House debates

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Matters of Public Importance

Rudd Government

4:24 pm

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (Prospect, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Financial Services, Superannuation and Corporate Law) Share this | Hansard source

The member for Berowra very helpfully chimes in that this government appointed Tim Fischer, and we appointed Brendan Nelson, because we recognise that there are occasions when former members of parliament and ministers can make very valuable contributions to the Australian public life. We recognise that there are times when it is appropriate to make those sorts of appointments. So we recognise the appointment of Kim Beazley and Brendan Nelson and Tim Fischer, because it is sometimes appropriate. But we will not be lectured by those opposite who sat in administration and used government appointments and diplomatic appointments as their plaything. Under the Howard government it was impossible to go to the first-class lounge at Sydney airport without tripping over a Howard government appointee jetting off to take up their position in some of the best and plummest posts in the world as they left the Howard ministry. And they come in here and lecture us about integrity of government appointments.

The member for Casey makes the point that there is something very unusual about the appointment of a former political staffer in the telecommunications field. Something very fishy is going on here, something very fishy is going on when you appoint someone to a very well-paid job in the telecommunications sector. Perhaps he could have used as his precedent the appointment of Mr John Short in Telstra. In April 2005 Mr Short’s position as government relations manager with Telstra was abolished. Fair enough. He received a redundancy payment. A short time later he was reappointed by Telstra as a consultant. Nice work if you can get it. This is what Senator Minchin had to say when he was asked if he had intervened, if he had spoken to Telstra, if he had asked Telstra to make the appointment. A very little interesting little statement, this. I quote from a news report at the time:

A spokesman for Senator Minchin confirmed the minister had known Mr Short for several years, but would not say whether he had any role in him being rehired by Telstra.

“Senator Minchin has known John Short for a long time, but the company’s management policy is entirely a matter for the company,” the spokesman said.

“Obviously in his role as finance minister he talks to Telstra management on a regular basis but he doesn’t detail those conversations.”

But he does not detail those conversations. He did not come out and say, ‘I didn’t talk to Telstra, I didn’t ask them to rehire my mate, I didn’t ask them to reappoint him.’ So that is the difference. As the member Casey himself at the dispatch box just a few minutes ago said, the minister for communications openly and candidly declared what role he had played, at Senate estimates. You could not find a starker contrast with Nick Minchin. You could not find a starker contrast when it comes to integrity. We know the power and influence of Senator Minchin in the Liberal Party and he should come clean. If the member for Casey is going to make points about integrity in administration, he should come clean with the full story.

Hypocrisy on several levels. The member for Casey and his colleagues were members of an administration which treated government appointments and government money as their own personal plaything. They were members of an administration which spent $1 billion over 11 years on government advertising to support their own political purposes—$1 billion of taxpayers’ money to support their political campaigns. It is a situation we have fixed: substantially reduced and introduced new guidelines. It is a problem they would never fix because they did not regard it as a problem. They regarded it as a very good thing indeed.

The biggest advertising campaign was to sell Work Choices. Let us go to Work Choices, because we heard a lot from the member for Casey about integrity on election commitments, about how we have to be upfront with the Australian people. Well, I do not recall in the 2004 election, in which I was a candidate, a mandate being granted for Work Choices. I do not remember the then Prime Minister giving a solemn promise to the Australian people that he would reduce their working conditions and salaries. He was too busy promising to keep interest rates at record lows; that is what he was doing. Do not lecture us about integrity in government.

We will have none of this from the opposition. This is from a Leader of the Opposition who made a rock-solid, rolled-gold guarantee that the Medicare safety net would not be changed. Within a year of the election it was changed substantially. I understand that ministers get overruled. Ministers argue for their policy positions and cabinets take a broader view. I understand that. But there comes a time when if you have given a rock-solid, rolled-gold commitment to the Australian people and you get overruled, the decent and honourable thing to do is to tender your resignation. But the then minister for health did not even think about it. He did not even consider it because he did not consider his rolled-gold, rock-solid guarantee was worth his resignation.

In the time I have available to me I am not even going to touch ‘children overboard’. The Australian people know that tawdry episode oh so well and I am not going to detain the House on that particular episode. But this MPI takes the Australian people for mugs and treats the Australian people like fools. That is what this MPI does and this opposition does. The opposition says that every election commitment must be implemented 100 per cent, no variations, with no regard to changes in circumstances. The Australian people, when they are providing a mandate to a government, provide that mandate for three years. They give that government the mandate to protect them, to respond to crises overseas and to adjust. They do not want the Australian government to say, ‘Well, the right thing to do in the face of a reduction in government revenue of $170 billion would be not to change our spending, not to revise our priorities, not to ensure that our spending is as efficient as possible.’ That is exactly what they expect the Australian government to do. At the end of the three years they do two things. They weigh up how safe you have kept it, whether you have improved the nation, whether you have made the nation more prosperous and whether you have protected the nation against external shocks. They do that, and they will do that with us.

The other thing they do is weigh up who will be best placed over the next three years. Who will present the biggest risk? Later this year, the Australian people will do those two things. They will weigh up our performance and they will judge us appropriately. They will judge us well on some things and not so well on others. They will have regard to how we handled the biggest economic crisis in 70 years. They will think about those crucial three days, those crucial 72 hours following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, when the Australian economy was on the brink, when decisions being taken in the cabinet room were the most important decisions that had been taken since World War II. They will think about those 72 hours and they will judge us on them, and then they will think, ‘How would those 72 hours have gone if Barnaby Joyce had been in the chair?’

That is what they will do. They will weigh it up. They will consider the risks and they will think, ‘If Barnaby Joyce has been appointed to one of the most senior economic roles in the alternative government, what does that say about the judgment of the alternative Prime Minister of Australia?’ They will compare the judgment of the Prime Minister with that of the alternative Prime Minister. They will compare the important decisions they make. They will compare how they respond in crises. They will compare how they respond to very difficult circumstances and then they will make their decisions. They will not stand there with a clipboard and go through Labor’s 500 pages, or whatever it was, of election commitments and say, ‘You haven’t met paragraph 3.’ They will say: ‘You have met the thrust of your commitments. You have met our requirement to protect us, to withstand international crises. You have shown judgment.’ They will weigh us against the alternative, the erratic and dangerous alternative that sits opposite: the Leader of the Opposition who says: ‘I don’t understand economics; I am bored by it,’ the Leader of the Opposition who says, ‘We could’ve adopted the New Zealand method, which has lower unemployment and lower debt and deficit.’ Wrong on both counts. He does not understand economics.

Australians will judge us against the shadow Treasurer, whose most credible performance in two months has been wearing a tutu and carrying a magic wand, and the shadow minister for finance, who shows no basic understanding of economic fundamentals and does not understand the importance of his role. The Leader of the Opposition was out there the other day saying: ‘It’s fine. There’s no problem. Barnaby’s going to be very popular in the marginal seats in Queensland.’ He may or may not be, and you would be a better judge of that than I am, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott. But I know this: he is not a credible alternative finance minister of this country. The bigger risk is that the man who thought it a prudent judgment to appoint him is the alternative Prime Minister of Australia. That is the bigger risk. That is what will be weighed up by the Australian people and that is a more important issue than the nonsense we heard from the member for Casey today. (Time expired)


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