Tuesday, 29 May 2007
matter of national interest and have consistently done so ever since the evidence has been in.
We can go to the early government reports on climate change. If there were some evidence to be argued, on the opposite side of politics, that they had only just received a report which joins the dots on climate change, you could perhaps accept the proposition. But no—if you look at the earlier risk assessments of the relevant government agencies of the Commonwealth government on the impact of climate change, its existence and its connection with economic impact and environmental impact, you will see the government has had this evidence in its possession for years. Everybody knows that.
So what has changed? The science has not changed. The opinion polls have changed. And when the opinion polls change, the folk over there in the advisers box get to work, and they drum up an advertising campaign, reaching deep into the pockets of taxpayers, happy to spend tens of millions of dollars on it, in order to craft a piece of Crosby-Textor-driven analysis, in order to try and convince people that suddenly the Damascus road conversion has occurred.
Then we go to the specifics of what has been in the debate in the last four days. The question the Prime Minister has been incapable of answering for the last four days is: has the government got a taxpayer funded advertising campaign in the pipeline and how much does it cost? I do not know how many questions we have asked on this subject. It is at least 10, I think, and probably more. But what we have seen in response to each of these questions put to the Prime Minister is a classic exercise in prime ministerial duck-and-weave and obfuscation. The thing about this modus operandi, Prime Minister, is that the Australian people believed it for a while. The Prime Minister of old, the John Howard of old, would not have engaged in this sort of behaviour; he would have been much cleverer than he is being at present. But I have to say that, when I look at the behaviour in the last four days, this is a different John Howard from the one we have seen before. It would have been a much slicker performance. This has only been a half-slick performance.
As a result, people see through it with great transparency. What they see is a Prime Minister saying, ‘I don’t want to admit to the Australian people that I’m using their money to try and prop up my political interests before an election.’ That is the core interest, and the Prime Minister cannot escape from it. That is the core interest driving this Prime Minister’s behaviour—a core interest, a partisan interest, a sectional interest. But guess what, Prime Minister? It is not the national interest. That is the difference. Instead we have a Prime Minister who has used every parliamentary ruse known to man, and some beyond that, to try to escape responsibility at this dispatch box for such basic questions as we have asked. Is it so hard to answer the question: does an ad exist with a lady boiling up a cup of tea? Is that so hard to answer?
I am a reasonable man. I understand that the Prime Minister himself may not have that at his disposal, but the chaps he is speaking to at the moment actually do have it at their disposal. They are the advisers. One of those advisers sits on the government’s communications advisory committee, and that is the unit which provides secretariat services to the Special Minister of State and the Special Minister of State has responsibility for providing ministerial approval for the allocation of budgetary resources for publicly funded advertising campaigns. That is the mechanism. This Prime Minister linked through his chief of staff to that minister—join the dots and what you have got is a whole bunch of people who know what is going on.
But guess what? Once again we have got a kids overboard problem. There seems to be this problem between what they know and what the Prime Minister knows. Once again it seems to be that everyone else out there, everyone else in the bureaucracy, everyone else out in ministerial land knows there is a problem here, as they did in kids overboard. But, blow me down, the Prime Minister doesn’t. I wonder why that is the case! Prime Minister, I return to what I have said several times before. Once upon a time, the Prime Minister could have got away with this, but they have seen it so often, case in, case out—kids overboard, Iraq and the wheat for weapons scandal. ‘Not my responsibility, someone else’s responsibility; not my knowledge, someone else’s knowledge. I’m just the Prime Minister,’ he says, ‘I wouldn’t be expected to know these things.’ But do you know something, Prime Minister? We have this old-fashioned convention in this country, inherited from the United Kingdom, and it is called the Westminster system. I know the Prime Minister finds this uncomfortable, but in this place you are accountable to the parliament. After 11 years in office I believe the Prime Minister no longer accepts that basic fact.
I can understand the Prime Minister not answering one question and a bit of duck-and-weave, but, if the opposition asks 10 questions on a simple proposition and asks for a bit of honesty, do you think it is too hard to give it to the parliament? I have to say that, on this, the Prime Minister has been found out, and found out most badly indeed. Basic questions such as, if we can’t tell the Australian people whether these ads have an elderly lady in them making a cup of tea, how about whether in fact money has been spent on putting together a letter which, we understand, is to go out to eight million or 10 million Australian households from the Prime Minister?’ If it is a letter from a minister I could understand the chaps over there in the advisers box thinking, ‘Well, you know, someone out there in another ministerial office might know.’ But, if it is to be from the Prime Minister, do you think someone in the Prime Minister’s office might know?
What about something as core and as central as this: if this campaign is to be called ‘Climate Clever’—now there’s a clever title if ever I heard one!—do you think that those two words might bring the occasional memory tweak as to whether the campaign is to be called that or is called that already? When it comes to ‘Climate Clever’, this is an extraordinary moment of self-revelation. This politician, this Prime Minister, is a very clever politician, a very cunning politician and, some have said, ‘sometimes a cynical politician’. How could the government hit upon a name for a campaign called ‘Climate Clever’ and think they would get away with it? It is intended to be a clever campaign, because the cleverness is apparently supposed to lie in this proposition: ‘We don’t believe in climate change but the cleverness lies in trying to convince you people out there that we do.’ That is the core proposition here. Going back to the accountability point, you would think the Prime Minister would know whether or not a campaign called ‘Climate Clever’ existed, or at least that those advising him would know that fact. So we have no knowledge of whether we have a television ad out there which has a lady in it boiling up a cup of tea; we have no knowledge of whether letters have been prepared to be sent out by the Prime Minister to Australian households; we have no knowledge of the fact, or the proposition or the question of whether this campaign is in fact to be called ‘Climate Clever’—apparently we know none of these things!
