Thursday, 1 December 2016
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable Leader of the Opposition proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The Government's year that has harmed Australians.
I call upon those honourable members who approve of the discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
December is the time of year for making lists and checking them twice. That is certainly what the member for Warringah is doing this Christmas. But he is making a list in three columns. He is not doing his Chrissie cards; he is counting the numbers.
At the end of the year, I thought we should put together a list of the government's star performers. It is a Melbourne Cup field of failure, but there are certainly a few stand-outs. There is the Treasurer. He reminds me of Brick from the film Anchorman. Do you remember? He is up there shouting loud noises into the microphone while he waits for someone to tell him what is going on. He was rolled on negative gearing by the minister for immigration and rolled on superannuation by Senator Bernardi, and the first piece of legislation he brought into the 45th Parliament had a $100 million counting error. But, to his credit, he did put forward a very strong anti-unicorn policy this year.
Then, of course, there is the Minister for Foreign Affairs, everybody's loyal deputy. Does anyone in Australian politics put any more time and effort into their one dorothy dixer a week? All those late nights rereading Mark Latham's book; all that preparation for one little segment—she is the Liberal equivalent of Media Watch.
Speaking of women and leadership, let's talk about that great champion of gender equality, the Deputy Prime Minister. Remember what he said when he was asked this year about getting more women into parliament? He said, 'I've got a good track record,' and then he gave us a few examples, and I quote, seriously: 'Scotty Buchholz, although I must admit he's not a woman, Matt Canavan, Danny O'Brien'—that is Danny with a 'y', Mr Speaker—'They're three people who've gone through my office.' That is the modern National Party for you: postmodern, gender-blind, ready for Federation.
Of course, there is the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. He is the fun one in the group—thin-skinned and easy to roast. You might remember his little outing with the boom mike or, as he calls it, the high-water mark of his comedy career. I would like to say more, but the last time I quoted him in this place he went off on a national sulking tour. Every day, the minister for immigration was out there attacking me for reporting what he said. I finally understood how it feels to work at Fairfax or The Guardian.
A lot of us in this place have children, and we all know they get very excited on Christmas Eve—jumping all over the place, determined to stay up late and wait for Santa. But for the parents of Australia I have got good news; I have found the solution: the Minister for Urban Infrastructure. Three minutes of him at the dispatch box and you and your kids will be out like a light!
There are a lot more who deserve a mention. There is the Minister for the Environment and Energy, the only person who thinks that getting coal for Christmas is a reward; and the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, who in the morning opposed our reforms to negative gearing because they would push prices up and—wait for it—in the afternoon opposed them because they would push prices down. Then, of course, there is our old friend the Leader of the House, who in just a few sitting weeks has managed to break a 50-year-old record by losing votes on the floor and break a 115-year-old record by having the government vote against itself. To be fair, not only is he dragging down the government in the chamber but the member for Corio tells me he is dragging down the ratings on Pyne & Marles.
But you really cannot go past the filler in every political stocking, the gift that keeps on giving: Senator George Brandis. I tried to make a list of the Attorney-General's top five blunders this year. Suddenly it was a top 10 and that was just for November. I mean, you would need a $15,000 bookcase to document this Attorney-General's failures. What is this government's agile and innovative solution to the worst Attorney-General in the history of the Commonwealth? Make him an ambassador. He is being promoted out. Only in this government the more you fail, the more you get promoted. London is calling and amongst his colleagues I understand it cannot come soon enough. But you have got to give the Prime Minister some credit or at least a sense of humour. For 80 years the British government sent us the prisoners they considered beyond redemption—the sweepings of their society—and, in one fell swoop, Australia will get its revenge!
The reality is that this Prime Minister and his government are finishing the year just the way they started: divided, compromised and sharpening their weapons for civil war. Look at the mess they keep making of this backpacker tax, a debacle from day one. There has been no consultation, no modelling and no idea. It is an ambush of regional Australia, of agriculture and of tourism. The government's economic plans are not worth the paper they are printed upon. They lob things up, they pretend they are set in stone and then they crumble. Now they cannot swallow their pride, admit they got it wrong and help out the regions. Are we really meant to believe this Prime Minister, who has given up on everything he believes in? Remember he was the champion of marriage equality and the champion of climate change? You name it, he was the champion—he was the champion of the ABC. Now he cannot move for two per cent, and no doubt, whatever they work out, this backpacker tax has been a debacle and it shows the government are not capable of governing.
