Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Days and Hours of Meeting
(1) On Wednesday, 14 March, Monday, 19 March, Tuesday, 20 March and Wednesday, 21 March 2012, any proposal pursuant to standing order 75 shall not be proceeded with.
(2) On Wednesday, 14 March and 21 March 2012, consideration of government documents shall not be proceeded with, and instead the routine of business shall be government business only.
(3) Divisions may take place on:
(a) Thursday, 15 March 2012, after 4.30 pm; and
(b) Monday, 19 March 2012, before 12.30 pm.
(4) On Thursday, 15 March 2012:
(a) the hours of meeting shall be 9.30 am to 6.30 pm and 7.30 pm to 11.10 pm;
(b) consideration of general business and consideration of committee reports, government responses and Auditor-General's reports understanding order 62(1) and (2) shall not be proceeded with;
(c) the routine of business from not later than 3.45 pm shall be government business only; and
(d) the question for the adjournment of the Senate shall be proposed at 10.30 pm.
(4A) The Senate meet on Friday, 16 March 2012, and that:
(a) the hours of meeting shall be 9 am to 2.40 pm;
(b) the routine of business shall be government business only, and
(c) the question for the adjournment of the Senate shall be proposed at 2 pm.
(5) On Tuesday, 20 March 2012:
(a) the hours of meeting shall be 11 am to 6.30 pm and 7.30 pm to 11.10 pm;
(b) the routine of business from 11 am till not later than 2 pm, and from not later than 7.30 pm shall be government business only; and
(c) the question for the adjournment of the Senate shall be proposed at 10.30 pm.
(6) The following government business orders of the day shall have precedence over all government business, be called on in the following order and be considered under a limitation of time, and that the time allotted for all remaining stages be as follows:
(7) Paragraph (6) of this order operate as an allocation of time understanding order 142.
Notice of motion altered on 13 March 2012 pursuant to standing order 77.
I table statements of reasons relating to the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2011-2012 and a related bill and the Financial Framework Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012, justifying the need for bills to be considered during these sittings and seek leave to have the statements incorporated in Hansard.
The statements read as follows—
APPROPRIATION BILL (NO. 3) 2011-2012
APPROPRIATION BILL (NO. 4) 2011-2012
Purpose of the Bills
The bills request legislative authority for additional expenditure to be incurred in respect of 2011-2012.
Reasons for Urgency
Appropriations proposed in the bills provide funding for expenditure that is required to implement decisions and funding adjustments that involve further expenditure in 2011-2012, which have been agreed since the 2011-2012 Budget.
Passage of the bills before the last day of the 2012 Autumn sittings will ensure continuity of the Government's programs and the Commonwealth's ability to meet its obligations as they fall due. Should passage not be granted in the Autumn sittings, activities to be funded by the bills may be deferred or significantly delayed.
FINANCIAL FRAMEWORK LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (NO. 1) 2012
Purpose of the Bill
amend the Auditor-General Act 1997 to clarify that the Auditor-General may accept an appointment as the auditor of any company that the Commonwealth controls within the meaning of the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997 (CAC Act);
Reasons for Urgency
It is critical that the bill is passed in the Autumn 2012 sittings as a number of provisions have implications for the Commonwealth budget. Primarily, it is important that Schedule 2, Part 1 commences as soon as possible to ensure that estimates continue to be collected from Commonwealth authorities and wholly-owned companies (other than Government Business Enterprises) for the preparation of the 2012-2013 budget, which may be considered by the Parliament early in the Winter 2012 sittings. The other amendments to the CAC Act are timely, to ensure that Commonwealth authorities and wholly owned companies continue to advise the responsible Minister of significant business events, which may have implications for the budget. The proposed amendments to the FMA Act clarify the Finance Minister's delegation powers, which may be needed to obtain financial information and data for the preparation of the 2012-2013 budget.
The motion we are debating organises the legislative program for the remainder of the sittings. Senators would be aware that it is not unusual for such a motion to tightly order the business of the Senate in the last few sitting days of a session. Some senators, particularly those from the opposition, may not appreciate reasonable attempts to manage time, but I will address that in more detail later. The motion allows reasonable time for debate on significant bills. Assuming that the opposition does not waste the Senate's time on suspension motions or other procedures to distract from debating legislation, once this motion is dealt with it will allow reasonable time for debate of major legislation. This is our job.
The Minerals Resource Rent Tax package will have over 16 hours of debate. The Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives package will have over eight hours of debate. The motion is structured to allow for several hours of debate on the other more significant legislation listed, with relatively short debate times on legislation that is recognised—and I stress recognised—to be non-controversial by all parties.
I understand that dealing with this number of bills for the autumn session may place limitations on time and that is not ideal. This will not be supported by many in this place, particularly the opposition. I also understand that the chief role of senators is to legislate, as much as those on the other side might mock. Too often our time in the chamber is taken up with ad hoc motions, daily MPIs and speeches on bills with little relevance to the actual subject of the legislation. I will return to the MPI statistics which obviously interest those on the other side.
'Focussed and productive use of time' is not a phrase that springs to mind when I think about debate in this place in recent years. Typical of the way we pass our time was the debate yesterday seeking to refer the fairer private health bills to yet more—and I stress yet more—committee examination. I note on today's Notice Paper there is a further motion seeking to refer the MRRT bills. Such motions do not provide substantive discussion on bills and are at the expense of debate on legislation.
The motion before the Senate gives us time to legislate 16 packages. Yes, the motion structures the Senate's time and limits debate, but at least half of these 16 packages are virtually non-controversial. They could be done expeditiously if the opposition were more responsible managing their time. Instead, the opposition is unable to reasonably manage their contributions to debates. It is time to realise that contributions on bills that have been identified as non-controversial are at the expense of debate on bills where there is real disagreement and where substantive policy matters could be developed. But no, they do not take this path. Instead gratuitous contributions are made to debate, and there are daily MPIs and repeated attempts to refer bills to committees meaning that motions restructuring the time of the Senate could virtually be unavoidable.
