Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Fuel and Energy Committee; National Broadband Network Committee; Establishment
by leave—Rather than go through the convoluted process of suspending standing orders and the denial of formality, as we have done in the past, I foreshadow that I will simply seek to move motions Nos 136 and 137 standing in my name together and then have a debate on that issue, which is the setting up of select committees. I foreshadow that I will seek leave of the Senate to do it with that rather shortcut approach.
by leave—I will make a short statement now. I will have more to say shortly. The government want to argue quite strenuously about these matters, for the same reason that I spoke about earlier in respect of Senator Bernardi. It is the same problem we face. We have limited time available. We want to make our point, and make it strenuously, about what this government wants out of these matters and wants to put on the record and what the opposition is now doing in respect of these matters. We will give leave for these matters to be heard together. We want the questions to be put separately because we have views about them that should be clear and dealt with individually.
by leave—I move motions Nos 136 and 137, standing in my name, together:
- That a select committee, to be known as the Select Committee on Fuel and Energy, be established to inquire into and report on:
- the impact of higher petroleum, diesel and gas prices on:
- small business,
- rural and regional Australia,
- grocery prices, and
- key industries, including but not limited to tourism and transport;
- the role and activities of the Petrol Commissioner, including whether the Petrol Commissioner reduces the price of petroleum;
- the operation of the domestic petroleum, diesel and gas markets, including the fostering of maximum competition and provision of consumer information;
- the impact of an emissions-trading scheme on the fuel and energy industry, including but not limited to:
- employment in the fuel and energy industries, and any related adverse impacts on regional centres reliant on these industries,
- domestic energy supply, and
- future investment in fuel and energy infrastructure;
- the existing set of state government regulatory powers as they relate to petroleum, diesel and gas products;
- taxation arrangements on petroleum, diesel and gas products including:
- Commonwealth excise,
- the goods and services tax, and
- new state and federal taxes;
- the role of alternative fuels to petroleum and diesel, including but not limited to: LPG, LNG, CNG, gas to liquids, coal to liquids, electricity and bio-fuels such as, but not limited to, ethanol;
- the domestic oil/gas exploration and refinement industry, with particular reference to:
- the impact of Commonwealth, state and local government regulations on this industry,
- increasing domestic oil/gas exploration and refinement activities, with a view to reducing Australia’s reliance on imported oil, and
- other tax incentives; and
- the impact of higher petroleum, diesel and gas prices on public transport systems, including the adequacy of public transport infrastructure and record of public transport investment by state governments.
- That the committee report to the Senate from time to time on any related matters, and present its final report by 21 October 2009.
- That the committee consist of 8 members, 2 nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, 4 nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, 1 nominated by the Leader of Family First in the Senate and 1 nominated by any minority group or groups or independent senator or independent senators.
- On the nominations of the Leader of the Government in the Senate, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and minority groups and independent senators, participating members may be appointed to the committee;
- participating members may participate in hearings of evidence and deliberations of the committee, and have all the rights of members of committee, but may not vote on any questions before the committee; and
- a participating member shall (not) be taken to be a member of the committee for the purpose of forming a quorum of the committee if a majority of members of the committee is not present.
- That the committee may proceed to the dispatch of business notwithstanding that not all members have been duly nominated and appointed and notwithstanding any vacancy.
- That the committee elect an Opposition member as its chair.
- That the committee elect a Government member as its deputy chair who shall act as chair of the committee at any time when the chair is not present at a meeting of the committee, and at any time when the chair and deputy chair are not present at a meeting of the committee the members present shall elect another member to act as chair at that meeting.
- That, in the event of an equally divided vote, the chair, or the deputy chair when acting as chair, have a casting vote.
- That the quorum of the committee be 5 members.
- That the committee have power to appoint subcommittees consisting of 4 or more of its members and to refer to any subcommittee any matter which the committee is empowered to examine.
- That 3 members of a subcommittee include a quorum of that subcommittee.
- That the committee and any subcommittee have power to send for and examine persons and documents, to move from place to place, to sit in public or in private, notwithstanding any prorogation of the Parliament or dissolution of the House of Representatives, and have leave to report from time to time its proceedings and the evidence taken and interim recommendations.
- That the committee be provided with all necessary staff, facilities and resources and be empowered to appoint persons with specialist knowledge for the purposes of the committee with the approval of the President.
- That the committee be empowered to print from day to day such documents and evidence as may be ordered by it, and a daily Hansard be published of such proceedings as take place in public.
- That a select committee, to be known as the Select Committee on the National Broadband Network, be established to inquire into and report by 30 March 2009 on:
- the Government’s proposal to partner with the private sector to upgrade parts of the existing network to fibre to provide minimum broadband speeds of 12 megabits per second to 98 per cent of Australians on an open access basis; and
- the implications of the proposed National Broadband Network (NBN) for consumers in terms of:
- service availability, choice and costs,
- competition in telecommunications and broadband services, and
- likely consequences for national productivity, investment, economic growth, cost of living and social capital.
- That the committee’s investigation include, but not be limited to:
- the availability, price, level of innovation and service characteristics of broadband products presently available, the extent to which those services are delivered by established and emerging providers, the likely future improvements in broadband services (including the prospects of private investment in fibre, wireless or other access networks) and the need for this government intervention in the market;
- the effects on the availability, price, choice, level of innovation and service characteristics of broadband products if the NBN proceeds;
- the extent of demand for currently available broadband services, what factors influence consumer choice for broadband products and the effect on demand if the Government’s fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) proposal proceeds;
- what technical, economic, commercial, regulatory and social barriers may impede the attainment of the Government’s stated goal for broadband availability and performance;
- the appropriate public policy goals for communications in Australia and the nature of regulatory settings that are needed, if FTTN or fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP), to continue to develop competitive market conditions, improved services, lower prices and innovation given the likely natural monopoly characteristics and longevity of the proposed network architecture;
- the possible implications for competition, consumer choice, prices, the need for public funding, private investment, national productivity, if the Government does not create appropriate regulatory settings for the NBN;
- the role of government and its relationship with the private sector and existing private investment in the telecommunications sector;
- the effect of the NBN proposal on existing property or contractual rights of competitors, supplier and other industry participants and the exposure to claims for compensation;
- the effect of the proposed NBN on the delivery of Universal Service Obligations services;
- whether, and if so to what extent, the former Government’s OPEL initiative would have assisted making higher speed and more affordable broadband services to areas under-serviced by the private sector; and
- the cost estimates on which the Government has based its policy settings for a NBN, how those cost estimates were derived, and whether they are robust and comprehensive.
