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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4808

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (Mackellar) (18:49): In rising to speak in this cognate debate on the appropriations bills, I recognise that this is the one debate where one can range very broadly and widely across many issues in the course of the debate, not having to adhere strictly to the substance of the bills. It is very interesting: sometimes we hear people continue to refer to the bills of supply, which, of course, these bills are not. The bills of supply were a mechanism we used to use when we had budgets in August rather than in May and they were needed to tide over money until the appropriations bills were introduced, debated and passed. So, when I hear Independents say they will not deny the government supply, I wonder sometimes what it is they are promising to do.

The fact of the matter is that this government is held up by three Labor Independents: Mr Thomson, Mr Oakeshott and Mr Windsor. Why do I use the term 'Labor Independents'? It is because of the support that Mr Oakeshott and Mr Windsor continue to give to the Labor Party. Mr Thomson, who is often referred to as having been expelled from the Labor Party, of course has not; he has merely been suspended. They are the three people who hold this government in office.

I listened intently today to Mr Thomson, in his address to the parliament, and take much succour from the fact that he thought the report from the Australian Electoral Commission had in fact exonerated him of all wrongdoing. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is that the Australian Electoral Commission, which I note from the bills is going to get additional funding and, I think, 14 extra people, is being rewarded when in fact it has failed to carry out its task in relation to the matters concerning Mr Thomson.

In Senate estimates again and again, Senator Ronaldson would question particularly Mr Pirani from the Australian Electoral Commission about what action he was taking to investigate whether or not proper disclosure had been made concerning the Health Services Union and credit card usage by Mr Thomson, the member for Dobell, and whether or not the AEC had conducted proper investigations to find that out. Again and again, I can only describe the answers as being of an avoiding nature. At one stage, I think there was an indication given that, 'She'll be right, mate, we're looking at it.' But, of course, the Electoral Commission was well aware that their power to have prosecutions would run out and the date on which it would run out, and if they had not commenced any prosecutions by that stage then under the act they would have no power to investigate at all. So I am rather amazed to hear that Mr Thomson says that this is an investigation and a report from the AEC which exonerates him, because on 23 August 2011 I wrote to the Electoral Commissioner, Mr Killesteyn, asking the AEC to investigate allegations that Mr Thomson had misused his HSU credit card to pay for electrical expenses which were not declared. Two days later Mr Paul Pirani, the chief legal officer of the AEC, said on 25 August 2011 in reply to my letter:

There is no power contained in the Electoral Act that would enable the AEC to investigate the allegations concerning donations and expenditure relating to Mr Thomson that took place in the lead up to the 2007 general election.

Quite clearly the AEC report was not an investigation. It was merely a set of observations about the Fair Work Australia report. The AEC had made it perfectly clear numerous times that they did not seriously investigate matters surrounding Mr Thomson. Indeed at all occasions when I asked them, they explained they had refused to use their powers under section 316 of the Electoral Act and particularly subclause 2A subclause 3 because they did not, they said, have sufficient evidence to exercise those powers. Of course the whole nature of those investigative powers are to enable the AEC to gain evidence to see exactly what the situation is. There was a report from a well-known accounting firm that had been made into the affairs of the HSU and the AEC did not even ask for a copy of the report because Mr Pirani did not think it would be useful.

At all times when I listened to Mr Thomson, he did not address any of the serious allegations about refusing to properly declare expenditure. It does seem—

Mr Melham: Mr Deputy Speaker, I draw your attention to standing order 90 which says:

All imputations with improper motives to a Member and all personal reflections on other Members shall be considered highly disorderly.

The honourable member is more than sailing than close to the wind. In my view, she has crossed the line in the imputations she is making about the member for Dobell. She needs to do it by substantive motion. I am not attacking her criticisms of the AEC. I do not agree with them. They are within order. But for the imputations she has just made in relation to the member for Dobell should be pulled to order and not allowed to continue.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): I thank the member for Banks for his point of order. I am listening to the honourable member for Mackellar and I have been listening very intently. I am advising the member for Mackellar that she should not have a personal reflection on a member of this place. She would know, as many of us would know—that standing order 90 covers that issue. I am still listening to the member for Mackellar. I will allow her to continue but I advise, as the member for Banks said, that she would be well aware of standing order 90 and she should not have improper motive to a member of this chamber.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: The reason I was making those points that I made was simply from the point of view that the whole of the Electoral Act can be circumvented by the use of credit cards if these matters are allowed to stand because there is no use of the powers by the AEC in the Electoral Act to uncover whether or not correct disclosures have or have not been made. There are statements in the AEC's report which, in a press release I put out recently, made it quite clear that the report raises more questions than it answers. At the end of the day, it is one we will be looking at when we have our hearing with the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and people will be under oath when answering questions. I think the chairman might choose to change the way he conducts that committee and administer the oath to witnesses in this case.

