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Monday, 30 August 2004
Page: 26633

Senator CONROY (2:00 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill representing the Prime Minister. I refer the Leader of the Government in the Senate to Mr Mike Scrafton's letter to the Australian on 16 August 2004 and the sworn statutory declaration he made on 17 August on the same matter. Is the minister aware that Mr Scrafton has stated that he told the Prime Minister on 7 November 2001 that the Office of National Assessments' report No. 226 of 2001 and dated 9 October 2001, which mentioned children being thrown overboard, was to his understanding `based on the minister for immigration's public statements and not on intelligence reporting' and he suggested the Prime Minister `take the issue up with Kim Jones, the Director-General of the Office of National Assessments'? Did the Prime Minister take Mr Scrafton's advice and ring Kim Jones about the ONA report, which was based on ministerial statements, before he released it to the media at the National Press Club on 8 November 2001? If not, why not?

The PRESIDENT —That was a very long question and your time had expired.

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I suspect that this reflects the Labor Party campaign for this election. This is the alternative that they are putting to the Australian people. After nearly nine years in opposition, this is the best that they can come up with—no policies, no alternative vision for Australia. Where is their tax policy—the tax policy that we were going to get before the budget, that we were then going to get in the response on the Thursday night after the budget and that we were then going to get before the election was announced?

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Conroy, you have asked your question.

Senator HILL —I was making the point that this reflects Labor's vision. This is the start of an election campaign. There are six weeks for the Labor Party to set out its alternative vision for Australia, what it is going to offer Australia in terms of economic policy. What about interest rates? We remember that when Labor was last in government housing interest rates were 17 per cent.

Senator Faulkner —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. What about the question?

The PRESIDENT —Senator, you know there is no point of order. The minister has almost three minutes to answer the question.

Senator HILL —This sets the scene. This is what the Labor Party is putting down as the foundation of its campaign and what we, the Australian people, are going to hear about for the next six weeks—an attempt to personally denigrate the Prime Minister. Wasn't it Mr Latham who said he was going to bring a new standard to Australian politics?

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! I remind senators that today's proceedings are being broadcast and televised. There is an election coming up in a few weeks time and that will give the Australian people an opportunity to reflect on the behaviour of people in this place.

Senator HILL —It was Mr Latham who said he was going to take the personalities out of Australian politics—he was above all that. He wanted debate on policies. He wanted the Australian people to make a choice on alternative policies that are presented to them. Here we are at the start of a six-week election campaign—the first chance since the election was announced for the Labor Party to present its alternative—and what is this all about? It is back in the gutter, trying to attack Mr Howard personally, trying to further attack his credibility.

Look at what is going to happen in the Senate this afternoon. They are going to set up a committee of inquiry into Mr Howard. They—the Labor Party and the Greens—are going to pass an order that they will have a majority and they will order that the report be brought down by 7 October. What happens on 7 October? They will predetermine the guilt of Mr Howard, as is the prejudice within this question that is asked today. We have to go through this whole political farce. The Australian people want better. They want better from Mr Latham. After nearly nine years they want better from the Australian Labor Party. They deserve an alternative set of policies upon which to make a judgment.

Senator Conroy knows as well as anyone else in this place that what he puts to me is not Mr Howard's recollection, nor that of his staff, nor that of other persons who were with him. But that does not matter, because the Labor Party are not interested in the truth. What the Labor Party are wanting is a personalised, in the gutter campaign against the credibility of Mr Howard. It is all they can come up with after nearly nine years in opposition. What a sad state of affairs. Senator Conroy, you at least were advocating higher taxes a few months ago. Why don't you have the courage to stand up and do that today? Let us have a debate before the Australian people rather than starting off this question time by going back into personalised politics—

Senator Robert Ray —Really?

Senator HILL —Well, that is what you are doing, isn't it? This is your chance. Why don't we have a debate on a new national payroll tax for Australia? That would be a good way to start this question time. Senator Conroy knows the answer to this question as well as everybody else in this place. (Time expired)

Senator CONROY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, didn't ONA Director-General, Kim Jones, when faxing ONA report No. 226 of 2001 to the Prime Minister's office on the evening of 7 November 2001 also include a cover sheet warning the Prime Minister not to rely on the report because it was probably based on ministerial statements? Who should we believe: the Office of National Assessments and Mr Mike Scrafton, who passed a lie detector test and signed a sworn statutory declaration, or the Prime Minister, the same person who promised there would never, ever be a GST?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —On 30 January this year Mr Latham said:

I'm absolutely convinced that most Australians want to move beyond the old politics, the fear mongering, the negativity, the needless division and deceit ...

But of course a leopard cannot change his spots. Mr Latham is a hater.

Senator Conroy —Mr President, I rise on a point of order going to relevance. I specifically asked about a cover sheet on an ONA document, and the minister is deliberately avoiding the question. I ask you to draw him to the question and make him answer it.

The PRESIDENT —I cannot direct a minister how to answer questions but I would remind the minister that he has 37 seconds left, and I would remind him of the terms of the question.

Senator HILL —I was making the point that this is not surprising because Mr Latham is a hater. He says he is a hater. On 26 June he said: `I am a hater. I want to see more haters.' He also said:

As far as I am concerned, if you want civility in Canberra, buy a parrot.

This is the alternative Prime Minister that is being put to us by the Australian Labor Party, and Senator Conroy is just simply singing to his tune.