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Monday, 30 August 2004
Page: 26642

Senator FORSHAW (2:39 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill, representing the Prime Minister. I refer to the Prime Minister's statement:

... truth is absolute, truth is supreme, truth is never disposable in national political life.

Does the minister recall the Prime Minister telling Radio 3AW before the last election:

I can guarantee we're not going to have $100,000 university degree courses.

I ask the minister: isn't it a fact that 16 different degrees now cost at least $100,000, as was confirmed by the education minister earlier this month? Why did the Prime Minister break his promise?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I will tell you that the interview that I do recall was on 25 August this year. Mr Latham was asked the question:

If you never told a lie, George Bush is the most dangerous President in history.

What did Latham say in response?

Look, you're talking about things that were said in the past.

Because, of course, on 5 February 2003, Mr Latham had said that the United States President is `the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory', `flaky and dangerous'. Now that becomes politically awkward, and it is put—

Senator Forshaw —I rise on a point of order, Mr President. I know the minister actually had the benefit of a university education—

Senator Ian Campbell —What's your point of order?

The PRESIDENT —Order, Senator Campbell!

Senator Forshaw —and I am sure that he did not have to pay $100,000 to get his degree. I would have thought he would have understood just what the question was—it was about higher education fees—and I would ask you, Mr President, to direct him to answer or at least attempt to answer the question that I asked.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. Minister, you have three minutes left and I would remind you of the terms of the question.

Senator HILL —I am just suggesting that it is dangerous ground for the Labor Party to want to run an election campaign on truth because, as I have just illustrated—and I have many more illustrations—it is very difficult to believe Mr Latham. Ask Mr Bonighton. Senator Evans remembers Mr Bonighton. When it suited Mr Latham, what did he say? That Mr Bonighton said something that he obviously did not say—just because Mr Latham was in a political corner. I do not think Mr Latham comes to this debate with clean hands.

In relation to truth, yes, we do think truth in politics is important. We are happy to fight this campaign on trust. We are happy that we be judged on questions of trust in managing the economy, bringing down interest rates, keeping interest rates down, delivering education goals and delivering jobs—1.3 million more jobs. We believe politicians should be judged on trust, and we are happy to see a campaign based on trust.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Evans, it is not your question; it is Senator Forshaw's question.

Senator HILL —Mr President, it is true that in politics you do not always achieve all the goals that you seek, and you do not always achieve them as comprehensively as you might wish—but that is not a lie. Why is it being asserted as a lie? Because Mr Latham is determined to personalise this campaign and drag it down into the gutter. If the Labor Party wants to do that, that is its choice—but I know that the Australian people want better. They want to hear ideas, they want to hear plans for the future, they want to hear policies and they want to make a judgment as to which regime they believe they will be better off under. But, at the moment, they are not getting any choice because the Labor Party is not even prepared to face up to the responsibility of opposition, let alone alternative government.

Senator FORSHAW —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I still have the original question, and the minister did not once mention the words `university degrees'. If he had been at university he would have got a big F for that. I ask: why did the Prime Minister say, in response to the `truth overboard' document, that his guarantee that there would be no $100,000 university degree courses has been taken out of context? Isn't a guarantee a guarantee, or does the Prime Minister now have core and non-core guarantees?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —You think you can talk about education—well, I will talk about education. Does Senator Forshaw remember the Labor promise of free education before the 1987 election? If he does, I will ask him, `Who introduced HECS after the 1987 election?' He will say, `It was a change of policy, not a lie; we were not misleading the Australian people.' He will say, `Circumstances change'. As I said, sometimes you do not achieve all you wish within a policy prescription. But what I can say is that, when you look back at the record of this government over the last 8½ years, you see 1.3 million more Australians in work, you see record low interest rates, you see record low inflation, you see record prosperity—a prosperity that Labor would not have even dreamt of—and that is what the Australian people will take into account when they come to vote at the election.