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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 6692

Mr BURKE (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (2:28 PM) —A week ago the Leader of the Opposition made the biggest call a Leader of the Opposition can make. I quote him directly:

The Prime Minister and Treasurer have used their offices and taxpayers’ resources to seek advantage for one of their mates and then lied about it to the parliament.

Who would have thought that he would make the biggest call you could make as a Leader of the Opposition and then get to the parliament, not move a censure motion and wander out during his own debate? I do not think anyone is going to believe that he had appointments scheduled in his diary between 2 pm and 3.30 pm today. And yet the Leader of the Opposition has gone from the threshold of claiming that this was the biggest possible issue, worth putting his entire credibility on the line for, to coming into the House and moving a motion without using the word ‘censure’. Then, when it comes to the one part of the day when he was scheduled to be in here, he is not here and he can only get one member of his frontbench in the chamber—because the other one is walking out the door as I speak. That is the level of commitment from the Leader of the Opposition and his team to the issue before us today.

It is the most serious allegation that can be made in Australian politics and they cannot bother to move a motion relevant to it; nor can they show up for the motion that they do move. One wonders whether part of the reason for their absence at the moment has something to do with an article that is online on The Punch. One wonders if that might have something to do with their absence. One wonders about that, but certainly the Leader of the Opposition and his office do have a lot of questions now for themselves, given that there is no doubt that they have been pushing this email around for weeks trying to smear the Prime Minister and trying to smear the Treasurer. The opposition do have to explain when, where and in what circumstances they came in contact with the email. The opposition do have to detail all of their involvement in the creation, distribution and promotion of this email. Remember when the frontbench did bother to show up as the opposition earlier today and it was mentioned that they should cooperate fully with the AFP by making their computer systems available. They all just laughed as if they would do that! Now they have all gone back to their computer systems. The delete key is in that same little square where you will find the page up and the page down key—pressing delete, delete, delete!

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition ran what I have got to say was one of the most creative arguments. Each speaker that has come into this debate has had a new argument. They have all tried something slightly different, because whatever argument they put forward then fell over with the next speaker. We had the shadow Treasurer put forward his argument, ‘Oh, it was a pretty fast turnaround,’ only to find the member for Riverina had an 11-minute turnaround. But I reckon one of the best arguments today came from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who claimed last Friday that government senators were suppressing evidence. And what was the crafty device they were using to suppress evidence? The tabling of documents. They were tabling documents as a way of suppressing evidence.

It might be news for those members opposite, but when you table a document it becomes public. That is the concept of tabling a document. But we now have a question: if they think it is suppressing evidence, maybe that is the way to get them to table the email that they have been pushing to journalists, that they have been arguing that they know all about and then ran a million miles away from. I am not sure whether that was the best line of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. It is competing with ‘I do not know that an email doesn’t exist’ as a statement of great credibility. But we also have the question: what was it that Senator Abetz was reading, because the Deputy Leader of the Opposition used the comment this morning, when asked about Senator Abetz reading the email, ‘It is perfectly legitimate for senators to put information that has been published on the front pages of the newspapers that day regarding the content of an email.’ In a similar vein, on the Alan Jones program this morning, the Leader of the Opposition said that Senator Abetz was quoting from the papers. There is a problem with the argument. The paper that carried the text of the email was published the next day. While we never doubt the levels of confidence the Leader of the Opposition might hold in himself, I do not know that he holds a similar level of confidence in Senator Abetz, but certainly it is unusual to be able to quote from a paper not yet published. That leaves us with the more likely scenario, which is that the opposition have been in a position to table the email and have chosen not to do so.

There is good evidence from the Leader of the Opposition that he did in fact have a copy of the email. Why else, on Wednesday night last week, would he have said to Dr Charlton, ‘You know and I know there is documentary evidence that you have lied’? It was an extraordinary grubby, bullying tactic to a member of staff, an extraordinary, grubby bullying tactic to go on with—the tactic of a grubby opportunist—but where is the documentary evidence? If he was so sure that he was willing to try to intimidate a member of the staff of the Prime Minister, then table the document, table the email, and provide it now.

In the same way, if he wants to claim, ‘Oh, I do not know if there was an email or not,’ then why on Friday, in his doorstop, did the Leader of the Opposition say, ‘The Prime Minister and Treasurer have used their offices and taxpayers’ resources to seek advantage for one of their mates and then have lied about it to the parliament’? It is a big call to make. It is the biggest call a Leader of the Opposition can make. Today is the time for the Leader of the Opposition to put up or shut up. If he believes he has got this evidence, if it is strong enough to say it to the media in a doorstop, if it is strong enough to have the opposition shopping it around to Paul Kelly, to Phil Coorey, to Sid Maher and to Mark Riley, then why not provide it to the parliament? If it were to be tabled, it would have the Leader of the Opposition’s fingerprints all over the document. Paul Kelly said the opposition had cited the evidence. Phil Coorey wrote:

No one can find the email. The Coalition claims to be aware of its existence and some say they have read it.

