Thursday, 29 November 2012
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
Answers to Questions
That the Senate take note of answers given by ministers to questions without notice asked by Opposition senators today.
As we end 2012 we see a government in shambolic disarray, a government that has no agenda other than spin; a government that is being led around by the nose by the Australian Greens; a government that promised there would be no carbon tax and then foisted a destructive carbon tax on all Australians; a government that promised every year 9 to 12 child access to their own computer at school, a plan announced on 14 November 2007, a plan that failed to reach its targets, a plan was abandoned this year; a government that promised to take over public hospitals if the states did not act by mid-2009, a plan announced before the 2007 election, where the deadlines have not been met and the plan now thoroughly abandoned; a government that promised that the Commonwealth share of hospital funding would increase to 60 per cent. That was announced by Ms Gillard on 29 November 2010 and abandoned on 11 February 2011.
This is a government that promised to establish a citizens assembly on climate change, a plan announced on 23 July 2010 and abandoned on 7 October 2010; a government that promised Grocery Choice and Petrol Watch, both abandoned; a government that promised an East Timor solution and a Malaysian solution, both in tatters; a government that promised to build 64 GP Super Clinics, a plan that was abandoned after only 36 were built; a government that promised to establish a department of homeland security, announced prior to 2007, a plan that was abandoned within days of Labor taking office; a government that promised to establish 260 new childcare centres, a plan announced before the 2007 election. They funded 38 centres and the plan has now been completely abandoned.
This is a government that promised to require full mandatory precommitment technology for all poker machines, announced in September 2010, abandoned in January 2012; a government that promised to establish a trade centre in every Australian secondary school, announced before the 2007 election, a plan that has now been abandoned; a government that promised a real increase in the defence funding base by an average of three per cent each year through to 2017-18, a plan announced in August 2010, abandoned in the budget of May 2011.
And if that is not enough, this is now the government that seeks to spin and promise a National Disability Insurance Scheme, a dental scheme, a Gonski scheme—all hollow, cynical promises. Australians are deservedly distrusting of this government. And why wouldn't they be? Mr Rudd does not trust the Prime Minister, she who claims that she was foisted into the job of Prime Minister, yet conveniently overlooked that she had prepared the acceptance speech 14 days beforehand. People with private health insurance know they cannot trust this Prime Minister and government. Mr Wilkie, the member for Denison, knows that he cannot trust this Prime Minister and government over poker machines. The car industry knows that they cannot trust this government with a more than $6 billion plan, a plan which has now been absolutely slashed. The State of Israel knows that they cannot trust the Australian government, and of course all Australians know that they cannot trust this government because of that broken promise in relation to a carbon tax.
So as we end the year 2012, we have a government that is in shambolic policy disarray. We also have a Prime Minister who is in personal credibility disarray given the revelations today that have blown out of the water all her pathetic defences to date in relation to the Australian Workers Union scandal. The coalition provides hope, reward and opportunity for the future of this great country. (Time expired)
I am always pleased to follow Senator Abetz, the man who will go down in this term of parliament for Godwin Grech. He came in this parliament and talked about the performance or record of others but we did not hear anything about Godwin Grech. No wonder he is sneaking out with his face like thunder. What he did is an absolute disgrace. He is the only politician in this chamber who had to apologise to the chamber and the Australian public.
Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I claim to be misrepresented. Firstly, there was no way I was sneaking out of the chamber. Secondly, as the senator knows, a Privileges Committee of the Senate unanimously found—
Senator Abetz walks out of the chamber, probably feeling a little bit better because he tried to defend the indefensible. He comes in here and talks about people acting with credibility. He was the guy who had to apologise to the chamber and apologise to the Australian people because of his behaviour.
Mr Deputy President, I have a different point of order. The motion we are debating is that we take note of answers to questions by all opposition senators. There was no question and no answer mentioned, related to, referred to or anywhere near the topic that this senator has continually talked about. I ask you to bring the senator to order.
The topic before the chair, as I understand it, is the behaviour of politicians. If ever there was an issue on behaviour of politicians it was Senator Abetz and it was the former Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Turnbull, who lost his job because of the behaviour involved. Senator Abetz was up to his neck in it. I just will not accept any lectures from Senator Abetz about the behaviour of politicians or political parties, given his behaviour.
