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Wednesday, 21 April 1999
Page: 4026

Senator FAULKNER (3:05 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (Senator Alston) to questions without notice asked today.

We have had from Senator Alston today another absolutely abject performance. We have been getting used to it over the last few days since Senator Hill has been overseas, but what a pathetic performance by Senator Alston. He has fudged and weaved and obfuscated but he cannot avoid the fact that he cannot explain to the Senate or to the Australian people the government's policy on two crucial issues in the GST package—that is, the adverse effect on people in our community on low incomes and the erosion of pensioners' compensation. He simply does not know. That has been his form all week—a disgraceful week. Thank God it is Wednesday. At least we have only one question time to go from Senator Alston.

I suspect that at the beginning of the week Senator Alston said to the powers that be in the Prime Minister's office and the Treasurer's office, `Look, I haven't got a clue about the goods and services tax. What should I do in Senate question time?' and someone said to him, `Oh well, Treasurer Costello wrote an article in the Financial Review on Monday. That'll provide all the answers that you'll need.' So Senator Alston has come into the chamber with this particular article and with what he thought would be the relevant parts highlighted and he has used quotations from that particular article all week in an attempt to answer important, simple questions directed to him in relation to this fundamental issue of public policy in this country, and he has failed.

We have had a situation where Senator Alston today could not answer an important question from Senator Cook. He floundered in attempting to answer a question from Senator Murphy instead of addressing that important issue, which was the apparent forfeiting by pensioners of the next two scheduled automatic indexation adjustments of their pensions. Again, what could Senator Alston do? Nothing but resort to reading out selected highlighted parts of Treasurer Costello's article in Monday's Financial Review. Senator Murphy and Senator Cook are still waiting for answers to the questions they directed to Senator Alston today.

Then, as a bit of a confidence builder for Senator Alston, what did he decide to do on the next question that was directed to him? It was about the Queensland National Party. He cannot tee off at the opposition and he has got no idea how to defend the goods and services tax. So what does he do? He tees off on the Queensland National Party. The only punch he landed in question time today was on the Queensland National Party—and he humiliated them. He absolutely humiliated the Queensland National Party. Really, I think that is what it is all about with Senator Alston. He has no idea about the key issues of public policy, but he is perfectly willing to put the slipper into those colleagues—

Senator Carr —They are an easy mark, though.

Senator FAULKNER —They are an easy mark, it is true. Poor old Senator Boswell and Senator O'Chee have to cop it because the only glove Senator Alston has laid on anyone in question time in three days this week was on the Queensland National Party. What an extraordinary performance from Senator Alston.

I was very cynical when Premier Kennett made those comments about Victorian cabinet ministers, but I have to say that Senator Alston has shaped up and come in here this week—he knew it was his big chance with Senator Hill away in New York. He has always wanted to be leader, and he wanted to show his colleagues how good he is and that he could really fill the shoes of Senator Hill. Let us be honest: they are not big shoes to fill, but he has failed the test. He has let Mr Howard and Mr Costello down, he has let the Liberal Party down, and all I can say after three question times—and I never thought I would—is: come back, Senator Hill.