- That, in carrying out this inquiry, the committee will:
- expressly seek the input of the telecommunications industry, industry analysts, consumer advocates, broadband users and service providers;
- request formal submissions that directly respond to the terms of reference from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the Productivity Commission, Infrastructure Australia, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Finance and Deregulation, and the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government;
- invite contributions from organisations and individuals with expertise in:
- public policy formulation and evaluation,
- technical considerations including network architecture, interconnection and emerging technology,
- regulatory framework, open access, competition and pricing practice,
- private sector telecommunications retail and wholesale business including business case analysis and price and demand sensitivities,
- contemporary broadband investment, law and finance,
- network operation, technical options and functionality of the ‘last mile’ link to premises, and
- relevant and comparative international experiences and insights applicable to the Australian context;
- advertise for submissions from members of the public and to the fullest extent possible, conduct hearings and receive evidence in a manner that is open and transparent to the public; and
- recognise the Government’s NBN proposal represents a significant public sector intervention into an increasingly important area of private sector activity and that the market is seeking openness, certainty and transparency in the public policy deliberations.
- That the committee consist of 7 senators, 2 nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, 4 nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, and 1 nominated by minority groups or independents.
- On the nominations of the Leader of the Government in the Senate, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and minority groups and independent senators, participating members may be appointed to the committee;
- participating members may participate in hearings of evidence and deliberations of the committee, and have all the rights of members of the committee, but may not vote on any questions before the committee; and
- a participating member shall be taken to be a member of the committee for the purpose of forming a quorum of the committee if a majority of members of the committee is not present.
- That the committee may proceed to the dispatch of business notwithstanding that all members have not been duly nominated and appointed and notwithstanding any vacancy.
- That the committee elect as chair one of the members nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.
- That the quorum of the committee be 4 members.
- That the chair of the committee may, from time to time, appoint another member of the committee to be the deputy chair of the committee, and that the member so appointed act as chair of the committee at any time when there is no chair or the chair is not present, at a meeting of the committee.
- That, in the event of an equally divided vote, the chair, or the deputy chair when acting as chair, have a casting vote.
- That the committee have power to appoint subcommittees consisting of 3 or more of its members, and to refer to any such subcommittee any of the matters which the committee is empowered to examine, and that the quorum of a subcommittee be 2 members.
- That the committee and any subcommittee have power to send for and examine persons and documents, to move from place to place, to sit in public or in private, notwithstanding any prorogation of the Parliament or dissolution of the House of Representatives, and have leave to report from time to time its proceedings and the evidence taken and such interim recommendations as it may deem fit.
- That the committee be provided with all necessary staff, facilities and resources and be empowered to appoint persons with specialist knowledge for the purposes of the committee with the approval of the President.
- That the committee be empowered to print from day to day such papers and evidence as may be ordered by it, and a daily Hansard be published of such proceedings as take place in public.
Motion No. 136 is about the establishment of a select committee on fuel and energy, and motion No. 137 is about the establishment of a select committee on the national broadband network. These are very important measures indeed. I think a very good starting point is a quote by Senator Evans, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, who, when addressing the Subiaco branch of the Australian Labor Party on 28 June 2007, stated:
Labor recognises the role and value of an empowered Senate. Our support for the Senate has grown as it has developed into an effective political institution. Labor—in government or opposition—supports the Senate as a strong house of review, scrutiny and accountability.
That is something which squarely sets the scene for the establishment of these two select committees on two very important issues. Labor, formerly in opposition, stated a very clear principle that the Senate is a house of review, scrutiny and accountability. That statement says that, even in government, Labor would hold that view. I therefore call upon the government to agree with these two motions to set up Senate select committees, on fuel and energy and the national broadband network, both of which are major issues in Australia today.
At the outset I foreshadow an amendment that Senator Parry will move. It is a technical amendment in relation to motion 136, and deals with the issue of a deputy chair. It is a matter which is technical in nature. But the biggest issue here is the subject matter of these select committees. Firstly, in relation to fuel and energy, we have comprehensive terms of reference which speak for themselves and request the Senate to refer this motion to a select committee, which is to report by 21 October 2009. The single biggest issue in discussion right across Australia today is the price of fuel and, in particular, the cost to fill the average family car. The impact of spiralling costs upon the disposable incomes of working families is unquestionable. This has been an issue which the Rudd government has made much of and, during the campaign for the recent election, it spoke of reducing the price of petrol—in fact, it was very much at the core of the Rudd campaign in the last election.
Alternatives to current contemporary fuels, including the wide range of renewable energy sources currently available, and new-age synthetic fuels such as coal to liquids and gas to liquids, also need to be carefully examined and benchmarked to determine their costs, commercial viability and availability. The committee would inquire into the impact of higher petroleum, diesel and gas prices on families, small businesses, rural and regional Australia and grocery prices, as well as on industry. It would look at the role of the petrol commissioner, the impact of an emissions-trading scheme, state regulatory powers, taxation arrangements and a number of other crucial areas which deal with fuel and energy in this country.
This is not a reference which simply goes to a Friday committee for a two-week turnaround. This is not a reference which comes about as a result of one particular piece of legislation. It comes about as the result of an issue which has an impact across a broad range of areas in average life today in Australia. It merits a comprehensive review by a Senate select committee and it needs the time for that review to be adequately carried out—hence, we have included in the reference the reporting date of 21 October 2009.
The other select committee would deal with a national broadband network. This is required to fully examine the government’s national broadband network proposal, which is vague, to say the least. It needs to consider the confusion and concern surrounding that plan and also the potential contribution of $4.7 billion of more public money. This process has been cloaked in a veil of secrecy and it needs adequate scrutiny by the Senate.
The committee will also examine the implications for consumers of the proposed national broadband network in terms of service availability, choice and costs—all of these being of crucial importance to average Australians around this country. The potential impacts on competition in the telecommunications sector and existing broadband services, as well as likely consequences for national productivity, investment, economic growth, inflation, cost of living and social capital, also need to be considered.
It should also be put on the record that the government when in opposition complained about the lack of scrutiny concerning Telstra. We had many committees of inquiry dealing with the legislation surrounding the sale of Telstra, what Telstra did and the implications of broadband. It was then that the current government in opposition complained that there was not sufficient scrutiny then. This is an issue which is not going away. It is becoming more and more important to all Australians. Of course, with the development of technology and with the changing climate of communications, it becomes even more important that we maintain Senate scrutiny in relation to these areas. I hark back to the comments by Senator Evans, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, when he said:
Labor—in government or opposition—supports the Senate as a strong house of review, scrutiny and accountability.
In setting up these two select committees, we are replacing previous select committees that have done their job and reported—and, I might say, they have done a service to the parliament in the scrutiny they carried out. These two select committees will have broad-ranging terms of reference and the time to carry out this essential scrutiny. In the case of the broadband reference, the motion refers to a reporting date by 30 March 2009; again, taking these issues very seriously, allowing the Australian community as well as stakeholders who have a vital interest to make submissions and ensuring that the Senate has that scrutiny role, which is so essential. As I have said, it is not appropriate that we refer it to a Friday committee for a two-week turnaround. These are very important motions which provide for participation by senators from across the board in this chamber and contemplate the make-up of the Senate post 1 July this year.
