Answers to Questions on Notice - Question Nos 298, 300, 301, 312, 313, 342, 357, 359, 365

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (15:29): Another stunt by the Labor Party, because we happen to be on broadcast today. We've just had a 20-minute adjournment speech on a matter where a senator hopes to get a headline in her local media over these issues, which, in fact, if you know about NBN Co, all stem from the mess NBN Co was when Labor senator Conroy designed it on the back of an envelope in an aircraft. The whole difficulty which this government has been trying to deal with is the fact that Senator Conroy and the Labor Party could not organise a chook raffle, let alone Australia's biggest ever business.

I congratulate Minister Fifield on the answer he gave to Senator Urquhart's question. This session of the Senate is supposed to be about finding out why questions on notice have not been not answered. Senator Fifield was given some notice an hour or so beforehand, and in that hour he was able to come up with accurate details of the huge number of usually irrelevant questions asked by Labor senators at estimates, on notice and otherwise that involve the department, Commonwealth bureaucrats, in hundreds of hours of research, trying to find the answers, which, I will bet you, Madam Deputy President, the Labor senators who ask the questions never even read. That is obvious, because you go to the next estimates and they ask exactly the same questions, and the public servants say, rather embarrassingly, 'I'm sorry, Senator; we already answered that on notice, in writing.' Senator Fifield gave us statistics. Most of the questions have been answered.

I am still waiting for answers to a couple of questions that I asked of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government, which finished four years ago. I put questions at estimates two years before that, and I am still waiting for the answers from Labor ministers. That was par for the course when the Labor Party was in government. But I congratulate Senator Fifield on getting so many of the answers and explaining that those that had not been able to be addressed by public servants because of the time taken would be answered very shortly.

Could I suggest to Senator Urquhart—if she is not just after a cheap headline in the local rag—that she does what I do now and what I used to do even in the term of the Labor government. If I have a serious question, a serious wish to help a constituent, I will go and approach the minister. I have done that a number of times with Minister Fifield. Different constituents have had problems that I thought his office might be able to deal with, and so I've gone to see him in his office. He is very, very helpful. If you have a serious question about the Burnie hospital, if it's a serious question, if it's something that requires immediate attention, don't try and get a cheap headline in the local rag; go and see the minister's office, and see if they can give some help.

Senator Urquhart interjecting

Senator O'Neill interjecting


Senator IAN MACDONALD: If you're serious about your constituents—and I suspect that few Labor people are; the only constituent they are interested in is the union movement, who put them here, and that is the constituency they respond to all the time. But, if you do have a hospital that has a problem, don't issue a media release and get your photo in the local rag; go and see the minister and try and fix the problem.

Opposition senators: We did!

Senator IAN MACDONALD: That is what senators should do. That is what senators on this side do.

Senator Urquhart interjecting

Senator O'Neill interjecting


Senator IAN MACDONALD: Could I also suggest to Senator Urquhart that, if she wants to know something about NBN and some of the mess that they were in earlier, she talks to her colleague the former Queensland Labor MP Mike Kaiser, who was thrown out of the Queensland parliament for fraudulent electoral activity but who then—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Polley, on a point of order.

Senator Polley: I bring to your attention that we give leeway to senators in their contributions, but, as usual, Senator Macdonald is just on a rant. Can you draw him back to the topic before the chamber?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Polley, I have been listening very carefully. For most of his response, Senator Macdonald has been talking about the question at hand. Please continue, Senator Macdonald.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I don't like to say this, but if Senator Polley were following the debate she would be aware the motion is that the Senate take note of the answer, which is certainly what I am doing. The President has ruled rightly. When there are things that the Labor Party are sensitive about they always make a point of order objection to sit me down—but I won't be sat down.

As I was saying, if you want to know anything about the NBN, go and see Mike Kaiser, the Labor member in the Queensland parliament who was thrown out of parliament for electoral fraud and who then got a job in the Labor Party years as the government relations manager for NBN.


Senator IAN MACDONALD: Would you believe that? NBN is a government organisation and suddenly NBN decided, on instructions, I know, from the shareholding ministers—

Senator O'Neill interjecting

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator O'Neill, I have called order a few times. I ask you to listen in silence to Senator Macdonald's answers.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: The shareholding ministers were Senator Conroy and another Labor minister in the Rudd-Gillard government, and suddenly Mr Kaiser, having been sacked from the Queensland parliament, pops up as the government relations manager for NBN. Why NBN, as a government owned organisation, would need a government relations manager, no-one could ever tell me. Why they were paying Mr Kaiser in excess of $400,000 to do government relations between a government company and the government—the Rudd-Gillard government—no-one has ever been able to explain.

I notice Mr Kaiser has now popped up as a director of KPMG in Brisbane. Senator Ketter would be aware of this. Suddenly Mr Kaiser is a director of the once great KPMG. And I see the Queensland Labor government recently engaged KPMG to do a survey on why employing more and more bureaucrats in Queensland was a good thing. How could that possibly be needed?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator O'Neill, on a point of order.

Senator O'Neill: Senator Macdonald is nowhere near the topic of the NBN. He is not taking note of the questions that were clearly identified. He is talking about commissioned public relations. He could talk to question 298 and the failure of the government to respond. He is ranging far too widely.

The PRESIDENT: This is a wide-ranging topic, and Senator Macdonald is referencing issues around the NBN. Please continue, Senator Macdonald.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Again, for Senator O'Neill's benefit, the motion is that the Senate take note of Senator Fifield's answer, which was answering questions on NBN. I have said to you, 'Go and ask Mike Kaiser if you want to know about the NBN,' because he was the $400,000-plus government relations manager for NBN when NBN got us into the mess that Mr Turnbull and Senator Fifield are now trying to resolve.

I don't want to delay this debate any further. I am not going to speak for 20 minutes on what is clearly an adjournment topic. But some of the rubbish that is spoken here, particularly on broadcast day, needs to be challenged, because the misinformation that is given out about these issues has to be corrected. That is why I have taken a little time to congratulate Senator Fifield on his response to the questions that were asked, highlighting again the abject waste of taxpayers' money in paying highly skilled public servants to answer literally hundreds and hundreds of questions on notice that those opposite don't even read. I say that because they come to the next estimates, they ask the same questions and the public servant embarrassedly says, 'I'm sorry, Senator—we've given the answer to that to you before.' That shows that most Labor senators never read any of the answers to those literally hundreds and hundreds of questions that are placed on notice.

I make the point again because there are taxpayers who are listening to this debate, and those taxpayers pay these highly skilled, highly paid public servants to go around and answer all of these hundreds and hundreds of questions that are never looked at by Labor senators. It is just an abject waste of taxpayers' money that these questions should be asked and the answers never read. Senator Fifield indicated that most of the hundreds of questions that have been asked have been answered. There are a few that have not been answered, and he gave the reasons for that. He indicated that, at the very earliest time, they will be answered.

I again say to Labor senators: if you're serious about helping people like at the Burnie hospital, don't go to your local paper and get a headline; go and talk to the minister's office. If you're seriously trying to fix a problem, go and talk to the minister's office. I know you'll be well served. But if you just want to play politics—if you think that is a cheap way of getting Mr Bill Shorten as Prime Minister of Australia—at least be honest about what you're doing and don't clothe it in these questions about technical matters that you'll never even read or understand the answers to.

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