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Thursday, 30 September 1993
Page: 1547

Senator CARR (5.00 p.m.) —I rise to speak to the minority report, and to point out some of the inadequacies in the majority report, of the Senate Select Committee on the Functions, Powers and Operation of the Australian Loan Council which is before the Senate at the moment. I was interested to hear the remarks made by Senator Bishop. Perhaps those, more than any other, highlight just how inadequate this report is. As Senator Bishop indicated today, she has already made up her mind. She is very clear on what she believes has happened; she is absolutely certain about what is going on. Is it not a surprise that she found Nick Greiner's evidence the most useful of all, further reinforcing my belief that she has clearly made up her mind?

  Senator Bishop is concerned about the Labor caucus. Again, that goes to the nub of the problem. She is very concerned that she is not in government, whereas nationally we are. She talks about the faceless people in Victoria. One of the reasons they are `faceless', or are not known nationally—despite the fact that they have been elected and despite the fact that they represent the people of Victoria in their constituencies—is that, unlike Senator Bishop, they do not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers' money flipping around the country telling everybody about their interests in replacing Dr Hewson. The real faceless people are members of the campaign committee behind Senator Bishop in her attempts to replace Dr Hewson.

  Quite clearly, this Senate committee's agenda was spelt out very early in the piece—just before the last federal election. We only have to turn to the report put out just before the last federal election and look at clause 2.72, where the agenda is abundantly clear. It says:

Evidence so far has not revealed that the Treasurer acted to protect the Labor Government in Victoria against the advice of Treasury.

I emphasise the words `so far'. It is quite clear that in March the intention was to find the evidence. Since that time it has dredged Port Phillip Bay, running backwards and forwards and dragging around the bottom of the bay, and it has not been able to find the evidence that it said `so far' it was not able to reveal in March. It will not be able to find it if it continues this farce. Clause 2.72 of the original report continues:

However, it remains an open question as to whether Treasury's advice was tailored to the understanding that the Treasurer, Mr Dawkins, would not have compromised the Kirner Government in an election year, if at all.

The intention of this committee is quite obvious. It is not to conduct a proper and legitimate inquiry; it is to engage in a political witch-hunt and a campaign of slur. It is engaged in a campaign to try to snare Treasurer Dawkins with some claim that it has created in its own mind as to what occurred in 1992.

  It is totally inappropriate to continue with this farcical witch-hunt because a great deal of time has passed and a great deal of change has occurred. In late September yet another attempt is being made to drag out the work of this committee. The whole import of this proposal is to drag before the committee of this Senate members of other parliaments and to drag out the whole proceedings. One would have to question the motives behind that. What is the point? We have already gained quite extraordinary amounts of pertinent and relevant information. The committee has been conducting business for 11 months. It has held nine major public hearings. It has heard evidence from 46 expert witnesses from right across the spectrum of government in this country. It has already presented an interim report, where the majority of members have already stated their conclusions. They have already made up their minds. So what is the point of proceeding with this farce?

  We all know that Victoria is the opposition's target, despite the breaches that have occurred in New South Wales—for instance, the Sydney Harbour tunnel scheme. A number of other states, as Senator Coulter indicated, have breached the guidelines in a whole series of ways. The Opposition's target is Victoria. Its campaign is designed to attack its political opponents in Victoria. The device it is adopting is rather crude and, I might suggest, will rebound on it. I will come to that in a minute.

  There has already been a general election in Victoria. We have already seen a change of government in that state. We have already seen changed circumstances in the way in which the government of that state is administering its relations with the Loan Council. Since that time we have seen, sadly, a further deterioration in the economic indicators in that state. We have already seen much greater borrowings in that state—an increase of $2.2 billion. We have seen an increase in unemployment. We have seen an increase in the level of debt. We have seen all these things. It is quite clear that the Opposition will not be able to hide that from the people of Victoria for too much longer. We have also seen that the secretaries of both the Victorian government Treasury and the Commonwealth government Treasury have changed in that time. The Loan Council operations themselves have changed dramatically.

  What is at the core of this issue is the debate about interpretation and terminology. We have seen plenty of evidence to suggest that there is a club operating at the Loan Council. There are questions of confidentiality and there are devices by which all governments come to arrangements to secure loan borrowings. There is no attempt in the Loan Council for anybody to sit down and say, `This is approved for a good purpose or a bad purpose'. When we questioned the present Treasurer of Victoria, Mr Stockdale, he indicated that he would resent quite strongly the notion that the Commonwealth government should at any point give any approval to funding borrowings and should have any role in the determination of what those borrowings are for.

  We have seen quite important improvements already occurring in the way in which Loan Council operations are undertaken. We have had plenty of evidence to suggest just how effective those changes are. We are really talking about a witch-hunt. We are not talking about good administration of government and we are not talking about sound financial management. We are talking about a political witch-hunt; we are talking about trying to tar and feather people; and we are talking about dragging people before a committee of this chamber. Essentially, we are talking about trying to undermine the normal relationships between houses of parliament in this federation. It is important to bear that in mind.

  There is no precedent for the action that is being proposed here—none at all. There is a general principle that has operated throughout the federation that houses of parliament have comity. There is this notion that we cannot mistreat members of parliament from another jurisdiction. We have this notion of privilege. The opposition is seeking to have privileges removed from the Labor members in Victoria. Woe betide the opposition because one day there will be another Labor government in Victoria. What will it say to the proposition of a Labor government there, using this precedent, calling Liberal members of the Senate before a state house in Victoria? That is clearly the precedent that the opposition is setting. It is clearly attempting to establish arrangements whereby members of this Senate can be called before state houses of parliament to assist with their inquiries, to use your good old copper's narks sort of language. That is precisely what this game is about.

  The opposition does not seem to appreciate just how serious a precedent it is setting. In effect, it is talking about revenge and the notion that we won an election which it thought it had in the bag. It has to try to use the powers of this parliament and the Senate in such a way as to attempt to undermine that government and basically make up for the fact that it lost an election.

  In my view, this report basically puts forward proposals which are unprecedented, incredibly dangerous and which in the end will not result in the good government of this country but establish a system of retribution, which will continue. There will be no time in which people can suggest that that will not occur because, quite clearly, there will be Labor majorities in state houses and they will reply in kind. And would not the opposition expect that?

  One cannot honestly say that this committee has operated in any other way than in a partisan way. Why should not people be wary about being dragged before a committee which is operating in such a partisan way? Why should not people be concerned about being dragged before a jury that has already made up its mind? The opposition has demonstrated again today that that is clearly its intent. It has no intention of following a legitimate inquiry. The final report of this committee can now be written. There is no need to seek a further extension to this terrible farce.