I understand that Senator Brown might have a motion which he has discussed with me, where ‘minority groups’ should be referred to as ‘minority parties’. I can say that the coalition has no trouble with such an amendment. I commend these two motions to the Senate. The coalition has no problem in the question being put separately, should it be required.
by leave—firstly, I want to in both motions alter the term ‘minority group’ to ‘minority party’; otherwise, effectively the Greens are not noted. I thank Senator Ellison for flagging his acceptance of that change, which does not affect the impact of the motion. I move:
Omit “minority group” (wherever occurring), substitute “minority party”.
I also move an amendment to motion No. 136, paragraph 1:
After (1)(i), insert:
- (j) the contribution of fossil fuels, including petroleum, diesel and gas, to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions; and
It seems therefore reasonable from my perspective, as the chair, to deal with your amendments first and then we will take those foreshadowed amendments, technical amendments, which I understand Senator Parry wants to make, and deal with those. So when we finally get to a vote on the issues, we will split the motions. We will deal with 136, with the Senator Bob Brown amendment, and then we will deal with the amendment foreshadowed by Senator Parry. Subject to the outcome of that, we will deal with 137, the amendment by Senator Bob Brown, dispose of that and then deal with the amendment by Senator Parry again.
by leave—I am going to outline the procedural position that the Liberals are now adopting in respect of this matter; in fact, you can tell from the sloppy drafting that they have endeavoured to put in place. If you look at motion 136 at (4)(c), they forgot to make a choice and they have left the ‘shall not’ in there. It highlights the abysmal position that they have adopted in respect of how they proceed in this place. They have said:
…a participating member shall (not) be taken to be a member of the committee for the purpose of forming a quorum of the committee if a majority of members of the committee is not present.
The ‘not’ is in brackets. Clearly, that is a choice you have to make. You have to choose which one you decide to take.
In motion 137, you can see that you have actually made a choice. In that one you have said ‘a participating member shall be taken to be a member for the purposes’ and it goes on. You know there is an error there; you will have to fix it up. It highlights what the Liberals have done in respect of these committees. If you go back and look at the last parliament, in the 41st Parliament between 2004 and 2008, you had three select committees: the Senate Select Committee on the Administration of Indigenous Affairs, the Senate Select Committee on the Scrafton Evidence and the Senate Select Committee on Mental Health. Select committees are important for the Senate to deal with special or certain circumstances. They are not a caravanserai for the Liberals to run around the countryside sipping lattes all around the place while they do these things—if they turn up to them. It is about special circumstances which require an inquiry into them.
If you go back and look at the 40th Parliament, there were eight select committees from 2002 to 2004. They dealt with a certain maritime incident, which the Liberals might recall and should hang their heads in shame about; superannuation, an important issue; Medicare; ministerial discretion in migration matters, under section 417 of the Migration Act, which the Liberals made a meal of; the free trade agreement between Australia and the United States of America; the one that the Liberals rolled over on, the Lindeberg grievance—you can hang your heads in shame about that; plus the Scrafton evidence again.
Select committees are for those special circumstances that require extended examination, not the abuse or the hypocrisy which the Liberals are now putting in this place. To put it bluntly: these amendments are hypocritical. They build on the Liberals’ long record of undermining the role of the Senate. They create unnecessary duplication. They are loading senators and, more importantly, the committee staff with even more work at a time when the Senate committees already have a full workload. It is ignoring the way this place works; it is ignoring the principles that have been established in this place. Furthermore, the issues that have been raised in the terms of reference have, in large part, been reviewed and analysed to death.
We do not need a new talkfest around emissions trading on petrol and around broadband. Broadband is currently subject to an open, competitive and extensive tender process with an independent committee reviewing the tender. How much more scrutiny does it need? During the Liberals’ term you did nothing. You sat on about 18 different failed attempts to start it. What we need is action, and Minister Conroy is taking that decisive action. There is a competitive tender in process.
What you are doing is trying to govern from opposition. You cannot do it; you cannot govern from opposition. You really missed the point. When you were in government, the Liberals consistently sought to undermine the role of the Senate by pushing through legislation such as Work Choices. Let me remind you about what you did with Work Choices, in terms of how you undermined the committee process in this place, which you had no mandate to deliver in the first place, and how you refused to refer the legislation to committee. In truth you referred it for nothing more than a cursory examination. The latest attack to try to draw it down, hide it, squirrel it away and bowl it through so there was not proper scrutiny. That is what you did when you were in government. With the big schemes, you ensured you were the smallest target possible.
These new select committees on fuel, energy and the national broadband network will be set up. Each has nominal terms of reference and reporting dates and the representation is essentially stacked in favour of the opposition, the Liberals. What we now have is them taking the position of chair, with of course the ability to appoint a deputy chair. Maybe we could find out what their intentions are with respect to that. Is it the case that they are going to pick the deputy chairs from amongst the Greens? Is it that new system of how select committees are going to work that we have now discovered? They have found out that 30 shekels is a good idea and they are going to use the deputy chair’s position for that role. They are not for that purpose. These are committees for select issues. They are not for the largesse of the Liberal Party; they are for important matters. You will undermine them with the role that you are now using them for.
What the Liberals are in fact doing is establishing a parallel system of Senate committees and rewarding mates with chairing positions. It is the parliamentary equivalent of setting up a new game. You have decided to construct a separate game away from this place, because this is where references are gone through, where the process for the selection of committees takes place. They are brought in here and then they move to the committee structure, which you Liberals recently set up in the last parliament. What you did not do was realise that you might actually have to hand the reins over to a responsible government. What you have then said is, ‘We don’t want to play by the rules anymore, so we’re going to set up a parallel system.’ What you have then put in place is quite frankly an abuse of the Senate process. You have set up four committees. One has already reported under the select committee process. You are now introducing another two. It is literally at the rate of one select committee a month, rather than a reference to the appropriate standing committee for these matters to be dealt with. That is what you argued for when you were in government: that it would be best to have a standing committee so that you could then have both references and legislation dealt with and the standing committees would be able to deal broadly with those issues.
What you have now done is set up a parallel system because you do not like the rules of the existing committee system, which you established. Why? It is patently obvious why you do not like it: because you want to be able to throw your largesse around, you want to be able to use the deputy chairs in a way that they have not been used before. And we might hear about how you are going to do that. You might be able to guarantee us now who are going to be the deputy chairs of the committees. You might be able to say what your intention is with respect to that. You might be able to say as well whether you are going to attend those committees. Clearly, the recognition in this place is that you are going to use your numbers to crunch these committees through. Well, go to them. Will you give a guarantee that, if you do not turn up, if you do not provide the quorums, you will then abandon the committee process at that point? Will you call an end to it and say, ‘We didn’t actually support it in truth; we only set it up so that we could collect the chair’s salary’? If you are serious you will give that ironclad guarantee today that you will not only set up the committee and participate in it but also ensure that you—
My apologies, Mr Acting Deputy President. What the Liberals should do is guarantee that they will commit to making sure that there are quorums on these committees. It is clear that they will set them up; it is clear that they will have the chair positions; it is clear that they will then provide the largesse of the deputy chair to whomever they choose. If that is going to be the case they should give a guarantee today that they will meet the quorum requirements, they will participate in those committees and they will go to those committees. If they do not go to those committees, they should then immediately abandon the committee and recognise the fact that they did not supply quorums to those committees. And they should let us know today that that is in fact what they are going to do.
