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Thursday, 12 September 1996
Page: 3400

Senator EGGLESTON —I would like to ask a question of the Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Senator Vanstone. The question is: the Austudy regulations, which were disallowed by the Labor Party last Tuesday, will have a serious effect on over 1,000 rural and regional families in Australia. Could the minister explain to the Senate the extent of the effects of such a move? Does it further demonstrate the degree of self-proclaimed relevance deficiency syndrome, RDS, under which the opposition is suffering?

Senator VANSTONE —I thank Senator Eggleston for that question. Madam President, as you would no doubt be aware, earlier this week some Austudy regulations were disallowed by this chamber. I have no quibble, obviously, with the chamber's right to do that—it is a good and sensible procedure to have—but what Australians need to recognise is that the regulations that were disallowed were not regulations put out initially by this government; they were regulations put out by the previous government, the people opposite. Those regulations were a reflection, in part, of the previous government's last budget—their 1995-96 budget families package.

What that means is that the decisions that were embodied in those regulations were decisions taken by the cabinet members, as they then were, now shadow cabinet members—at least some are—which they endorsed. They are decisions which were taken to the caucus and which were endorsed. These regulations were taken out to Government House and approved by the Governor-General, and the name on the bottom was `Hon. Ross Free'. When I mentioned that these were, in fact, the previous government's regulations, people opposite said, `Oh, well, he's lost his seat.' But I saw a couple of days after this that they were wheeling him in to try to get him back in. I bet they have not told him they have just discarded the regulations that he put through.

Of course, the story goes a little bit deeper than that. Initially when we heard that Senator Harradine wanted to take over a motion to disallow these regulations, we did not have much time. Obviously we rang the previous government and said, `Look, these are your regulations. What are you going to do? Are you going to support your regulations?' I was told there was a powwow being held. It was a powwow with Senator Carr and Senator Bolkus, and someone else joining in. They would make a decision about what to do. Then we got the phone call, `Yes. They're our regulations. We'll support them.' So I thought, `Well, that seems pretty sensible—

Senator Carr —Who told you that?

Senator VANSTONE —I understand it came from Senator Evans's office as a consequence of that meeting.i

Senator Carr —Well let's get it clear.

Senator VANSTONE —I understand that your whip's office told one of my staffers you were going to support the regulations. So I come into this place and it is my understand ing—if I am wrong, I will happily correct that, because that could be a communication breakdown—that, nonetheless, your regulations—

Senator Carr —I don't mind correcting you.

Senator VANSTONE —You assert I am wrong. You just wait until you find out. They are your regulations and you want to, in fact, disallow them. What have you done? You rang back in a hurry and said that, no, you were not going to support the regulations, that you would support the disallowance of your own regulations. It was a snap decision—presumably to curry favour with Senator Harradine.

What have you done? You have wiped out extra assistance to over 1,000 rural families. You either knew you did it, and you did it deliberately because you wanted to wipe out the extra assistance to rural families—this is extra Austudy payments to families who are on drought relief concessions—or you did not know. No wonder Senator West is keeping her head down. She trips out to western New South Wales. She says that she is a senator for rural New South Wales. You participated in striking down some regulations that offered benefits to 1,000 rural families. You either knew you did it—in which case it is a disgrace—or you did not know, and it is equally a disgrace.