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Wednesday, 16 October 2002
Page: 5270

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (1:33 PM) —I want to make some comments on issues relating to economic management. It is interesting to see that the Australian Labor Party have chosen to raise the issue of the Australian government's management of US-denominated debt. In an environment where Australia has run up, over the Labor years, a massive foreign debt, the Australian government has had to deal with that debt. What Senator Conroy failed to say in his speech is that the policy that saw Australian-denominated debt swapped for US-denominated debt was implemented by the Australian Labor Party government under the tutelage and management of that economic wrecker, Mr Paul Keating.

Senator Conroy —We made $2 billion in profit; you lost $5 billion. They are your own figures.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —When you talk about the debt—increased so recklessly by the Australian Labor Party when they were in power, under the treasurership and then the prime ministership of Mr Keating, of course with Mr Crean and Mr Beazley so high in the cabinet—you always get shrieks of disapproval from Labor Party members. While coalition members sat quietly for the last 15 minutes listening to the diatribe read word for word by Senator Conroy from a speech written by somebody else, we get nothing but screams from that vacuous, noise-creating machine opposite.

They do not like to be reminded that when they were in power they ran up deficits year after year—not of half a billion dollars, not of a billion dollars, but $10 billion year on year for five years on the trot—running Australia's foreign debt up to $96 billion and ensuring that nearly $10 billion a year out of the budget had to be spent just to pay the interest on it. If those opposite want a lecture about economic management, they should read some of those outrageous budgets that the Australian Labor Party's so-called treasurers and finance ministers brought into this place in those years.

Yes, the Australian government are trying to manage an overseas debt portfolio, but we are doing so because we inherited it from those opposite when they were in power. Get up and deny it, Senator O'Brien: a debt that was run up from $20 billion to $96 billion by Paul Keating, Mr Beazley and Mr Crean. What have we done to get rid of the problem? We have actually reduced the debt. And who tried to stop us reducing the debt? We came in here in 1996, 1998 and 2001 with a policy to privatise Commonwealth-owned entities such as Telstra and use the proceeds to repatriate that debt so that we would not have an overseas debt. And who voted against it? The Australian Labor Party did. The Australian Labor Party said, `No, we'd rather have foreign debt.'

Here is a government that said, `Let's get rid of all the foreign debt, reduce interest rates, reduce the tax burden and ensure that more money goes to helping people in need and providing health services, education services and defence.' But what do the mob opposite want to do? They would rather pay interest to foreign banks. They have the temerity and the hypocrisy to come in here and talk about our management of the foreign debt portfolio—a debt portfolio created by that mob opposite not because of their economic mismanagement but because of their economic profligacy. It destroyed the livelihoods and probably lives of thousands of Australians. There were one million people out of work, decreasing living standards and decreasing incomes, but they were quite happy to spend $10 billion a year more, year after year, and now they come in here and say, `You've made a loss on foreign exchange loans.' It is enormous hypocrisy.

When I woke up this morning, came into the office and read about Laurie Oakes talking about the foreign exchange and the fact that Senator Conroy was going to raise the matter again, I thought, `Make our day. Raise the forex loans dealing every day, Senator Conroy.' As Laurie Oakes said, it is the only thing they have to try and create something with which to beat us around the head. It is the best they can do. Well, make our day. Every time we get up and remind the Australian people that when you are in power you spend $10 billion more than you earn, you put up interest rates, you put up debt, you run massive deficits, you put down people's living standards and you reduce employment, the better it is for us, because people will naturally forget. You would hope that time and tide would wash away the economic record of Mr Keating, Mr Beazley, Mr Crean and all of those hangers on. You would hope that in six, eight, 10 or 15 years people will forget what the Australian Labor Party did to people's livelihoods, foreign debt, the budget bottom line and the strength of the Australian economy. It was Mr Keating who said that Australia was bound to go down the Argentine road, and then the Senate over the next six years took us down that road, making us vulnerable and putting interest rates up to 25 per cent or 26 per cent and 17 per cent for home buyers. I ask people who pay their monthly mortgage to look at the rates they are paying now and imagine what it would be like to have Labor back with interest rates up to 17 per cent. That is what those guys did.

