Wednesday, 15 August 2007
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable member for Griffith proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The Government’s focus on itself rather than governing Australia in the interests of working families
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
What we have seen in this place today has been a great display of arrogance by a government that has been in office for too long. We have seen arrogance writ large on the part of a minister at the dispatch box. We have seen arrogance writ large by those ministers interjecting in this debate. The bad news for the government is this: working families across this country spot arrogance at a hundred paces; they spot it at a thousand paces. Those listening to the debate today, those who have been watching the debate today in question time, will have seen arrogance writ large. In the last 24 hours we have seen a government which has said to itself: ‘We have as a leader the greatest Prime Minister Australia has ever seen.’ We have had a government which has claimed for itself that it has the greatest Treasurer Australia has ever seen. We have had a government which has said that it has produced the greatest environmental achievements that Australia has ever seen. Today we had ministers being described as the ‘greatest ministers ever to serve in any government in this place’. The Australian people, working families, spot arrogance, and they spot arrogance on the part of a government which now finds itself in decline.
The purpose of question time today was very straightforward—that is, to establish some basic truths, some basic facts. We asked the Treasurer a series of very basic, factual questions. The Treasurer refused to answer each of those questions that he was asked, bar the first. He was asked specifically about the nature of his answer to questions asked of him by Sky News yesterday. He refused. He was asked specifically questions concerning his comments to Mr Brissenden of The 7.30 Report. He refused. He was asked specifically questions about the activities of his press secretary in seeking to place that interview off the record, and he refused. These were just some of the questions which the Treasurer refused to answer.
What we have instead from the Treasurer is bluff, bluster and volume. The great Costello principle is that the more you shout from the dispatch box, the greater the degree of logic must be attendant on the proposition which has just been shouted. But when people dissect what the Treasurer has said, underneath it all they know that he had no answer to deliver to these questions. And the reason we asked them, apart from establishing the truth of them, is this: when we come to the actual proposition of the sustainability of this government, the relationship between Prime Minister and Treasurer is a fundamental one.
More fundamentally, what has been at stake here is: how fair dinkum is the Treasurer? We have seen the Treasurer engaged in duck, weave, obfuscation, refusing to answer, a selective quotation here, ignoring the question there. But do you know something? Working families have spotted this, they have spotted it over a long period of time, and they are reaching the conclusion that not only is this Treasurer not fair dinkum—and these questions today have all been about whether this Treasurer is fair dinkum and can be trusted—but also that the government of which he is a part can no longer be trusted either.
After 11 long years in office, this government has lost touch with working families. After 11 long years in office, this government has gone stale and has run out of ideas for the country’s future. And worse, this government has ceased governing. This is a government now preoccupied with fighting among itself. This is a government distracted by its internal feuds. It is a government whose energies are now sapped internally by its own divisions. It is a government which has increasingly become directionless, leaderless and without a vision for the future, because it is a government now absorbed with itself and no longer absorbed with the nation. It is a government whose ministers believe that what is more important is their own futures, not the future of the country. And that is what families across our nation have seen, identified and are reaching conclusions on.
This Howard government is no longer just a government in decline; it is a government in decay. If you cannot any longer govern yourself as a party, how can you continue to lay claim to being able to govern the country? These are the basic propositions which those observing the politics of this nation are now asking themselves.
Of course, this record of decline, this record of decay, has not just happened overnight. This has been happening for some time, and it has been happening on key questions about which families across this nation have been engaged for a very long time. This government has breached the people’s trust on Iraq. It is a government which has breached the people’s trust when it comes to the $300 million worth of bribes it happily consigned over to the Iraqi dictator, having sent our brave men and women in uniform to Iraq to fight in that war. It is a government which has breached—
Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: I do not believe it is within the standing orders for the Leader of the Opposition to say that we have bribed the Iraqi dictator. That is a vicious and false charge, disproved by a royal commission. It should be withdrawn.