He spoke about private health insurance. I do not want the cleaners in Parliament House subsidising my private health insurance payments. That is what the coalition are arguing. The cleaners in Parliament House should not be supporting the subsidy for private health insurance for me or any senator here. It was an absolute disgrace. Who supported that? Who wanted the cleaners in Parliament House to be subsidising the richest people in the country? It was the coalition who were doing it. So do not talk to me about policy. I have not heard a word about policy from the coalition. Senator Abetz got up—and he is supposedly going to be a senior member in a coalition government—and there was not one issue on policy. He has not said to the Australian public how they would pay for the policies that they have announced—and I use the word 'policies' advisedly. He did not get up there on one constructive issue.
Who was it that put the issue of national disability insurance on the agenda? It was Labor. For 11½ years the coalition did nothing. Who increased pensions to historic highs in this country? It was the Labor Party. Who had the courage to take on the vested interests in this country to tackle climate change? It was Labor. Who are the apologists for the mining industry in this chamber? It is the coalition. Who gets flown around the world by Gina Rinehart? It is the National Party. Who are the people who suck up to big business, saying to them that they will do something about labour flexibility, which is code for ripping away workers' penalty rates, ripping away workers' allowances, ripping away their annual leave and leaving them with no control over what they achieve in their workplaces? It is the coalition.
Senator Joyce mentioned letting the public determine on Work Choices. Well the public did determine and they threw you lot out on your backsides. That is what will happen continually when you guys want to take from ordinary workers in this country. That is what you are about. Do not give us any of the nonsense that Senator Abetz put up. You are absolute policy vacuums. (Time expired)
It is amazing: every time you think the Labor Party has got as mad as they can possibly get, they outdo themselves. We always remember the Craig Thomson story and we always remember the Peter Slipper story—an appointment by the Labor Party—and now, of course, we have the latest one, the Bruce Wilson story.
You will be laughing at this. This is what we have got. We are back in the 1990s. The Prime Minister comes back to her boyfriend, Bruce. She comes in: 'How are you, Darling?' 'I'm not bad. How are you, Petal?' 'All's good. What have you got on for dinner?' 'I've got a casserole on.' 'Oh, isn't that lovely! What's that out in the backyard?'
That contribution is completely out of order, Mr Deputy President. The standing orders are quite clear about reflecting on members in another place. The imputation there was quite clear, of criminal conduct, and should be withdrawn. It really says something about the senator that he would use the Senate chamber to make those sorts of allegations.
On the point of order, clearly nothing Senator Joyce has said makes any allegation, Mr Deputy President, in relation to criminal matters. It was a humorous account and unfortunately Senator Wong has lost her humour—and I do not blame her, I might say. I would urge you to dismiss the point of order.
On the point of order, Mr Deputy President, the motion was moved to take note of answers given by government ministers. The point that Senator Joyce is making has no relation whatsoever to anything that was said by a minister of this government. On that basis he should refrain from seeking to smear the reputation of people in the other place without basis.
On the point of order, Mr Deputy President, it is quite clear and unequivocal that this was a reflection on the Prime Minister. It should be withdrawn. I think it is the clearest reflection I have seen here in many times. You cannot hide a reflection on the Prime Minister by saying it was a joke and it was supposed to be humorous. It is clearly unacceptable.
Senator Joyce, I will just rule on the point of order first. First of all, there is no point of order and there is no need for you to withdraw anything but I will say this, Senator Joyce, and to all senators: firstly, the debate is wide ranging and we have steered off the topic but all speakers to date have steered widely from the topic and, secondly, be careful with your language and what you do say and how you reflect on people in the other chamber. Senator Joyce, you have the call.
Thank you. So we had Bruce Wilson saying the other night that Ralph Blewitt was occasioned to burying money in the backyard. Of course, that is what you do! So she looks out the back and says, 'What's Ralph up to?' 'Oh, he's burying money.'
On a point of order, Mr Deputy President: I accept that we do range widely in the take note debate but what Senator Joyce is talking about now has got absolutely no relevance, absolutely none, to any of the issues that were raised by a government minister in response to questions today—absolutely nothing.
I will rule on the point of order, Senator Cameron. There is no point of order and I would take you back to the comments I used when you were pulled up on a point of order for your comments. So I remind Senator Joyce of the question before the chair.
