Wednesday, 28 February 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is to Senator Minchin, the Minister for Finance and Administration. Can the minister confirm that his department was only told about the Prime Minister’s $10 billion water package late on the afternoon of 22 January, fewer than three days before the package was announced? Isn’t it true that Finance is only ever asked, in departmental secretary Ian Watt’s words, to ‘run an eye lightly over the costings’ of a package that has already been determined by the Prime Minister’s department? Isn’t it also the case that Treasury was not even asked to assess the economic impact or do any detailed costing of the package? Isn’t it also the case that cabinet was not even consulted on the package? How can the minister for finance possibly justify a process that commits $10 billion of taxpayers’ money without any detailed costing by Finance, Treasury or even a consideration by cabinet?
The Labor Party must be getting desperate for questions if they have to rehash conversations that took place in estimates that are all on the public record. That question adds nothing and is simply a repeat of a line of questioning which we had in estimates.
I answer by congratulating the Prime Minister and the premiers of Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia for agreeing on a very historic and substantial reform of the way in which we manage our water resources in this country. The three Labor premiers and the Prime Minister have signed an historic deal to transfer responsibility for the Murray-Darling Basin to the Commonwealth and, in return, the Commonwealth will invest some $10 billion over the next 10 years in vastly improving the efficiency with which we use water from the Murray-Darling Basin. I congratulate those Labor premiers for reaching an agreement with the Prime Minister on such an historic arrangement and I urge the Labor Premier of Victoria to join his Labor colleagues from the other three jurisdictions in signing on to this agreement.
As I said quite openly on this matter, it has been dealt with in estimates and I really have nothing to add. How the package was developed and presented is all on the public record. That is, as with all governments, the prerogative of the Prime Minister. The question of the detailed costings and the programs that will be funded under this tremendous initiative, for which the Prime Minister should get enormous accolades, will of course be considered by the ERC.
Senator George Campbell had a very long lunch; could someone wake him up? This is a very important question and a senator from New South Wales should be concentrating on it. The full, detailed costings of the programs to be funded under this tremendous initiative will go through the ERC and the full budget process and be detailed in full in the budget over the forward estimates period. Again, I congratulate the Prime Minister and the three Labor premiers. This is a fabulous initiative and, most importantly, it provides water security for my own home state and Senator Wong’s state of South Australia. She should be applauding the initiative instead of nitpicking in the pathetic way that she is.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the finance minister consider questioning $10 billion decisions to be nitpicking? What does it say about the government’s financial discipline when $10 billion is committed without any detailed costing or cabinet consideration? Isn’t this a case of financial discipline and proper process being tossed aside by a government in search of a headline? Is this the approach to government expenditure and decision making that he as finance minister supports?
The costings that have been done so far were developed by a cross-portfolio team headed by PM&C which involved consultation with Treasury and Finance. They were developed using the best available information, drawing upon expertise from a range of sources.
This includes information on costs associated with the detection and treatment of leaks from irrigation channels, improvements to irrigation technology, such as laser irrigation, and the instalment of drip systems. It was very detailed work that went into developing this $10 billion costing. I call on Senator Wong to get on board, join with Premier Rann, her Labor Premier, in supporting this package, instead of her pathetic nitpicking and attacks on it.