I do not want to take too much time—and no, Senator Abetz, you do not need my personal permission, but it is worth putting some of the opposition's tactics on record. As I said, I will return to the issue of MPIs. No new information is being provided to debate by the opposition. Debate is not treated as an opportunity to outline alternative policies or savings. It is just a political discussion on the theme for that week. Yesterday's MPI was itself reckless and profligate. Yesterday's MPI was by its own definition the problem I am highlighting. Since the spring sittings the coalition have had 20 MPIs. This is 20 out of a possible 37 days, wasting 20 hours of time in the Senate on motions that are almost on the same topic—no creativity, repeating the same topic time and time again. In contrast the ALP in 2007 had only four MPIs in the entire sitting the year, eight in the entire 2006 sitting year.
'Lazy!' the senators on the other side throw out—lazy to spend time on MPIs rather than legislation. They may want to argue that our time here in this chamber is not about legislation, and I challenge them to do that, but I am perfectly satisfied with that point. As senators, we are here to legislate.
This year we have had four MPIs in seven sitting days—as many as Labor had in an entire year. How can the Australian people take the coalition seriously with this reckless waste of time? There has been no proper debate and there have been no proper issues, just mindless attack and negativity—Mr No comes to the Senate. The coalition is using whatever means it can under the standing orders of the Senate to stifle debate, to truncate government legislation time and to grandstand, and I anticipate we will have more of that today. The coalition has no interest in debating, reviewing or engaging with the policy challenges facing our country. It uses every delay tactic and every opportunity it can find to slow down business in this place.
You do. We have seen this with wasted time during non-controversial legislation. Senator Fifield asked me to name some examples. Wasted time during non-controversial legislation is another example to add to the prolific MPIs we experience these days in this place. The Australian people should expect nothing less than vigorous debate on legislation in this place, not repetition of tired, worn-out rhetoric. In times of great challenges to the world economy, the coalition is spending time recycling the same hypnotic lines.
As one example, the fairer private health bills have been before this chamber on two previous occasions. The government has been consistent in its policy approach, and it should come as no surprise to the opposition that it is a key priority for the government to have these bills passed. On previous occasions the Senate has already spent more than 12 hours debating changes to private health in this country. It is time for delivery and for some fairness in the way we allocate health resources.
The MRRT package has been in the public domain for almost two years. Later today the Senate Economics Legislation Committee will hand down its report on this package. The legislation has benefited from two separate policy review processes, including by independent tax experts. There have been two rounds of consultation on the legislation and three parliamentary inquiries as well as the Senate legislation inquiry. In total, we are likely to have over 40 hours of parliamentary debate on the package.
It is time the Australian people were given their fair share of the mineral resources they own. It is time the 2.7 million Australian small businesses got a break. These small businesses need a break. It is time 8.4 million Australians got a boost to their retirement savings, rather than tired, old rhetoric from Mr Abbott about union participation. It is time we made the superannuation system fairer by refunding the tax paid by 3.6 million low-income Australians. Labor cares about low-income Australians. It is time that we invest in critical infrastructure to support our economic growth, and it is certainly time that those opposite got out of the way and let it all proceed.
I have to say that I miss former Senator Arbib. In retrospect, his was a brief but glorious period as Manager of Government Business. We have just been subjected to a lecture, and let me sum it up in this way: that scrutiny of legislation in the parliament is a courtesy extended by the executive. That is essentially what Senator Collins said.
In all seriousness, I want to congratulate Senator Collins and also express some sympathy to her. This is Senator Collins's second day as Manager of Government Business, and she has been so quick out of the blocks to get a guillotine under her belt that she has done a hamstring. It really is an Olympic-class effort by Senator Collins. She has outdone her predecessor. As I said, Senator Arbib had the role for about a fortnight, and he was a much maligned hatchet man. I think he was often characterised in a very unfair way, but never in his two weeks as manager did he once put forward a guillotine—not once. Senator Collins has outdone him.
The thing that really struck me about what Senator Collins said in her contribution was that it is usual in the last few sitting days of a sittings period that there be some time management. Can I point out a basic fact to this chamber: today is the ninth sitting day of the year. We are not talking about the sitting week before the mid-year break. We are not talking about the final parliamentary sitting week or fortnight of the year. We are talking about the ninth sitting day of the parliamentary year. We can count that on our fingers: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. That is not very many days. We are not very far into the parliamentary year, yet already the government is crying and screaming that the opposition is being obstructionist, that the opposition is being difficult and that, heaven forbid, the opposition is availing itself of opportunities provided for by the standing orders, like MPIs. Shock, horror! What an outrage! Are we meant to feel chastised by Senator Collins that in some parliamentary years when Labor was in opposition it only had three or four MPIs? To me that says that those opposite were lazy. They were bone-lazy not to avail themselves of the opportunity, as a parliamentary opposition, to scrutinise the government of the day. They sat back and let those opportunities fly by. It seemed like too much hard work. We take very seriously the role of accountability in this chamber. We take it very seriously, and we make no apology for taking all of the opportunities that this parliament provides to give scrutiny to this government, whether it be through MPIs, question time, seeking to refer legislation to parliamentary committees or other forms of scrutiny. We will take each and every one of those opportunities.
This government could have debated some of the matters which are subject to this guillotine motion already this year. Even though we have only had nine days they could have debated the private health insurance rebate legislation previously. They could have debated that in the last sitting week but they did not list it. Why?—because they kept listing, time and again, the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill. More than 10 hours were spent debating that particular piece of legislation. You might have noticed, Deputy President, because you were in a chair for a fair bit of that, that the opposition did not have many speakers in that debate. It was essentially a Labor-Greens forum. No-one can accuse the opposition of having filibustered, talked that out or unnecessarily delayed that piece of legislation.
So, if this package of bills, which the government is so keen to get through so quickly, was so important to them they could have availed themselves of the opportunities provided by the previous nine sitting days in this place. They did not do so. So we cannot accept—we will not accept—the accusation that, on day 9 of the sitting of parliament for this year, for some reason it is the opposition's fault that the government's legislative program is in disarray. We will not cop that for a second.
I have to say this: this is one of the most extraordinary performances which I have seen from a manager. Usually that sort of confected outrage builds up over time, is savoured by a manager of government business and is delivered mid-way through the year or towards the end of the year. But this is a complete fabrication, which we will not accept for a second.
