Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (14:59):
My question is to the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Senator Canavan. In 2015, in a dissenting report to the Economics References Committee on the matter of the privatisation of state and territory assets and new infrastructure, the minister said:
… continued public ownership of a business operation can place the Government in a conflicted position, as both regulator and provider of services.
Does the minister still believe that governments cannot be trusted to operate public assets?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:59):
I thank the senator for this opportunity to travel down memory lane, so to speak. I think you mentioned the report was in 2015? Is that right? I can't actually recall the Senate committee report myself. I can't necessarily, therefore, confirm or otherwise the specific quote that has been made from it. I can't recall, myself, whether I was the author of those words, or simply a signatory to them or otherwise. It's a bit hard to comment on something that of course is well outside the portfolio of the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia.
But what I would say, just briefly, on this particular topic is that I think the quote goes to a pretty central point about governance and policymaking. It's not a matter of trust, Senator Gallacher; it is about making sure, of course, that objectives are met—different objectives and different responsibilities—in independent ways across policymaking. But, as I said, I would have to check the record before I could confirm or otherwise the status of a Senate committee report from, I think, around four years ago.
The PRESIDENT: Senator Gallacher, a supplementary question.
Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (15:00):
Well, perhaps another trip down memory lane, Senator Canavan: in another dissenting report of the Economics References Committee, the minister said in respect of the sale of Medibank Private:
… an exemplary case of privatisation done well …
Given rising health insurance premiums and the steady decrease in Australians purchasing private health insurance, does the minister still stand by his comments that the privatisation of Medibank was an exemplar?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (15:01):
I'm going to have to plead absolute ignorance there. I can't actually recall at all a Senate committee inquiry of that nature. I'm not sure what year that one was in, but, again, I'll have a look and see if there is anything to add here to that question.
I do confirm to the Senate, though, and to you, Mr President, that I was a regular author of dissenting reports in my time as a Senate backbencher. Not that I'm encouraging anyone in our Senate team in this practice, because, as we can see, this is what may come back to bite you! So, to all the new senators who might be thinking of going down this path: just be very careful about what you do!
The PRESIDENT: Senator Gallacher, a final supplementary question.
Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (15:02):
A more contemporary question: in the Brisbane Times there was a report last week that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg left the door open for the reintroduction of the asset recycling scheme. This would force states to sell public assets in order to access infrastructure funding from this federal government. Does this minister support further privatisation of public assets that will affect people in his portfolio area of Northern Australia?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (15:02):
Again, a quote from a newspaper article I haven't seen; I can't confirm or otherwise know the veracity of that quote and whether it does indeed reflect the views or otherwise of the Treasurer.
Obviously, now you're asking me a question that is well outside my portfolio, so I'd refer any questions around that to the Treasurer. Of course, that previous scheme that the senator referred to only involved the decisions of state governments. So it's state governments that made decisions around those things and it's appropriate for questions about those to be placed to them.