Yes, Mr Deputy Speaker. This government’s inertia and incompetence in office have allowed $300 million worth of bribes to be paid to the Iraqi dictator through its own failure and inability to discharge its basic functions under the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. That is why the way in which this government is trusted and looked upon by the Australian people is now in such a fundamental state of breach.
This government has breached the people’s trust when it comes to ‘children overboard’. This government has breached the people’s trust when it said at the last election that it would keep interest rates at record lows. This breach of trust goes, of course, into the back pockets, chequebooks and family budgets of every working family in this country. This breach of trust has resulted in seeing five increases in interest rates since the last election. And now the government seeks to wriggle out of that promise which now dare not speak its name.
This breach of trust continues also into the workplace. This government breached trust with the Australian people when they went to the last election and said not a word about altering fundamentally the laws governing the workplaces of our country. They then introduced Work Choices. They then produced laws which stripped away people’s penalty rates and overtime for zero, and they wonder why there is a sense of breach of trust across this country.
We then come to the matter which has been the subject of debate here today—the absorption of this government with its own internal conflict, its own internal ambitions writ large and its own internal inability to resolve this dysfunctional, destabilising division between Prime Minister and Treasurer, which sucks out and saps what energies were left in this government to provide leadership for our country’s future.
I am not all that interested in who did what when or who said what when, because with these ministers at the dispatch box, as we all know from history, we will never actually know. It is like Blue Hills: it just rolls on and on, without conclusion. It is like those radio broadcasts: it is volume 67, chapter 28 of the Howard v Costello leadership battle which has never become a leadership battle. On these questions, the core issue in people’s minds is this: why is it that when the nation faces such huge challenges for its future, such a huge slice of this government’s energies is being consumed by this destabilising, dysfunctional relationship between a Treasurer and a Prime Minister? It is the worst-kept secret in Canberra, the worst-kept secret in the boardrooms of this country and certainly the worst-kept secret among those who populate the press gallery that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have such a degree of mutual loathing that it has reached cancerous proportions and is unable to be sustained into the future. That is why we have probed these questions today, because we have before us a relationship which is now in tatters.
Remember that it was the Treasurer who reminded us recently that the Prime Minister’s record on interest rates was very poor: 22 per cent. We know that. It was the Treasurer who reminded us recently that the Prime Minister has an appalling record when it comes to spending like a drunken sailor on the eve of an election. It was the Treasurer who said that; we did not. And we all remember how many billions of dollars were racked up by the Prime Minister in his campaign speech last time. You see, when it comes to the future direction of economic policy, the worst-kept secret in Canberra is that the member for Higgins has a fundamental distaste and disdain for the member for Bennelong. That is the story which has been told across the country, and the problem with today’s revelations and with the Howard biography is that it all seeps into the public domain and saps the energies of this government’s ability to deal with the real challenges facing the nation’s future—that is, working families under financial pressure. That is the future challenge which faces us as a nation for tomorrow.
When it comes to this government losing touch with working families, the Prime Minister stood up here earlier this year and said, ‘Working families in Australia have never been better off.’ I can think of no greater evidence of a Prime Minister losing touch with working families than for him to stand up there with that level of arrogance and say to people who are suffering under Work Choices, people who are suffering under five interest rate increases on the trot, people who are suffering through the escalation of grocery prices and people who are suffering from a 12 per cent annual increase in childcare prices that these working families have never been better off.
It demonstrates what has happened inside the engine room of this government. Their energies have been so sapped away from the business of government and of remaining in touch and in contact with the community that, instead, they believe that their personal ambitions are far more important than dealing with these basic challenges to the ability of working families to survive into the future. The question is: do they stand here and believe that they have some plan for the future?