Senator Collins spoke about the role of the Senate and the opportunities that it provides but it is very curious that in the motion which is before us poor old Senator Xenophon loses his general business time. Let me let you in on a surprise Deputy President: the Australian Greens do not lose their general business time according to this motion! Poor old Senator Xenophon cops it in the neck but we know that nothing happens in this place without Australian Greens approval. Their time is preserved.
They do dictate; Senator Abetz is right. It is also interesting to note that none of the pieces of legislation which are of particular interest to the Australian Greens are subject to the guillotine. The Stronger Futures piece of legislation, which I know the Greens have a great interest in is—surprise, surprise!—not listed to be subject to the guillotine, but these other pieces of legislation are.
Deputy President, I know you are pretty good with maths in your head but I just want to take you through the timings which are provided for each of these pieces of legislation. The Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill has about 10 hours and 20 minutes. You might think that 10 hours and 20 minutes sounds pretty reasonable for debate on a piece of legislation but you have to consider the background—the context—of a particular piece of legislation. The members of the Australian Labor Party, you will recall, went to successive elections putting their hands on their hearts and swearing that they would not alter the private health insurance rebate one bit. I think Kevin Rudd said, 'Not one jot; not one tittle.' I am not sure what that meant, but he said it. I took that to mean that it would not be changed in any way, shape or form. I think that is the only way that you can take that phrase, 'It won't be changed—not one jot; not one tittle.'
I remember Nicola Roxon putting her hand on her heart, staring down the barrel of the TV camera and saying, as previous shadow minister for health: 'We have no intention. We won't change the private health insurance rebate. We won't scrap it. We won't means test it.' Julia Gillard, when in opposition, said the same thing: 'We won't scrap it. We won't means test it.' Kevin Rudd said the same thing: 'We wont' scrap it. We won't means test it.' They said it before that election and guess what they did. They then said, 'We want to means test the private health insurance rebate.' They were defeated in this place time and again but last election, if you go through their health policy, you will not find reference to it. They have never taken to the Australian people at an election a proposition to either abolish or means test the private health insurance rebate.
We will get on to that Senator Abetz, don't worry!
This legislation will be a punch to the solar plexus of Australian health funds and of Australians who want to do the right thing by providing for their private health insurance. On this side we believe in a carrot-and-stick approach to private health insurance. There should be a stick. If you have the means to take out private health insurance and you do not then, yes, you should be subject to an additional surcharge. But if you do the right thing there should also be a reward—an encouragement—and that is what the private health insurance rebate was.
This government always want to practice the politics of envy. They always want to attack self-reliance. They always want to attack initiative. They do not want people to provide for themselves. They would prefer everyone to be reliant on the state. They do not want people to have private health insurance; they would prefer everyone to be in the public health system so that an already overburdened public health system is even more overburdened. That is their objective. It is an ideological objective: they just do not like private health insurance. They do not care that everyone who drops private health insurance adds to the burden on the public health system. They do not care about that. They do not think about that. They are purely ideologically driven.
We do express outrage when we see a significant piece of legislation like this, which will dramatically change the treatment of health in Australia, being given only 10 hours and 20 minutes. It might be another story altogether if they had taken that policy to the election and had actually been elected upon it. They might have an argument for saying, 'Ten hours and 20 minutes is long enough to debate something which we have a mandate for,' but they do not have a mandate for it. They have never sought a mandate for it. They do not have a mandate for it, and this piece of legislation deserves to be exposed. This piece of legislation deserves to have extensive debate. The next item on the government's legislative agenda was the minerals resource rent tax. Sixteen hours and 15 minutes was provided for that particular piece of legislation. To be honest, we are still not entirely sure what the government's real position is on this, because it has evolved several times. Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan had one iteration of it. It did not go down too well. They had some private meetings with a few companies and we saw a different policy result. The Australian Greens have a different take on this. We do not know what is going to be the end product as a result of the deliberations of this parliament. So this legislation needs significant examination. It is legislation that has some quite significant effects on the mining industry and particularly on the resource-rich states. It deserves proper examination.
There was the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment Bill—four hours and 30 minutes. There was the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill—45 minutes. There was the Road Safety Remuneration Bill—one hour and 45 minutes. There was the Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill—30 minutes. There was the Indirect Tax Laws Amendment (Assessment) Bill—30 minutes. There was the Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (2012 Measures No. 1) Bill—30 minutes. There was the Fair Work Amendment (Textile, Clothing and Footwear Industry) Bill—one hour and 30 minutes. There was the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio) Bill—15 minutes. There was the Insurance Contracts Amendment Bill—15 minutes. There was the Excise Amendment (Reducing Business Compliance Burden) Bill—10 minutes. There was the Financial Framework Legislation Amendment Bill—15 minutes. There was Appropriation Bill (No. 3)—one hour and 30 minutes. So it ranges from 15 minutes of consideration for a piece of legislation.
I do not know the mind of every colleague in this place. If I were manager of government business, I could not presume to know what contributions colleagues have to make in this place on a particular piece of legislation. I could not presume to know whether they have some insight into a piece of legislation which I do not. I could not presume to know that. The only way that you can know that is to have a full-blooded debate on legislation and give this chamber the opportunity to examine legislation. So we go from 15 minutes for some pieces of legislation to 10 hours or 16 hours. You have to have that in perspective. That is 10 hours or 16 hours for, in one case, a bill which the Australian Labor Party did not flag their intention to introduce at the last election—that is, the private health insurance rebate amendment bill. And there were other pieces of legislation—the mining resource rent tax package of bills—which have great and far-reaching economic consequences.
We have seen this before with this government. On one hand, they say, 'We're all for debate. We're all for airing things. That's why we're extending hours,' but on the other hand they say, 'We're going to introduce a guillotine.' They give with one hand and they take with the other. We have seen that before. We are opposing the extension of hours and we are also opposing the guillotine. We are opposing the extension of hours because we are at the ninth sitting day of the year, so it should be possible for the government to manage their legislative program in the days that they set. We do not set the sitting schedule. We do not set the days that the parliament sits. That is something that the government do. So the government should be well able to manage their legislative agenda within the time frame that they themselves stipulate. That is the first point. The second point is that if they are unable to do that then the last thing that they should do is guillotine. They should be affording appropriate opportunity for debate in this place. It is confused and muddled thinking on the government's part that you extend hours and guillotine at the same time. It is an internal contradiction that I do not think Senator Collins adequately explained in this place.
