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Monday, 30 August 2004
Page: 26647

Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (3:02 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.

We are in a bizarre situation in the Senate, with the House of Representatives effectively dissolved as of yesterday but parliament not prorogued until tomorrow. This is an unprecedented move where the Prime Minister is trying, and is succeeding, to avoid parliamentary scrutiny. It is a desperate ploy by the Prime Minister to avoid accountability in question time. It just goes to show the contempt that John Howard has for the institutions of our democracy. We have seen that again and again during his tenure as Prime Minister. Ministers' conflicts of interest have been ignored. They are able to sashay on to cushy post-parliamentary career jobs where they can parlay their inside knowledge and contacts for six-figure salaries. Under John Howard, ministerial responsibility has degenerated into dodging the blame and passing the buck.

What a pity we have a Prime Minister in this country who cannot be trusted. What a pity we have a government in this country that cannot be trusted. Mr Howard said yesterday that this election will be about trust. I hope the election is about trust—because, if it is, I am sure the Liberal Party will not win a single seat. If this election is about trust, then Mr Howard would have no objection at all to a Senate inquiry into the Scrafton evidence. Mr Howard said that this election is about trust. What does he have to hide? Why did Senator Hill, in a very bizarre performance, rave as he did in question time today and refuse to answer reasonable questions, important questions, about the Prime Minister's role in the Scrafton affair?

If the Australian people are to have any trust in their government, they have to know exactly what went on in this sorry chapter of Australian politics of children overboard. If Mr Howard believes in trust and wants trust in government, he would be happy to face the scrutiny of parliament. But calling the election to pre-empt the parliamentary sitting does not look like a man who is willing to face the music. Mr Howard said that a Senate committee would find him guilty. That is not the case. A Senate committee would only ever find a person guilty if they were. What Senate committees ought to do is weigh the evidence, hear the facts. They want to get to the truth. Surely that is reasonable.

Senator FAULKNER —Senator Hill, don't you talk about the truth. We already have a lot of reasons not to trust Mr Howard and his government. You could not trust him when he guaranteed that there would be no $100,000 university degrees—now there are 16. You could not trust him when he said in 1996 that bulk-billing was a fundamental underpinning of Medicare. Bulk-billing has fallen from 80 per cent to 70 per cent under this government. You could not trust him when he said that there would never, ever be a GST. You could not trust him when he said that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction—and so it goes on.

You cannot trust John Howard to take responsibility when things go wrong. He never faces the truth; he never takes the blame. It is always a staffer's fault or another minister's fault or a public servant's fault or an adviser's fault—it is the fault of anybody but Mr Howard himself. He always blame shifts. You cannot trust him to listen to advice, you cannot trust him to put the country's interests before his own, and you cannot trust him to be Prime Minister of Australia and front up and take responsibility for his own actions. You cannot trust Mr Howard to tell the truth. What a sorry situation that is in Australian politics. (Time expired)