So Bruce Wilson, the Prime Minister's ex-boyfriend, has said, 'Well, what happens is that Ralph Blewitt—he's a funny bloke—used to bury the money in the backyard.' Of course, why do we need a bank when you have got a perfectly good backyard! That is where you put money these days. You put money there because you want to be transparent and you want to be above board. What was the source of this subterranean benevolence? Where did it come from? Why would people be burying money in a backyard? I do not know, but they were probably getting it from somewhere. Who would know? Anyway, there is a bit of a pattern here, and it goes with the Craig Thomson story and it goes with the Peter Slipper story and it is all part of this 'there's something that's not right'. The Australian people wake up and go: 'Who on earth is running the show? Who are these people? Where did they come from?' Let us go back. Imagine we had a story of Menzies or someone and somebody said, 'Oh, yes, and then he had this mate who was a bit of a one.' You see we have the description of Ralph Blewitt by the Prime Minister: he was 'an imbecile', he was a 'sexist pig' and he was 'an idiot'. They are the sorts of thing that I want to hear my Prime Minister say at a press conference! That is the sort of character I expect to be running the country! And who was their associate back in the 1990s? Well, it was a person who was getting money from somewhere and just hanging around the petunias burying the dough. There might be still a bit there. We should go and have a look and we could give it back to the AWU and probably back to the members. That is probably where it could go. Maybe it could go back via the way it got there, through this slush fund. That is possibly how it could go back there. So this is running the country! The country has descended into anarchy. It is totally and utterly out of control. This is why we can find ourselves $252.9 billion in debt as I speak now. This is why we borrowed in excess of $3 billion last week, because of this absolute pandemonium palace and every day just when you think it could not get any stranger, that it could not get any stranger than Craig Thomson or that it could not get any stranger than Peter Slipper, Bruce Wilson then comes out to help the Prime Minister out and, by gosh, didn't he help her! What help! Such friends like that!
There are still some serious questions that need to be asked and I will ask just one. So there is only one question and it is serious: did the Prime Minister witness the power of attorney? I do not want to hear the answer that she has witnessed lots of powers of attorney and she has witnessed lots of documents. Did she witness the power of attorney that was responsible for being able to move a house from Mr Wilson's name into Mr Blewitt's name and what was the reason for that? Did she witness it on the day and at the time that they signed the document? I ask because if you do not witness it at the time they sign a document, then, as any solicitor will tell you, you have done something very, very naughty. Anyway here we are and we have got the NBN story and we could go on with the ceiling insulation and houses burning down story but let us stop it there and see if we ever get an answer.
Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. Senator Brandis just said, 'You are the ones with a criminal in the Lodge.' Mr Deputy President, I ask you to make him withdraw, and he ought to when he is on his feet withdraw the outrageous statements he made yesterday. For a man who seeks to be the chief law officer of the nation, his performance over the last few days has been an outrage and disqualified him from the job. Mr Deputy President, we should not allow what occurred yesterday to again be repeated today. It is an outrageous inference on the Prime Minister and it ought to be withdrawn.
Thank you, Senator Evans. Before I call you, Senator Brandis, I will deal only with the point of order before the chair today. The matter of yesterday is not before the chair. Senator Brandis, I do ask you to withdraw that comment concerning the Prime Minister. It did adversely reflect on the Prime Minister.
You see, I do say, Mr Deputy President, and I will expand in my contribution shortly, that the Prime Minister has committed a series of breaches of the criminal and commercial laws of Western Australia.
Senator Brandis, I think it would assist—it was the way in which it was said. There was a reflection, adversely, on the Prime Minister in your brief comment. How you contribute to the debate after this is fine. The matters before us about yesterday are irrelevant, in my view. I ask that you do withdraw that comment that you made about the Prime Minister.
Mr Deputy President, I withdraw it if you instruct me to but, in doing so, let me make it perfectly clear that I am not withdrawing an allegation that the Prime Minister has committed a breach of the criminal law, because I make that allegation.
Senator Brandis, I ask you just to withdraw the comment you made.
Senator Chris Evans interjecting—
Senator Wong interjecting—
Order! Senator Evans, I am trying to determine this matter. Senator Wong you are not assisting either. Senator Brandis, I ask if you would withdraw the remarks you made concerning the Prime Minister a moment ago.
Thank you, Mr Deputy President. This is our nation's parliament and it should devote most of its time to debating policy, to the contest of ideas. That is what the Australian people seek and expect from us as representatives. They want to know what our plans are for the nation, where we will take the people over coming years. Three weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of visiting Mungindi, a town that borders New South Wales and Queensland. I was there to open a trade training centre, a $2.4 million investment by this government in a hospitality and metalwork trade training centre to provide better skills development for the town.
