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Thursday, 30 September 2010
Page: 492

Senator HUMPHRIES (3:15 PM) —Returning to the motion before the house to take note of questions asked today by Senator Abetz and Senator Bernardi, I was particularly struck by the response that Senator Abetz’s question elicited from the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Evans. Senator Abetz asked a very sensible question about what legislation was discussed by the Prime Minister and Senator Bob Brown in the meetings that had been organised pursuant to the agreement between the Greens and the ALP. Senator Evans was asked what proposals had been submitted for costings, what public servants Senator Brown had been given access to and what agreements had been reached beyond 1 September. The minister’s response was less than encouraging. He was very dismissive, very casual, almost cavalier, about those meetings: yes, there had been meetings and, ‘We’ll announce something in due course; what’s your hang-up about these issues?’

I think that position is deeply concerning and quite unacceptable. There was a singular lack of transparency about a process which is at the very heart of how this new, re-elected, minority Labor government will work. I ask senators to contrast that with the situation that would have operated under a coalition government and did operate under the previous coalition government. The Liberal and National parties in that government sat together in cabinet. They sat together in both chambers. They campaigned together during elections. Their policies were joint policies and the policies were transparent; they were upfront. Pursuant to those policies, the decisions or outcomes that were agreed to in cabinet meetings were available for the electorate to see. But that is not the case here. The policies of the Labor Party and the Greens are not the same. They are very different. In fact, some of those policies are contradictory. The Greens do not sit in the cabinet—at least, not yet. So we cannot simply take what has been announced as the outcome of a cabinet meeting as an indication of the results of discussions that have taken place between the Greens and the Labor government.

So it is fair for Senator Abetz to ask: what precisely do the Australian community and the Senate have in front of them to understand what mechanisms are at work in this government to involve the Greens and, for that matter, the Independents in the other place, who have a formal or informal role in the government of Australia? Senator Abetz’s questions went to those issues. What is it that we can have to indicate what influence the Greens and other parties are exercising on the decisions of the Gillard Labor government?

Senator Evans was very dismissive of that: ‘None of your business. Go away. The conversations are confidential.’ But I think we need more than that. We need to be able to see exactly what has been the input of parties like the Greens and what has been the outcome in terms of the government’s decisions. I accept we are on new ground, I accept that there are no precedents for this position, but that is not an excuse for making it up as you go along. If non-government members and senators have a privileged position within the Australian government, if they exercise unprecedented influence on the decisions of the government, by virtue of an agreement they entered into to guarantee that government supply and support against no-confidence motions, then we need a mechanism to reveal precisely what that influence is. And that was not evident in anything that Senator Evans said in his answers to Senator Abetz’s questions. That is very disturbing. It is of course the opposite of transparency and openness.

The deal-making with the Greens and parties in the other place that no doubt will go on in the ranks of this government is apparently not to be put on the table in a way that we can all see it, and that fills me with a great deal of trepidation. I think, if this government is going to be serious about this new position it finds itself in—a position it obviously does not welcome but nonetheless is in—where it has accepted the support of other parties to give it power, then it should be honest with the Australian people about what that means and how that influence on the government is actually exercised. That was the purport of Senator Abetz’s question, and it was not answered. If we do not know how these processes will work in future, we are entitled to assume the worst—and the worst coming from the Greens will be very bad indeed.