Another thing that Senator Collins said is that we make outrageous and unnecessary contributions during non-controversial legislation time. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are an incredibly responsible opposition. Where there are pieces of legislation on which we agree—where the government agrees, the Greens agree, Senator Xenophon agrees and Senator Madigan agrees—we do not seek to delay. We do not seek to thwart those. We readily flag our position and we readily flag that we support those pieces of legislation. And there are contributions from our side because we think it is important to make contributions on each piece of legislation, but they are not unnecessary contributions. I would defy any member of this chamber to identify a single piece of non-controversial legislation where there have been unnecessary contributions. Yes, the relevant shadow minister makes a contribution and, yes, where a senator has an interest in an issue and wants to make a contribution, they do so—that is their right. Who would deny, for instance, Senator Macdonald his right to contribute on any piece of legislation? It is his right.
Reticent as he is! But that is his right, as it is the right of each and every one of us. You would be very hard pressed to find an opposition that has been as responsible as we are and as cooperative on those issues where we are in agreement. You would be very hard pressed to find an opposition that has been as cooperative. This place works to a large degree on cooperation, but what really strikes a dagger in the heart of cooperation in this place is a guillotine motion on the ninth sitting day of the year. If the government think that the way to have this parliament work better, to ensure appropriate accountability and to engender cooperation is to introduce a guillotine motion on the ninth day of the year, they are wrong. This is an unprecedented act by a government this early in a parliamentary year. Guillotines should be used very, very sparingly, in extraordinary circumstances, and I do not think that the situation we are in today, on the ninth sitting day of the year, meets the criteria of an extraordinary circumstance. What this guillotine represents is disrespect for this chamber. It represents a lack of regard for the role that this chamber has to scrutinise legislation, and it also represents a lazy approach to managing the affairs of the Australian Senate. Any time a government uses a guillotine this early in the year, it is a lazy approach. It is a substitute for cooperation, it is a substitute for collegiality and it is a bar to appropriate scrutiny of legislation.
We are not contributing to this debate just to chew up time. We are not contributing to this debate just to fulminate. We are contributing to this debate because we think it is an outrage that we have a guillotined bill put into this place on the ninth sitting day of the year. We are not going to let that fly by, because to do so would be to be complicit in the denial of this chamber's rights and prerogatives to examine legislation to provide a light on flaws and to provide an opportunity for the public to scrutinise what this government wants to do. We do not want to be complicit in that, we will not be a part of it, and we will oppose this motion.
The Greens will support the motion. I congratulate Senator Fifield on his speech. It was much like a speech that we heard from the opposition during the Howard years when the guillotine was used on more than 100 occasions in this place.
Opposition senators interjecting—
The reality is that we are dealing with a $10.6 billion piece of legislation, the mining tax legislation, which was flagged at the 2010 election and which has been the subject of intense scrutiny—
Opposition senators interjecting—
It is the Queensland front again, because they are worried that so many votes are going to go to the Greens on Saturday week in the election in Queensland, I guess. I cannot work out what else is motivating all these interjections. The reality is that this piece of legislation has had extraordinary public scrutiny. It has been scrutinised by the private sector, the media and the public at large.
The Greens would prefer to see the Treasury-recommended superprofits tax—and I am not going to trespass into the argument about the bill, except to say it is far short of the mark. The Greens would be recouping an extra $100 billion over the coming forward estimates if we had our way.
There is the interjecting senator from the National Party in Queensland who does not want coal seam gas, let alone coal, to be adequately taxed so that the people of Queensland are able to have health, education and transport requirements—let alone protecting the food lands that the Greens would protect but the National Party will not.
That all said, the time for testing this in the Senate has come. The measure has been through the House of Representatives. We will have the result of the Senate committee inquiry in the next 24 hours and the Senate ought to get on with this piece of legislation. Just yesterday the government announced that it is going to produce today the taxation measures, the cuts in corporate taxation, which come with this package.
The interjecting senator from Queensland says 'looking after the big end of town'. We are going to vote with him, on current indications from his shadow Treasurer, and he is going to support the Greens in this place to have the $2.4 billion—which Labor would, curiously enough, direct towards the big end of town he talks about—redirected into funding, for example, the Gonski report, for better funding of education. I look forward to Senator Macdonald from Queensland supporting the Greens when we move to ensure that that corporate tax break to the big corporations does not go ahead. Mr Hockey, the honourable spokesperson for the senator who is braying opposite, has made clear that they will be supporting the Greens in this matter, and we look forward to that debate in the May and June session. While we differ with the opposition on the very important point of a tax cut for small business, we will be supporting that when the time comes.
Senator Abetz, the largely missing-in-action leader of the opposition in this place, interjects. What a pathetic opposition this is. How ineffective is this opposition with Senator Abetz sitting in that chair, unable to deal with policy issues. All he can deal with is the personal. When you are at that level you do not succeed in politics. But that is a decision for the opposition to make. The innovative action in this chamber is coming from the crossbench. That is what has happened. The constructive alternatives are coming from the Greens and the crossbench, and the opposition is missing in action.
Opposition senators interjecting—
It is not only there to say no—
Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I am not going to be lied about by a senator of this calibre and I ask you to ask him to withdraw that direct and deliberate lie.
He is saying now that the Greens look after the wealthy. Well, we do. We look after the wealth of the environment in this place. We look after the wealth of opportunity there is. What, in fact, we do not—
Opposition senators interjecting—
Yes, I do, and I am enjoying this so much, but they do not like it over there. There is a need for this to get through so that we adequately deal with an issue at a parliamentary level. The Greens want to see the mining tax dealt with so that we do move on to the corporate tax measures and, indeed, the budget coming down the line. The problem here is that there is not just a 'no' to this move to limit the debate coming from the opposition; there is a 'no' to the mining tax itself. They are the most negative opposition, I think, ever in this parliament in the last 112 years. It is just a 'no-alition'. It is just no, no, no. We heard that from Mr Hockey yesterday: no, no, no. In a way, that is going to turn out to be a positive when they support the Greens on making sure that Australian education and health are better funded. However, the opposition are so ineffective here under the leadership of Senator Abetz. They are so missing in action.
