Senate debates

Thursday, 10 September 2009


Consideration by Estimates Committees; Answers to Questions on Notice

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

I should explain: I should have called Senator Barnett before in response to Senator Evans’s response. Senator Barnett.

3:18 pm

Photo of Guy BarnettGuy Barnett (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is not a problem, Mr Deputy President. I move:

That the Senate take note of the explanation.

The answer provided by the Leader of the Government in the Senate on behalf of the Assistant Treasurer is entirely unsatisfactory. I gave the minister notice two days ago in a letter, I rang his office and, indeed, I spoke to the Leader of the Government in the Senate yesterday. So they knew very well that this question was happening today. This is not a question without notice, as it were; they have had notice.

Furthermore, the answers are not just to questions that I put in the Senate Economics Legislation Committee budget estimates hearings in June; there were seven other questions put by other senators in this place and they also have not been answered—and I noted that in my letter of 8 September to Senator the Hon. Nick Sherry. We need those answers, we deserve those answers and, under the standing orders, they are to be provided within 30 days of the conclusion of Senate estimates—in fact, by 31 July. But here we are more than 2½ months after the questions were asked and we still have no answers. It is not that hard. The questions were requests to table the contracts and consultancies relating to the establishment of, and the mismanagement and wasteful spending on, the GROCERYchoice website.

Interestingly, the government have been forced under the ‘Murray motion’ in the Senate to reveal the $5 million contract that the ACCC had with the Bailey Group to monitor grocery prices across this country, as well as a supplementary consultancy contract. They were forced to reveal that. We want all this information, and currently the government are obfuscating. They are blocking the release of this information for no good reason.

The answer provided by the Leader of the Government in the Senate this afternoon is entirely inadequate. It is entirely unsatisfactory. He says the answers will be provided ‘as soon as possible’. What does that mean? They have already had 2½ months. The Leader of the Government in the Senate and the government know full well that there is a Senate Economics References Committee hearing on GROCERYchoice next Friday week. That hearing will be attended by the ACCC, the Treasury, DOFR and other relevant witnesses, and we need that information. We deserve that information. The government is breaching the standing orders by not revealing that information.

We know that prior to the last election Mr Rudd promised that grocery prices would come down. We know that information. They got into government and they established a $13 million website. There was $13 million in the budget committed to the establishment of that website. Everybody knew it was of no use to consumers, to the Australian people. That has been proven correct and they have been embarrassed into closing it down. I am not going to go into all the arguments today as to why it was such a wasteful spend and why this reckless spending is hurting the Australian people. But what we do want is that information.

The National Association of Retail Grocers of Australia, NARGA, have put in a submission. Others are putting in submissions. But the government are refusing to participate in a Senate authorised inquiry. That is wrong. The government know it. They say they are going to provide that information as soon as possible, but that is not good enough. Under the standing orders, it is meant to be there within 30 days. They should deliver it. It should be demanded and delivered forthwith. It is simply not good enough. There has been a 2½-month delay. We need that information prior to next week. I call on the government to reconsider and release that information—the consultancy contracts and all the agreements that they had—and to answer the questions not just from me but the seven other questions put at budget estimates in June.

We will get to the bottom of this. We will find out exactly how much money the government has wasted on the GROCERYchoice website, which is of no use to consumers. We will get to the bottom of it, but we want to do it in the right and proper way. I will leave it there for the moment.

Question agreed to.