When it comes to the future, where are this government’s plans for this nation’s future over the next 10 years? Where are the government’s plans for an education revolution? Where are the government’s plans when it comes to climate change and water? Where are the government’s plans when it comes to infrastructure bottlenecks? Where are the government’s plans when it comes to broadband? Where are the government’s plans when it comes to ending the blame game with the states? Where are the government’s plans when it comes to providing a viable, credible exit strategy for our troops in Iraq? Where are the government’s plans when it comes to dealing with the unfolding challenge across Melanesia as one Pacific island state after another rolls into the dust through inaction through our foreign aid vote? We have no evidence of plans across any of these great challenges facing the nation. But there is a core reason. The energies of this government are being directed inward, no longer outward. The energies of this government are about their personal ambition, not about an ambition for the nation. And the Australian people have woken up to it.
By contrast, in these areas we, as an opposition, as an alternative government, have said that the nation requires leadership. We have said on the question of an education revolution: ‘Let us build early childhood education. Let us rejuvenate our universities. Let us enable our kids studying trades in schools to have 2,650 trades training centres built in each of the secondary schools of this nation.’ That is a plan, whereas this government has none. When it comes to the future of infrastructure, we will have a body called Infrastructure Australia and we will build a $4.7 billion high-speed broadband network across the country. Then there is the National Party, represented here in this chamber, which is ticking the box when it comes to a second-rate, second-tier, lower-speed system for everyone in rural and regional Australia because it does not have the guts to stand up against the Liberals and deliver anything decent for its own constituency.
We have plans when it comes to an education revolution, plans when it comes to infrastructure, plans for a future of broadband, plans when it comes to climate change. How can you have a serious commitment to dealing with climate change when those opposite are still in a position of not having the courage to identify a carbon target for the future? How can you be serious about a plan for the nation’s climate, the future environment of our children, when you refuse to identify any such target?
The tragedy of this government is this: they have had 11 years in office. They have been the beneficiaries of a mining boom. They have had, for the last five or six years, a huge injection of public revenue from around the world into the coffers of the Treasury. And what have they done with it? It has been a squandered opportunity. You have not invested in productive capacity for the future; you have sat around that cabinet table in each of your own private councils of the Liberal Party and National Party and planned instead for your own political futures. You have not had the energy, the discipline, the leadership or the vision to craft out a long-term plan for the country. Despite the fact that you have been uniquely gifted by providence with the product of this resources boom, with the resources to invest in our country’s future productive potential, you have not done anything with that. We stand ready for the future. Your government is not just— (Time expired)
That is a very fair point that my colleague raises. I say to the Leader of the Opposition: ‘Where are your friends? You did not win any on today’s performance.’ On today’s performance, it is not at all surprising that when members of the opposition had a choice between Mark Latham and Kevin Rudd they chose Mark Latham, and that when they had a choice between Kim Beazley and Kevin Rudd they chose Kim Beazley, because there is hardly a member of the opposition frontbench who could not have put in a more convincing performance than the pathetic effort by the Leader of the Opposition today.
The MPI today is:
The Government’s focus on itself rather than governing Australia in the interests of working families.
The best way to know what is on the mind of political parties is to listen to what they talk about in question time. From the government today we had questions on wages growth, industrial relations reform, inflation, assistance for renters, a new model for public hospitals, Iraq and retirement savings. What did we have from members opposite? Absolutely nothing of any substance at all. Just an attempt to rake over old embers—an attempt to inflame an old issue which has been decisively dealt with and satisfactorily resolved by this government.
