House debates

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Matters of Public Importance

Australian Industry

3:46 pm

Photo of Jason ClareJason Clare (Blaxland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Defence Materiel) Share this | Hansard source

You can’t trust anything that you say unless you’ve written it down. We will go to the 7.30 Report, and remember the question that Kerry O’Brien asked you, Leader of the Opposition. I think all members of the Australian public will remember what you said. Just in case anyone does not remember, this is what the Leader of the Opposition said:

Well, again Kerry, I know politicians are gonna be judged on everything they say, but sometimes, in the heat of discussion, you go a little bit further than you would if it was an absolutely calm, considered, prepared, scripted remark, which is one of the reasons why the statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth is those carefully prepared scripted remarks.

That is what the Leader of the Opposition said. When he was queried on his commitment that Work Choices was dead, buried and cremated, he went to an extra effort to prove it. That is why, on the Neil Mitchell program—and the Leader of the Opposition will remember this well—he wrote it down: ‘dead, buried and cremated’. But now it seems that you cannot even trust what he says, even if it is written down, because before the body is even cold, the opposition are digging it up—it is the zombie policy that you just cannot kill.

During the election we remember that the opposition said they would do nothing when it came to the Fair Work Act—they would make no changes to the legislation. But here is what the member for Moncrieff said afterwards:

We have been elected many times before embracing small business exceptions for unfair dismissal and we should be doing everything we can to be responsive to small business needs.

Senator Williams said:

I’ve always believed that small business should be exempt from wrongful dismissal …

The member for Canning said:

In my own electorate people are saying to us, ‘Can you have a look at this? This is crazy’. I plan to report back to the partyroom and the policy review …

The member for Mayo, one of the architects of Work Choices, said:

We made a mistake with Work Choices … but it’s an important time to go back and have a look at what we took at the election and looking at our economic reform over the next three years.

Only two weeks ago the Leader of the Opposition is on record as saying:

We absolutely stand by the policy we took to the election and we have no intention, not the slightest intention, not the nearest skerrick of a hint of a plan to do anything that might resemble the policy of the last days of the Howard government.

But in the Australian today we see the shadow minister for finance with a shovel, digging Work Choices back up, saying that he will ‘look at issues such as unfair dismissal laws and the reinstatement of individual contracts’. Before the election they said the Fair Work Act should be given a chance. I remember very clearly the opposition leader saying that industry—and remember, this is an MPI about industry—wanted certainty. Now, only a couple of months after the election, we are told in the Australian today that the shadow minister for finance believes that the Fair Work Act is ‘unravelling’. So, if you want to talk about trust—and the Leader of the Opposition has said that this is a debate about trust—then the government is very happy to.

The opposition told us during the election that their costings were audited by the company WHK Howarth. I remember the shadow Treasurer saying:

… we have the fifth-biggest accounting firm in Australia auditing our books and certifying in law that our numbers are accurate …

What do we find now? We find that those books were not audited at all. A letter, signed by the Director of the Liberal Party, Mr Brian Loughnane, said that they do ‘not constitute an audit … or a review in accordance with Australian auditing standards’. So, before the election, the Liberal Party says their books were audited; after the election—‘Well, not exactly; the books weren’t exactly audited.’ And what was the consequence of that? After the election the Independents asked to see the books, asked Treasury to examine the numbers, and we found an $11 billion black hole. So, if you want to talk about trust, whether it is Work Choices or whether it is the costings that you take to the Australian people when you seek their vote to form a government, then we are very happy to talk about trust.

Let us talk about what happened after the election. We all remember here the group hug. Remember the Leader of the House and the Manager of Opposition Business signing up to a document committing this parliament to parliamentary reform, and in particular the pairing of the Speaker? Signed one week; thrown in the bin the next. It was thrown in the bin only because the opposition did not get their way.

If you want to talk about trust, if you want to talk about keeping commitments, we can talk about it all day, because every day in this place the opposition seem to be changing their position on something. Yesterday it was the structural separation of Telstra. Before the election, the member for Casey said the coalition were against the structural separation of Telstra. Now, today and yesterday, the member for Wentworth tells us that they are in support of it—that he supports structural separation, the industry supported structural separation and he believes Telstra also supported structural separation. He says in the Australian:

The case for structural separation is a very compelling one …

That is not exactly consistent with what the opposition said before the election, so perhaps the member for Wentworth, the shadow minister for communications, has to explain whether the coalition’s policy has changed again since the election or whether it is just his position which has changed—whether his position is out of kilter with that of the coalition, a little like his position on climate change.

Or take water policy. The opposition said before the election that they would sign up to the draft water plan. Now they say that they are opposed to the whole thing. On defence, a few weeks ago the shadow minister for defence said there should be more troops in Afghanistan and there should be tanks. He said there should be helicopters. Now there has been another backflip. Last week, on radio, the shadow minister for defence had to make this humiliating backdown:

I’m not demanding tanks … any more. I have changed to agree with what Abbott said.

So, whether it is defence, whether it is water or whether it is the structural separation, we see a commitment one day and a change of position the next. So, if you want to talk about trust, if you want to talk about commitments, we can talk about that.

The opposition have now got to the point where they are attacking each other. We saw that on display on the doors today. The shadow Treasurer was saying that we should remove the RBA’s independence and re-regulate interest rates. When asked about this by the media this morning, the member for Canning had this to say:

This is one of their lunatic fringe type ideas but that’s the problem …

‘That problem’s for the Gillard government now.’ There you go. That is what their own side thinks of their ideas. You have the member for Canning criticising the shadow Treasurer’s position.


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