When you look at it, this is a Prime Minister who always caves in to the bullies on the back bench. He is the pawn at the front of the chessboard; the member for Warringah is the king on the back bench now. His colleagues, Liberal and National, have worked him out. They know the Prime Minister is so weak, so focused on his own survival and so desperate to keep his job that they can tweak his tail and get whatever they want. Every time he sells out, he sells Australia short. This Prime Minister, barely a year ago, came to office with the highest approval ratings in a political generation, and after a year plus of coalition failure he had an unprecedented opportunity to set a new direction for this nation. The nation hoped that, when he rolled the member for Warringah, perhaps we would see a different sort of politics and a new economic direction. They hoped that he would take real action on climate change. They hoped that he would put the climate deniers and the flat-earthers back in the box. They hoped he would deliver on marriage equality, to end the injustice in this country that denies one group of citizens a right extended to all the others. They hoped he would undo the damage of the 2014 budget, with the cuts to schools, the cuts to hospitals and the cuts to pensions and families. Instead of fixing these problems, he has made them worse. Instead of a new direction, he has doubled down. It is the same unfairness with the new extravagance—the same cuts to the vulnerable and the same punishment for working and middle-class families. But he can find $50 billion for a tax cut for corporate Australia and he can find money for a tax cut for millionaires. He has a plan that punishes Australians who cannot afford it and rewards those who do not need it. It is the failed, flawed experiment of trickle-down economics—the same old conservative nostrum of survival of the fittest, of dog eat dog. It is an ideology which says that, if you fall behind, you get left behind, the worst possible approach to a changing economy.
The very way he has conducted himself in this backpackers tax debate highlights the true weakness at the core of this government. In his heart of hearts, he knows that Labor's move from 10½ per cent to 13 per cent involves a more modest move from them from 15 to 13, but here is my prediction: this is a government that would rather look at the politics than the policy every time. It is clear that you could simply bridge this difference for a very small amount. My prediction is this: the government would rather go to the fringe dwellers in the Senate than deal with Labor. This is a government that says we should all work together. But every time there is an opportunity to work with Labor it is more committed to its opposition to Labor than it is to the good government of this country. The only thing that unites the government is its furious opposition to Labor and the rights of people to join unions. There is nothing else which unites the government except its dislike of Labor. At the core, this is a government motivated by hate, not hope, and by fear of the future rather than an optimism about what we can accomplish together. This is the government which, at the end of 2016, is marked by its desire to fight Labor than to govern Australia.
In every question time since the government got elected all they have done is attack us. They never talk about their dreams or their hopes or aspirations for Australians. We on the other hand know what is important in this parliament, and it is not the people who sit here; it is the people who elect us. We will make sure in 2017 that we will stand up for working and middle class Australians, and that we will stand up for their jobs, their education and their health care. We will do this and more.
Six hundred and sixty seven billion dollars—that is right; that was the debt trajectory that the Labor-Greens left this nation. We have been working very hard to deliver sensible, rational economic policy. We have been trying to deliver a budget surplus, but every time we initiate budget savings they tend to block them, even ones that they had proposed themselves. We are trying to keep our AAA credit rating intact. Yet, the actions of the opposition are putting our credit rating at risk. They promised to keep John Howard's Pacific Solution, only to dismantle it and then see more than 50,000 illegal boat arrivals and over 1,000 deaths at sea. They gave away our border sovereignty and cost us $14 billion.
We have been working hard across all arms of parliament and government to try and effect budget savings to fix the budget mess. We are pulling every lever that we can to grow our economy. We have invested record amounts in health, education and infrastructure. This year in health alone over $74 billion is being spent. They cut $6 billion out of Medicare when they were last in government and they tried to take $400 million out of medical research. We have seen record investment in health. Another $4 billion is budgeted to be spent over the next four years in Medicare, along with another $2.9 billion in hospitals. That is capped at a 6½ per cent growth. We still have activity-based funding. And the PBS is funding over 1,200 new medicines that account for over $4½ billion.
The other side seems to have selective amnesia about their failures. They forgot that Australia never forgets. They have forgotten about all the public policy fiascos that they had—the pink batts, the school halls, the cash for clunkers and the live cattle exports debacle. That was one of the biggest failures of public policy ever. They destroyed the whole economies of northern Australia. They devalued property and put people out of work. People lost their assets. When cattle flooded into southern markets, it dropped the value of cattle in southern markets, as well. Every effort has been put in to try to fix the budget mess that we have inherited. With free trade deals and expanded export markets, we have a booming cattle trade now.
With the NBN, they spent $6 billion over six years with only 50,000 customers to show. In the last four years, 3.2 million people have been connected. There is over one and half million customers. With major infrastructure spending, there have been multibillion-dollar investments in the Pacific Highway and Bruce Highway. We have restored $2 billion that was taken out of the Pacific Highway, and it is being completed all the way to the Queensland border. We have tax cuts for middle-income earners, stopping them from going up into the second-highest tax bracket. We have small business tax cuts down to 27½ per cent. We have accelerated depreciation for farm equipment, fencing repairs and fodder storage. We are putting record funding back into the construction of new dams. That is $2½ billion. Work is being done to get the Rookwood Weir improvements done. The Chaffey Dam extension is being completed. Money has gone into the Macalister Irrigation District. We have the Inland Rail at $839 million into the budget and activities going there. We have work on the Toowoomba range crossing. We are boosting investment in all parts of regional Australia in our Building Better Regions Fund and the jobs and investment funds across the country.