When the Liberals took control of the Senate we saw a massive increase of the then government’s share of allocated questions in question time. Quite frankly, they have tilted it in their favour again. Every time you see the Liberals use their numbers, it is not about ensuring the Senate reviews legislation from the House, it is not about ensuring proper scrutiny; it is about tilting the balance in their favour, it is about using their numbers in this place to crunch it through. You saw that when they then massively increased their share of questions in question time. You also saw that there was a massive 400 per cent increase in their rejection of proposed inquiries for reference committees in the same period. So they then said, ‘We will say no to broad references to standing committees.’ There was a 400 per cent increase in the ‘no’ vote. So these motions for references to appropriate committees that the then opposition wanted to get up were denied. What you now have is the Liberals using a parallel system to achieve a parallel process, because they do not have the numbers on the standing committees.
When the Liberals were in government the length of the inquiries crashed, because they did not want scrutiny. The average length of the inquiries had nearly a full two weeks shaved off, from 39 days to just over 27 days. And that does not highlight the special committees such as the Telstra inquiry, which was a one-day special inquiry, or the industrial relations inquiry, which was a very short inquiry—because, where there were big matters to be examined, they did not want examination. Finally, we saw debate after debate being gagged or guillotined on the most important issue facing Australians: Work Choices. The Liberals took the drastic and draconian step of cutting off debate and refusing to let the Senate properly consider the impact of that legislation on Australian working families.
That is the Liberal record in this place. And they stand here hypocritically, saying, ‘We’re all about open and accountable government; we’re all about scrutiny and review in this place.’ It is hypocritical for the opposition, the Liberals, to stand here and argue that in the face of what they did when they had the numbers and they were in government, and what they are doing now in opposition while they still have the numbers to be able to crunch through these inquiries where select committees are not called for. In the same way we have made another change to the committee system within about 24 hours. They know that we are coming to the end of this session. They know that the winter recess is facing us. So they have then said, ‘Whoops; we had better throw in two more select committees to make sure that they continue—
I will take that interjection, Acting Deputy President. If you look at the ministers that have been dealing with these issues, you will find again that there is plenty of opportunity for the standing committee processes that are in place to deal with these matters. But instead, right at the last, at the death knock again, the Liberals are throwing up two additional committees. On average, one select committee every six months. Are they going to continue with this one every six months? At that rate, they are going to exhaust the staff in this place that support the select committees. But they do not care about that because, if you look at the endgame, it is about ensuring that they have got an outcome for themselves. It is a well-disguised attempt to consolidate their power further and replace the existing system which has worked.
The previous system had devolved power between the parties in the Senate, providing much greater scrutiny by non-government senators, including the minority parties. Now that the Liberals are out of power, they have unilaterally decided that they do not like the set-up of the Senate committee structure. But, of course, they feel a little bit wedded to it given that it was their invention when they were in government. They cannot cut it down; instead, as I have described, they will set up a parallel committee process so that they can maintain control, so that they can maintain chairs and so that they can maintain the outcomes from those select committees. But the challenge for them is to also make sure that they maintain quorums in those committees. The proposals today before us are ludicrous. They should own up to it. It is clear that they are only doing it for the stated reasons of looking after their mates in this place as we head into the winter break.
They are setting up a parallel system of reference committees, which is essentially having a roving mandate to act as a standing committee and to investigate anything they want as long as it is a related matter. If the Liberals really have an issue which they wish to investigate then they should propose a proper reference in this place and advance the matter through the standing committees that they supported and which they set up in government. If you look at the number of inquiries that have been dealt with in this place and then look at how the workload is structured, they have added another layer of talkfest for select committees, which is unnecessary, using that process. They are restricting the excellent work that standing committees do in this place to ensure outcomes that go to scrutiny and to review. They are going to dilute the Senate process. They run the risk of treating it badly. If you treat it badly, you will trivialise it. If you trivialise it, we will all wear the outcome in this place because it will be taken to mean that the committee work has been downgraded.
If you look at the current workload, there is significant work by the Liberal opposition of referring budget bills off to committees in the winter recess that standing committees are dealing with already. There is important work to be done although, in argument, there is a range of bills that should not have gone off to committees. They know they should not have gone. They know they should have been dealt with in the usual way on the last sitting Friday before now so that we could have had them available before the winter recess.
They have not argued about how they are going to ensure that staffing and that type of issue will be dealt with. They have not outlined how they are going to continue to ensure that they will meet the outcomes of those committees. If you look at the last select committee that reported, quite frankly, the government has that issue in hand. Look at the issue of housing affordability. Look at how this government is acting. We are taking action. If you look at the 11½ years of the Liberals when they were in government, they sat on their hands—and the Senate Select Committee on Housing Affordability in Australia really underlines that.
You now have a clear attack by the Liberals on Senate procedure, the role of the Senate and its ability to function as a house of review. They chipped away at Senate procedure when they were in government. In opposition, the Liberals are again chipping away at it because they do not like scrutiny. They like mates’ rates; that is what they like. They do not like the system that they set up, so they want to set up a parallel system of committees without any justification or argument about what is wrong with the standing committees they have set up. Maybe they are too shy to admit that the standing committees that they set up in opposition and pushed through were not right. Maybe they were not effective enough for them. Maybe they did not understand the committee system sufficiently to ensure that it worked. That is an aside, because they now want to use the select committee effectively as a standing committee, like the previous references committees. It is a pity that they did not look at the history in this place to ensure that the principles were respected. (Time expired)
I have just written a tyranny of notes in relation to Senator Ludwig’s comments. I cannot believe some of the incorrect statements that he made—some do not even relate to the debate we are having. Before I move the amendments to notice of motion No. 136, one of Senator Ludwig’s highlights was when he spoke of a typo of one word. He blames us for this particular typo, but I do not know where it occurred. It could well have occurred anywhere when it was being placed into the Notice Paper. That was pedantic. If that is a sign of desperation of a government that does not—
If I can interrupt you, Senator Parry. We are already discussing amendments that are before the chair. You can foreshadow further amendments in your remarks, but you cannot move further amendments until the first lot are dealt with.
Thank you. I was intending to speak to them. If I said ‘move them’ I apologise. This is what we have got down to with Senator Ludwig; we are getting to these very technical issues.