We were told repeatedly by the Leader of the Opposition that this government has somehow run out of puff. Let me just remind members opposite—and indeed the Australian people—of some of the big-ticket policies which this government has been pursuing since early 2005, when the alleged conversations which triggered today’s MPI took place. Since early 2005 this government has pushed through historic industrial relations reforms. They were tough reforms, and not necessarily popular, but they were necessary for the long-term future of this country, because you do not build the future, you do not build tomorrow, by embracing the soft option today, which is what we consistently see from members opposite. There have been three budgets since that time, presided over by the Treasurer, with serious personal tax cuts, the establishment of the Future Fund and superannuation reform. We have sold off Telstra—something that was always opposed by members opposite and then, at the last minute, in one of the great pieces of me-tooism, endorsed. The Commonwealth government has achieved debt free status; Welfare to Work reforms have been put in place; the historic plan to save the Murray-Darling Basin has been announced and is being implemented in the teeth of opposition from the Labor states; and, most recently, the historic, once-in-a-generation set of reforms to restore civil society in the Indigenous townships of the Northern Territory. I do not want to boast—I do not think it is a very good policy for government ministers to boast—but it is not a bad record. It has been masterminded by the finest political partnership in Australia’s history: John Howard and Peter Costello, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer of this country.
I do not say for a second that the Treasurer is not ambitious. Of course he is ambitious. He is entitled to be ambitious. If I had achieved what he has achieved, I would be entitled to be ambitious. Why shouldn’t he be ambitious for the higher things and, one day, even a higher job? Why shouldn’t he be ambitious? If from time to time he has been a little impatient, that just proves that, as well as being a great reforming Treasurer, he is a normal human being. I tell you what: we want human beings to be running this country and in charge of this government, and that is what we have got—fine human beings.
We have been told that we have been introverted rather than governing Australia in the interests of working families. Let us just remind members opposite, as they keep saying that this government has no plans: plans do not matter nearly as much as performance. We have endless waffle from the Leader of the Opposition, but what has he ever delivered in his life? He has not even run a local council let alone a national economy. By contrast, we have this government, this Prime Minister and this Treasurer, delivering more jobs, higher pay and greater wealth for the people of Australia—a 20-plus per cent increase in real wages, 2.1 million new jobs, and real net wealth per head in this country doubling since 1996. I do not say that this government is perfect; I do not say that this government has not made mistakes; I do not say that this government has not from time to time been prone to the ordinary human tensions and difficulties to which our flesh is heir, but it has been a good government, and nothing we have seen from members opposite suggests that they could even come close to matching it.
Let me just make a few points in response to the newspaper articles and the press reports which have prompted today’s MPI. If the Treasurer really said what some journalist claim he said, why wasn’t it reported in 2005, when it might have had some relevance, rather than now, when those alleged comments have been entirely disproved by subsequent events? If it wasn’t a story in 2005, why is it a story in 2007? If it was off the record in 2005, why is a distorted and, it seems, factually inaccurate version suddenly on the record in 2007? Let me make this clear: I am a former journalist. I think I know something about the way journalism should work. I think I know a little about professional standards in journalism. Let me just remind the House and anyone who might be listening to it that, if something is off the record, it effectively does not exist—and people are certainly entitled to deny that which does not exist. I know the Treasurer very well. I have known the Treasurer since January of 1977—more than 30 years. He is not perfect—none of us are—but he is a fine man, he is a truthful man and, most relevantly, he is a very effective Treasurer and a very effective politician who is entitled to be the next Prime Minister of this country.
Members opposite have attempted today to suggest that there is some fundamental character flaw in the Treasurer of this country. I am sure that members opposite would discount the sort of thing that I might say, but let me quote a journalist. Suddenly, what journalists say is gospel truth. Let me give an alternative gospel truth to members opposite.
It was on the record, too. It is an article by Jason Koutsoukis from the Sunday Age of 3 June this year, and it is actually comparing the Treasurer and the Leader of the Opposition. Of the Treasurer, he says:
He certainly has some things Rudd doesn’t.
Such as a sense of humour (has anyone ever seen Rudd really laugh, or crack a joke?). Costello is also a man who makes friends easily, while I’m yet to meet one person who describes themselves as a friend of Rudd’s. (A Labor MP told me over dinner last week that he could not name a single friend Rudd has made in the eight years he has been in Parliament.)
There are also signs that Rudd shares some of the characteristics that made Hewson a poor political leader. He is a workaholic with a short temper, he is quick to blame others for mistakes and is apparently unwilling to listen to other points of view.