I am not getting personal, Senator Abetz. I am just stating that you are so ineffective in this place and the opposition are therefore so ineffective in this place. We will see how effective you are very shortly when this matter comes to a determination. The Greens believe not only that the time has come for determination after nearly two years of this debate but that we need to move on to the other great issues of the nation. We need to put through a national disability insurance scheme, which the opposition cannot fund because they have got a $70 billion black hole. We need to move on to national dental health care, which the opposition cannot fund because they have got a $70 billion black hole. We need to move on to funding education as recommended by the Gonski report for the public sector as well as poorer private schools. The opposition have a $70 billion black hole and cannot do that and, in fact, want to take $2.8 billion out of education.
Off he goes. There goes another one. The opposition are so feeble that the best they can do is leave the chamber when they are losing an argument. They are so feeble. I will come back to the point that, with a $70 billion black hole and the opposition here going to be tested next week on failing to raise any money at all from mining, what we are facing is an opposition which, if they were to get in, would not only cut education, not fund a national disability insurance scheme and not adequately fund health, but slash jobs right across this country. Thousands of jobs would go. They talk about the wealthy. If you do not tax adequately in this country—and we are in a country which is way below the OECD average in terms of taxation and, when it comes to corporate taxation, way below US corporate taxation and the taxation in Japan—
He was going to defund, effectively, the assistance which Labor and the Greens delivered to people suffering from that disaster. He has got very little to talk about there. But, of course, when it comes to a comprehensive debate on the running of this country and the raising of the money that is required to do it, this opposition is missing in action. They do not want extended time here, they now announce. They will not support extended time to debate these matters, so the contradiction becomes complete.
Senator Fifield interjecting—
Yes, they are shouting again, Acting Deputy President, because they cannot stand it. They cannot stand being faced with their own contradiction of what they are doing here at the moment.
I have enjoyed this contribution. I look forward to the debate about the mining tax next week. In the meantime I look forward to dealing with important legislation on health, amongst other things, where the opposition, again, has nothing to contribute but negativity.
So it is going to be a very important two weeks. My suggestion to the opposition—and Senator Abetz cannot think this out, but the other members might listen to it—is to come in here with some quality debate—some positive alternatives—in the next week and the Australian people will think a little bit more of you. As it is, they do not know that there is an opposition in the Senate because there is nothing constructive that ever comes from that side of the chamber.
What a pitiful contribution we have just witnessed from the Leader of the Australian Greens. He spoke about anything and everything but why he and the Australian Greens are going to contribute to this ruthless guillotining of 16 pieces of legislation. Senator Brown can talk and talk and talk as much as he likes, but he used all of his time without once seeking to justify why the democratic process of this chamber should be curtailed; why 16 bills should be guillotined and why some of those bills should be dealt with without a single word of debate being spoken. This is because, let us make no mistake, some of these bills will only have 10 minutes allocated to them.
By supporting this guillotine Senator Brown is adopting the same Keating-esque arrogance of the Manager of Government Business in this place by saying, 'I am Senator Brown. I am Leader of the Greens. I will speak on certain issues that every other single private senator in this place will be denied the opportunity to because I, Senator Bob Brown, know best.' That is the arrogance, and that is what is implicit in what the Leader of the Australian Greens is saying. This Green-Labor alliance is denying the rightful role of this Senate.
We were accused earlier in this debate that we were wasting the Senate's time by wanting to refer the private health insurance issue to a Senate committee. One of the reasons we do is that somebody said, in a letter to the editor of Senator Bob Brown's own home newspaper, 'I grow tired of saying this. Labor is committed to the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate.'
Now, Senator Brown might not know who wrote that, nor might those opposite so I will give them a hint: it was the same person who said that they would not knife off the then existing Prime Minister. And if you do not know at this stage, I will give you another hint. It was the same person who promised the Australian people that there would be no carbon tax under a government she led. Yes, it was none other than Ms Gillard.
So, given that this was Labor policy, something that she grew tired of saying to the Australian people, then I think it is appropriate for the Senate to ask, 'Why is it that there has been this policy change?' We know why there has been this policy change: it is the politics of envy, and we have now a convergence between the Left of the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens. The sad thing is that you cannot put a cigarette paper between the two of them. They are in lockstep, ideologically. They are back in that time warp of socialism and that time warp of envy—the politics of envy.
We heard it spewing from Senator Brown's mouth during this debate, that some people allegedly want to look after 'the wealthy'. Do you know what this place ought to do? In fact, we ought to celebrate the wealthy. They are the people who actually pay the taxes of this nation. They are the people, usually, who have worked exceptionally hard and achieved. But it is this politics of envy, this desire to cut down the tall poppy, that if it is allowed to take hold in this country will deprive this country of an ongoing wealthy future.
The fundamental difference between the Green-Labor alliance and the coalition is this: we celebrate people's wealth. We celebrate if somebody gets on and makes the dollar. The Labor Party and the Greens would cut them down. We want more people to be wealthy in this country; we want everybody to achieve. We want everybody to succeed. Clearly, Labor says that equality is achieved by bringing everybody to the lowest common denominator.
And in the private health insurance debate, let us make no mistake—and I outlined this yesterday—it is not the apprentice, as is so falsely asserted, that subsidises the so-called millionaires' private health insurance rebate, because that so-called millionaire pays over $10,000 per annum in the Medicare levy. That is just forgotten, airbrushed out of the argument, hoping that the Australian people will not wake up.
Now, this ultimately will cost the public hospital system. There is no doubt that as private health insurance shrinks as a result of the proposed measure we will have an extra 800,000 people in public hospital beds per year. How is the current public hospital system, that is already so overworked, going to cope? How is it going to cope?
