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Thursday, 16 October 2008
Page: 6189


Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (12:02 PM) —I thank the minister. I remind him that I asked what the 1.2 per cent exposure to the credit default swaps was in dollars. Could he give us that figure? I also just want to say that I disagree with the minister on not having the levy now. I mean, it does not take too much imagination to know that a levy imposed now while things are moving along will then be readily available for people who may lose their deposits or their insurance if an institution crashes, without having to dip into the public purse. It is not beyond our wit and wisdom to be able to work out a good way of using such a fund if in the long run it is found not to be required to help depositors hurt because of a failing institution. All over the country there are people who are hurt by the failure or the fraud that occurs in trusts and so on, and 125,000 homeless people are sleeping out every night in Australia. I can think of a very great many ways in which such a levy could be used, were it found not to be necessary for the purpose for which it was raised.

Finally, I just want to comment on the decision by both Labor and the coalition not to support the Greens motion to curb executive salaries. It points to, again, a failure of nerve and a failure of proper public application in the responsibility of us as elected representatives to work within the free enterprise system to ensure that there is fairness at both ends. It is our responsibility to have a safety net for those people who are down on their luck, who are dispossessed and who, through misfortune of one form or another, are having it hard in life. There is a lot of debate in here about that. But when it comes to curbing the excess at the other end everybody is frightened and everybody disappears into their hidey holes. Let us face it: we and our fellow parliamentarians spend a lot of time mixing with the very executives who are affected here. They turn up at the $1,000-a-head dinners, they buy the tables that are used for fundraising at political events and they exercise enormous firepower through the media to be critical of governments, oppositions or the Greens—and they certainly exercise criticism there without too much restraint.

I think we are going to see no good outcome here. The Prime Minister has put in train a system of asking APRA and then taking whatever scheme to curb excessive payouts APRA comes up with to the international authorities—and if they then act, so will he. Well, tell me a better prescription for failure. Written into this process from Prime Minister Rudd is an escape from the responsibility to curb the most obscene executive pay packages in this country. It is written in there. It was very clearly in the speech that he gave at the Press Club yesterday. The debate in here today simply confirms that the big parties are not going to act in this field, and when and if they show some sign of doing something it is going to be very non-specific and it is not going to hurt any of those people and the multi-million dollars that they are going to take home this year.

When I asked if there was anybody here who disagrees that there should not be anybody in the country getting more than 10 times what the Prime Minister takes home as base salary, of course there were no takers on that because it is so logical—it is so inherently fair and logical. My embarrassment here is that that in itself is too easy a test, as is the $5 million per annum rule.

What is happening in a democratic system where there is a failure of the nerve of members of parliament when it comes to tackling the big end of town, but not so when it comes to the other end of town and tackling people who are said to be a drain on the system, irresponsible, unable to look after their own affairs and not getting jobs or skills, or going to school et cetera—witness the Northern Territory intervention and, I again say, witness Work Choices? And now there is ‘work choices lite’ coming down the path; it is not going to make a significant difference in the way in which workers representation in the system has been curtailed in the last decade while the excesses of the rich at the other end have blossomed. I do not see a government or a Prime Minister here who is about to tackle that disparity with any grit at all.