… … …
It is also said that Rudd does not respect the intellect of most of his peers and doesn’t mind showing it. Conversely, Rudd doesn’t seem to command the sort of respect from the caucus that a good leader should have.
And didn’t we see that lack of respect as they listened to the pathetic effort of the Leader of the Opposition earlier this afternoon?
We had the statement from members opposite that the Treasurer is in some way loose with the truth—in some way not to be trusted to tell the truth. Again, let me quote a journalist—a respected journalist who understands, I think, the conventions that should govern conversations between public figures and the media. Laurie Oakes, in the Bulletin of 24 April this year, wrote: ‘“I would never knowingly lie,” Rudd told 60 Minutes. That was a whopper right there.’ Laurie Oakes goes on to describe in some detail the untruths that had been retailed by none other than the Leader of the Opposition. As my colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs reminded the House earlier today, we had the Leader of the Opposition on 27 November last year saying:
I have stated time and time again in the last ten days or so since this last bout of speculation came round that he—
that is to say the then Leader of the Opposition Mr Beazley—
has my support.
How many times did the cock crow when this particular lie was being peddled? Because, within a few days, this person pledging full loyalty was in fact mounting a leadership challenge.
More or less at random, I go through the events of the last seven or eight months, looking at what I suppose can best be described as fables—I do not want to say they are outright lies, but certainly they are not pure and uncontested truth—peddled by the Leader of the Opposition: the story of his allegedly being kicked off the farm; his repeated equivocation and slidings-around over what really happened between the Leader of the Opposition and Brian Burke; and then of course there was the ‘sun lies’ story, the fake dawn service that the Leader of the Opposition’s office was arranging with Channel 7 and which the Leader of the Opposition constantly denied, only to be humiliatingly caught out. There was his fatuous claim about wanting to drive a hybrid car, for God’s sake—such an environmentalist: ‘Yeah, yeah; me, me; I want to drive a hybrid car.’ And when he had to admit that, no, in fact he drove a Ford Territory, he said, ‘I’m only driving a Ford Territory because I can’t get a hybrid car’—a complete and utter fabrication, of course. And then we had yesterday’s little porky to poor Rosanna Harris, who has been utterly deceived by the Leader of the Opposition—and there is no apology from the Leader of the Opposition. He is not going to visit Rosanna Harris to tell her what the real situation is.
A lot is said off the record around this place. For instance, I now quote Paul Daley, the Bulletin’s national affairs editor, who quotes, off the record, someone who supported the Leader of the Opposition, who turned his back on the beloved Kim Beazley, for a final roll of the dice behind Rudd. What does this Labor parliamentarian say about the Leader of the Opposition? The article says:
Indeed, the C word featured so prominently in this Labor man’s description of his boss that I started to shift uncomfortably in my chair ...
For in front of C, he used - unprompted - the following adjectives:
… … …
“He does not ... have a friend in the place ...”
I can understand why, with the kind of misplaced and prissy sanctimony that we saw from this pseudo-leader earlier in the House today. This is a silly MPI. It should not have detained the business of this House.
This debate goes to the core of the honesty and the trustworthiness of the Treasurer. Last night, three respected and senior journalists indicated that the Treasurer had lied, on national television, and everything that we saw in the parliament today indicates that that is exactly what he did. He refused to honestly and directly answer nine questions that were put to him in this parliament this afternoon, and he has, in effect, confirmed the statements that have been attributed to him in the media by three senior and respected journalists.
