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Wednesday, 16 October 2002
Page: 5289

Senator CONROY (3:02 PM) —I move:

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

What we are seeing here today, and hearing from the other place, is an attempt to confuse the truth. We have seen the Treasurer caught out misleading the Australian public. In February this year he was asked a very specific question about the losses and realised losses caused by the Treasury and the Treasurer's mismanagement of the portfolio. He was asked specifically and he said, `There are no losses.' He said that in February 2002. We have found, through answers given at the Senate estimates hearings and on the AOFM's own web site, that there were in fact realised losses in that financial year. In fact, the Treasurer misled the Australian public. He deliberately did not reveal, when asked further questions in the parliament and in subsequent press conferences, that he had misled the public. He has breached the ministerial code of conduct. What the AOFM web site shows is that—

Senator Brandis —Mr President, on a point of order: the language is unparliamentary, it casts reflections on the Treasurer and it is an allegation of dishonesty, and you should rule it out of order under standing order 193(3).

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The Clerk and I have had discussion on the point of order. Senator Conroy has not at this stage said `deliberately misleading', which would be quite unparliamentary. I will listen to the further statements Senator Conroy makes, but at this stage there is no point of order.

Senator CONROY —The AOFM web site—that is part of the Treasury department, on its own web site—reveals that eight of the 14 contracts entered into by the government matured (that means paid out) prior to February 2002. The Treasurer said there were `no realised losses', yet the government and the Treasury had paid eight cheques to the banks in Sydney that were losses. That is what this debate is about: realised losses. We saw Senator Minchin and Senator Ian Campbell before question time trying to distract and confuse—trying to add together apples, oranges and pears to pull the wool over the Australian public's eyes. This is a very simple question of maths. We now know from the Treasury the portfolio's losses and gains and we have now been able to work out the exchange rates. When you have all three of those and you add them together and do the maths, simple maths shows that this mob have lost $1 billion of taxpayers' money.

These are not unrealised gains or losses they are trying to talk about today—not the unrealised gains and losses the Treasurer is talking about in the other place and will no doubt move on to shortly. These are real losses out of taxpayers' pockets—$1 billion. We have seen another pathetic attempt by Senator Minchin to argue: `It doesn't come off the bottom line. We're allowed to not account for it. It hasn't really affected the deficit.' How can the government accounts, which have been qualified by the Auditor-General, represent a true and fair account of the government's finances when they do not include $1 billion worth of losses? How on earth can they be a true and fair account? The government want to hide behind an Enron style accounting fiction: `We don't want to acknowledge that we've had these losses. We don't want to have to explain that this was a loss on the balance sheet in the budget statement, so we won't account for it; we'll say it's below the line.' That is what they have done. You heard Senator Minchin say, `We're allowed to do this; we're allowed not to include this as part of the losses.'

What they should be doing is fessing up to the Australian public, because a billion dollars has already been lost and—guess what?—losses of $4 billion more are to come. They will continue to try to pretend that they are not losses. They will continue to try to pretend that the taxpayer is not taking it out of their pocket and giving it to the banks in Sydney. They have completely and monumentally stuffed this up. That is what this debate is about: some truth, some accountability and some honesty from the government. Today, in answering these questions, they finally confessed that they have lost $1 billion and that losses of $3 billion or $4 billion more are still to come. It is taxpayers' money. The minister has misled the parliament; the Treasurer has misled the Australian public, and hopefully he will come clean this afternoon. (Time expired)