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Nick Minchin

Leader of the Opposition in the Senate
Shadow Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
Liberal Senator for South Australia
Nick Minchin


Senator the Hon Nick Minchin

PO BOX 2141
Kent Town SA 5071

36 Grenfell Street
Kent Town SA 5067

Phone: 08 8362 8600
Fax: 08 8362 8579
Toll Free: 1300 301 647
(Toll free in South Australia only,
for the cost of a local call

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

Phone: 02 6277 3004
Fax: 02 6277 5703

Friday, December 05, 2008 Printer Friendly Version

GILBERT: Senator Minchin thanks for your time this morning?

MINCHIN: It’s my pleasure.

GILBERT: Four Nationals, two Liberals crossed the floor overnight, many other Liberals abstained from a vote on the Government’s multi-billion Infrastructure Bills, is this a snub to the authority of Malcolm Turnbull who said that the Coalition should back the Government’s Bill in the end?

MINCHIN: Oh no, that’s ridiculous and you shouldn’t believe the tax payer funded spin coming out of the Labor Party on this issue. All that happened last night was that the Government very arrogantly rejected all the very sensible amendments, which the Senate had made to its
Infrastructure Bills. The Coalition moved some very good amendments and, with cross-bench support, did amend the Bill in a way that we think significantly improves the management of these infrastructure funds. Regrettably in the Lower House, at 10 o’clock last night, the Coalition continued to vote for all those amendments in the Lower House, to support those amendments, but the Government just arrogantly rejected them all.

So when it came back to the Senate, I think at one o’clock last night, we had a decision to make – were we going to vote to insist on those amendments or not? The decision was made that we wouldn’t vote to insist on those amendments and not one Member of the frontbench
of the Coalition voted to insist on those amendments. But as you observe some four National Party and two Liberal Party Senators decided that they wanted to vote to insist on amendments, which of course the Coalition earlier in the day had made to this Bill, and they
did so because the amendments involved were those relating to the Government’s arrogant and quite contemptuous destruction of the Howard Government’s communications fund, set up with $2 billion from the sale of Telstra, to aid and assist rural and regional telecommunications.

So the six Senators who all represent rural constituencies decided to essentially send a message that they thought the Labor Party’s abolition of that communications fund was the wrong thing to do – and under our rules we’re not a fascist party like Labor, which expels its Members for taking a different point of view, they have the right as backbenches to take the position they did.

GILBERT: But when you announced the Coalition’s position in the Senate you said; ‘I regret to say on balance it is the Coalition’s position that we will not insist on these amendments.’ It sounds like you were dragged to this position as the Senate Leader?

MINCHIN: Oh well I regret very much that the Labor Party rejected these amendments in the Lower House which ultimately left us with very little choice but to decide not to insist on those amendments in the circumstances. So I do regret, I regret very much that the Labor Party is
rejecting these good amendments to improve their Bill, to increase the transparency and accountability of the Government in relation to these billions of dollars of tax payers money and I regret that they’re abolishing our communications fund – and yet another snub by the
Labor Party to people living outside metropolitan Australia.

But we’re not going to let the Labor Party hang us out to dry on this. You can imagine what their tax payer funded spin machine would do if we’d insisted on our amendments they’d simply be out there now saying; ‘oh well, you know, the Coalition has blocked these Bills
and stopping all this spending of infrastructure funds.’ Well we’re not going to be played for mugs by the Labor Party.

GILBERT: So you backed that decision in the Shadow Cabinet? You wanted to not insist on these amendments, this was your position in the Shadow Cabinet as well?

MINCHIN: Oh look…yes, I agreed with the Shadow Cabinet that if unfortunately the Labor Party in the Lower House would not accept these amendments, that we probably had little alternative when it came back to the Senate not to insist on these amendments, which is regrettable because we’d much prefer the Labor Party to have accepted the wisdom of the Senate which did make amendments that significantly improved the Bill. And I think this Bill is now an imperfect bit of legislation. There is requisite accountability in relation to these billions of
dollars of tax payers money and they’ve taken away a vital prop for telecommunications in rural and regional Australia.

GILBERT: Some backbenchers….some of your backbenchers were told they could abstain, others didn’t know what they were doing, was there confusion in Coalition ranks overnight as which way they should have voted? Is that why we saw a bit of mayhem in the Upper House?

MINCHIN: Well I wouldn’t call it mayhem, it’s a very civilised place the Senate, but look it was a very dramatic day. I mean I was here for I think 19 or 20 hours yesterday and spent most of it in the Chamber. When these events occurred it was one thirty at night and it was a very fast moving scene. The fact is because it was a vote that didn’t involve the Coalition opposing Labor, the Coalition votes actually didn’t count. It was a Government Bill, the Government was going to vote for its Bill, we weren’t going to oppose the Bill and therefore….and we call those ‘mickey mouse votes,’ it’s a quant expression that we use in the Senate, and on those ‘mickey mouse votes,’ of that kind and particularly last nights vote, no Coalition votes were required for the Bill to pass the Senate because we weren’t opposing it. So the Labor
Party had the numbers. So people were simply informed that it was, what we call a ‘mickey mouse vote,’ and if they couldn’t make it to the Chamber that wasn’t a problem – and remember we’re talking about one thirty last night.

GILBERT: You talk about a possible scare campaign if you didn’t go along this course, if you did block the Bills, but it would be a bit more than a scare campaign though wouldn’t it if you blocked billions of dollars in infrastructure spending at a time of global financial crisis? You’re a former Finance Minister, it would have been irresponsible to do that?

MINCHIN: Well see with great respect you’re buying the Labor spin. Neither the Coalition nor the Senate as a whole ever blocked these Bills or was going to block these Bills. These Bills were passed with some very sensible amendments. So the Senate supported the Bills with
amendments. There’s no blocking involved at all. And the Government could have quite simply accepted these amendments and got on and started spending money tomorrow if it had accepted all the Senate amendments, very good amendments, it would have had this
legislation in a much better form and could have started spending almost immediately. So it was the Labor Party that just arrogantly treats the Senate with contempt, treats rural Australians with contempt, says you know we don’t want to know anything about your amendments – the Labor Party of course for most of its existence has wanted to abolish the Senate – so you know don’t you buy this Labor spin about us blocking any Bills.

GILBERT: So you never seriously considered blocking these Infrastructure Bills because really at the end of the day that’s what you’re being accused of, that that was a possibility, that was never
on the table?

MINCHIN: No. We support sensible, wise cost affective spending on infrastructure and we did a lot of it in our time in government. And of course all the money that the Government currently has is
money that came from the Coalition Government. This Labor Government has not put one dollar into these funds. It all comes from surpluses generated during the Coalition years. So this is money we created and we are all in favour of sensibly investing it in infrastructure and don’t want to get in the way of that, but we do think it requires much more accountability to the Parliament and the people of Australia than is currently provided for in the Labor legislation.

GILBERT: Coalition Senate Leader Nick Minchin on one hours sleep, appreciate your time this morning.

MINCHIN: My great pleasure, see you.

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