Anyone who has visited Mungindi would know that it is a town with very big social problems. It has a very large Indigenous population. While I was at Mungindi Central School to open this trade training centre, I met a young girl, an Indigenous student, in year 10 who explained to me that she was so excited about becoming a chef because of the hospitality trade training centre that had been placed in her school. Her teacher was teaching her how to become a chef and she was just about to begin her apprenticeship. She was telling me that the school had developed a vegetable patch at the back of the school and that they were teaching the kids not only how to cook but how to cook healthy food. This young Indigenous girl would then go home to her family and was teaching her mother how to cook healthy food.
When we talk about closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage in this country and when we talk about real social change, that is an example of real social change. That will not show up in any of the statistics that we see published on education or on indifference in this country. But that is real social change. What people have to understand, and what the Australian public are coming to understand, is that those opposite and Tony Abbott have a plan to cancel the trade training centres program in this country, to get rid of that program that is delivering real results for the Australian people.
One of the programs that this government can be most proud of is the Building the Education Revolution. We have rebuilt every single school in this country. At the moment, in New South Wales, the O'Farrell government is cutting $1.7 billion from the education budget. Last year I was at East Maitland Public School to open a new BER facility. This wonderful school with a wonderful principal, Sheree O'Brien, who is passionate about special-needs education, had put all of their BER money into building two special-needs classrooms. I was there to open that facility. At the morning tea after the opening of those wonderful new facilities, where kids with severe Down syndrome and autism are now getting an education, I spoke to some of the parents. One of the parents came up to me and said, 'Can you send my thanks to Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd for this program.' She explained that she had moved her family all the way from Perth to get her son into East Maitland Public School because she had heard how passionate that principal was about special-needs education and because the school was investing in special-needs education.
Any special needs classroom has two teachers and at the very least a teacher's aide. When you talk about $1.7 billion worth of cuts to education, have a guess what positions will go first in those cuts. They are going to be those teachers' aides that assist those teachers providing special needs education in public schools throughout the country. That is the difference between a Labor government and a Liberal government when it comes to education. That is what this Senate and this parliament should be focusing on—the future of our schools, our hospitals and our nation. (Time expired)
Australia today is led by a Prime Minister who faces serious and specific allegations of misconduct, including breaches of the criminal law, and other conduct which makes her unfit for office.
Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Not only is that, again, Senator Brandis trying to make an improper suggestion about the Prime Minister, but there has been no accusation made.
Senator Brandis interjecting—
I did not, Senator. I paid attention to the Senate during Senate question time.
and you have done yourself a great disservice. We are not going to allow Senator Brandis to abuse the right of privilege in this parliament, and I will constantly take points of order if he does not adhere to the standing orders. He is seeking to allege corruption and conspiracy. If he has such a charge to make, he should take it to the police—not ring up his mates and try to get them to do it, but to take a complaint to the police. Making an allegation against another member is not in order, Mr Deputy President.
Mr Deputy President, I have two points to make on the point of order. The first is a narrow and technical point, and the second is a more substantive point. First of all, what I said was that the Prime Minister faces accusations—
Yes, he did. I listened to Mr Abbott's speech and I listened to the subsequent questions from both Mr Abbott and Ms Bishop, and I can assure you, Senator Evans, that those specific allegations were put to the Prime Minister and were not dealt with by her. So, Mr Deputy President, the narrow point is this: it cannot possibly be unparliamentary to say that a member of the lower house faces accusations of misconduct, including a breach of the criminal law, when in fact they do face those allegations. That is an objective truth. Ms Gillard does face those accusations. Whether or not she is guilty is a matter for a court of law.
The broad point is this: it cannot possibly be the case that the parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia is denied the capacity to debate whether the most senior minister of the Commonwealth has committed a wrongdoing or breached the criminal law.
Senator Brandis, thank you for your contribution. Senator Evans, on the point of order: in light of Senator Brandis's comments earlier, on which I ruled that he needed to withdraw, I was listening very carefully. I do not believe he does on this occasion. Senator Brandis was using language that I believe was satisfactory in the debate.
Mr Deputy President, I rise on another point of order. Senator Evans is holier than thou in accusing others of bad manners. He accused the current speaker of getting down in the gutter, or being in the gutter.
I ask you, Mr Deputy President: is the accusation by the Leader of the Government in the Senate parliamentary? It is an accusation that was just repeated by a senior so-called minister of this so-called government.
Mr Deputy President, when I hear government ministers, from the Prime Minister to Senator Wong and others, say the opposition is in the gutter, I am reminded of the late President Richard Nixon, who said the same thing. He used the same words about his accusers during the course of the Watergate affair. It is the defence of the scoundrel to say that the accuser is in the gutter. I remember the late Creighton Burns, one of the great giants of Australian journalism, who exposed during a previous Labor government—the government of Gough Whitlam—the foreign loans affair. He was accused of being in the gutter and accused of muckraking, and he said famously: 'If there's muck, let's rake it; that's what journalists do.'
