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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 26002

Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (3:05 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Defence (Senator Hill) to questions without notice asked today.

I particularly want to focus on the very important question asked by Senator Stephens about truth in government, which of course was the thrust of the document signed by 43 retired senior military, diplomatic and Public Service professionals. I have to ask what is wrong with the statement from these eminent Australians that:

... truth in government ... is fundamental to effective parliamentary democracy.

That is what the statement says. What is wrong with that? What is wrong with the part of their statement that says:

Without that trust, the democratic structure of our society will be undermined and with it our standing and influence in the world.

That is the approach Mr Howard condemns, disagrees with and says is no longer relevant. Of course he attacks these signatories as being older—`some of the older approaches are no longer relevant'. That is a typical gratuitous piece of Howard dog-whistling—a Howard government insult. That is what you expect.

I say that truth in government is vital to Australian democracy. But what have we seen? As has been pointed out, we have seen the sorry spectacle of two frontbenchers in Mr Howard's government, two parliamentary secretaries, Mr Entsch and Mrs Kelly, attacking the age and the credibility of these 43 signatories. They could not attack the substance of the statement, so of course, as always, they played the individuals. What did Mr Howard do? He hinted that these 43 signatories are too old really to know any better. What has been exposed here in question time today is the hypocrisy of Mr Howard. In June this year at the Australian of the Year nominations what did he say? He said it was so important to value:

... the capacity of the older generation of Australians, who have lived through so many periods in the history of this country, to give of their wisdom and their experience to the younger generations.

Those are Mr Howard's own words, but of course it does not apply, Senator Brandis, in this instance, does it?

Senator FAULKNER —It does not apply, because he is worried, Senator Brandis, about your boy, Peter Costello, coming through and he is worried about you being in there behind him. We know that. It is just absolute hypocrisy from Mr Howard. It is an amazing thing, but in opposition sometimes you have a bit of time on your hands. We have done a quick check of Who's Who for these signatories. We found that 13 of these `older Australians' are younger than Mr Howard himself. He is older than at least 13 of them. We have not checked the lot yet—we just have not had enough time on our hands to do that—but a quick search so far shows that 13 are younger than John Howard. Our checking has also shown that five of those on the list are recipients of the Companion of the Order of Australia, nine have been awarded the Order of Australia and four have been awarded AMs. This is not just any old advice; this is quality advice that the Howard government should take account of. The signatories have had outstanding service—both length and quality of service—to our nation and in public administration in this country. What rankles Mr Howard is that they correctly nail the Prime Minister for going to war in Iraq on a lie. He is squealing like a stuck pig because these eminent Australians have nailed him. The 43 signatories to this truth in government statement know precisely that we went to war on a lie. The parliament knows it and the Australian people know it. How typical of the Howard government to shoot the messenger—to belittle, to demean, to undermine and to attack those very fine Australians. The truth is that it is Mr Howard who stands condemned for his actions— (Time expired)