I want to go back to Senator Ludwig’s remarks. He was denigrating senators on his side of politics when he said, ‘They travel around the country sipping coffee.’ I travel around this country doing hard work with Labor senators, with Democrat Senators and with Greens Senators. For Senator Ludwig to insinuate that all we do is travel around the country sipping coffee shows that he is so far removed from the committee process that he needs to go and talk to his backbenchers and find out exactly how hard committee work is, how many hours you spend away from home and the value of committee work to this Senate. Senator Ludwig should know a lot better than that and I hope that he apologises to his backbench senators for belittling the work of committees.
These committees are going to play a valuable role and be a valuable tool in assisting the governing process. The government would have us see $4.7 billion worth of funds for broadband just go through without any scrutiny. We have decided to scrutinise this in such a way that the public can be assured that $4.7 billion worth of taxpayers’ money is going to be adequately and properly spent. We are starting this today, Senator Conroy. I think that the government is afraid of scrutiny. Senator Ludwig says that we are afraid of scrutiny. We are increasing the scrutiny of legislation and we are increasing the scrutiny of the processes of government. We want to make sure that this government works and acts properly.
Senator Ludwig also said that we were ‘governing from opposition’. He thinks that we are governing from opposition. That is what he accused us of. The reason why we need to govern from opposition is that you cannot do it from government. That has been proven. It is absolutely chaotic on your side; you cannot organise things. The Prime Minister has such a tight control that he is dictating to Labor senators how to run this chamber, how to operate, what to do and where to go. Things cannot be done without approval from senior advisers, of a very junior age, in the Prime Minister’s office, so we have to assist. We have been assisting running the government because the government cannot do it. These two committees are going to aid that process.
Senator Ludwig needs to reconsider some of the comments that he made in relation to these committees. He went on to talk about the appointment of chairs and deputy chairs. He wanted to know who we have lined up for appointments, but he must know the process. The committee has not even been established, let alone had members appointed. The Independents and the minor parties may put forward nominees; or they may not. The Labor Party may or may not put forward members for this committee. We have set up this committee so we can have government members, opposition members, Independent members, Family First members and Greens members. All parties can have members on this committee, by appointment from their leader; their leader has to nominate them. We have made it so easy that they can simply nominate a member to be on the committee, in accordance with the numbers and the parameters, and then we will sort out—and the members of that committee have the sole discretion—the value and the depth of experience of each of those particular committee members. They will then say, ‘Okay, would you like to be a deputy chair?’ and they will nominate them. It will be up to the members of each committee. So for Senator Ludwig to suggest that for some reason there will be an appointment made by the opposition or by anyone else is absolutely ludicrous. He needs to understand how the system operates, how the standing orders work and how these committees are established. What he said about deputy chairs is a complete furphy.
Senator Ludwig then talked about the workload of Senate staff. I will place on record—and it will be borne out by the clerk assistant who we spoke to—that Senator Chris Ellison and I spoke to a clerk assistant in relation to this matter. We considered that if we wanted to start scrutinising government properly by establishing a select committee—because this government seems totally incompetent—then we wanted to make sure that there would not be a greater workload for the existing staff. The provisions, we were told, of the Senate provide that, each time a new select committee is established, resources are lifted to match that new select committee. So that was not going to be an issue. Otherwise, if we were going to be burdening existing Senate staff and they had no additional resources, we would not have proceeded down this path. That was a very important thing for us to do and we did that prior to the establishment of the first Senate select committee. We wanted to clearly establish that that was the case. We were assured that this is the case and that the provisions of the Senate provide for that. And so it should. Select committees have probably not been used as much as they should have over the last few years. We have established select committees—
You do not need select committees established when you have a government that can govern correctly, properly and for the people. When you have a government that cannot govern correctly you need select committees to clearly monitor the activities of government and to ensure taxpayers’ funds are adequately, properly and wisely spent. I think these points that Senator Ludwig has raised are furphies.
Senator Ludwig then referred to quorums. He wanted to know whether the opposition would attend. I will reverse that. Will the Labor Party commit to it? Will the Labor Party attend these very important committees? Will they become a part of these select committees? Will they nominate? They have provision to nominate for these select committees. Will they fill the number of vacancies that they are allowed to fill? Will they, like us on this side, put every single senator as a participating member, which they can do, on these select committees? Will they also do that? Will they then open it up to allow for the select committees to be fully staffed or manned by their senators and allow each of their senators to become participating members? The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Senator Ludwig’s words may come back to haunt him if he does not provide for every single member on the Labor side to be a participating member and fill the vacancies that will be there.
Another thing that Senator Ludwig particularly indicated was that, somehow, we are feathering the nests of senators for the winter break. How ludicrous! The committees have not yet started. When the committees are established—and, hopefully, the motions will be passed by resolution in this chamber today—they may not even meet to appoint a chair or deputy chair at this particular time. I might indicate that we have only really got one sitting day left in this place, tomorrow, which has been confirmed, and potentially Friday.
The committees may not have a chance to meet; they may not meet for some time. Existing committees are also running around the country on important inquiries. That leads me to another furphy of Senator Ludwig’s—and he had a bet each way—when he said that the legislative and general purpose committees are designed for some of these purposes. Senator Ludwig is on the Selection of Bills Committee, as are Senator Ellison and I. We are constantly referring matters to legislative and general purpose committees for inquiry and report. A number are in existence at present. Some would consider that some are overloaded and they need the assistance of select committees.
Did Senator Ludwig bother to take into account the fact that we are easing the burden on committees which, at times, struggle to meet their commitments with the number of references and legislative matters that have been forwarded to them, as well as other inquiries? That, again, was a distraction from the main game, which is to establish committees to inquire correctly into two important matters and to supplement the existing committees of this Senate, which are a hallmark of the Australian Senate committee system—that is, to effectively examine issues and, in particular, legislation that come to this place. I would ask that Senator Ludwig reconsider some of those views and look properly at the committee system and be considerate of his own members whom I know, from speaking with them in the corridors of this place, are burdened by having to participate and be full members of so many committees. We are relieving senators of those important tasks, allowing them to continue their current committee inquiries by establishing committees outside the terms of references of those current legislative and general purpose committees.
I turn now to the amendments moved by Senator Bob Brown. The opposition agree to the terminology change of ‘minor party’ that Senator Brown has requested. But in relation to (j) we certainly say that this relates to emissions rather than to what the committee will be looking at. The committee will be looking at the cost of fuel and alternative sources of energy. Emissions is a separate issue; it is peripheral to this inquiry, so we will not agree to that. In relation to (k), which Senator Brown has asked us to consider adding in as an amendment, we believe that that is particularly covered in 1(d) and 1(g) of our terms of reference in the first motion, so we do not believe we need an additional clause, as Senator Brown has indicated.
