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Tuesday, 18 June 1996
Page: 1694

Senator WHEELWRIGHT(3.30 p.m.) —It is pretty clear what has happened here: the boys have got it wrong. I say `the boys' because it was a very limited number of people on the other side who decided to dream up this particular tax change. It was principally Mr Costello, the Treasurer. On the Tuesday he was full of confidence, full of bravura that this was going to be the great micro-economic reform, the greatest thing to hit the decks for some years. By the end of the week they suddenly found out that he would not be able to get it up.

It is interesting that Senator Short has changed his language. Yesterday when this matter was raised in question time he was talking about the statement which came from the Treasurer's office on Tuesday as though it were a proposal. We said it was an announcement and he said it was a proposal. Today he realised that it was an announcement, and `announcement' is the term he chose to use.

That statement which came out on Tuesday, 11 June at 3.15 p.m. stated very clearly what it referred to. There was a long list of all the different bodies to whom it would apply—public railways, public transport authorities, Commonwealth and state governments. It goes through a long list down to passenger buses, ambulances for use by a hospital or ambulance society, fire engines and so on. The reason for that, and the reason why these announcements are made in this way, is it stops speculation. It stops some people taking advantage of what is going to be an imminent government decision before the legislation has actually gone through the parliament and thereby profiting from that elapse of time.

If they had only listened to the Premier of Queensland, Mr Borbidge, who made it perfectly clear on the Wednesday when he said, when thinking through the ramifications of this measure:

Did he—

that is, Mr Costello—

set out to cause massive financial problems for organisations like Guide Dogs for the Blind?

He clearly saw the implications of the announcement which was made on the Tuesday but by the time we got around to the Friday the story had changed. The government realised that despite all the confidence, bravura, arrogance, posturing and hairy chestedness of the Treasurer this thing was not going to get up because the states were not going to agree to it. It was at that point they tried to pull the fat out of the fire.

One has to have some sympathy for the Assistant Treasurer, Senator Short, because in this respect he can claim some blamelessness—that is, he was not involved. It all happened, it is perfectly obvious, entirely without him. Nobody rushed around and said, `Jim, what do you think about this? Jim, would you like to add some of your economic expertise to this? Would you like to see whether there are some implications we haven't thought of?' In both yesterday's and today's question time he was in the unfortunate position of playing catch-up football, teaching himself the rules while people kept throwing him the ball. Unfortunately, it is not working very well. The Australian states:

In the privately expressed understatement of Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett, it was the most amateurish shambles he had ever attended.

When he says that, I have to agree with him absolutely. When all this shambles was going on, when they were trying to pull the fat out of the fire on the Friday, what did they do? They said, `We'd better put out another announcement.' They sought by that announcement to clarify the situation, to signal some form of retreat. But, as Senator Faulkner and Senator Sherry have clearly pointed out, they forgot the process of making announcements. They forgot the statutory requirement upon them to give seven days notice in the way that is prescribed by the legislation. They are in this embarrassing position today because they forgot that requirement.

When you look at the style with which they have conducted this affair—when you look at the verve and style with which they went to the Premiers Conference and made these announcements to the press but subsequently had to try to pull the fat out of the fire—you have to have serious worries about how this crowd is going to get a budget through the Senate. Senator Faulkner made a prediction earlier that he did not think in the life of this parliament Senator Short would continue in his ministerial position. I think I can make a shorter term pronouncement than that. I am very sad I will not be here to see it but I will still make this prediction: I cannot see how this government is going to get a budget through this Senate with the way it is carrying on now. If it is going to be this disorganised, if it is going to be this shambolic, if it is—as Mr Kennett describes—an amateurish sham bles, it will never get the budget through the Senate. That is when we will all suffer.