We have addressed the lawlessness and the malfeasance in the registered organisations commission bill, and the ABCC bill has been passed, which will get proper governance back onto building and construction sites. Restoring the rule of law in the building and construction industry will help everyone across Australia—not just the people trying to build a building. For people who want to rent space, their leases will be cheaper if buildings are cheaper. The same is for first-home owners. Buying buildings that are expensive to build is the net result of inefficient and ridiculous work conditions that put the costs of everything up.
You cannot have amnesia and put in an MPI like this when you see all the abject failures and all the obstruction that has gone on with trying to get our budgetary position back into the black. A lot of people on the other side make out that they care, but, most times, I think that they just cannot count. A budget is a difficult thing to do if you are not prepared to make the big cuts that you need to make to bring down spending—spending that is projected to go to $660 billion if you do not change the budgetary items. That is the critical thing. Those opposite are not prepared to take any hard decisions. They want to act like Father Christmas and talk about spending more, but the presents at the bottom of the Christmas tree are just giant, big IOUs for our future generations.
Initiating savings measures is not being mean and nasty; it is being responsible. The things that we have done over the last year have been done to try to get the budget back in order. There is the NBN. Probably the biggest issue that I get questions on in my electorate relate to the delayed rollout of the NBN. Finally, we have the NBN rollout. Having 50,000 people signing up each month was nirvana when those opposite were administering it, but now it is happening in reality. As I said, 3.4 million people in Australia can now connect to the NBN, and there are over 1½ million paying customers. We have got the Sky Muster satellite up and we have got the second one that has just been launched. When that is up there will be excess capacity. In the health budget, we have runs on the board. There was a cut of $6 billion out of the health budget when the other side was governing, and we have put $6 billion into both hospitals and Medicare in this last funding arrangement. And then we see the wonderful list of over 1,200 drugs that are now on the PBS courtesy of strong budget management.
Eventually, someone has to pay—and it is usually the government. But the other side seem to think that they are helping people by borrowing more money without any plan to ever pay it back—and they compare our nation's finances to basket cases overseas that have so much debt that they are never, ever going to be in a position to pay their debt off. The infrastructure that we are delivering on the Pacific Highway, on the Bruce Highway, on inland rail and on dams is going to grow the economy. Just the dams work will allow over 2,000 new people to work in agriculture in Central Queensland. But we have to get it done. That is why we are taking our budget responsibility so seriously.
You can have 10 minutes of comedy gags from the Leader of the Opposition—he must have a good speechwriter because he got a few laughs—but this is serious business.
Mr Rob Mitchell interjecting—
I am not a comedy man; I am just dealing with the facts. You can belittle the place by having one-liners, but we are trying to get our budget back in the black so that our children and their children are not saddled with mountains of debt. You have to realise that changing the budget narrative is something that you will never accept. Like I said, the Christmas present for our children should not be a massive IOU; it should be sensible government making sensible decisions to deliver a sound economy that will employ more Australians and get our nation back to the prosperity it should have.
I can assure you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I have no props with me today! In question time today, the Prime Minister was asked a question about delivering on the government's plan, and he used the few minutes that he had available to him to have a go at us on this side—as he does in answer to every question. It really was disappointing to think that we have a Prime Minister, elected just this year, who cannot even find three minutes worth of achievements to talk about in question time on the last parliamentary sitting day of this year.
He talked about his plan. Let's have a look at the achievements of the Prime Minister's plan. He talked about jobs and growth all through the election—'Never been a more exciting time to be alive.' So far this year we have lost 100,000 full-time jobs and we have octupled the deficit. The previous member who spoke talked about the economic rigour of those opposite and the fiscal discipline of those opposite. Well, the 2015-16 budget deficit blew out eightfold—from $4.7 billion to just under $40 billion. I did not think that I would ever get the chance of using the word 'octupled' in the parliament, but I get to use it because they have octupled the deficit.
They have cut $30 billion from schools. This is perhaps the thing that disappoints so many people most about the Prime Minister and about the old Malcolm Turnbull they knew. When we used to ask the old Malcolm Turnbull about schools, he would say, 'I went to school with David Gonski'—wink, wink, nudge, nudge, 'I am going to fully fund our schools, because I am on a unity ticket with the man who came up with the Gonski school funding reforms.' But, no, those cuts of $30 billion have stayed. There are 130,000 fewer apprentices than we had when Labor left government.