I turn to the opposition’s amendments which we will be moving. Obviously, we will be removing the word ‘not’ which Senator Ludwig pointed out. It is a typo. Who knows how that occurred but, I think from time to time, those things occur in this place. We are not here to apportion blame, but I think it would have been obvious to anyone that it was a word simply out of place. It was in brackets; it stood out, and it was obvious that it was an error.
I turn to the substantive amendment that we will be moving in relation to notice of motion No. 136. Could I indicate that both of these notices of motion, Nos 136 and 137, were drafted concurrently. When they were drafted the terms of reference for the so-called technical management of the committee were to be identical. For some reason there is an error in paragraph 7 of notice of motion No. 136. That particular subparagraph 7 will need to be deleted and be replaced. When I eventually move the amendment, I will be moving the words in paragraph 9, on page 12, of today’s Notice Paper. That is how it was originally intended that paragraph 7 should have read in notice of motion No. 136.
I draw the Senate’s attention to that so that senators are aware that, when I do move the motion, that is the reason behind it and that is why we are doing that. It is to provide flexibility to appoint a deputy chair other than from the government. That will allow for it to be a coalition member, a Liberal Party member, a National Party member, a Family First member, an Independent or indeed a member of the Greens. We feel it is discriminatory to nominate one particular party to undertake the role of deputy chair. We are broadening that scope, as we have done in notice of motion No. 137. That is the fairest possible way to appoint a deputy chair. It is very important to have a wide scope.
If I could recap, I think Senator Ludwig reflected quite unjustly on his colleagues when he basically indicated that the work of Senate committees and the select committees would be worthless. He indicated that he thought it was all about travel and sipping coffee. That to me was exceptionally offensive. And it would be exceptionally offensive to the hardworking senators on the Labor side of this chamber, because I have travelled on a variety of committees and I have been in Canberra on a variety of committees with very hardworking and dedicated Labor Party members. Even though we have a different philosophical and political bent at times, we work at our best and hardest and are most cooperative on committees. We have established these committees in that same vein, with that same theme in mind: that we can cooperate, we can work together. We have opened it up to every party in this Senate to be a member of those committees. I again call upon Senator Ludwig to apologise to his backbench members. He is obviously too far removed now to consider the hard work of the committees.
I believe the committee system is one of the most valuable things that this Senate does. I have heard retiring senators say in speech after speech that one of the things they miss the most about becoming a minister or leaving this place is this. The value of the committee work is that the often bipartisan approach taken and the integrity of that process of genuine investigation and inquiry lead to better legislation. In fact, it should give the public of Australia greater faith in how the Senate manages its affairs and how the Senate can work with that bipartisan approach to really do valued work. I know that that is a view shared by many senators, in particular backbench senators.
For those ministers who would like to imagine that committee work is worthless, like Senator Ludwig indicated, I ask them to really reflect on Senator Ludwig’s comment. He needs to personally apologise to every backbench member of the Labor Party who does that tireless work. And if having a cup of coffee whilst you are sitting at a committee table is something that he thinks is a luxury, can I tell him, ‘Resign from the ministry, get back into the real work, get back into committee work and develop a good value set again before you ever consider yourself or nominate yourself for ministry again if that is how you think that the committee system in this place works.’ Before my time expires, could I move motion No. 136? Will I do it later?
Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. The advice was that Senator Parry could move the amendment at the conclusion of his remarks. I think that is what he was trying to do.
This is an extraordinary and irresponsible motion, particularly when you consider the opposition’s track record on broadband policy. During its 11 years in office, the previous government presided over 18 failed broadband plans. As a result of that—
I did listen to you and I will come to your comments a little bit later, Senator Cormann, I assure you. During its 11 years in office the previous government presided over 18 failed broadband plans. As a result of this neglect and inaction, Australia’s broadband performance has been left languishing. This is a shameful and embarrassing record. But those opposite are not content with the damage they have already done. Now they want to jeopardise the deployment of first-class broadband in Australia from opposition. It is not good enough to have sabotaged the country while in government; you are now at it again.
It is clear that this is nothing more than a cheap political stunt concocted by the opposition in a further abuse of their Senate majority. They are moving a motion proposing an inquiry into the government’s decision to deliver high-speed broadband to 98 per cent of Australian homes and businesses, open access arrangements for the new network and the implications of the new network for consumers. What had they been doing for 11½ years? We know. You have not been doing anything. We know you have not had a clue about broadband and the potential revolution that it can unleash. The opposition should be keenly aware that as a result of their inaction Australia is currently lagging behind many international benchmark countries in broadband deployment. Rather than sitting on our hands, Labor in opposition developed a broadband policy that would overcome our geographic challenges. As opposed to the opposition at the moment, which do not understand the issues, believe their own press releases even when they get them wrong, the government’s broadband policy will ensure that all Australians, including people living in less populated parts of the country, can take part in the digital economy.
Does the opposition really doubt that a national broadband network will be good for consumers?
Do you really doubt it? Does the opposition really doubt that the only way that a network will be rolled out to 98 per cent of the population is with some government decisions? Do you really think it is possible? Senator Cormann, you interjected earlier. Your commentary was citycentric. Labor’s broadband plan is reaching 98 per cent of Australians—98 per cent of Australians are citycentric. You designed a two-tier policy, one rich and fast for the cities and one for the rest of Australia with second-class broadband services. That was your plan.
Unfortunately, Senator Cormann, I do not know who gave you that report and asked you to ask this question. What that report was about was not the total cost of the government’s plan; it was a comparison between two proposals. It was not about the government’s plan. It was two proposals. It was a comparison between an Optus idea and a Telstra idea. It was not about the government’s plan.
You stood up and you asked a question that is not even about the government plan. You knew so little about what they asked you to ask, and they got you to compare two apples. The government’s plan is the national broadband plan. Those plans are not related. You asked a question that was not about government policy. You actually compared two other plans and said, ‘Here’s the extra cost.’ Neither of those plans is being proposed by the government. The opposition are so intent on abusing their Senate majority that they wish to prolong the broadband blockage that they left behind. You fail to realise that you are no longer in government. In the dwindling days of your disastrous Senate majority—
For you. You had a majority and you lost an election. I wonder if they are connected. You still cannot get over the arrogance that you developed because you had a Senate majority. It cost you the election. The arrogance of your taking control of the Senate and misusing that control cost you the election. But you have not learned your lesson; you are at it again. You have not learned from the last three years.
The introduction of this motion provides another example of your willingness to abuse Senate powers. The opposition have failed to learn the lessons from Work Choices. They failed to learn that abuse of Senate powers in favour of their own narrow political interests is not in the interests of the Australian public. This sort of abuse that you are perpetrating again today is not in the interests of the Australian public. That is why you lost the last election.
The Rudd government has spent its first seven months setting in place the framework for Australia’s broadband future. The opposition are determined to spoil these foundations. This latest stunt is just another act of economic vandalism. The opposition want to set up a perennial broadband blockade. You were not content with ruining the broadband in this country for 11½ years. Now you want to try to do it from opposition.