Mr Melham interjecting

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: That is right. I always administered the oath. I note that when we come to looking at these appropriation bills that we hear from the government members in speaking to this issue that they cry out loud that they have returned the budget to surplus. I think the whole of the Australian people are coming to the realisation that in fact the surplus is a figment of their imagination. I would remind the House that of course the prediction from the last budget was that the deficit for this current year was to be $22 billion. The MYEFO account in fact raised it more to some $37 billion. By the time we got to the delivery of the current budget, the deficit for the current year was $44 billion. So much for the accuracy of prediction. But then, I have to say, Treasury always does get it wrong. In this case, we had the debate as we did on pushing out half a billion dollars in compensation payments—for the damage that the carbon tax is going to do to families—dressed up as an education bonus. Interestingly enough, I have had conversations with people who had abided by the previous scheme and kept their receipts and claimed them. They actually got more money back than they will get out of the cash splash, which the government has dressed up as an education bonus but requires no evidence of being spent on education at all. The important thing was for them to get the money out the door before 30 June so it became part of the $44 billion deficit and not in the next year which would have wiped out half a billion of the so-called $1.5 billion surplus. There are going to be many examples of that in the budget where expenditure has simply been pushed into the current financial year or extended out into the out years past this notional surplus of $1.5 billion. The Australian people are not silly. The Australian people know when they see a contrivance. The Australian people voice every day that they want an election—that is what they want. They did not elect a government at the last occasion. We won the primary vote and Ms Gillard, or the Prime Minister as she is today, stitched up a vote with the Independents in order that she could have power. That is not being elected prime minister. What we need is an election whereby we are not reliant on the vote of the member for Dobell.

I would point out that in question time, the Treasurer failed to answer the question as to why the caucus is allowed to be judge and jury but—and we hear this continually—the House, or the parliament itself, may not express a view, nor, indeed, even debate the statement by Mr Thomson, simply because the government is too embarrassed to stand up and have to defend the action of accepting his vote. So the question remains. Mr Thomson has been suspended from the caucus because he is not worthy of being in the caucus, but somehow he is worthy of his vote being taken in this House, and we are denied the right to debate his statement. I suspect his statement will continue to be debated for many, many days to come.

I would like to mention the way in which the budget has been drawn up and the impact that it will have on senior Australians. The carbon tax is the single most damaging thing that will impact on senior Australians, because it is a tax which will get into every nook and cranny of every aspect of everybody's life. It is a tax on electricity. Quite clearly, Senator Brown, when he was leading the Greens, wanted us all to live in a cave with a candle. But now we have Senator Milne—she would like us to do without the candle! The fact of the matter is that the difference in a civilised country, and in a civilised society, is electricity. We all depend upon it.

It is by placing a tax on coal that we see the tax on electricity, because 80 per cent of all electricity in this country is generated from coal fired power stations—the singularly cheapest way of producing power in the world, bar none. And we have enough in this country, that we know about, for 1,000 years. It gives us the one competitive edge that we can utilise in overseas trade: we have cheap power. To this very day, our single most voluminous elaborately transformed manufactures—ETM—is aluminium ingots, produced because we have cheap power with which to produce them.

What this government is doing is punishing the people, punishing our competitive advantage and punishing the way people live, whether it is every time you turn on a light, the street lighting, refrigeration or trucks. The Prime Minister says, 'You won't have to pay the tax on the family vehicle.' Yes, you will, because electricity is used to pump the petrol from the tank into your car tank and for the cash register to work. In every aspect of life this tax is compounding and cascading. So you pay tax on a tax on a tax.

Seniors are the people who are most likely to be on fixed incomes. They are the ones who are penalised most by this budget and by this carbon tax—the tax that the Labor Party now seems reluctant to refer to as a tax; it wants to use the word 'price'. There is no free coal in this country. It all has a price—a market price. This is a euphemism for the implementation of the tax. I can only say that this budget is one that is causing pain for people. It is dishonest in claiming a surplus and it must not be— (Time expired)