Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Matters of Public Importance
For the edification of those people listening I will explain how MPI debates work. The first speaker is from the opposition, the second speaker is from the government, the third speaker is from the opposition. I am the fourth speaker, on the government’s side. Normally we rebut the propositions put up by those opposite. I thank the member for Indi for sparing me the necessity of doing that, because she contributed nothing. I will, however, return to some of the comments made by the member for Casey, particularly to comments about one of my constituents, Mr Mike Kaiser, and his appointment to NBN. Obviously, Mike Kaiser is one of the most qualified people for the job of NBN’s government relations person. Almost no-one else in Australia has been a state MP, an adviser to the New South Wales government and an adviser to the Queensland government. He has good connections throughout Australia from his time as a state Labor secretary. This is a guy who understands how governments work, so he is well qualified for the appointment to NBN Co.
While I am talking about the telecommunications area, I think it is timely to revisit some of the appointments made under the Howard government. There is an entity which is also connected with telecommunications called the ABC. Those opposite might have heard about it. It has a board which is impartial because the ABC was set up to be, and is respected for, being impartial.
Let us have a look at some of the appointments under the Howard government: Donald McDonald, Howard’s best mate; renowned conservative commentator, Janet Albrechtsen; Keith Windschuttle, the right-wing historian; Liberal powerbroker Michael Kroger, replaced by Liberal Party member Dr Ron Brunton; then another close personal friend of John Howard, Maurice Newman; and then a former Liberal politician, Ross McLean. Those are just some of the appointments under the Howard government. What have we done? We have put in an impartial system, a fair system where people are appointed on their merits.
That is just one of the aspects that I wanted to highlight to the member for Casey, but since he has left the chamber I will not revisit the others. Minister Bowen certainly pulled him up on some of the health hypocrisy that has been displayed opposite and the ETS, which has already been highlighted by so many other people.
In returning to the subject of hypocrisy, I also want to revisit the Leader of the Opposition, because he would have auspiced this MPI, no doubt. He would have sent it off and said, ‘This is appropriate, something that the good people of Australia should be hearing about.’ So I want to just revisit something that Minister Bowen touched on, and that was the comments by the Manly member for Warringah, or the Warringah member for Manly, in the 2004 election, about the Medicare safety net. I remember it well because I was a candidate in 2004. I ran particularly on health. I had organised a health group in the community. I was part of a lot of community groups that were interested in health, because obtaining bulk-billed treatment in Moreton was difficult. That is something I was particularly passionate about and still am to this day.
Remember that Tony Abbott promoted the safety net, which paid 80 per cent of out-of-pocket medical expenses incurred outside hospitals above a threshold of $300 a year for most families with children and concession card holders and $700 for others. I remember that policy very, very well. The member for Warringah was proud of it, going everywhere on the media. He went on Four Corners and he was unequivocal in that Four Corners exchange. The interviewer asked:
Will this Government commit to keeping the Medicare-plus-safety-net as it is now … after the election?
TONY ABBOTT: Yes.
That’s a cast-iron commitment?TONY ABBOTT: Cast-iron commitment. Absolutely.
80 per cent of out-of-pocket expenses rebatable over $300, over $700?
TONY ABBOTT: That is an absolutely rock solid, iron-clad commitment.
Four months later, a backflip—it is gone. He is out selling the flip, selling the change. So to have the member for Casey come in here at the bidding of the opposition leader and say that we are a party that is not ethical is hypocrisy at its rankest level.
I am not sure what the member for Warringah studied when he was at the seminary. I never went to a seminary. Obviously, as a good Catholic boy, I did dream of being a priest for a while but retreated from that soon after puberty. But one of the great works to come out of Italy is The Divine Comedy, an epic poem written by Dante Alighieri in the 14th century. It is all about a journey into hell by Dante. His guide is Virgil, especially going into hell. They journey through different circles of hell. They are working their way into the inner circles of hell and they get to circle 8. This is called the fraudulent circle. There are different trenches as you move further in until you get to the ninth and inner circle, which is for traitors. In the trenches you have panderers, seducers, flatterers and sorcerers and then, when you get to the sixth trench, you get the hypocrites. If you move on from there, you get thieves and counsellors—as the member for Isaacs might be interested to hear! But we will leave that aside and go back to trench 6. That circle of hell is reserved for hypocrites. Surely, the actions of the member for Warringah in bringing out an ETS policy because of political expediency are hypocrisy to the extreme—rank hypocrisy.
And for the member for Casey to trot out the argument that there has been some recalibration of our political commitments, our election commitments, is bizarre. I am going to take him to a person that the Queensland senator, Barnaby Joyce, might not be familiar with called John Maynard Keynes. John Maynard Keynes is famous for his quote: ‘When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?’ Those opposite seem to forget that we had a little thing called the global financial crisis. That meant that we had to recalibrate some of our election commitments.
I will take you to one in particular that I am pretty passionate about—that is, Building the Education Revolution. Before the election, we talked about a $2.4 billion education tax refund; $1.2 billion for digital education, where students in year 9 got computers; a $500 million investment in early childhood, preliteracy and prenumeracy; and also the national curriculum. There were many other things, but they are the big-ticket items. Well, we had something called the global financial crisis, so what did we do? We had to recalibrate that election commitment. As John Maynard Keynes says, when the circumstances change, you have to change your mind and change what you are doing. So what did we do? We bolted an economic policy onto an education policy, all about boosting productivity, so we did not have a $1.2 billion digital education revolution; in fact, we committed $14.7 billion. We recalibrated. We changed. Why? Because we had an economic policy that was bolted onto an education policy. It applied to all of Australia’s 9,540 schools: Primary Schools for the 21st Century, $12.4 billion; science and language centres, $1 billion; Renewing Australia’s Schools, $1.3 billion to refurbish all schools—all 150 electorates benefited. That is what you do when the facts change: you respond to them.
You could look at other examples as well. I just picked out another one: the Boom Gates for Rail Crossings Program. It was not a huge pre-election commitment, but then things changed. There were serious accidents at rail crossings in Queensland—maybe in the electorate of the member for Dawson; I am not sure. Once you have some serious accidents and there is an economic global financial crisis, what do you do? You bring out a policy on boom gates for rail crossings: $50 million, $100 million in 2009-10. Two hundred boom gates changed. Lives changed. But it is also an economic policy that benefits the nation, is good for productivity et cetera.
What else? When an Intergenerational report comes out that has serious implications for the future of Australia, you respond to that. You recalibrate your health election commitment in the light of that scary data, data that just blows me away. In 1970, 1.2 per cent of the GDP went on health. Now it is about four per cent. In 2050—not that far away—it is projected to go out to 7.1 per cent. Now it is costing about two grand per person; by 2050 it will be out to about $7,000. What do you do when a report like that, one of the scariest reports we have ever seen, is handed out? You respond to that report.