This is a sign of someone who is prepared to be slippery, a sign of someone who does not tell the truth and a sign of someone who really should not be in charge of the high office that he holds. We saw evasion. We saw hairsplitting. We saw him at his slippery best. He did not at any stage dispute the substance of what those senior journalists were saying. He did dispute the date and he did dispute whether they were off the record. The Leader of the House had the hide to say that if it is off the record then it did not happen. Well of course it happened—and it was confirmed today by the Treasurer that it did happen. What he wanted to do in the House today was to shoot the messenger. He could not shoot down the substance of the message because it unquestionably happened. When you have three senior respected journalists all saying the same thing, then it absolutely happened. He confirmed that by his trickery and slippery behaviour in the House today. But he has gone further, because essentially what he is doing is attacking these three senior journalists. He implies that somehow they have fabricated their notes or collaborated to ensure their versions of statements are consistent. These journalists have risked their reputations on this issue. They have put their honesty and their integrity on the line. I tell you what, I know whose integrity I would choose when it comes to a choice between those three senior journalists and the Treasurer of Australia, who makes a speciality out of slippery behaviour in this House. It was all let out of the bag by the Treasurer when I asked him whether his press secretary contacted the journalists after the dinner to confirm the accuracy of their notes. Why would the press secretary have rung them after the dinner if the Treasurer did not think that he had said something that was a problem? This is a small bit of logic that really points to how this Treasurer has become.
What we saw today was a low-rent barrister, not a reforming Treasurer—not someone who has a plan for the future and who is tackling the great challenges of inflationary pressures in the Australian economy. No-one is doing that. The Treasurer has got his eye on the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister certainly has his eye on him, but neither of them have their eye on the main game—which is looking after the national interest. So we know from these three senior journalists that he was at that dinner, having the odd red wine, denigrating, as usual, the Prime Minister and doing his best to undermine the Prime Minister. I guess he was demonstrating why former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett nicknamed him ‘dog’. Why did the former Premier of Victoria nickname the Treasurer ‘dog’? It is because he said that he had all the attributes of a dog except for loyalty. Of course, that was on display for everybody to see on that night in 2005. You can be sure that there have been plenty more dinners around this country and plenty more discussions in plenty of boardrooms where the Treasurer has repeated his very low opinion of the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister had a scintilla of leadership left in him then he would not cop it. If the Prime Minister had any political strength, he would not cop it. But we all know that he is copping it because the election is only weeks away and he is not game to do anything about it. So what we have on display in this parliament is not only the lack of ticker from the Treasurer to challenge the Prime Minister but also the lack of ticker from the Prime Minister to throw the Treasurer out. We see the lack of ticker in this Prime Minister, who wants a political fix and who will not face up to the reality.
We now have a dangerous combination in Australia: a Prime Minister who will say anything, do anything and spend any amount of money to cling onto office, and a Treasurer who will not do anything about it. That is a dangerous situation in a climate of higher inflation and rising interest rates. We have a Treasurer who will not do his job and who is incapable of restraining the Prime Minister in an inflationary environment. And they want to lecture us about experience and strength! What about a Treasurer who has the strength to stand up to a Prime Minister when it comes to the vital economic question of the security of lower interest rates in this country? He will not stand up to the Prime Minister when he goes on spending sprees. And of course the Prime Minister will not do anything about the Treasurer’s insubordination because we have a dangerous combination of them being linked together by a political imperative, not the imperative of looking after our national interest and the interests of all Australians.
Why does all of this really matter? It matters because, if they are not capable of working together properly in the national interest, that endangers strong and effective economic management. It absolutely does do that. We have seen the evidence of this from the Treasurer himself, who complained to the Howard biographers that during the last two election campaigns the Prime Minister went on a reckless, unsustainable spending spree. Here we are, on the cusp of another election, with a Prime Minister who has made it clear as day that he intends to buy the next election and a Treasurer who is too weak to stop him. How can you trust the Liberals with interest rates when they have plans to buy the election? You cannot trust a party planning to buy an election with interest rates, and we have seen today that you cannot trust the Treasurer to do anything other than to pursue his own personal interests.
