Thursday, 25 November 2010
Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010
The government claims that these amendments are not necessary. The government also claims that the proposed deal between Telstra and the NBN Co. renders these amendments unnecessary. The problem I have with that is based on the lack of information that the government has given the Senate to date. We have been placed in a situation where we have to move these amendments. Having listened to the minister’s excuses as to why the Labor Party will not be supporting the coalition’s amendments, I am not reassured. This is all about accountability and transparency. I was also in the chamber earlier, listening to comments from Senator Ludlam regarding the opposition’s attempts to properly scrutinise this legislation that will actually result in the biggest spend of taxpayers’ money on infrastructure that Australia has ever seen. Senator Ludlam criticised the opposition for taking the time to properly scrutinise the legislation. So I have to say that the question the Australian people are entitled to ask is: when will the Greens grow up? When will the Greens mature as a political party and understand that the spending of such a huge amount of taxpayers’ money requires a full and comprehensive analysis. I will tell Labor and I will tell the Greens: that is what responsible government is all about.
Responsible government is something that we on this side of the chamber know all about. Responsible government is when a government are able to show to the people of Australia that they are good economic managers. What does that actually take? We proved that you can return a surplus. You can also, if you are prepared to take tough economic decisions, eliminate debt. That is something that those on that side of the chamber will never, in their wildest dreams, be able to stand in this place and say. When you are responsible economic managers, as we are on this side of the chamber, you actually understand what type of analysis needs to be undertaken to ensure that taxpayers’ money is properly spent. I am going to quote my colleague Senator Ryan here. As he has often said about the Labor Party, but it applies equally to the Greens, they have never seen a taxpayer’s dollar that they cannot spend, and then some.
Because this bill and these amendments are of such a significant financial nature, and because of the significance of the economic incompetence of those on the other side of the chamber, I will take this opportunity, as brief as it may be, to raise the question of accountability and openness when it comes to spending taxpayers’ money. Accountability and openness in government require those who exercise power whilst performing the functions of government to demonstrate in an open and practical sense that they are doing so with honesty, integrity, appropriate skill and judgment and that they have discharged their duty in a proper manner for the common good and in the public interest. Perhaps the worst aspects of dealing with the former Rudd government and the current Gillard Labor government are the lack of transparency and their adherence to secrecy, which has reached the stage of being almost all-consuming and dominating the Gillard Labor government’s agenda. The current Labor government and the current Prime Minister are unable to accept that secrecy in government breeds suspicion and suspicion breeds mistrust. That mistrust in the Gillard Labor government is extremely well-placed.
Every senator, as an elected member of the Senate, has fundamental constitutional and other rights conferred upon them which they are entitled to exercise in this chamber. There is no doubt that as a senator you have a fundamental right as an elected person to ask questions. Not only that; you are entitled to receive considered answers to those questions. That is something that the government and, in particular, the relevant minister would know nothing about. To enable the discharge of a senator’s constitutional duty, it is critical that the government answer the substance of the questions and the various issues that are raised. It is not good enough for a minister to come into this place and give an answer to a senator that seeks to avoid the very question that has been asked. It is not good enough for a government or the relevant minister in this case to refuse to answer questions, to refuse to table documents as required by the Senate and, in doing so, to reinforce the culture of secrecy that the community believes exists amongst this government. That is what we have seen in relation to the NBN: a complete lack of information being provided to the people of Australia and, indeed, to the Senate. That is why the coalition are moving so many amendments to this legislation. The reason we are moving them is that we cannot trust those on the other side.
When the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was elected, one of the promises that she made to the Australian people—and we can clearly see that it has been broken in relation to the current legislation—was that she would open the windows and ‘let the sunshine in’. That was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on 7 September—after the election—in an article with the banner headline ‘Let the sunshine in’. The article continues:
The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, says her minority government will be held to higher standards of accountability as a result of the deal struck with the independents.
… … …
“We will be held to higher standards of transparency and reform and it’s in that spirit I approach the task of forming a government.”
I refer to Senator Ludlam’s comments today in the chamber, in which he effectively criticised those on this side of the chamber for attempting to properly scrutinise this legislation. You are part of a government that the Prime Minister says will be held to higher standards of accountability. Again, on 7 September—at which time it was clear to the Labor Party that, now that they had formed this deal with the Independents, they would be in government—she said:
… let’s draw back the curtains and let the sun shine in, let our parliament be more open than it was before.
Today we are trying to scrutinise the biggest ever spend of taxpayer money on infrastructure in this country and we are being criticised.
It did not take Prime Minister Gillard very long to break her pre- and post-election promise that she would be subject to higher levels of accountability, that she would run a government that was open and transparent. This piece of legislation is the perfect example of the entrenched culture of secrecy on the other side. On an almost daily basis, this government makes out that it is transparent and accountable. Yet members of parliament on this side of the chamber come into this place day after day and ask questions of the minister about the NBN legislation, and we are given nonanswers.
In fact, it has got to the stage where the Labor Party will not even ask the relevant minister questions about the NBN. Any questions they have on the NBN they conveniently redirect to a minister in another portfolio—because they know that the minister is unable to answer any of our questions, which are legitimate, about this legislation.