If the Prime Minister or ministers of the government have engaged in misconduct or broken the law, it is at the very heart of the role of the parliament to expose that wrongdoing and to call them to account.
What I have is a document called a 'Specific Power of Attorney'. And the specific power of attorney—it is the power of attorney referred to by my friend Senator Joyce—is signed, sealed and delivered by Ralph Blewitt and is witnessed by Julia Gillard over the impressed stamp—
I am happy to. It is witnessed by Julia Gillard over the impressed stamp of a solicitor holding a current practising certificate. The specific power of attorney by Mr Ralph Blewitt appoints Bruce Morton Wilson as Mr Blewitt's attorney.
The power of attorney is recited to have been made on the fourth day of February 1993.
I also have here an advertisement placed by a real estate agent called Thomsons for a property at 85 Kerr Street, Fitzroy. The document advertises that the auction is to take place on 13 February 1993. It is not in dispute that the auction did take place and that the property was knocked down to Mr Wilson, who purported to acquire it in the name of Mr Blewitt. Mr Blewitt at the time the power of attorney was ostensibly executed on 4 February 1993 was in Perth. Ms Gillard, who witnessed the power of attorney, lived in Melbourne. It is not impossible that on 4 February 1993 Ms Gillard was in Perth personally present with Mr Blewitt. Nor is it impossible that on 4 February 1993 Mr Blewitt was in Melbourne personally present with Ms Gillard. It is even possible that the two of them were together somewhere else. But it would be a fraud and it would be a crime—it would be the crime of creating a materially false and misleading document—if in fact that power of attorney was backdated.
In the House of Representatives about an hour ago the Prime Minister was asked specifically by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Ms Bishop, 'Were you personally present when this power of attorney was executed?'—because, if the Prime Minister was not, then this document would be a forgery. And do you know what, Mr Deputy President, if the Prime Minister were personally present, there was one very simple answer that would put all suspicion at rest. She could simply have said yes. But she did not. She declined to do so. She said, 'I've witnessed thousands of powers of attorney in my career as a lawyer.' If this document were not a falsification why didn't she just say 'yes'? (Time expired)
I rise to speak on the motion to take note. Mr Deputy President, you have allowed a wide-ranging debate. I do not query that. That has been the tradition here. But I would point out, of course, that the opposition did not ask one question today about the AWU matter. In fact, they have largely failed to all week.
Mr Deputy President, I think if you check the Hansard record, you will find the question was about the electricity privatisation. The fact that the senator then went on to try and cast slurs and aspersions later in his contribution is a reflection on him.
Mr Deputy President, on a point of order: would you rule, please, Mr Deputy President, whether, when the Senate is debating taking note of answers to questions asked in question time, it is at liberty to address answers to supplementary questions, because if it is—and that has always been my understanding of the practice—then what Senator Evans just said is quite wrong.
I will just clarify for the point of senators here today that the motion moved by Senator Abetz was to take note of all answers—so that is all answers; supplementary questions included—given by ministers to all question asked by opposition senators. That is what we are debating. Senator Evans, you have the call.
We are used to Senator Brandis puffing himself up to his full height of importance and trying to pretend that he brings his legal skills and experience to these debates. What he brings is dirty, low-grade accusations. Yesterday he did accuse the Prime Minister of criminal activity. He accused her of being a party to a conspiracy to defraud. This is the same bloke who tries to ring up police commissioners or Liberal police ministers to put in the fix to try to get them to take action to suit his political interests. This is the bloke who has no standards.
I was referring to the fact that Senator Brandis has been known in the past for getting politically involved in questions around the member for Dobell, Mr Thomson, and to engage with the then New South Wales Attorney General on that matter. I also understand that he sought to engage with the New South Wales police minister on that issue and also sought to engage with the police commissioner. Senator Brandis has form.
Senator Brandis's glass jaw is famous. Senator Brandis has form. He has abandoned any pretence of impartiality, of the rule of law, as he has gone along with the Liberal Party as they sought to slur the Treasurer, Mr Swan, with the information from Godwin Grech. Remember of the accusations they made? Remember the prosecution? Remember the allegations of improper conduct that they cast then? That brought down their previous leader.
In making the statement he just made, the Leader of the Government in the Senate reflects upon me as the chairman of the Senate Privileges Committee and on the Senate Privileges Committee itself.
Honourable senators interjecting—