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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 8673


Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (18:22): I think we all remember a number of the commitments the government took to the last election including no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no changes to the GST. Does everyone remember that? And what did we get. We got a range of cuts to health, a range of cuts to education and changes to the GST. And of course we all remember the 12 submarines to be built in Adelaide. So forgive us, Minister, if we take with a grain of salt your justification for this policy that it was an election commitment because it appears that there are some election commitments which are sacrosanct and there are some which are easily broken. The ones which are sacrosanct are the ones it appears you do with Senator Whish-Williams and the National Party but the ones that are broken are the ones the Australian people might actually care about, like making sure that their schools and hospitals were not cut and that they did not have to pay more for their food and for other items of necessity.

Leaving that aside, the minister said in his answer that Senator Wong has been around long enough to understand what these words mean. I know a fudge or, as one might save more acerbically, I know weasel words when I hear them and read them as well. The difficulty we have is that this letter is written to leave open a lot more changes to the foreign investment framework when it comes to the treatment of water. That is how it is written. We have Senator Whish-Wilson—and I do not criticise him for this—is clear about his position. I do not agree with it but he is clear about it. He wants a lot more regulation and a lot more red tape in relation to investment in water and agriculture. He made very clear that his view is that the government has agreed to consider FIRB thresholds for water holdings.

So, Minister, leave aside the fudging and the weasel words; I just want to understand whether the government has agreed with Greens to leave on the table a FIRB trigger for water entitlements. Is that what has been agreed? Is that the subject of this agreement or not?