Of course, in a roundabout way, the Prime Minister has confirmed this. He confirmed this in an interview on radio 5AA on 19 July. He said it is impossible for the economy to be properly managed ‘if you do not have harmony between a Prime Minister and a Treasurer’. I think it just got more impossible. How can we properly manage an economy with harmony? It is obvious to everyone in this country that there is little harmony between the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. That was on display for everybody to see only this week. The Prime Minister, dare I say it, had an honest moment. When we brought out our rental affordability scheme he went on the radio and said, ‘We might have a look at that; maybe that has something going for it.’ Five hours later the Treasurer emerged to do his Herman Munster act—to come out and monster our affordability scheme and to tell his usual lies about Labor policy.
It was a very embarrassing performance. No matter whether you are dealing with the level of interest rates, the causes of interest rate rises, what is going on with housing affordability and how to fix it, or what is happening with climate change—all the critical areas of policy that go to the core of the personal security and environmental sustainability of our country—this Treasurer will be on the wrong side of the issue. There is a failure to understand it. If he cannot understand the problem when it comes to housing affordability, if he cannot understand the pressures that interest rates are putting on Australian families, how can he be part of the solution? He cannot be part of the solution because he is so far out of touch. Why is he so far out of touch? Because he is obsessed with his own personal advancement and not the advancement of the nation or standing up for the national interest.
All of this pervades the government’s approach to policy issues, which are critical to future wealth creation in our community. You see it in the dishonesty of the government when they brag about the current boom as if they are responsible for the mining boom, as if they are responsible for the strongest world conditions in 30 years, as if they are responsible for the fact that the terms of trade are at a 50-year high. What they are doing is squandering the opportunities that are coming from this marvellous opportunity. The government is consumed by a power struggle between the Costello forces on the one hand and the Howard forces on the other. The losers here are the Australian people. It is as the Prime Minister accurately said; ‘You cannot manage the economy if you do not have harmony between the Prime Minister and the Treasurer.’ (Time expired)
It gives me no particular pleasure to follow the member for Lilley with his nervous, rehearsed performance and his clenching of one of his fists. Obviously, it is something he practised this morning. As we know from other comments on the public record, he likes to stand in front of the mirror and practise. But, quite strangely, he talked about trust and interest rates. He knows that, under the former Labor government, interest rates were at least 4½ per cent higher. He remembers all too well the 17 per cent interest rates. But let us think about this: trust and the member for Lilley. How can the Australian people trust to be Treasurer of Australia a man who hands over money to an alternative political party in a brown paper bag? He has gall and he has no shame—he is an absolute embarrassment not just to himself but also to the Labor Party.
We heard the Leader of the Opposition talking about governance of political parties and claiming that the government cannot govern itself. Let us have a look behind some of those sentiments about the governing of political parties. Let us remind ourselves, yet again, just in case we may have forgotten, who actually governs and controls the Labor Party. We have had Kevin Rudd say, ‘We are unapologetic, completely, about our strong links with organised labour,’ and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in parliament say, ‘We do the job that the ACTU would expect us to do.’ What sort of people are these union mandarins, these union officials, who control the Labor Party and who say, ‘I need a mum or dad, someone who has been seriously injured or killed; that would be fantastic’? These are the sorts of people who control the Labor Party. We have seen a former leader of the Labor Party, the member for Hotham, totally fail when he tried to reform the internal preselection structures of the union movement.
But for a real insight into the workings, the dysfunctionality and the political inbreeding of the Labor Party, we only have to go to the very comprehensive chronicles of the Latham Diaries. They provide us with some insight into why the Labor Party have been a poor opposition, why the Labor Party have not done the basic job and taken the basic responsibility that they owe the democratic system—that is, to be an opposition and to hold the government accountable for 11 years. Why is it so? Because they are obsessed by their own power plays within their own party. Mark Latham said:
The faction bosses see power as an end in its own right, a chance to dispense patronage and entrench their position at the top of the party hierarchy. They see policy as a vehicle to achieve power, not as a reform tool for a better society—
and, dare I add, for better working conditions for families—
The methodology is simple. Use the opinion polls and focus groups to find out what the public thinks and tell them we think exactly the same way.
