Monday, February 23, 2009

Sometimes Question Time works well

Hardly ever, actually

But there were 2 such instances today (edited):

Mr TONY WINDSOR (Independent) — My question relates to the Prime Minister’s comments at yesterday’s memorial service that successive governments have failed in terms of bushfire management, and also comments made by Wurundjeri elder, Aunty Joy Murphy, from Healesville who said that Aboriginal people historically burned the land every seven years for ‘cleansing and regrowth’, but Black Saturday was a ‘torture of the land’.

Prime Minister, could you elaborate on your comment and, given that every inquiry since 1939 has focused on fuel reduction in fire-prone areas, do you believe it is time we learnt from Aboriginal Australians, whose firestick management practices created the bush environment that white Australians are attempting to modify to a landscape that has never existed?

Mr RUDD—I thank the honourable member for New England for his question. He is right: there is now a legitimate debate about what we do about vegetation management over time and how we deploy effectively what used to be described when I was a kid growing up as ‘periodic burn-offs’. I am reluctant, from the position that I occupy, to dictate what the answer should be.

I listened carefully, as I am sure the Leader of the Opposition did yesterday, to the comments made by the Aboriginal elders as they provided their sombre welcoming to those attending the service yesterday. Given that our Aboriginal brothers and sisters have occupied this continent for 40,000 years, there is great wisdom to be learned.

As a little kid growing up my memories of being with my father are of every so often going out with him with the hip burner to burn off. I am always reluctant to generalise from my experience of growing up in one part of Australia to what happened and to what is appropriate elsewhere. Let us draw all of this knowledge—from settler communities, from farming communities, from Indigenous communities—together through the deliberative processes which have been established by the government of Victoria. Once that has concluded, let us as a government, through the parliament, act in concert with the states and territories and through instruments, including financial instruments, which can make it work in the future.

NOLA MARINO (Liberal) — I refer the Treasurer to recent cuts in official interest rates. Treasurer, a company in my electorate has a business overdraft facility with Westpac Bank. With the current cash rate at 3¼ per cent, why is this company still paying 10.1 per cent interest?

Mr SWAN — I share the same concerns as the member for Forrest. It is the case that a lot of business loans are linked to market rates but some are not. So I would be very interested in seeing the details of this example, which has been mentioned by the member for Forrest, and I will take it up with Westpac Bank.

I recently took up another example that had been raised with me, because I was concerned about what was going on, where there was a failure to get credit. On that occasion, with that example, there was a successful outcome. Certainly, our response cannot always be on an individual basis. We are looking to a systematic solution that we can put in place to deal with these issues where people are unjustifiably being denied credit when they should get it. Of course, trying to establish that has some difficulties, but the government are serious about it, and I look forward to hearing the details from the member.