The Senate does not need to inquire into the reasons that the government is rolling out a national broadband network. Just get out of your office and go for a walk in the streets in Perth, go to all those suburbs that I have visited in Perth and all over Australia, hold a public forum and stand there and explain to them why, after 11½ years, they still cannot even get DSL, never mind ADSL, VDSL or fibre. They still cannot get better than dial-up. Forty per cent of Perth has broadband. You are a disgrace. You had 11½ years, and 40 per cent of your home town has broadband. You are a disgrace. You have allowed Perth to suffer. There are only two cities worse off. The good news for you is that you are not at the bottom. Senator Birmingham, I am glad that you have turned up. Thirty-three per cent of Adelaide has broadband. After 11½ years—
Go to Hallett Cove, Senator Birmingham. Wander down to Hallett Cove and explain to them that, after 11½ years, you could not deliver broadband to Hallett Cove. Go and explain to them why. Thirty-three per cent of Adelaide’s population has broadband. The good news, Senator Parry, from Tasmania, is that you not only have the worst capital city broadband in Australia; you also have the most expensive. Thirty-two per cent of Hobart’s population—that is all; just 32 per cent—have broadband.
You can; it is the ABS statistics. Feel free to look it up. You have got the worst, Senator Parry; you have the second worst, Senator Birmingham; and Senator Cormann has the third worst in the country—32 per cent, 33 per cent and 42 per cent. That is what you have delivered to your constituents after 11½ years. And you come in here and say, ‘We need to inquire as to why we need a national broadband network.’ Go for a walk in your own home towns. Take a walk in the street. You will be told in no uncertain terms that, after 11½ years, you failed. You failed.
The government does not support this broadband committee motion, and it raises three major issues. You should actually withdraw the motion because of these reasons. You should withdraw it because you are being completely irresponsible. Firstly, this inquiry has the potential to undermine or jeopardise a live commercial process—a process that is already underway. Have an inquiry at the end when we have made a decision—feel free—but to try to interfere in a live commercial tender process is grossly irresponsible, and you should be embarrassed. Secondly, the inquiry will be ineffective because stakeholders will be constrained in how they can offer to interact and contribute to the inquiry. In addition, many of the issues that it purports to be inquiring into remain unknown. You are holding an inquiry into things that have not been decided yet. That is how desperate you are. You are making inquiries into decisions that have not yet been decided. It is just embarrassing. You are actually inquiring into things that do not exist. Finally, the inquiry is unnecessary, given the fact that there is already a rigorous, robust, competitive process underway. You are inquiring into things that do not exist. You should be embarrassed, Senator Birmingham.
Oh God; I am terrified! The shadow minister for communications, Bruce Billson, has already taken the unprecedented step of calling for the Auditor-General to examine a live commercial process. It is unprecedented.
Opposition senators interjecting—
I called for the Auditor-General to inquire into a process that had been completed. What did the Auditor-General find? I quote:
... nothing has come to our attention to suggest that the arrangements put in place do not provide the basis for the RFP (request for proposals) process to accord with the Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines ...
Nothing. But I did enjoy Mr Billson’s press release with the little dummy spit at the end because they would not come out and agree with him, the little dummy spit where he attacked the Auditor-General. Get over yourselves. Stop believing your own press releases. This is not the answer the shadow minister wanted. The government welcomed the scrutiny of the Auditor-General and we are committed to a robust process. But rather than rely on the Auditor-General the opposition is now attempting to undermine the government’s process—a live commercial tender. The proposed Senate select committee will be dominated by opposition members whose only expertise in broadband is to deliver—where has Senator Parry gone?—32 per cent, 33 per cent, 42 per cent. That is what you have delivered. That is your expertise. You put up a second-rate wireless proposal—
I accept your admonishment, Mr Acting Deputy President, and I will miss you nodding off in the chair occasionally! Farewell, and I look forward to catching up. The proposed Senate committee will be dominated by opposition members whose only expertise has been to preside over a debacle. When the current process has been completed, the government will be fully accountable for the process of its decisions via the usual—
Unfortunately, the great myth is that the computer is online. It is not, because there is a firewall between the department and the Senate. It is actually just an index. I know the great myth is that I am online to my own office and they are setting me up. It is actually not the case, because there is a firewall. Technology is a wonderful thing. Senator Birmingham discovered this. To be fair, Senator Birmingham does know this, because we have corresponded about it.
The live process that the government has put in place needs to be allowed to run its course. Have an investigation; call everybody you want when it is completed. That is a fair dinkum thing to do.
It is a live tender process, Senator Boswell. At the moment people are spending money in the commercial sector. They are spending money today. They have lodged $5 million bonds. They have already done it. We are in the middle of the process. It is of critical importance in the process the government has established that integrity and confidentiality are maintained. To best demonstrate their ability to meet the government’s objectives, proponents will necessarily be required to put forward significant amounts of highly sensitive commercial information, and that is what you are interfering with. The opposition motion raises the risk that proponents will feel constrained in the information they provide as part of the commercial process being run by the government. If proponents are concerned that sensitive information will be made public through a Senate inquiry, there is a high risk they will feel constrained in presenting their most innovative proposals. This is why this is just economic vandalism and sabotage. If proponents cannot be confident that the government is able to preserve confidentiality, they may limit the extent to which they bring forward detailed proposals and thus again undermine the process.
But that is actually what you are about. You are not interested in an inquiry. You are inquiring into something that has not happened yet. You are actually attempting to continue the broadband sabotage you have been engaged in for the last 11½ years. If the proposals are light on sensitive detail, the task of evaluating the proposals becomes more difficult. It should be self-evident to all senators, given the NBN process established by the government has not yet run its course or made any decisions. You are investigating decisions that have not been made. It is impossible to hold an inquiry into decisions that have not been made, but do not let that worry you. There is no national broadband network at this stage, and until competing proposals have been lodged, considered and evaluated by the expert panel, responses to most of the issues raised by the opposition’s motion will be limited in value.
We note the intention to seek submissions from government agencies and officials. The NBN process is still afoot and involves highly sensitive commercial information. Requiring government officials to discuss the conduct of a process in this environment could be detrimental to the process itself. But you know that; that is exactly why you are going to try and do it. Further, many non-government individuals involved in the process have given confidentiality undertakings. The inquiry could put them in an extremely difficult position if they feel compelled to discuss aspects of the commercial process underway. But again, do you care? No. You do not care about delivering broadband to Australians. You just engaged in a last desperate Senate majority power grab. Forty-two per cent of people in Perth—do you know what that means? That means 58 per cent of people in Perth never got broadband under you. Fifty-eight per cent of people in Perth got nothing from you.
