House debates

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Matters of Public Importance

Rudd Government

4:09 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Casey, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) Share this | Hansard source

This is a critical matter of public importance at the start of the second parliamentary year of the Rudd government. Two years ago the Prime Minister made many promises that he said he would deliver if he was elected. Two years on, it is becoming increasingly clear to the Australian people that the Prime Minister’s promises were disposable. Two years on, it is becoming increasingly clear that the much vaunted promises of a new era of integrity were just words from the Prime Minister. Of all the policy documents that the Prime Minister, the then Leader of the Opposition, released prior to the last election, one was designed to sum up his new approach should he be elected—‘Government information: restoring trust and integrity.’ There was this now infamous portrait of the then Leader of the Opposition and document after document just like that one summing up very, very specific promises and principles.

On the issue of integrity, we saw this government’s definition of integrity on display in full glare in a Senate estimates committee yesterday. We had the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy candidly and openly admitting that he suggested a well-known—and again I use the word ‘infamous’—Labor figure in Mike Kaiser as someone suitable to be employed by the National Broadband Network. They see no conflict between a minister suggesting jobs for Labor mates and their new approach to government based on what they call integrity. Integrity and the minister’s actions are miles apart. What was most staggering was not just the brazen attitude of the minister; it was also his complete inability to see any potential conflict. This is what was said in estimates yesterday by the minister and Mr Quigley, the head of the NBN:

Senator Conroy—I suggested his name as a possible person with relevant experience.

Senator FISHER—Was Mr Kaiser’s position advertised?

Mr Quigley—No.

Senator FISHER—Were there other candidates? Was there a short list?

Mr Quigley—No, there was not a short list.

The minister responsible for communications sees no problem in saying to the head of the NBN, ‘My suggestion is Mike Kaiser.’ We have all heard about Mike Kaiser. The position was then not advertised and Mike Kaiser went through a process with the NBN and was successful in receiving a $450,000-a-year job. This is the Labor government’s new definition of integrity. The minister sees no problem whatsoever in making a suggestion like that; he does not see it as out of line, out of order and totally improper. If the minister was asked—as we heard he was—if he had a skerrick of integrity about his conduct as a minister, his advice would have been, ‘You should advertise a $450,000-a-year position, get the best pool of people and pick someone on merit.’ But that was not his first instinct; his first instinct was to think of a Labor mate.

Let us look at the contrast here. The Labor Party went to the last election promising a new National Broadband Network. They promised it would begin operations in their first year—that is, by the end of 2008. We heard last week, from an Auditor-General’s report, that it took nearly 18 months and $17 million of government money—and more than $30 million in total, when you consider the funds that the tenderers had to put forward—and that that $17 million of government money went down the drain, 17 months was wasted and nothing was achieved. But when it comes to appointing a Labor mate, a decision can be made like greased lightning.

It is a sad statement, but this is perhaps the minister’s only achievement in his portfolio. On his list of achievements of what has actually been done, No. 1 is: ‘As minister for mates, I suggested the appointment of Mike Kaiser.’ The minister obviously does not think that, in his role as minister, by even suggesting someone of Mike Kaiser’s political background, someone with Mike Kaiser’s rich history, he puts enormous pressure on the head of the NBN to deliver. No, the minister sees nothing wrong with that at all.

We discovered today from the Prime Minister—I thought surprisingly—that he thought this was completely normal practice. We heard at the Prime Minister’s press conference and in answer to the question today that, as far as he is concerned, he is quite happy for all of his ministers to be suggesting these sorts of appointments and he is quite happy that the positions are not advertised. That is the clear-cut position of the Prime Minister, but he did not promise that before the last election. He did not promise that at all. This is just an example of what this true Labor government is really like—the difference between what they say and what they do. At the end of the day, a Labor mate will always come first.

