Thursday, 7 September 2006
Schedules 1 and 3 to the Parliamentary Entitlements Amendment Regulations 2006 (No. 1)
Motion for Disallowance
He says that we live in it. That is his approach to the matter. We see from him a presentation that has all the enthusiasm of a salesman for the new product. No matter what the product is, he has enthusiasm for it. But in fact what you are seeing is a rather sharp, somewhat sleazy and slimy approach being taken to the presentation of what is a very weak case of a government. He has all the morality of a used car salesman when it comes to the selling of his product. In the first instance he says that, when the Labor Party was in government, it did not have a cap on printing. He knows, as he has been a former minister, that the policy of the Labor Party was to support a cap for many years. He knows that Senator Ray is on the public record and he knows that I and Senator Faulkner, as former shadows in this area, have both made statements to the effect that we support a cap on the printing entitlement. He knows that to be the case and he has wilfully misrepresented the Labor Party’s position on these matters.
He commented on the generosity the government has shown towards the opposition. I know that Senator Ferris wrote to him when he was the minister, at least on three occasions, requesting support for phones for the whip’s office, which was denied by him. I understand it was the current Special Minister of State, Mr Nairn, who finally agreed to the provision of extra phones for the whip’s office. We have opposition frontbenchers who do not have enough computers in their rooms. Those computers have been denied because it suits the government to restrict the opposition in terms of the facilities available.
What I am particularly concerned about is the abuse of ministerial power that flows from the actions of the government. We have seen the case that has been put in terms of advertising. We know the additional moneys the government are spending to support their case for re-election—over $1 billion in advertising from public sources. We know the changes they made to the electoral laws to undermine the franchise in this country, to undermine the Australian ballot. We know the actions that they are taking to restrict people’s capacity to participate. We now have this provision with regard to the printing entitlement, which is all about the re-election of the government. Those combined measures have to be seen.
However, what I am particularly concerned about is how the government seeks to use the ministerial office in a manner to undermine the position of other members of this parliament to the point where, just last month, we saw the current minister, Minister Nairn, releasing details of entitlement spending of some members of the Labor Party. Of course, that practice was pursued in 2001, where Minister Abetz today referred, once again, to the member for Paterson, who was the 14th member on the list of spending at that particular time. That was a clear attempt by the government to smear and misrepresent the situation. In that case we had 13 coalition members spending more money than the member for Paterson at that time. We now hear a reference to the member for Brand and the member for Griffith and their spending entitlements, so we see a clearer pattern being established by this government of gross misrepresentation of ministerial authority and abuse of ministerial office.
We have a clear situation where these are not matters that are subject to the Remuneration Tribunal. These are not the patterns of deliberation made by some independent authority. These are the political decisions of government made for the interests of government and aimed to extract the maximum advantage out of incumbency. I take the view that there ought to be a clear balance on these questions. All that we have said—and I have said this in terms of my responsibilities in this parliament on the questions of entitlement—is that there ought to be caps on the printing entitlements. We have made that very clear. But what we say, though, is that we cannot have a situation where members can take advantage of the $300,000 in an election year, which Senator Evans has pointed out, in circumstances where the audit provisions are extremely weak.
However, I want to concentrate on other aspects of these new regulations that the government is introducing by ministerial fiat. We cannot amend these regulations; we can only move to disallow them. So there is no question of saying we do not like this amount and would prefer another amount; it is about either disallowing them or accepting them, and we are moving to disallow them, because these are regressive regulations. The government claims that these changes in respect of the Senate are designed to regularise the arrangements for senators. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We now have a ludicrous situation, as a result of this government’s actions, where senators are effectively banned from using the Senate printing office, where senators are not entitled to use the Senate printing office. However, what I am particularly concerned about is the fact that the President of this chamber is said to be the source of this advice to the government to restrict the capacity of senators to use the Senate printing office. I refer directly to the minister’s letter of 30 August that confirms that the printing office will no longer be responsible for senators’ printing. He says:
As a consequence of the fact that the newsletter and stationery entitlements of senators have now been amalgamated, the Senate printing office will no longer be responsible for printing any items for senators.
What an extraordinary proposition! And Minister Nairn’s letter of 15 August points out that these changes were the results of representations by the President himself. I know he has been concerned for some time to see the use of Tasmanian paper in the printing office. He does not like the use of imported paper. I can understand the view about using domestic paper for the printing of government documents, but I think it is a long way to go from that to suggest we should have some sweetheart deal with local printers so that we can win the services of friendly local printers for the printing of our materials—and I look forward to the acquittal processes that will come from those arrangements.
I am particularly surprised by the acquiescence of the President to the transfer of the administrative responsibility for these matters from the department to MAPS. We have a situation where the presiding officer should not acquiesce to the executive, because I understand that the real source of the authority for this change in the Senate printing entitlements is a decision of the Prime Minister himself. He is the one that has been pursuing these questions, because he is very concerned about the way in which some senators in this chamber are actually using their printing entitlement to canvass ideas. Shock horror!