The proposed terms of reference indicate that the select committee would inquire and report on the government’s proposal to partner the private sector to provide a high-speed national broadband network. This will include the need for government intervention in the broadband model. We do not need a detailed investigation into hypothetical barriers concocted by the opposition. But you are once again demonstrating why you lost the last election. You just think this is fun. You just think: ‘Hey, we’ve got the numbers. It doesn’t matter. We can abuse them.’ Senator Joyce, to his credit, occasionally tried to pull the former government back to reality by saying, ‘Guys, just because we’ve got the numbers—perhaps we should think about this.’ To be fair to Senator Joyce, he did attempt on a number of occasions to spell out to you the dangers of abusing the powers of the Senate, and what did he get for it? His own party is going to be wiped out. He is going to be voting himself out of existence.
So let us be clear. The critical issue is the lack of investment in national infrastructure that can deliver high-speed quality broadband services resulting from 11 long years of coalition inaction. Forty-two per cent, 32 per cent, 33 per cent: those figures should be hung round your neck, and you should be hanging your heads in shame. The stunt is nothing more than economic vandalism.
Oh my goodness! At least Senator Birmingham knows a little bit more about it than you. It is self-evident that without government involvement Australia will not get the timely rollout of a high-speed national broadband network that is critical to our future economic prosperity into the long term. The government has established a competitive process and offered up to $4.7 billion and the possibility of regulatory change to enable this critical investment to occur. Paragraph (1)(b) of the proposed terms of reference would require the select committee to inquire into and report on the implications of the proposed national broadband network in terms of such issues as cost, consumer choice and competition. (Time expired)
Rather, I take issue with Senator Parry’s characterisation of the amendment that he foreshadowed moving, which was to replace paragraph (7) of motion 136 with a duplicate of paragraph (9) of motion 137. He characterised that as a process which would allow people to nominate and allow the minor parties, Senator Fielding and Senator elect Xenophon to nominate. You only have to read the words that he has intruded to know that that does not happen. There is no intention for nominations. This is about the empowering of the opposition chair of these committees to go behind closed doors and do deals with people to get them onside and to use the deputy chair’s position as largesse. Frankly, it cannot be clearer than that. If nominations were intended, as Senator Parry suggested this provision was intended to operate, it would have talked about an election process.
It also says that the opposition chair of these select committees can do this from time to time. What that implies is that they can change their decision. That implies—and I suppose it is contestable, but they will have the numbers on the committee—that the chair can say: ‘I don’t want you to be the deputy chair anymore. I’m going to give it to someone else because you haven’t done what you were told.’ This is an extraordinary proposition, an extraordinary form of drafting, and it has been affirmed by the fact that the same words that are in motion 136 are to be included in motion 137. I do not know if that means that there is a deal between the Liberal Party and the National Party that some of the crumbs on the table that the Liberal Party will control can be handed to the National Party. I do not know if Senator Joyce or Senator Boswell have some deal to get something out of this or if there has been a closed door arrangement with some other party in the Senate.
This frankly is a pretty shabby provision. It must have been cobbled together on the run because it is drafted in such a shabby way; it was pretty hard for Senator Parry to correct the damage that was done in the original drafting. Looking at the way that it is drafted, how could you suggest that the person can be appointed from time to time and that the person is going to be there to act as the chair when there is no chair? Presumably, if there was no chair of a committee, the first step would be for the committee to elect another one. But there is no provision for that. What a shambles of a proposition! This has been cobbled together in the last couple of days of the operation of the Senate, while those opposite have the numbers and know that they can do what they like. They have not paid attention to detail; they paid so little attention that they got it wrong in the drafting of these two motions. They intended to have the same provision; they did not even do that. When they did cobble together an alternative proposition, it was the sort of shabby proposition that we now see in Senator Parry’s foreshadowed amendment.
I want to touch on one other matter very briefly. We are looking at select committees purported to be on energy and the national broadband network. Frankly, I think Senator Conroy has demolished the proposition that we need the second reference. In terms of the energy matter, I would like to draw senators’ attention to the minority reports of the Senate Standing Committee on Economics inquiry into petrol prices. Even Senator Joyce had a minority report on that inquiry. At that time we were in opposition and our minority report pointed out that although we had some time to conduct the inquiry we had 24 hours to comment on the report prepared by the government-dominated committee, as it was at that time. We responded to the government report, and I invite members of the Senate and the public to look at the content of our report to see how genuine those opposite were in terms of presenting a proposition to the Australian people, consulting with the Senate and doing the proper inquiry thing, which is part of the justification for this inquiry.
But do not take my word for it; do not take Labor’s word for it. Have a look at comments to that inquiry of Senator Andrew Murray, the senator leaving here who was eulogised by those opposite last night. He was absolutely scathing about the way that the then government, basically the Liberal Party, ran the inquiry into petrol, in terms of the ability to have a considered report into an important issue. But now we are going to spend money and provide officers for those on the other side. That is what this is all about: providing committee chairs and allowing them to dispense largesse by a power that has been granted whilst they have the numbers. It is a pretty shabby exercise by those opposite and they should hang their heads in shame.
In respect of motion No. 137, I would like to add some comments with respect to the proposed terms of reference in relation to the national broadband network. First and foremost, I reinforce Senator Conroy’s point about this being a live tender process. That means that such a reference not only would cause the kind of conflict and trouble for participants in that tender process that Senator Conroy outlined but points to the motivation of the opposition—that this is all about a spoiling effect on that process and about sabotaging Labor’s aim to establish a national broadband network in accordance with the policy it took to the last election. The constraints placed on the participants in that tender process are very real and are being treated extremely seriously by the Rudd Labor government.
I cannot remember such a deliberate exercise in sabotaging a stated policy and course of action by a government. It is particularly telling and noteworthy that the opposition has tried to do this in the 11th minute of the eleventh hour of its unfettered powers in the Senate chamber. To persist with this motion reinforces the fact that this is an effort to sabotage a very specific commitment.
This motion contains the longest, most comprehensive terms of reference I have ever seen on broadband from the opposition, which had spent 11½ years in government struggling to grasp these issues. To come out with such comprehensive terms of reference in circumstances where it has such a sabotaging effect also exposes the stunt that this is. We never saw this degree of detail or interest in these issues from the opposition when it was in government. It is further evidence that this is just a stunt.
Finally, I want to mention the drafting of this motion. It is carefully constructed, of course, to function in the capacity of only opposition members being present and in full control. If you read the terms of reference in this motion carefully, you will see the level of manipulation in how the select committee is constructed. It tells the true story of the abuse of this place that we are seeing in this motion. It is an utter disgrace.
Motion no. 136, omit paragraph (7), substitute:
- (7) That the chair of the committee may, from time to time, appoint another member of the committee to be the deputy chair of the committee, and that the member so appointed act as chair of the committee at any time when there is no chair or the chair is not present at a meeting of the committee.
Question agreed to.
Motion no. 136, paragraph (4)(c), omit “(not)”.
Question agreed to.
That motion No. 136 (Senator Ellison’s), as amended, be agreed to.
That motion No. 137 (Senator Ellison’s), as amended, be agreed to.