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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 7739

Senator MASON (3:21 PM) —It must be Christmas time—the Labor Party have had an appalling year and for sustenance just before Christmas they look to accrual accounting. The public gallery is full. In fact, people are coming in for the debate—they probably speak of little else than accrual accounting in the public gallery.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lightfoot)—I suspect they are friends of yours, Senator Mason!

Senator Webber —There is a principle at stake in this debate.

Senator MASON —I agree, Senator Webber, that there is a principle at stake here—that is, the principle of accountability and transparency in public expenditure. That is the important principle at stake and I understand that. There are some advantages of accrual accounting, and my friend Senator Chapman mentioned what they are. They include the fact that the full cost of activities is budgeted for and reported on, that accrual accounting introduces the balance sheet requiring assets and liabilities to be brought to account and that there is also a better platform for better financial management.

One of my great joys in this place is to chair the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee. On that committee many great senators serve with me: Senator Faulkner, Senator Ray and Senator Conroy, and I think Senator Sherry attends. At every single session that I chair I ask whether people have any suggestions to amend the portfolio budget statements. How many suggestions to amend the PBSs have come from the Labor Party? Zero. They come into the chamber just before Christmas to whet the appetite of the public and talk about accrual accounting.

Senator Ludwig —The portfolio statements are not part of the budget—

Senator MASON —They include both, Senator Ludwig. Yet in the entire time that I have chaired that committee I have not heard one suggestion at all about changing the PBSs or accrual accounting.

Senator Ludwig —You know they're not part of the budget and you're misleading the Senate again.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Order! Senator Ludwig, that is unparliamentary. You accused Senator Mason of misleading the Senate.

Senator Ludwig —I withdraw that comment unequivocally.

Senator MASON —Thank you. You might wonder why the Labor Party are talking about accrual accounting as the reindeer head towards Australia. I will tell you why. It is because they have nothing to say on the major issues that affect this country. The Labor Party do two things when they are in trouble. Firstly, they attack individuals. We started the year with the Governor-General being attacked. We had the `children overboard' affair. Senator Alston is being attacked over the COT cases. Now Senator Coonan is being attacked. The ALP are in trouble. They do not talk about policy; they attack individuals. The Labor Party, in terms of their policy development at the moment, are absolutely barren. What do the Labor Party have to say about the major issues that face this country—tax reform, telecommunications reform, industrial relations reform and border protection? Nothing.

Senator Wong —Border protection.

Senator MASON —You are right—border protection. Dr Lawrence has made a recent contribution about border protection. Twelve months after the debate finished, 12 months after the Howard government was re-elected—one of the reasons being its performance in border protection—and finally the Labor Party thought, `Gee, we'll have to come to terms with what the Australian people want.' To sort out their own internal differences between the Left and Right, Dr Lawrence had to come up with this policy. But it is even more bizarre than that. The Left itself is split, I understand. It is like a Monty Python skit. How do you get the square root of irrelevance? That is the Labor Party's policy on border protection. One part of the Left—Dr Lawrence's part—is saying one thing and Mr Ferguson is saying something else. That was the Labor Party's contribution to the major issue facing this nation this year: border protection. And do you know what? They fluffed it. I have been reading a great book by Mr Carr. In it he quotes a line from AJP Taylor's The Habsburg Monarchy. He quotes an old Habsburg saying and it relates to the ALP:

The situation is hopeless but not serious.

The situation is hopeless for the Australian Labor Party but certainly not very serious for this country.