a deal.’ Well, the states and territories across Australia have a deal with the federal government that is the Intergovernmental Agreement on Federal Financial Relations, which can only be changed by unanimous agreement. Wayne Swan knows this; Julia Gillard knows this. They know they have a problem. The reason they know is that it is all here in the briefing notes from the Treasury to the government—when they were finally able to scrape back into government.

Tell me why Wayne Swan is rushing this legislation back into the parliament without having done his homework. He knows he has not got unanimous agreement for it because Western Australia is opposed to it. He knows that the intergovernmental agreement requires him to have unanimous agreement. He knows that, if anything, things will get worse for him over the next two or three months. That is why he is rushing. He can see his $50 billion in additional revenue running out the door, and that is what he is worried about. This of course is a Treasurer who is always looking for money. This is a Treasurer who is part of a government that has got a track record of reckless spending, of waste and mismanagement, of increased taxes, of more debt and deficit, and of putting upward pressure on interest rates and inflation. This is a Treasurer who has a terrible track record as Treasurer and who, whenever he is held to account or asked a question, or is asked by the Senate or by the House of Representatives for some information, treats us with absolute contempt. We were promised a new era of openness and transparency by this Prime Minister. We were promised that sunlight would shine in. We were promised that things were going to change and that this government, which was punished by the Australian people at the last election, had learned its lesson. Well, things are going from bad to worse. Things are not getting better. This is a bad government. It is a government that always tries to cover things up. It is a government that knows it is out of its depth, and that is why it is not able to comply with legitimate inquiries from the Senate on issues like this. Wayne Swan should hang his head in shame.

Question agreed to.