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Thursday, 18 November 2004
Page: 76

Senator WONG (3:03 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of answers given by ministers to questions without notice asked by opposition senators today.

Haven't The Nationals done well this week in the parliament? Liberal senators on the other side must be shaking their heads and wondering just how much trouble the junior coalition partner can cause in just a few days. If this continues, they might want more than cigarette paper between The Nationals and themselves. I am not going to comment at this stage on some of the serious allegations that have been made. I want to deal with some of the serious issues—the real concerns—that were raised in question time today about some of the political activities of The Nationals. Those questions do not appear to have been answered as yet by the relevant ministers. There are facts which need to be explained; there are facts that give rise to some concerns about what The Nationals are doing. If it is all above board, which it all may be, let the ministers explain. In fact, let the leader or deputy leader of The Nationals explain and clear the air. So far we have not had sufficient explanation of these issues.

There are two areas I want to deal with briefly. The first is the question that Senator Ian Campbell was unable to answer regarding the grant during the federal election campaign of $6 million to the Australian Equine and Livestock Centre. The issue here is that in 2002 a $3.5 million grant for the equine centre was refused by the Deputy Prime Minister, who relied then on an independent assessment by a Professor Chudleigh which found there were serious concerns about the project's viability. It seems strange, given that assessment, that some two years later we have an even bigger grant being given to the same centre. There may be very good reasons for that other than the fact that it happened during a federal election campaign. I look forward to Senator Ian Campbell's response, which he indicated he would give after he was briefed on this issue, as to why there was this reversal of the government's position.

I turn now to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's Representative Areas Program. There was an interesting set of answers today from Senator Ian Macdonald. He said, `Look, there's no review of the Representative Areas Program,' and indicated as I understood it that he had not met with the Fishing Party. My question to him goes to whether he has actually spoken to Senator Boswell or Senator elect Joyce about that. It seems clear from national newspaper reports that The Nationals in Queensland have a very clear view about the subject of their discussions with the Fishing Party and what was promised to them in return for their preferences. Whether or not Senator Boswell and his colleagues can deliver on any such commitments obviously remains to be seen. I refer to an article in the Australian of 27 October, where it is stated:

The Fishing Party has claimed a review was promised by the Nationals in return for its preferences in the election ...

As we all know, those preferences were crucial in electing Senator elect Joyce to the sixth Queensland Senate spot. We await some indication from either the relevant ministers or Senator Boswell to cast light on whether that was in fact the case. If a review was promised then obviously The Nationals have not been able to deliver that, because I understand from Senator Ian Macdonald's answers today that we will not be having a review of the Representative Areas Program. We might have a view of the authority, as is normal, but we are not reviewing the program. The Nationals are quoted in the same article of 27 October as having `confirmed they “probably” offered a review'. I look forward to hearing from Senator Boswell if that is the case. Did they offer a review and was that review important in garnering preferences for Senator elect Joyce? If so, was that an appropriate thing to do? Given Senator Ian Macdonald's answers today it appears that it might have been a useful thing to do in order to get Senator elect Joyce elected to this place. But if the minister's answers today were correct, it does not appear that The Nationals have actually been effective in delivering any outcomes on that front. The minister was quite clear that there would be no review of the Representative Areas Program.

So there are a couple of issues that we in the Labor Party say that The Nationals should respond to about what was promised in the election campaign and what role The Nationals had in arranging for those things to occur. I am particularly interested to hear whether or not a review of fishing rights in what is a very important conservation area in Australia, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, was in fact the subject of preference negotiations between the Fishing Party and The Nationals. (Time expired)