House debates

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Matters of Public Importance

Local Government

3:44 pm

Photo of Wayne SwanWayne Swan (Lilley, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | Hansard source

We saw the typical tricky, dishonest approach of the Howard government. They are too smart by half. They support localism when it might suit their immediate political interests but they have no commitment to the principle of localism when it comes to their deep-seated ideological prejudices. These deep-seated ideological prejudices simply demonstrate why the government are so out of touch and why I believe Queenslanders will see right through this manoeuvre.

The government can cross its fingers and hope this will have some huge political impact in Queensland, but the one thing Queenslanders know about the Howard government is that, when it comes to the key issues that go to the core of their personal security, they have a government that is extreme, out of touch and out of time, a government that wants to rip away their wages and working conditions, that is not committed to doing anything about climate change, that does not understand the importance of education and that is not coming to grips with the fundamental problems of combating terrorism. This is a government that is out of touch and out of time, a government that is only left with slick, tricky political manoeuvres. That was on display all in the space of about an hour during question time today.

Let me be very clear about the attitude of the federal parliamentary Labor Party, of our leader, Kevin Rudd, of all the Queensland Labor Party members and of the federal Labor caucus to this proposition. It is very clear. Our position is that the shire amalgamations proposed by Mr Beattie should be voluntary. This is no different to the position of the member for Hinkler. He said that he actually supports amalgamations. We think they should be voluntary. I think that that is what he assumes as well. That is a position we outlined well before the member for Hinkler ever thought of it or was told to think it.

Secondly, we have said that there are other ways to achieve efficiencies, through the common purchase of services by shires combining to purchase sewerage services or water services. That is a point that the Leader of the Opposition made abundantly clear in Queensland from the very beginning. Lastly, and most importantly, he made this point well before the Prime Minister ever thought of this manoeuvre:

... if there are proposals for a forced amalgamation, then that should be tested through the democratic process.

That is the position of the federal parliamentary Labor Party—one that the Leader of the Opposition has expressed directly to the Premier of Queensland. He is a grown-up man who can make his own decisions and take his own positions. We will take ours, we will fight for them, we will articulate them in Queensland and we will articulate them in this national parliament because we believe they are correct.

That brings us to the bill that the Prime Minister spoke about before question time. He said its purpose was to authorise the use of Commonwealth electoral rolls in local government areas where state rolls were not available and to provide for any state law that discriminates against local councils or other people involved in the plebiscites to be invalid. We agree with this. We think it will be a very good principle to put in place when this government is trying to ram those power plants down the throats of local communities. We think it will be a very good principle, but we did not get any endorsement of that from the Prime Minister in the House today. The Prime Minister has also said that he is not opposed to amalgamation, but he does not particularly like local governments. We can go through his history and see his opposition to the constitutional recognition of local governments over a very long period of time.

But, of course, that bill and this matter of public importance are not about local government at all. They are all about the short-term political interests of the Howard government, not the long-term national interests. Why did we suddenly have this matter of public importance on the last sitting day of one of the last sitting weeks in the life of this parliament? I will tell you why. It is because this government has just endured one of the worst months of its political history. In its 11-year-old long life, it has had one of its worst political months.

First of all, there were the damning attacks on the Prime Minister by his own Treasurer. They were in a biography in which the Treasurer deliberately accused the Prime Minister of failure through his reckless spending and putting upward pressure on inflation and interest rates. Then there was the revelation that the Treasurer had planned to wreck the Prime Minister’s leadership because he did not think he could win an election. Then we saw the farce of the Treasurer and the Prime Minister coming into this House pretending there was some new friendship between them. It is just a joke.

On top of that, the Prime Minister’s own pollster confirmed that most Australians think he is tricky, dishonest and out of touch. That is what Queenslanders will see in the bill that is to come before the parliament. They will certainly welcome the opportunity to vote, but I can tell you who will not be getting any credit for it. It will not be one John Howard, because they saw through him a very long time ago. The bill has appeared in that environment.