Senator Conroy thinks he has escaped some questioning. He has got lots of questions to answer. He must reveal all the detail of his conversations with Mike Kaiser before and after his discussion with the NBN chief. He must reveal just how close a friend Mike Kaiser is. He must reveal the extent of the conflict of his interest. There is no doubt there is a conflict. He will need to reveal the extent of it.

But for those opposite, led by the Prime Minister, to say this is completely appropriate conduct just shows how arrogant they have become over the two years since the last election. We have seen this sort of attitude writ large in this first week and a few days of the new parliamentary year. We have seen it in the candid refusal to acknowledge any policy commitments made prior to the last election. When it comes to delivering policy commitments, the Prime Minister’s approach is now, a couple of years on, really quite obvious for all to see. Promises are not delivered. Promises are in fact just replaced with bigger promises—leapfrogged. He is almost like a Nigerian scammer: ‘I’ve made the promise. Just give me a bit more time, send me a bit more money and I will deliver eventually.’ If this guy were trading on eBay, he would have the worst record of anyone. If you looked up his seller records, you would see there: ‘dodgy goods, not delivered on time’. It would be absolutely obvious for all to see.

In the last week, we have had specific commitments put to the Prime Minister and he has just refused to acknowledge his solemn pledge not just to this parliament, which is critical, but to the Australian people. Let us be clear on a few of them. Last week, on the Neil Mitchell program in Melbourne, he was confronted with the fact that his award modernisation program had left some young people out of a job because they could no longer work their part-time jobs because they had to be paid for a minimum of three hours. He had told this parliament that no-one would be worse off. It seems the response of the Prime Minister and the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations is: ‘If these people had jobs, we’re looking after their conditions, but they’re not worse off hypothetically,’ ignoring the fact that they no longer have a job. This is writ large all over Australia. It is amazing that this government thinks it can hide the fact that there are thousands of teenage workers in part-time jobs—in the hospitality industry and in hardware stores, for example—who will lose them because of this government’s approach. The government thinks it can hide that fact. For the Prime Minister to say on the Neil Mitchell program, ‘I never gave any explicit guarantees,’ and to deny the explicit guarantees he gave in this House is the greatest snub to the Australian public.

It is not just on award modernisation that this is beginning to catch up with the Prime Minister. He was questioned last night on Q&A about his failure to deliver his promises on laptops for schools. We have seen what he has done with private health insurance. Let us recall that, before the last election, the now Minister for Health and Ageing made this very explicit statement:

On many occasions for many months, Federal Labor has made it crystal clear that we are committed to retaining all of the existing Private Health Insurance rebates, including the 30 per cent general rebate and the 35 and 40 per cent rebates for older Australians. … The Liberals continue to try to scare people into thinking Labor will take away the rebates. This is absolutely untrue.

Well, it was absolutely true.

We saw in question time yesterday the Prime Minister’s refusal to acknowledge his solid commitment to take over public hospitals by 30 June last year. We had this incredible answer from the Prime Minister yesterday where, with all the strength he could muster, he said:

As for the future plan which will be put to the states very soon, I say to those opposite that we will seek to achieve a compromise with the states …

His promise at the last election, and the promise that those opposite were elected on, was to take over public hospitals by June 30 last year. That is only a little over 220 days ago, but now he seeks to ignore the promise and, in doing so, he ignores the Australian people. My friend next to me mentioned superannuation. Again, that promise was that superannuation laws would not be changed—not one jot, not one tittle. We have already seen major change and we will see quite a bit of change again in the future.

What we are seeing from this government is arrogance and an approach where it thinks it can make and break promises and the Australian public will not care. The Australian public is a wake-up and the Australian public is starting to ask why it should believe the promises that this government makes now when it has broken the pledges it made before the last election. On the issue of integrity, the actions and the conduct of the minister for communications are just a window into how this government applies itself and acts. There will be more of this. When you look over an old car—I am a bit of a car fanatic, as my friends know—and you find a bit of rust, there is always more and there will always be more with this minister. Those opposite know it. There will be more with this minister because this is how Labor operates. (Time expired)


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