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Wednesday, 26 June 1996
Page: 2252


Senator COOK(3.03 p.m.) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Assistant Treasurer (Senator Short), to a question without notice asked by Senator Cook today, relating to amendments made by the Senate to the Development Allowance Authority Amendment Bill 1996 concerning tax concessions for private urban road projects.

Senator Short's trademark in this place is that of an obfuscating, bungling, stumbling incompetent. What he has added to that very doubtful reputation is that of being a misleader. On 19 June, to questions from Senator Faulkner, he misled this chamber over the details of the start date on sales tax. It was inconvenient for him that he then had to later change his information to the Senate but, of course, he never changed it all. He failed to withdraw the blackguarding he had engaged in against Senator Faulkner, and he conducted himself in a manner that can only be described as churlish in the extreme. That is strike one.

Strike two occurred yesterday and today when Senator Short again misled this chamber. It is very important to get the facts of this misleading clear so that the degree of misleading can be understood and therefore appreciated. Yesterday he received a question from Senator Kernot about the Development Allowance Authority and, rather than answer the question that Senator Kernot had posed to Senator Short, Senator Short rounded on Senator Kernot, attacked her and accused her in about a five- or six-paragraph answer of sabotaging some 40 projects in all in this country to the value of $2.5 billion.

When one looks at Senator Short's answer one can see he used the words `sabotage' or `sabotaged' at least eight times. There is no doubt, there is no ambiguity at all, that he meant to directly say that Senator Kernot, and those of us in the opposition and other minor parties who had voted for an amendment when this bill was before the chamber, had sabotaged those projects. Today, when asked whether he withdrew or changed those words, he reaffirmed them. So for the second day in a row he used words which, unfortunately for him, do not in any way, shape of form equate with the truth.

Mr President, it is unparliamentary to use the appropriate word that one might use in these circumstances, and I decline to use that word. But it is parliamentary to say in these circumstances that a misleading has occurred, and it has occurred for this reason: the bill in question was passed by this chamber. That is not a small fact. It is the large fact that sits awkwardly in front of Senator Short that, if the bill had not been passed, then there may have been some grounds for arguing the case—although they would have been, it has to be said, weak grounds, but a skilful advocate may have made something stronger from them.

But there are no grounds because the bill was passed, and passed with one amendment. It is therefore important to dwell for a moment on that amendment to see whether there is any comfort for Senator Short's extraordinary misleading in regard to that one amendment. Of course there is not. That one amendment referred only and exclusively to road construction in Australia from, I recall, 15 December 1995.

The only projects that would have been affected by that amendment are road constructions that would have attracted the development allowance authority grant from 15 December 1995, and not anything else. The projects that Senator Short referred to that make up the $2.5 billion are projects which he has itemised as follows: 18 projects in the mining industry—not true; 10 projects in the tourism industry—not true; six projects in electricity, gas and water—not true; four projects in manufacturing—not true. The three projects in transport and storage are more than likely not true although he has declined to give information about those projects.

When my office rang the Development Allowance Authority during question time yesterday to seek verification, they said they would fax the information. When it did not come through my fax, they told us they had received a call from the office of the Treasurer and that, if we want the information, we have to write to the Treasurer.

This is not a question that the Senate should take lightly. There is nothing that has happened here that has sabotaged those projects. To say that it has is to mislead. To continue to say it is to mislead again and offend twice. Senator Short should do the decent thing and now apologise and withdraw. (Time expired).