Let me turn to the inquiry that we as senators on the coalition side wanted in relation to the Australian Building and Construction Commission. The Law Council of Australia has come out in a most unprecedented way, condemning Labor-Green amendments moved at the very last minute in the House of Representatives, saying that they undermine the rule of law. Talk about protecting the wealthy! In fact, what the Labor-Green amendments will do is say that if you can come to a deal with somebody that you have offended—somebody against whom you have broken the law—that if you can pay them off you will not be prosecuted. It would be akin to somebody running a red traffic light, causing an accident and then paying off the person into whom they ran—slinging them some extra money—and, as a result of that, denying the police the opportunity to charge that person with running a red traffic light.
Bribery, pay-offs and sweetheart deals will become the order of the day yet again on building and construction sites around Australia. The Law Council has come out condemning this move, quite rightly so, in a very principled way. The Greens and the Labor Party do not want that ventilated. They do not want that to be heard at a Senate committee. They do not want the Law Council of Australia to be allowed to put a submission to the Senate as to why this is such a fundamental breach of all the principles of law that we have upheld in this country for such a very long time. Legislation is part and parcel of this Senate's role. It is also part and parcel of this Senate's role to air other issues, and the standing orders provide for that.
Might I interrupt my own flow in this speech to observe the Pecksniffian attitude of Senator Brown yet again. Remember how only five minutes ago he condemned Senator Chris Back for walking out of the chamber during a debate? Guess what? Senator Brown has just walked out of the chamber and now we have flushed him back into the chamber. We have flushed him back into the chamber because we have just exposed the hypocrisy of that criticism.
Why do we as a coalition air other issues? Of course we, as a responsible coalition in this place, will air in matters of public interest and matters of public importance the government's wholesale breach of trust and faith with the Australian people in introducing a carbon tax. The Labor Party and the Greens are saying that we should not be raising the dishonesty of their campaign or the dishonesty of the Prime Minister in saying there will be no carbon tax; we should not use the forums of the Senate to expose that deceit. We are told that we should not use the forums of this place to expose their weak border protection—overnight another 37 people arrived at huge cost to the Australian people—and a border protection budget that has now blown out by over $1 billion. That is one thousand million dollars that the Australian people will have to pay in circumstances where this incompetent government is borrowing $100 million every single day just to keep the country ticking over. But Labor and the Greens say the coalition should not expose this waste; the opposition should not expose the profligacy of this government. Well, I am sorry, but that is our role and, what is more, we will continue to pursue those issues.
The Greens and Labor alliance says we should not be talking about pink batts and exposing the horrid waste that was, not to mention the loss of lives. Labor and the Greens say the coalition should not mention that. Nor should we mention the solar panels debacle, the Green Loans debacle, the live exports debacle. The list goes on and on and on. Labor and the Greens would assert that that is a waste of the Senate's time. It is not.
Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting—
Senator Collins unwittingly interjects that it is a waste of time.
Even more she says, 'It is tedious repetition.' The Australian people heard repeated time and time again before the last election that there would be no carbon tax under a Labor government—
Senator Edwards interjecting—
and that they would not touch the private health rebate, as Senator Edwards rightly interposes. This is a government that has lost the trust of the Australian people, a Prime Minister that has lost the trust of the Australian people. Do not take my word for it: Labor leadership aspirant Mr Rudd, the member for Griffith, is on public record as saying that the Prime Minister has lost the trust of the Australian people. I wonder why when Labor looks down the barrel of the TV camera for the evening news and says: 'There will be no carbon tax. We won't muck around with the definition of marriage. We won't muck around with the private health insurance rebate.' The list goes on. When the public sees that government and that Prime Minister break each and every one of those solemn promises, Senator Brown—the absent Senator Brown, missing-in-action Senator Brown—and Senator Collins say the coalition should simply take it on the chin, not be critical of the government and simply pass the legislation.
There are big issues facing this country. We will air them and use every forum available to us in this place to ensure that these issues are ventilated on behalf of the Australian people. The carbon tax should be put to an election. Why were we promised no carbon tax? Why were we promised no fiddling with the health insurance rebate? Why were we promised no change to the definition of marriage? Because Labor and the Greens knew what would happen at the 2010 election. After the 2010 election we were told there was a new paradigm which somehow allowed breaches of promise. We as a coalition will never sign up to the suggestion that a new paradigm is one that allows deceit to rule, that allows broken promises to be undertaken as some type of virtue. We will not accept that as a coalition and we will continue to fight for honesty and integrity in Australian public life when it comes to these sorts of fundamental issues—issues that were put to the Australian people before an election and then so brazenly broken afterwards. In this new paradigm that we were promised, the Independents—so-called—from New England and Lyne, in particular, promised that the forms of the parliament would not be abused. Well, where are they today? Where were they at the end of last year when 19 bills were guillotined through—because they had to be rushed through—and then, in one of the most brazen and cynical manoeuvres ever, Labor and the Greens combined to cut the sitting period short by three days? Three scheduled days of Senate sitting were cut off the parliamentary timetable and they simply guillotined legislation through without debate. Excuse me, but I could not for the life of me hear the member for New England or the member for Lyne expressing their concern that this was a fundamental breach of the new paradigm, where every individual member of parliament would be allowed to speak.
It is now so very, very obvious that the Australian Labor Party in this place will allow the Greens to talk ad nauseam on the radioactive waste disposal site in the Northern Territory. That was spoken about ad nauseam—no need to guillotine the Greens. As I looked through this list of bills that are going to be guillotined—and I looked and I looked—I thought, 'Where is the Stronger Futures bill on this list?' Oh, I forgot; the Greens are opposed to it, so we cannot guillotine that one. We cannot guillotine that one because the Greens want to use their time on that.
What we are seeing yet again is the double standard being applied, especially by the Australian Greens. The forms of the Senate can be used and time can be used in this place for the Greens to ventilate their concerns about legislation and Labor will be complicit in that. Senator Fifield made the point that Senator Xenophon will be denied his opportunity in this sitting fortnight to make a contribution that was rightfully his. An Independent senator, a one-man band, who should be entitled to use the forms of this Senate as well, will be denied by this ruthless exercise of numbers by the Australian Greens and the Australian Labor Party.