If something was so urgent, would you not have thought that if this Prime Minister were in such control, had such political command and really understood what the Australian people needed and what was required to address future challenges we might have seen some proposal today from him to address the inflationary pressures and the interest rate pressures that the RBA has repeatedly warned the government about? But there was nothing urgent from the Prime Minister in that area, despite what rising interest rates are doing to the living standards of so many Australian families. Or have we seen anything of an urgent nature from this Prime Minister about the critical question of housing affordability? Not a thing. Something like one million Australians live in housing stress. Did we have a bill rushed into the House to deal with that critical question? Did we have a bill rushed into the House dealing with nuclear proliferation issues? No. Of course, we know why, because that was revealed during question time. Did we have anything brought into the House to address the unfairness and extremeness of the government’s industrial relations laws? Of course we did not, because we have a Prime Minister who is not listening to the concerns of Australian families around the kitchen table. And, of course, we also know that Australian families have stopped listening to him. He has not been listening to them and they have certainly stopped listening to him, because he is not out there with positive proposals addressing their immediate kitchen table concerns.

He has got every stunt and every trick in the book. That is why this Prime Minister has had such a horror month and why this Prime Minister is reduced to standing in the courtyard on this last sitting day with his stunt about plebiscites in local government amalgamations. It is a stunt and nothing more. We welcome his stunt. He stood here today doing it because he is a Prime Minister who is in deep political trouble. He has about as much credibility today as a protector of democracy as he did yesterday when he proclaimed that he and the Treasurer had a wonderful, harmonious relationship. That is about as believable as the statement that the Prime Minister is a democrat. Fair dinkum! Does he think he can con people all of the time? It is just absurd. He is so far out of touch that he actually thinks this stuff works. It does not. For the Prime Minister to come into this House and say with a straight face that he had a wonderful, harmonious relationship with the Treasurer just shows how twisted and dishonest this Prime Minister has become. Nobody could contain their laughter—not even people on the front bench could contain their laughter. And, of course, the Treasurer was laughing again at the Prime Minister when he had his back to him during question time.

I will tell you why this is the case: because the government, on so many issues, fails what I call the motivation test. They do not do something because it is right; they do it because the election is 10 weeks away. They always fail the motivation test. We are in trouble on the environment: ‘We had better pretend we have an emissions trading scheme.’ We are in trouble on education: ‘We had better give ourselves an extreme makeover in the budget.’ We are in trouble on industrial relations: ‘We will invent a no-disadvantage test.’ All of these issues, including this bill and this debate today, fail the motivation test. The government have not introduced this measure because they are right; they have introduced it because there is an election 10 weeks away and they think it might in some way, somehow, save their miserable political hides. I do not think the Australian people will buy that because, when long-term governments like this fail the motivation test, the people simply stop trusting them. They know that every time they move they are not doing it for the right reasons; they are just doing it to save their miserable political hides and that is all. They are not motivated by what is right for the country; they are motivated by what might be right for the Liberal and National parties. That is why those in the government fail the motivation test and that is why at the end of the day this measure will not have the political impact that the desperados opposite think it will have for them. The Queensland people will see right through it.

The Prime Minister has been pretending to be a democrat. But consider the claim of the Prime Minister being a democrat in light of the recent changes to the Electoral Act. The government have now put through changes to the Electoral Act that could disenfranchise up to 160,000 people at the next election. Why? Because they think those people might just vote Labor because they are predominantly young people. It fails the motivation test again. Why is it that, on the eve of an election, when they have got their backs to the wall, we get this change to the Electoral Act which will have the practical effect, they think, of saving their miserable political hides. On that measure alone, they have failed the motivation test. If the Prime Minister is so in love with local government, why did he let Jeff Kennett do what he did to local government in Victoria? Once again, they fail the motivation test. And where was the Prime Minister on the critical issue of constitutional recognition of local government? There has been no action on that for over 11 years. Once again, the government fail the motivation test.

We are pleased that there will be ballots in Queensland—we welcome the outcome—because we do believe in the democratic processes. But this government should not kid itself that this shabby political manoeuvre is anything other than that or that somehow people in Queensland are going to stand up and clap because the Howard government failed the motivation test. They understand that you have failed the motivation test, they understand the political motivation of what you are on about and they will mark you accordingly. The most important thing here will be a successful outcome for those local communities. We on this side of the parliament have been arguing from the very beginning that these amalgamations should be voluntary—that there should be a process of consent. We have argued that strongly in Canberra, in Queensland and in Bundaberg, and we will keep arguing for it. (Time expired)


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