Then Senator Conroy, not content with reminding Australians about the foreign debt that Labor raised, wanted to talk about the Auditor-General's office, property deals and car fleet deals. Again I say, `Make my day.' This is the party that got the Australian National Audit Office to sign a lease with them. They entered into an agreement, and what did the Auditor-General's office find about that agreement? They found that the terms of the lease were totally uncommercial. You know, Mr Acting Deputy President Watson, as all of us know and as the Australian Labor Party know, that a nine per cent rental increase every single year, year after year, is totally uncommercial. In fact, in the property market in the suburb of Barton, where the Australian Labor Party have leased that office space to the taxpayer, the rent is now triple the market rent. In fact, in Centenary House, owned by the Australian Labor Party, the rent is now higher than the highest priced office accommodation in central Sydney.

If the Australian Labor Party want to talk about creating leadership, showing some sort of leadership to business and putting their money where their mouth is—and they are lecturing us on this—they can actually end that lease tomorrow. They are prepared to rip out of the back pockets of Australian taxpayers $35 million of rent over and above the market rent. If the ANAO were paying a market rent, they would be paying nearly $500 or $600 a metre less than they are paying. We can change that today. If Simon Crean wants to be fair dinkum about economic management and get rid of corruption, he will get rid of the Centenary House deal with one phone call, one letter.

I invite Senator Conroy, if he wants to show his leadership on corporate governance, to take the lead on this as the shadow spokesman on finance. What he can do is agree to my proposition, which I put on behalf of the government right now. On the floor of the Senate, I propose to Senator Conroy that he agree to our proposition to have the rent at Centenary House determined by an independent panel of valuers in an arbitration process and to rewrite the rent clause in the Centenary House lease in an independent arbitration process by an independent panel of valuers. Through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, I invite Senator Conroy to agree to that today. I will give him leave to stand up and agree to an independent, fair rent to be set at Centenary House through an independent panel of valuers agreeing on a fair rent. I make that proposition now on behalf of the Australian government and I ask Senator Conroy as the shadow spokesman to agree to that on behalf of the opposition. If it wants to be fair dinkum about rip-offs, rorts and mismanagement, the Australian Labor Party can do one thing—

Senator Mark Bishop —Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. The list of speakers for this matter of public interest was agreed by the whips, circulated and presented to you. At the conclusion of Senator Conroy's contribution, Senator Ian Campbell, through our whip, requested the opportunity to make a contribution. I was advised that it would take something in the order of five or six minutes. On that basis, we agreed. Senator Ian Campbell was not on the list. I make an inquiry of you, Mr Acting Deputy President, as to when Senator Ian Campbell will conclude his contribution, it having now gone some five or six minutes in excess of the five or six minutes to which he agreed to limit his contribution.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Watson)—Senator Bishop, there is no point of order. My understanding, through the Clerk, is that Senator Ian Campbell has agreed to give you your full amount of time when he concludes his remarks.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —Mr Acting Deputy President, it is not an issue for the clerks or for you that I said—and I will put it on the record—to the acting whip of the opposition that I would speak and that I would ensure that Senator Bishop had his full time, which I will do. I stick to my word in these things. As I have said already—

Senator Mark Bishop —You interrupt again. You weren't on the list. You were given five or six minutes—

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —Mr Acting Deputy President, you have ruled on Senator Bishop's point of order. He is now breaching standing orders once again. As I said earlier in this debate, I sat and spoke within standing orders. I did not interject once on Senator Conroy and nor did Senator McGauran, but I have had to deal with interjections from Senator Conroy, Senator O'Brien—one friendly interjection—and Senator Bishop. Quite frankly, if you want me to sit down and provide Senator Bishop with his full speaking time, I am very happy to do so. But if Senator Bishop considers his own behaviour and ceases his inane interjections, it may make it a bit easier for me to comply with that agreement.

Mr Acting Deputy President, I have made the points I would like to make. I will stick by my word in relation to providing Senator Bishop with his 15 minutes, but I make the point that hearing Labor get up and give us lectures about foreign debt and the management of that is quite extraordinary and quite hypocritical. I welcome him to do it whenever possible because it will continue to remind the Australian people that, when it comes to property deals, the Australian Labor Party have to answer for Centenary House—and they still need to explain to the Australian people why they blew the budget year after year, $10 billion at a time, and ran up $96 billion worth of foreign debt that we are trying to pay back, and are on track to pay back, within a couple of years.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Watson)—Before calling Senator Bishop, I remind the Senate that an amended list, which includes the name of Senator Ian Campbell, is before the chair.