Sid Maher from the Australian:

However, the Coalition last night was maintaining that it had an email from Rudd’s economic adviser Andrew Charlton to Treasury on the Grant affair.

Mark Riley on Seven News:

Certainly those people in the Liberal Party who were telling me yesterday that either they knew of its existence or its contents are certainly running away at 100 miles an hour.

If it comes to a competition between the integrity of the Leader of the Opposition and Paul Kelly, Phil Coorey, Sid Maher or Mark Riley, we know who is going to win. We know who is going to have the higher level of integrity in that case. The motion before us has an interesting phrase in it. The motion that is before us has the phrase ‘deals for mates’. I have got to say that the mover of the motion, in crafting that motion, knows something about deals for mates. If you want to find a story about deals for mates, do not look over on this side of the House; look back at the time the Leader of the Opposition served as a minister in the previous government.

There is an interesting organisation involved in what is described as ‘rainfall enhancement technology’—a company named the Australian Rain Corporation. Apparently they have decided to corporatise rain! The Australian Rain Corporation sought money and the National Water Commission commissioned an independent review of the technology that they were putting forward by a former senior CSIRO officer and professor of physical sciences and engineering from the ANU. The National Water Commission insisted that the Australian Rain Corporation give a presentation of this technology to a panel of physicists. They then provided it with the research papers and made the presentation in Russian. The independent review concluded: ‘There is no convincing evidence that the Atlant technology operates as believed by its proponents.’ But in the end the department recommended that the member for Wentworth provide them with $2 million for a trial, which was arguably a generous offering, given what had been said about the technology. What did the Leader of the Opposition, as a minister, do with a recommendation to give them $2 million? He wrote to the Prime Minister seeking a lazy $10 million for the Australian Rain Corporation. You have to ask: what would be the circumstances of taking a departmental recommendation for $2 million and turning it into $10 million? Why would the Leader of the Opposition have done that as a minister?

This is where we discover that an executive of the Australian Rain Corporation happened to be a next-door neighbour of the Leader of the Opposition. The same person, the same neighbour, was a member of his electorate fundraising committee, the Wentworth Forum, with membership costing a cool $5,000 to get yourself into the room. If you want to find deals for mates, there are stories of deals for mates and there are stories that rest very squarely with the Leader of the Opposition. This is the same person who was able to run around saying, ‘Well, we’ve got this email. You’d better publish it,’ and who went to members of staff, intimidated them and said that he had documentary evidence. All we ask of the Leader of the Opposition is: prove that you have been telling the truth. We know what will happen. We know we will be greeted with the same deathly silence that we get now. We know that he is pretending to write and focus on something else, but we know full well that the Leader of the Opposition has been caught out and caught out badly.

There are different ways of operating. You can operate in the way that the member for Goldstein operates whenever he thinks there is a whiff of scandal. He just wanders around saying, ‘There are questions that have to be answered.’ That is all he says. The Leader of the Opposition went a big step further, because the Leader of the Opposition decided, on the basis of a fraudulent, fake email to rest his entire credibility in one call. If there is an allegation against the Prime Minister of Australia and the Treasurer that does not start with that email, then the Leader of the Opposition has not bothered to make it. At every point, the entire case here starts with a single email which is fraudulent and which was the basis of the Leader of the Opposition saying that the Prime Minister of Australia had lied and calling for him to resign. That is the foundation and the starting point of everything that has led us to this debate today.

If there were ever evidence of a lack of commitment, as the story has unravelled and fallen apart in the hands of the Leader of the Opposition, it is the fact that for all the beat-up, for all the lead-up and promise over the last few days, he gets here and refuses to use the word ‘censure’ in the resolution he takes. Already—

Mr Turnbull interjecting

Mr BURKE —He just said—

Mr Turnbull —Tony, you get the information first.

Mr BURKE —He says the censure is later. Can I remind the Leader of the Opposition that the first rule when you are in a hole is: stop digging. I have to say: if there is a censure coming later, that means this is the build-up—this case that they have been running in parliament today is the build-up. Every member of the frontbench has had to come up with a different line of argument, because whatever they just argued fell over, to the point where a minute ago they had run out of frontbenchers who were even willing to speak in the debate. The member for Mackellar was the only one to jump. The member for Mackellar was the only one left to be willing to defend the house of cards that is just falling all around the Leader of the Opposition. There is somebody who deserves to be censured in this place and it is the person who has been willing to discredit and malign and use the politics of smear based on a fraudulent, fake email with no foundation, and that is the Leader of the Opposition.