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Tuesday, 2 December 2008
Page: 15


Senator McGAURAN (2:12 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Treasurer, Senator Conroy. Was the government aware of the global financial crisis when it was constructing Labor’s budget this year and therefore did it factor in its oncoming effects?


Senator Faulkner —Even for you, that is a stupid question.


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —Be fair, Senator Faulkner—


The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy, address the question and address your remarks to me.


Senator CONROY —Mr President, as I said last week, we are still forecasting modest growth and modest surpluses. But as I also said, at the time of MYEFO and the budget, we recognised that the risks here were to the downside. It is written there in black and white, clearly. Check out the risks section.


Senator McGauran —I asked about forming the budget.


Senator CONROY —I said the budget: MYEFO and the budget. As much as those opposite appear not to want to accept it, we are facing unprecedented uncertainty in the global economy. The rapid deterioration in the global economy has seen both the IMF and the OECD revise down their global growth forecasts in the past month. If global conditions continue to worsen, as they have been over the past month, I have already indicated to the Senate that there will be a further slowing of growth in the Australian economy.

The government will always be upfront with the Australian community about the global challenges we face and their impacts here. As the Prime Minister has said, the global financial crisis continues to evolve in unpredictable ways and it is impossible to predict the future with absolute precision. That is why we remain prepared to take whatever action is necessary to support growth and to support jobs. The Leader of the Opposition might be prepared to sacrifice Australian jobs to make a political point. He may be prepared to do that, but we on this side will never sit on our hands if action is necessary to protect local jobs from this global crisis and global recession. (Time expired)


Senator McGAURAN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Then, Minister, who is right: the Deputy Prime Minister, when she said on the ABC on 7 November:

When we put the Budget together in May, obviously we weren’t predicting, and no one was predicting, the global financial crisis which then emerged.

Or you, Minister, when you said last Thursday—and just confirmed in the answer to my first question:

In the May budget the government was acutely aware of the risks posed by the global financial crisis.


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —Those on the opposite side still do not fully understand the global economic context we are now operating in.

Opposition senators interjecting—


Senator CONROY —The facts may not be something that the opposition want to entertain, but let’s be clear about this. The OECD’s economic outlook report is now expecting growth across the OECD member countries as a whole to contract by 0.4 per cent over 2009. The government has already taken early and decisive action with a $10.4 billion—


Senator Abetz —Mr President, I have a point of order on relevance. Senator McGauran asked a very specific question and provided the minister with two contradictory statements, one made by the deputy leader in the House and one made by the deputy leader in the Senate. He was asked to comment on those contradictory statements—not to tell us about all these other matters that he is so anxious to tell us about. This is, in fact, question time, and he needs to respond to the questions.


Senator Ludwig —Mr President, on the point of order: this is the difficulty when a point of order is taken in relation to relevance when the question itself—

Honourable senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order on both sides!


Senator Ludwig —is misplaced. What Senator Conroy was doing was answering the question in terms of being able to provide specific information to the opposition about the question. The difficulty always is, if a wrong proposition is put forward and the government is asked to confirm or deny one or the other of the sides, it becomes impossible to do that when the question itself is flawed. In this instance, I would ask you to submit that Senator Conroy is answering the question to the best of his ability and as accurately as he can.


The PRESIDENT —I have been listening to the answer of Senator Conroy for the last 48 seconds. You have 12 seconds remaining, Senator Conroy, and you need to be relevant to the question that has been asked.


Senator CONROY —As my colleague was so eloquently pointing out, the question is based on a false premise. It is based on the economic illiteracy of those opposite— (Time expired)


Senator McGAURAN —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Minister, you can duck and weave, slip and slide around the answer to that question, but doesn’t it show the contradictory statements of the deputy leader in the House and you, the deputy leader in the Senate—

Government senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order on my right! I have got to be able to hear Senator McGauran’s question and so has the minister. Start again, Senator McGauran.


Senator McGAURAN —Minister, don’t those contradictory statements by the deputy leader in the House and you, the deputy leader in the Senate, prove beyond doubt that Labor has no coherent economic strategy and that Labor are lurching from error to mistake to bungle while driving the Australian economy from bad to worse and squandering the inheritance left to you by the coalition government? As the Reserve Bank governor commented, we have the fundamentals that other countries would kill for.


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I accept it will be hard to be relevant to that stream of consciousness, because there certainly was not a question in it that I could detect.


Senator McGauran —Mr President, on point of order on relevance: the question was for the minister to comment on the contradictory statements between the deputy leader in the House and the deputy leader in the Senate. The Deputy Prime Minister said:

When we put the Budget together in May, obviously we weren’t predicting, and no one was predicting, the global financial crisis which then emerged.

That is the Deputy Prime Minister. The deputy leader in the Senate said:

In the May budget the government was acutely aware of the risks posed by the global financial crisis.

Those statements are contradictory and I am asking the minister to comment on them.

Honourable senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —I am overwhelmed. When there is order, I will give you the call, Senator Evans.


Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, on the point of order: my first intention was to move an extension of time for Senator McGauran, but I would like to speak on the point of relevance, which is that Senator McGauran is trying to make a point of relevance on the original question he asked, not on the second supplementary—which was not what he referred to in his point of order. Senator McGauran ought to read his notes again, because I think he got a little mucked up, and the second supplementary did not go to the questions he raised in his alleged point of relevance. So there is no point of order, and I suggest that Senator McGauran pay closer attention to the notes that Senator Abetz provides him with.


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Conroy is 12 seconds into the answer and has 48 seconds left to complete the answer. Senator Conroy, I draw your attention to the question and I give you the call.


Senator CONROY —As I was saying, the stream of consciousness that was just put forward actually contained little accuracy and little substance. So it will be very hard to be directly relevant to such a stream of nonsense. Those quotes that they continue to assert are contradictory are not contradictory. The fact is that those opposite are completely bereft of an understanding of fundamental economics. All I can say—and Mitch is not even here to hear this—is: give poor Senator Fifield a go at writing these questions, because you might then find somebody who understands something about economics. The whole premise of the question is false. (Time expired)