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Monday, 22 September 2008
Page: 5212

Senator BUSHBY (2:48 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Evans. I refer to the Prime Minister’s comment on Friday:

The minister, Chris Bowen, currently has a proposal out with industry on the future of short selling.

Can Senator Evans confirm that the minister actually responsible for financial markets is the obviously forgettable Senator Sherry and not Mr Bowen?

Government senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! On my right, order!

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thought the earlier question by Senator Ferguson represented a bit of a new low, but this really is getting ridiculous. The opposition clearly have lost the plot. We have one of the most serious financial crises in recent times and the best the opposition can do is ask little trick questions, as though that is the preoccupation of Australians.

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Evans, resume your seat. I need order on both my right and my left.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I think those Australians who are concerned about the impact of the financial markets on their superannuation, on their investments more generally and on what these issues might mean more broadly for the economy will be pretty disappointed that this is the best the opposition can do. At a time of serious economic instability in the world, when we have some of the most important major banks and financial institutions under pressure, forced to amalgamate or close, we get a trivialising question from the opposition. I do not know why they are not interested—

Senator Abetz interjecting—

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Senator Abetz, I know why you are not interested—because you are in charge of the tactics committee, and long may you keep your job. Despite the grumblings from your own back bench about it, we think you ought to keep the job.

These are really important matters. These are issues that are confronting the Australian economy that ought to be treated seriously. Senator Sherry is in charge of a range of matters and has been doing excellent work. He and Mr Bowen have both been engaged in the very serious work this government has done—

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Evans, resume your seat. Order!

Senator CHRIS EVANS —All our economic ministers are very much focused on doing what they can to better prepare Australia for the circumstances we confront and to look at what we can do in the way of measures that help further protect our economy from these forces. The announcement on the weekend was that ASIC and the ASX took co-ordinated action over the weekend to limit the use of short selling, and that announcement was generally well received. That is a measure that will be built on over the next few weeks as we look to do what we can to protect what is a strong Australian economy but one which is not immune from the forces that we are seeing. I would have hoped and one would have thought, given that the new Leader of the Opposition, Mr Turnbull, offered some form of bipartisan support for tackling these serious economic issues, the opposition could have done better in terms of the questions it asked and its interest in what are serious matters. To trivialise these matters really shows how the opposition have lost any sense of economic responsibility.

If the opposition are serious about the economy, if they are serious about the issues confronting the Australian economy and if they are serious about the threats posed by those international forces, they will support the government in our efforts to protect the Australian economy by passing our budget and by ensuring we have the budget surplus that will help protect Australian families from these forces. Pass the budget and allow us to have the surplus that will protect us from these forces, and we will take any other measures we can to treat these issues seriously. I urge the opposition to join us in that effort rather than trying to trivialise these important issues. (Time expired)

Senator BUSHBY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for highlighting the seriousness of the challenges that we face as a result of the international financial crisis. But, in view of those challenges, how can Australians be confident that the Prime Minister has a handle on the world financial crisis when he does not even know who his own responsible minister is?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I think that shows that the senator did not have the good sense not to ask a stupid supplementary question when he asked a trivial first question. The answer to his question was given in my primary answer, which is that these are serious issues. They are serious issues being tackled by the Prime Minister, by the Treasurer, by Senator Sherry and by Minister Bowen. We are trying to tackle these issues as seriously as possible and to provide the protection that we can for Australian families from these international events. I would have thought the opposition would have taken its responsibilities much more seriously than Senator Bushby, Senator Abetz or Senator Minchin seem to.