We as a coalition believe that issues such as private health insurance, the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the mining tax all need to be ventilated—and ventilated fully. But we also believe very strongly that we should be ventilating issues such as the Australian Research Council, for example. Remember the time when Labor used to tell us how important research was—that this was the future of Australia; that we should celebrate research? Well, we have an Australian Research Council amendment bill and Labor are so committed to this that they are going to give us 15 minutes to debate it—15 minutes. One second reading contribution is 20 minutes. So not even one senator will be able to make a speech in the second reading debate in relation to just that one bill. And of course the list goes on.
Let us be very clear on this. This is arrogance writ large by the Green-Labor alliance using their numbers in one of the most arrogant displays I have witnessed in my 18 years in this place. Senator Collins suggested to us that, when it comes to the end of a session, one should try to time manage. As Senator Fifield so eloquently put it, we are just nine days into the sitting year and we are applying the guillotine in this most ruthless and unprincipled manner.
The Australian people can see once and for all today that last year's guillotining of 19 bills and the cutting short of the parliamentary timetable by the Green-Labor alliance was not simply an aberration. That sort of behaviour has now become core business and indicative of their approach to this place and the parliamentary forum. Their arrogance shows no end. We as a coalition will seek to end it at the next election.
Well, this is one of the first forays into government business by the new Manager of Government Business in the Senate, Senator Collins. You probably have not heard about Senator Collins out there—if you are listening to this on the radio—because Senator Collins is new at this job. We have had three leaders of government business here in the last fortnight. We used to have a bloke called Senator Ludwig, but he has now moved down there. He lost his job to a bloke called Senator Arbib and then Senator Arbib became the leader of government business and he moved up to that seat. Then Senator Arbib decided that he wanted to spend more time with the family. It was so obvious that that is what you do after you get a promotion—you resign. He resigned—surprise, surprise, surprise—and he has now gone out there and Senator Collins has now moved up and is in the position.
It is all sort of chaotic down here. It is completely chaotic. And part of this absolute chaos is now seen in the legislative program. We thought that when Senator Bob Carr came from out there and into here that things might settle down. But then Senator Carr's first foray into public life was something about sideshows, circuses and hypnotism. It was a most entertaining piece. He told the Australian people about the benefits of hypnotism—and we knew that now that we had a hypnotist as the foreign affairs minister things were going to be a lot better; that it was going to be vastly better. We had someone who was chaotic and ill-disciplined and now we have a person who extols the art of hypnotism—and he is now the foreign minister.
What we have here is the guillotine—an extension of time and then the guillotine. If you are listening to this: this is what happens when you have control of both houses of parliament. The Greens-Labor Party-Independent alliance—the glee club—run the other place and now the Greens-Labor Party-Independent alliance run this place as well. So you are getting crazy ideas that have been just duck-shoved through. There are only two genuine crossbenchers, Senator Xenophon and Senator Madigan. What you have to understand is the total and utter hypocrisy of people such as the Greens. They were held as being the paragons of virtue who would never, ever interfere with the public's right to the proper display and laying out of the facts, and would never engage in a guillotine. The guillotine brings forward the cessation of the debate and precludes people's right to speak. Now the Greens do that. They have just become a party like any other party, but they are a party that is in coalition with the Labor Party. That is exactly how it works. When you think that you will cast your vote with the Greens because the Greens will be the independent arbiters, they are not. You have to understand their actions. They are just an arm of the Greens-Labor Party-Independent alliance which is the government.
When you get these sorts of chaotic decisions, that is how you get things like the NBN. That is how those things go through. Senator Conroy ran in here a second ago and has run back out again. He ran and caught up to Kevin Rudd, who at that point in time was the Prime Minister of Australia, which was before they got rid of him. Apparently on a plane ride to somewhere they decided to create a new telephone company. It did not cost much—only $50-plus billion, but what is that amount between mates? That was part of this chaotic process. Now we have the mining resource rent tax which they are going to jam through. It is important that we talk about it and discuss it, because this is part of Australia's major export earner. If we get this wrong, if we create a major problem here, we lose the capacity to pay for everything we do in our nation. That is a slight problem. They also tell you that it is the right thing to do.
We already have a mining resource rent tax that is called the state royalty system. You either believe in state royalties or you do not. At any point in time state governments can increase royalties. However, they want to create another quasi-royalty system to sit on top of the royalty system that is already in place because they believe that Mr Swan is far more righteous than any state Treasurer. Mr Swan would have a far better idea of what to do with the money than any state Treasurer. We see that, when Mr Swan gets the money, Senator Bob Brown gets the money. Last time he got a $10 billion green fund. What is that going to do? I do not know. Apparently it is true that they are thinking about setting up a new newspaper. That is what they should be doing. They should be in the media sector. Because we have the hate media, we must have the love media. We have to have real balance. The love media is going to be set up by Dr Bob Brown, and they might venture into television stations as well. Why not? When you have $10 billion burning a hole in your pocket, of course you should engage in buying up or going into competition against the private sector in whichever way you can with a new manic, socialist, green agenda. So this is what is before us.
We also have the private health insurance rebate scheme. The reason this is so important is that we have run out of money and Australia is $232 billion in gross debt. We only have a limit of a quarter of a trillion. That is our third limit. We had a $75 billion limit, then we had a $200 billion limit, and then they snuck in, just as they are doing now, an extension on the overdraft to get us to a quarter of a trillion. If you read the papers, apparently they told Mr Oakeshott that it is only just going to go above $200 billion. Today it is $232 billion in gross debt and the cheques start bouncing at $250 billion, so they are $18 billion away from bouncing the cheque. So you know how close that is, in the last four weeks they have borrowed $10 billion. We are not that far away—about eight weeks away under the current form—from bouncing cheques. This is what is happening in our nation as we speak. This is why we are so manically out of control. What are they doing? Whilst this is happening they are jamming these things through so that we cannot go through them with a fine toothcomb and find out what the nation is up to and where it is going.
