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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6275

Senator CONROY (6:06 PM) —In closing the debate, I thank all the contributors who have spoken today—even the minister and his acolyte—

Senator Mackay —The mini-minister.

Senator CONROY —The mini-minister—thank you, Senator Mackay—because he did actually do much better. I can only agree with those interjections earlier. He certainly did a much better job of defending the government than the minister did, but then that is par for the course with this minister. It is really disappointing to see that the Democrats just do not seem to get it. They reached an asterisk in Cunningham that barely got their deposit back. In fact, I have recently been advised that they did not get their deposit back. They just do not get it.

Senator Ferris —You did not get a member back.

Senator Ferguson —You are the one who is not going to get it. You did not get a member back. We fixed you!

Senator CONROY —You did not get a vote in Cunningham, so let us clear this up. There is no test for the government here. The government did not have the guts to run a candidate so the government got a big zero vote—let us not get too carried away on the other side of the chamber. There was a net zero vote for the government and a net `no deposit back' for the Democrats. The parties that actually sought to defend Telstra got the overwhelming bulk of the votes.

There is a message there: if you are going to get into bed with the government, if you are going to keep walking up, doing the deal and grabbing a little $10 million—to try to claim, `We did get something here. Vote for me, notice me! We've got $10 million'—you are going to keep losing your deposit. Just like in Victoria, where you are not on the radar screen and where most of your candidates will not get their deposit back, and just like Cunningham, that is what is going to happen if you continue to pursue this strategy of getting into bed with the government.

Senator Bartlett, a lot of Democrat members had high hopes that they were going to see the Democrats stick to their policies and actually take the fight up to the government—just like `Keep the bastards honest', the old Democrat phrase. A lot of party members voted for Senator Bartlett on the basis that he would keep the bastards honest, starting with his own party. A phrase coined by my predecessor was `relevance deprivation syndrome'. If ever there was a party suffering from it at the moment, it is sitting down at the end of the chamber, because it will do anything and say anything to get into the newspapers to try to prove it still exists. That is what we are seeing from the Democrats at the other end of the chamber today— a cry for some attention, a cry to say, `Look, we made a difference; we helped the government get this through the Senate.'

Senator CONROY —Imagine those poor Democrat members now. We have seen the sell-out on the GST, Senator Crossin. We have seen them go all over the place on the sale of Telstra. We have a new position this week on the sale of Telstra. Who knows what position we will have by next week? We have seen Senator Cherry come up with a new, all-improved cross media deal. Here we are again, a bit of relevance deprivation syndrome. We have the deal they wanted to do on the choice of super—`just any deal so someone will notice us'. That is what we have got—`Any deal, just so we can get our name in the newspaper to prove we're still there.'

It is no surprise to see the Greens surging, because they are actually prepared to follow through on what they say they will follow through on, which is defeating the government, stopping the government's agenda and genuinely keeping the bastards honest. Bob Brown is running all over this country, taking the Democrats' votes, leaving them with nowhere to go, but, `Please, notice me!' That is what we have—trying to compete with Bob Brown.

Senator Cherry —A Labor-Green alliance—you tree hugger!

Senator CONROY —That is an outrage! Mr Acting Deputy President, make him withdraw that.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Brandis)—Senator Conroy, I do not think the expression `tree hugger' is unparliamentary.

Senator CONROY —It is when it is attached to me, I have to tell you.

Senator Ian Campbell —If you are hugging a tree, make sure there is no spider on it.

Senator CONROY —That is why somebody we know got bit. You have seen the ultimate sell-out here, and we will be replaying this Hansard. I would love to borrow the tape, make some copies and send it to all 27 members of the Democrats who are left, giving them Senator Cherry's homily to the market: `It works. This is the market. This is how the market works.' These are the words that will haunt the Democrats. We have the all-new, powerful Democrats saying, `The market works'. God, if you are a Democrat member you would be turning in your grave—if you were not already walking out of the party.

Let us see the Democrats' position for what it is. We know what the government is about; it is about fattening up the cow and making sure that Telstra can introduce ongoing income for themselves which is as high as possible—the flat rate charge which they can just keep ratcheting up and up. Senator Cherry, that is what it is about, that is what any business would want, that is what happens in non-competitive markets. And you know better than what you said earlier. That is what happens in non-competitive markets, where you get to put up the same fees and charges—just like the banks—with no scrutiny, no capping and no serious ACCC attention. That is what they get to do here—they get to keep ratcheting up that baseline income.

And the markets did work it out. They actually worked out that this is a good deal for Telstra. They have worked out that you are giving them a good deal. They know exactly what is going on in this debate and they know exactly what this government's scam is. We proved it; we got a document from the department and what did they tell you? `It was just an early working document,' Senator Cherry. Did you swallow that? It showed they were $170 million ahead, on Telstra's own calculations. Did they not tell you that? Did they just tell you, `It was an early working draft, don't you worry about that; it's really too hard to work it out for ourselves'?

If I were a Democrat member right now, I would be seriously considering my position. They had hopes that Senator Bartlett would lead them back to something resembling a progressive position, but, no, that radical centre is still running the show in Canberra. That is what we are seeing here: the price of having them not take a walk is to give them all the policies they want anyway. You may as well give it up. If you are just going to keep voting for the government, you are going to keep becoming more and more irrelevant. It is just a shame to see the fresh start that people hoped for has come to nought so quickly.

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Conroy's) be agreed to.