If these propositions, or questions, that I put forward in the last several days were wrong, or fundamentally wrong, I would have thought that at the end of question time yesterday we might have heard about it. I would have thought that the Prime Minister would have been like lightning to the dispatch box, saying, ‘The Leader of the Opposition has just got it wrong.’ If that was not to be the mechanism, the Tony O’Leary memorial device, which is go up to the press gallery and tell everyone that it is wrong, would have been executed as plan B. That was not done either, was it? So under those circumstances, putting the evidence together, guess what we have concluded? We have concluded that all these things are true. If they are not, the Prime Minister has a lot of time at the dispatch box after I conclude my remarks to tell us whether we have any of these elements wrong. Is there a campaign called ‘Climate Clever’? Is the Prime Minister aware of the existence of letters to be sent out by him to Australian households? Is there a TV ad which has a lady boiling up a kettle in it? Do all these things exist, or are they the collective figments of the opposition’s imagination.
When I first asked these questions, I put them in the interrogative. I asked whether he would confirm whether these things were true. When we received the information, as we have done from whistleblowers on this occasion, we wanted to test whether the proposition was accurate. That is why it was put in the way in which it was. But the answers to each of those propositions for the Prime Minister has caused us to conclude that, frankly, there is something which smells a lot here.
Today the duck-and-weave reached new heights when suddenly the Prime Minister was confronted with the following dilemma. How could money be spent on programs, including the preparation of ads, the market testing of those ads through opinion poll research and the filming of those ads, and perhaps even the booking of advertising space for those ads if the campaign itself does not exist? Instead, the dissimulation lay in this—the Prime Minister’s argument to the parliament that the campaign itself does not exist until it actually hits the media. In other words, the expenditure of funds up until this point is some mystical process which exists out there in some other realm, beyond public policy. The core problem is, as the Prime Minister unwittingly said in answer to one of my earlier questions: things don’t get approved in this place for the expenditure of moneys until ministers approve them. He went on to say that I should know that as a former public servant. Prime Minister, I do know that.
That leads to the next question, which was put through the dispatch box to the Prime Minister: who then approved the money for all these things, which the government have refused to deny up until now exist? Who approved the money for the ad with the lady boiling up the cup of tea? Who approved the money for the market research work? Who approved the money for all these things? Remember, the Prime Minister himself said: ‘Things don’t happen until ministers approve them.’ So, who approved them, Prime Minister? How much was approved? How much was this entire campaign about to cost?
This represents, in a nutshell—it is a stark, staring example—this government’s standards of public accountability. We have seen it up hill and down dale throughout the life of this government, but the curve has gone like that. It started off with little things, but it has got much bigger. It started off with dissimulation on things like the ‘kids overboard’ affair. It started off, and got worse, with the misrepresentations of this parliament on key questions concerning our reasons for going to war in Iraq. It continued through the ungodly saga we saw with the wheat for weapons scandal, whereby $300 million worth of bribes was authorised by this government through its approval relationship with the AWB for payment to Saddam Hussein, whose best financial supporter around the world was none other than the HMAS Howard government. No other source of foreign income exceeded that 300 million bucks, Prime Minister. It was a truck load of money—$300 million.
Put all those things together, and what do we have? We have a pattern of behaviour. We have a pattern of behaviour from a Prime Minister and a government who have been in office too long, a pattern of behaviour from a Prime Minister and a government who regard the public purse as something to be raided in order to fund and prop up their election campaigns, a public purse which can be drawn upon in order to convince the Australian people, or attempt to do so, just prior to an election, that suddenly the Prime Minister has got serious about something he has never, ever believed in.
If this were about a marginal question in politics, then it would just come and go as one of those things that happen in this place, and that people do not think about any more. But it is about something really important. It is about climate change. It is about whether we are going to be serious as a country in dealing with this challenge. It is about whether we have a government which has ever been serious about this challenge. It has to do with whether we have a real approach to emissions trading. It has to do with whether we have a real approach to boosting mandatory renewable energy targets. It has to do with whether we have a real approach to how we ensure that proper demand side management occurs across the Australian economy. It has to do very much with whether we have a viable strategy out there for the development of clean coal technologies. It has to do with all these things. But it has ultimately to do with this: whether we have a government which believes that climate change must form the basis of government action now or whether we have a government which believes that the only challenge in politics is to somehow scrimp and trick its way through to the next election and then go back to business as usual.
This Prime Minister stands censured and condemned for misleading this parliament systematically over the last four days on such a basic question of public accountability, but his offence is compounded by the fact that this misleading of the parliament relates to a core challenge which goes not just to the interests of this place today but to the national interest and to the future of climate change on the planet. (Time expired)