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Thursday, 25 September 2008
Page: 5680

Senator IAN MACDONALD (3:46 PM) —I thank my colleague in the Greens, Senator Siewert, for drawing my attention to this, as she says, quite disgraceful report from someone masquerading as being interested in the environment. There is not too much of what Senator Siewert said that I can disagree with, except that I have to tell you, Senator Siewert, that the Labor government and this minister are there because of the preferences the Greens continue to give to a party that has absolutely no interest in the environment.

Senator Siewert —You could have left it a nice comment.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I feel bad about saying this, but while you are in the chamber I just want to get the point across. I do not want to get too personal here, Mr Deputy President, but Senator Siewert is a genuine environmentalist. Some of the rest of her party are more socialist lefties of the old-style communist mode than they are environmentalists. I just wish Senator Siewert were leading the Greens political party, and a number of us on this side are running a campaign for a leadership spill in the Greens political party—

Senator Carr —He cannot help himself. He is just bitter and twisted.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —The Labor Party have to enter into this because they know it is true. In every state of the Commonwealth and federally, you guys would not be there without the preferences of the Greens. I agree with Senator Siewert that your record in the environment is just atrocious. While we are talking about Mr Garrett, it takes him a flick of an eye to use the EPBC Act to stop commercial developments in my state of Queensland, but when you have got the greatest environmental disaster on the way perpetrated by the Queensland Labor government and Mr Garrett has the ability to do something for the environment, he does absolutely nothing. I am talking, of course, about the Traveston Crossing dam, which is a travesty of environmental management.

Senator Siewert —That is right.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Thank you, Senator Siewert. We could form almost a mutual admiration society; well, not quite.

Senator Parry —LNPG.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Senator Parry distracts me by saying LNPG. We will not go there. I do not want to make light of this, because this is a disgraceful statement by a minister who has absolutely no interest in the environment. I have to be careful, but I suggest that his passion for the environment had a little bit more to do with his former employment than it does with genuine belief in the environment and heritage. We see so many examples of what he sang about before being absolutely trashed in government by this minister, who is a disgrace to the name of minister for the environment and heritage.

I can only agree, but not quite as eloquently as Senator Siewert—

Senator Carr —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I think those remarks ought be withdrawn. They are way outside the scope of anything that would even vaguely be regarded as parliamentary.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —On the point of order, Mr Deputy President: I inquire what particular remarks Senator Carr is talking about. If he is worried about the lefty socialist tag, I do not think that is unparliamentary. If he is worried about what Mr Garrett did in his former life and suggesting that his passion for the environment was more related to his previous employment than his current employment, I do not see that that is unparliamentary. If that is unparliamentary and if we are going to cry about that, I should have been crying for years.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —On the point of order, Senator Macdonald, I think that the words that were perhaps unparliamentary were ‘disgrace of a minister’. Perhaps that section could be withdrawn.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Mr Deputy President, if you so rule, I will withdraw the words ‘disgraceful as a minister’ and say that this minister is incompetent and without any honour as far as his management of the environment is concerned.

Senator Carr —On the point of order, Mr Deputy President: to impugn the motive of a minister is unparliamentary.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I do not think that Senator Macdonald was impugning any motives.

Senator Carr —Mr Deputy President, I believe those remarks are unparliamentary. To describe the minister in those terms goes beyond the normal range of political debate. He may well cast judgement on a range of the minister’s administrative abilities, but to go to the question of the manner of his behaviour being honourable or otherwise I believe to be outside the normal convention of what is regarded as parliamentary.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I cannot remember the exact words. I will check the record, but at this stage I do not think that Senator Macdonald is using unparliamentary language. Senator Macdonald.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Thank you, Mr Deputy President. If I was using unparliamentary language, I withdraw it; I do not want to use unparliamentary language. But I do want to highlight what a disgrace as a minister—in his ministerial capacity, not as a person—

Senator Carr —Mr Deputy President, on a point of order—

Senator Sterle —I’m going to have to point at you.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Sterle! Before I call you, Senator Carr, can I just say it was only 20 minutes ago that I had complaints from my right about people interjecting on Senator Carol Brown when she was speaking—and you were here, Senator Sterle. I suggest that, if you are going to ask me to rule interjections out of order on one side, I am going to rule interjections out of order on the other side as well.

Senator Carr —Once again I draw your attention to the remarks that the senator has made in regard to Mr Garrett. He has used the words again that you have just asked him to withdraw and that he has agreed to withdraw.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —No. the words that I suggested were unparliamentary were ‘disgraceful minister’. He said ‘a disgrace as a minister’. I will check to see whether that has been ruled unparliamentary before, but at this stage I am not going to rule that as unparliamentary.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I do not want to be diverted from my speech, but if I have been called ‘unrepresentative swill’ and that is considered parliamentary then surely saying someone is a disgrace is hardly as offensive. But I know Senator Carr’s sensitivity, the little flower that he is, so I will watch my language in future. Senator Sterle, you do not have to point to be rude; you manage that in other ways.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Macdonald, I think you should address your remarks through the chair and that might just calm things down a little.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Thank you, Mr Deputy President. The Labor Party have successfully distracted me and the chamber from what is a very, very important issue, and that is the way in which this environment minister is managing the environment. As I was saying when I was interrupted, Senator Siewert has said in much more eloquent terms than I that everything about this Caring for our Country program has been difficult, if not downright dangerous or downright useless, for the environment and for the work done by these natural resource management groups.

The statement by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts says that rorting under the NHT program was rife because in some unfortunate cases people claimed funding but failed to do the work. Talk about taking points of order calling the minister a disgrace; here is the minister accusing many ordinary Australians, who give up their time voluntarily to look after the environment and our country, of rorting. The statement by the minister goes on to say that these communities were swimming against the tide of rorting, political manipulation and mismanagement.

I do not expect Senator Carr would ever have been out in the bush, let alone anywhere near an environment group, but Mr Garrett should go out and talk to some of these people and see the absolutely fantastic work they have done and the people that they employ. I often talk about the Northern Gulf Resource Management Group, a great group based in Georgetown, a small country community in the Gulf of Carpentaria region. These people, with the money the Howard government gave them, have built up a number of technical staff in that community that go out doing the work that the Queensland government used to do before the Labor government slashed its DPI program. They do some fantastic work. They have brought people to the community and have searched over the last three or four years to get a good team together, and then Mr Garrett comes along and slashes the funding for their group and for every other group by 40 per cent. People are worried about their jobs. Talk about working families! Mr Garrett and Senator Carr should go and talk to some of the families of these people who have been working in natural resource management groups for years but who now find themselves without a job or feeling uncertain as to where they are going. All this expertise that has been built up in NRM groups over the last three to four years has been cast asunder by this insensitive and quite stupid decision of this environment minister.

Mr Garrett talks about the ANAO. I never have a great deal of time for the ANAO. I remember their comments on Centenary House—and, of course, they were the main paying tenant—and so at times I think that others are as well able to make assessments. It is a bit like the Regional Partnerships program where, according to the ANAO, two or three programs were badly funded—and I think they were. But that does not stop the Labor Party, as they are doing here, from lumbering every honest, hardworking citizen who is involved in these groups with claims of rorting or not properly spending the money.

Senator Siewert is absolutely correct in outlining the problems that these decisions will create. The money has been cut. It has been diverted from country areas and areas that really cared for our country into city areas—and you can rest assured that that is going to continue. Across the board it is quite clear that the Labor government have no interest in the environment and will rort and remove funds from these programs to further their other philosophical focuses. This statement out of the blue certainly says little of interest to anyone, but it does highlight what very poor management of and interest in the environment this particular minister has. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.