I looked at some that they are guillotining and one is an approps bill. I wonder how long they will give us for that approps bill. The appropriations, of course, are the expenditure of funds. The only way we can pay back this debt that the Labor Party have left you with is to get it off you—you good people in the public gallery and listening. They are going to have to take it out of your taxes. This is where it all goes; this is where it all happens. We need to do our job so that we can hold them to account, but we cannot hold them to account when the Greens sidle up to the Labor Party and the Independents in the other place and basically shut down the democratic function because they control both houses of parliament. Also, the Greens become completely hypocritical. They divorce themselves from every previous principle they formerly had.
What we have here is a position where both houses of parliament are controlled by the Greens-Labor Party-Independent alliance. We have the completely manic position where we have the third leader of government business in the Senate in a fortnight. We have $232 billion in gross debt and, with the way we are going, we have about another eight weeks before we start bouncing the cheques. These are obviously the reasons we need to go through and understand piece-by-piece the legislation that is before us.
There is so much in the motion. Why is it? Surely people who vote for the Greens would want our nation to have a proper investigation into the processes that we are about to create laws on. It is absolutely absurd. The motion says that the Indirect Tax Laws Amendment (Assessment) Bill 2012 is commencing no later than 9.30 am on 21 March. Guess when we have to finish it by? And the Greens are voting for this! We are finishing it at 10 am, 30 minutes later. That is what the Australian Greens have done for the democratic process in our nation. They have given you 30 minutes to look at that bill.
We could look at another one. The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers and Offences) Bill 2012 is about your liberty and the rights you have walking along the street. You would think that is a pretty important thing. I think we should really investigate that. When you are making a statement about my liberties, about my capacities, I should expect that the Greens and the Labor Party would extol the virtues of a vibrant and transparent debate, but the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers and Offences) Bill will commence immediately after the preceding item, which finishes at 10 pm—that is, at night—and will finish at 10.30 pm, at night, an hour and a half before midnight. This is only 30 minutes to talk about the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers and Offences) Bill. That is now the Australian Greens making a clear statement about how they feel about the protection of your liberties. They do not care. It is all hypocrisy—total and utter hypocrisy.
Senator Dr Bob Brown, even when dealing with interjections from Senator Back—he called him 'Senator Black'—was starting to show a loss of attachment to exactly what is going on in this place. I can understand when people are getting tired. I really do think it is time for renewal in the Greens. It is time for new leadership. There are a lot of people who have done the hard yards and it is time for them to step up to the mark. If the party has a future, it must accept the reality that it is time to move on. They cannot keep going with Dr Bob Brown. It is out and about and everybody is talking about it.
We are concerned because Senator Dr Bob Brown is now so close to being part of the government—basically he is the vital lieutenant of the Greens-Labor Party-Independents alliance—that the Greens are defrauding the people who voted for them. The mechanism the Greens had was a dissenting vote. They wanted to be the proper arbiter and control of policy, but they have now divorced themselves from that and become hand-in-glove members of the Greens-Labor Party-Independents alliance, whose leader is Ms Julia Gillard, and basically the deputy leader of the country is Dr Bob Brown.
It is a sad day and it should be noted that this shows the chaotic nature of this government. It shows the hypocrisy that now bedevils the policy platform, the presentation and the philosophy of the Greens. For policy this just becomes another total confusion as Australia goes trundling down this path towards the inevitable bouncing of cheques, unless there is some major turnaround in how the Greens-Labor Party-Independents alliance runs this nation.
Unfortunately, we failed to deal with matters at the end of that last debate. I table statements of reasons relating to Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2011-2012 and a related bill, the Financial Framework Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012, justifying the need for the bills to be considered during these sittings. I seek leave to have the statements incorporated in Hansard.
The statements read as follows—
APPROPRIATION BILL (NO. 3) 2011-2012
APPROPRIATION BILL (NO. 4) 2011-2012
Purpose of the Bills
The bills request legislative authority for additional expenditure to be incurred in respect of 2011-2012.
Reasons for Urgency
Appropriations proposed in the bills provide funding for expenditure that is required to implement decisions and funding adjustments that involve further expenditure in 2011-2012, which have been agreed since the 2011-2012 Budget
Passage of the bills before the last day of the 2012 Autumn sittings will ensure continuity of the Government's programs and the Commonwealth's ability to meet its obligations as they fall due Should passage not be granted in the Autumn sittings, activities to be funded by the bills may be deferred or significantly delayed.
FINANCIAL FRAMEWORK LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (NO. 1) 2012
Purpose of the Bill
- amend the Auditor-General Act 1997 to clarify that the Auditor-General may accept an appointment as the auditor of any company that the Commonwealth controls within the meaning of the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997 (CAC Act);
- amend the CAC Act to ensure that directors of Commonwealth authorities and wholly-owned companies (other than Government Business Enterprises) prepare budget estimates as directed by me, and that from 1 July 2012, directors of Commonwealth authorities (including interjurisdictional authorities) and wholly-owned companies notify the responsible Minister of decisions to do certain significant things;
- amend the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 (FMA Act) to clarify the commencement date for Special Account determinations; amend the operation of drawing rights; ensure that certain determinations relating to Special Accounts may take effect in a day specified in the determination if it is later than the last day upon which a resolution disallowing it could have passed; ensure that you cannot delegate the power to issue instructions under section 16 or make determinations under section 20; and
- update, clarify and align related financial management, governance and reporting provisions; and
- repeal 2 redundant Acts that contain special appropriations.
Reasons for Urgency
It is critical that the bill is passed in the Autumn 2012 sittings as a number of provisions have implications for the Commonwealth budget. Primarily, it is important that Schedule 2, Part 1 commences as soon as possible to ensure that estimates continue to be collected from Commonwealth authorities and wholly-owned companies (other than Government Business Enterprises) for the preparation of the 2012-2013 budget, which may be considered by the Parliament early in the Winter 2012 sittings. The other amendments to the CAC Act are timely, to ensure that Commonwealth authorities and wholly-owned companies continue to advise the responsible Minister of significant business events, which may have implications for the budget. The proposed amendments to the FMA Act clarify the Finance Minister's delegation powers, which may be needed to obtain financial information and data for the preparation of the 2012-2013 budget.