So what instead have those opposite focused on? They have focused on the big issues, haven't they? They have focused on repealing 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act—because it is so important that people have the opportunity of being bigots whenever they want. They have focused on the ABCC—treating a million Australians as though they are guilty until they can prove that they are innocent; building workers being treated worse than drug dealers, as criminals. And then there is the $200 million on a wasteful and divisive plebiscite.
But they are not the only achievements of this government. There is the guns for votes scandal. There is Tony Abbott stalking Malcolm Turnbull—the member for Warringah stalking the Prime Minister. There is the Prime Minister taking orders from the Minister for Immigration and the far Right of the Liberal Party. There is the Bob Day vote scandal, where the government were taking votes from someone they believed was improperly elected to the Senate. There is the Attorney-General being prepared to give away hundreds of millions of Commonwealth taxpayers' dollars to his mates in Western Australia. There is the Attorney-General versus the Solicitor-General, with the wrong one resigning. There is the Attorney-General appointing 37 people to jobs worth well over $300,000 a year without any proper process before the election. Ironically, there is the Attorney-General calling other people 'very mediocre'. There is the Treasurer introducing legislation, with great fanfare, with a $107 million black hole in it. There is the foreign minister sending 23 public servants to Paris for a conference on cost cutting. I can give her a clue about where she can start with the cost cutting. There is the education minister who spent $10 million on an advertising campaign that government legal advice says might not have been legal.
This is the first majority government in more than 50 years to lose control of the House of Representatives. Today they twice forgot to vote in divisions, despite the fact that they were already in here for a previous division. They were sitting there and they forgot to vote. This is a government that let the Senate run out of legislation to debate. This is a government that, for the first time since Federation, voted to condemn itself. This is a government that set aside $300 million to tackle ice and so far has not spent that money on frontline services, while cutting existing services like the Haymarket clinic, in my electorate, that was already serving drug- and alcohol-affected homeless people. This is a Prime Minister who has lost control of his party, has lost control of his parliament and has got no plan.
I find this is an interesting topic: the government's year that has harmed Australians. Let us reverse that. Within our economy we have changes that have to occur because of the years of expenditure and spending, yet I do not see an opposition that is prepared to come to the table and negotiate compromises that will allow our economy to grow and flourish—not to be put at risk by a potential AAA rating. Leaders within teams show their colours by their capacity to sit and listen to solutions—to work through the issues that confront all Australians. The decisions we make in here are important. I want to acknowledge the leadership of the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. Teams are cohesive and there is the capacity for difference of opinions, and those differences are often manifested by individuals who take up a stance on behalf of their constituents. I do not have an issue with that, as long as they continue to play for a greater outcome that is to the benefit of this country and to all Australians.
When we look at the successes we have had, we go from the minutiae through to significant changes. Those minutiae can be things such as, at the end of October, a record 1,161 Australians and their families benefiting from a lifesaving transplant through the generosity of 409 deceased organ donors and their families, a further 203 living donors saving lives through live-kidney or partial-liver donation, and thousands more becoming tissue donors. When we consider every initiative that every minister of this government has put into place, including the reforms by my colleague Minister Ley, they are significant reforms that are beneficial to all Australians. But at times I hear the carping that goes to issues that are contradictory to the reforms that we need.
I know that you like to carp, Joel. I get that and I understand why you do it. Let me also say that each of us in here should work towards the changes that are needed for the benefit of this nation. The Turnbull government is doing that. With every issue we bring in, we are finding that Labor could have dealt with some of these issues.
The member made a point on education. Education is critical, but if you do not have the money in a fiscally responsible environment, then you run the risk of a AAA rating in this nation. If Labor wants to do that, then in a sense they are those who are harming Australians. The work that we have done and continue to do will be for the benefit of all. We have seen Australia secure its 25th consecutive year of economic growth. Our growth is faster than every G7 economy. That has meant that we have been able to enjoy the lifestyle that we have had. We have protected Medicare, contrary to what Labor has said. We have protected Medicare, primary health care and made over 2,000 medicines cheaper.
We will continue to focus on the needs of Australians. The Turnbull government will take that leadership regardless of the opposition that we get from those on the other side, who could, on some of these critical issues, stand up and work with us. Ultimately, it is not about Labor or Liberal; it is about the way in which we make decisions that benefit all Australians. We have simplified private health care and we have improved mental health services—a very key and critical area. There are many successes within each of the portfolios that should never be overlooked.
This government is committed to its plan, to the tasks ahead and to the challenges that lie before it. We have seen Labor not support the backpacker tax. They had a chance to sit, compromise and reach a solution, but instead they opposed. This goes to the jobs of people who work within the agricultural sector. The contribution they make to our economy is critical.
I finish by saying that there is much that this government has done successfully. It will continue to work in that way to strive to improve the quality of life for every Australian that we serve. We will continue, within the work that we do, not only to work within a team but also to contribute to the way in which debate occurs. (Time expired)