Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (3.22 p.m.)-I have heard something today that I have never heard before: a brand new economic thesis. The thesis from Senator Evans is this: Senate committees put upward pressure on interest rates, parliamentary scrutiny puts upward pressure on interest rates and the desire of a democratically elected parliamentary chamber to provide proper scrutiny puts upward pressure on interest rates. It is an economic thesis I have never heard before and I wonder if this thesis has been put to the Secretary to the Treasury or the Governor of the Reserve Bank. Has this thesis been run past them? If it were, they would laugh at the absurdity of the proposition and they would laugh at its hypocrisy.
When the coalition was first elected to office in 1996, the Australian Labor Party bequeathed it a $10 billion budget deficit. They bequeathed $96 billion in government debt. The hypocrisy is in the fact that Labor opposed each and every measure the former government introduced to bring the budget back into balance. Some budget measures actually took us three years to get through the parliament because Labor said the savings were unnecessary. Labor said that we were taking a baseball bat to the economy. Labor said that we would king-hit the economy with our budget measures. And that was in a situation where there was a genuine inflation crisis; where there was a real fiscal crisis, not a manufactured crisis. We did balance the budget but with no help from Labor. We balanced the budget and we left Labor a budget surplus.
What is Labor’s charge against the coalition? That we left a budget deficit? No. That we left government debt? No. That we left an inflation crisis? No. Even the RBA governor says there is no inflation crisis. Yes, there is a problem and, yes, there is a plan to address it, but there is no inflation crisis. Labor’s charge is that the referral of bills to Senate committees is an abuse of the opposition’s numbers. What rot! Many of these measures were never flagged by Labor during the election campaign. Labor cannot cite mandate theory here. Labor made no mention in its election campaign of a luxury car tax, no mention of a means test for the baby bonus, no mention of a means test on family tax benefit part B, no mention of an increased tax on premixed drinks, no mention of an increase in the passenger movement charge, no mention of an increased tax on condensate and no mention at all of raising the threshold for the Medicare levy surcharge.
What the opposition are doing is what should occur in the Senate. But let us not take our word for it; let us hear what Senator Evans himself has to say. Senator Evans told this chamber in June 2005:
… the Senate has both a right and a responsibility to debate and review legislation-this legislation and all other legislation that comes before the parliament. That is what Australians expect from this chamber.
He went on:
It is our responsibility to provide an alternative view of legislation, to speak out when we think things are wrong and to fight for those people whose interests we represent.
That is what we are doing: we are speaking out; we are fighting for the interests of the people we represent. Our track record in government on referring bills to committees was laudable. In 2006, the first full year of the coalition’s Senate majority, the coalition in government supported the referral of more than a hundred bills to Senate committees for inquiry. This was the highest number of bills ever referred to committees in a calendar year and double the average number of bills referred to committees when the ALP was last in government. When the ALP was in government it was constantly demanding that bills be referred to committees. It was constantly demanding that there be more scrutiny. We are applying scrutiny. The government does not like it. It is our job as an opposition and it is the job of this chamber to review legislation to see where we can improve that legislation. Many of these measures were never flagged during the election campaign and they require greater scrutiny than those measures that were. We will provide that scrutiny. (Time expired)