11 February 2009

Government's filibustering makes a mockery out of the Senate

If the government appreciated the gravity of the economic crisis and enormity of the stimulus package that will be put to a vote on Thursday night, it certainly didn't show with their lengthy and repetitious waffling on matters that were either irrelevant or weren't critical enough to justify the attention they received. Here is just one of the answers that Labor Senator Nick Sherry gave with $42 billion of taxpayers' money hanging in the balance:

Senator ABETZ (Tasmania) (6:10 PM) —At what time on Sunday did the Treasurer finally sign off on this document?

Senator SHERRY (Tasmania) (Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Law) (6:10 PM) —I am not really sure of that level of detail, but I will see if we can find out what time, where he was, what pen he signed off with, what colour it was—black or blue—and how much sleep he had the night before, which I suspect was not much. There may be some relevance to the level of detail we are getting to, but it has not become immediately apparent to me. It reminds me of when I asked the former Treasurer, Mr Costello, about the check-in and checkout times of the GST committee, when I was in opposition, in order to try and determine who was working on the GST package. It was a high-security zone down in Treasury and I wanted to know who was going in and out at what time. The records existed because of the security situation. There was an electronic check-in and checkout. I have to say that the former Treasurer, Mr Costello, was pretty blunt in his refusal to provide that level of information. I really think we are getting to that stage now. But I will put a request in to the Treasurer’s office about the approximate time, within a few minutes, that he signed off on it.

While the government denies it, they were deliberately stalling meaningful debate to delay a vote on the bill while they engaged in backroom negotiations with Independent Senator Nick Xenophon and the Greens.

Family First's Steve Fielding was the one crossbench senator who was not involved in the negotiations. The fate of the stimulus package will be decided by him if the Greens and Xenophon strike a deal. Senator Fielding was unable to engage the filibustering government senators, leading him close to tears in this emotional outburst:

A bit of economics here—I will go back to day one. What was happening on day 1? The Reserve Bank was going to make a significant announcement, but you guys wanted to hog the spotlight. The economy runs on confidence. You did not even allow the Reserve Bank’s downward adjustment of the interest rate to affect confidence in the marketplace. You wanted to hog it. You should have let that run its course and allowed confidence to build into the economy and then maybe come out with a plan. You did not allow the positive cycle of monetary policy to work itself out. No, no, no. You had to hog it. You had to beat your chests and say, ‘Hey, we’re in control of interest rates.’ Frankly, you should have let that run.

Then there was the second thing you did. You came into this place and basically told us, ‘Pass it, no questions asked.’ Don’t kid yourselves. Do not go to the Australian public and say you agreed to an inquiry. You were deadset against it. You have misread the Australian people. We know we need a stimulus package, but are you sure as all heck that your arrogance is 100 per cent right? That is what you said on day 1: ‘Don’t worry about it; just pass it.’ That was step 2—another mistake.

Step 3: these negotiations have been lip-service. You are tap-dancing around here this afternoon. You have put it off to some convenient time when there are no news stories. Stop playing politics. This concerns Australian people, their families and their lives. I am deadset serious about this. This is just a joke. I may not be the best negotiator. I am just a kid from Reservoir, but, sure as all heck, I know when someone is stuffing around. Get serious. Do not treat the Australian public like you treat the Senate.

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