In other words, the Labor Party’s words and actions are false—deliberately crafted, deliberately choreographed, to fool the Australian public into thinking that they truly represent the aspirations of the diverse people that make up the Australian electorate. In Mark Latham’s words, and if we look at some of the policy history of members opposite, we find that they do not represent the Australian electorate. Why? Because fewer than 17 per cent of the workforce in the private sector are unionised, and we see that the opposition frontbench is littered with the dregs of the trade union movement. Parliament has become the knackery for the trade union bosses and for those whose strings they pull.
But Mark Latham did give us an insight into the Leader of the Opposition, Kevin Rudd. He told us that the health minister said, ‘He has no friends in this place.’ That is perhaps not because he is obsessed too much with other factions—not too many people wanted to support him in other factions until they got extremely desperate—but because, after regurgitating the member for Brand and after trying the experiment with the former member for Werriwa, they thought: ‘We’re desperate; there’s no-one left. We may as well give this poor lonely man a go.’ Why is that? Let us have a look at what Mr Latham said about Mr Rudd. He said:
Today Rudd was even worse. At 9.15 am he played a role in drafting the troops’ resolution at shadow cabinet. But at 5 pm at the national Right meeting after Robert Ray attacked the wording, Rudd stood up and disowned it, calling it hopeless. I am still shaking my head in disbelief that it was the same person at both meetings. He is an incredible piece of work.
I do not think Mr Latham used the word ‘incredible’ in a complimentary manner in that instance.
What else did he have to say? He recalls a situation where Kevin Rudd went to see him, lobbying him to be shadow Treasurer:
He went into a long explanation of why he is so wonderful. When he finished I put my cards on the table that I regard him as disloyal and unreliable and he only holds his frontbench position because of his media profile and public standing among people who have never actually met him.
He goes on—it makes for fascinating reading. It has reminded me that perhaps that is something I will do during the break, when parliament rises at the end of the week. We have an opposition leadership team that is not only the knackery for the trade union movement, that is not only filled with those who do not represent the demographics and the aspirations of the Australian people but that is also false and fake. If they look at governing themselves they should actually start with the power base of the Labor Party—that is, the trade union movement. They have got people like Joe McDonald. Remember the man who said, ‘I’ll be back when f’ing Kevin Rudd gets in’? These people are full of hatred and loathing, not only for mainstream Australia—and the word ‘mainstream’ is a word that I am sure is not used that often in the Labor Party caucus. They have a disdain not only for mainstream Australia but for each other and for the myriad of factions that exist.
This is a disingenuous and misleading MPI from a cocky and smarmy opposition leader. The Leader of the Opposition talks about being concerned for working families, but we know—just as with his falseness in dealing with his own party—these crocodile tears are just another charade. I wonder where his concern was for the families of those 58 individuals whom the Leader of the Opposition’s wife’s business underpaid. Where was his for his concern for those families? Where was his concern for the family who operates the Lilac City Motor Inn in Goulburn?
Madam Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order going to relevance. I have been listening to the speaker for some time. Despite her rather crude language it seems to me that she is well away from the point of the actual debate, and I would ask you to draw her back to it.
Where was the Labor Party and the Leader of the Opposition when the member for Lalor crucified a hardworking small business in the form of the Lilac City Motor Inn? Where were they? Obviously it is quite convenient to use and abuse, just as Sharan Burrow wanted some family disaster, someone to die for them, to make a political point. The family-run Lilac City Motor Inn and the family that had built up that business, that relied on that income, were totally dispensable and to be used—in the words of another long departed from parliament Labor Party power broker—for ‘whatever it takes’, and that is exactly what drives the Labor Party. Whatever lies it takes, whatever obfuscation it takes, whatever facade it takes, they are desperate—and they are desperate to win government at this year’s federal election.
They talk about working families. Working families have experienced a growth in jobs. We have seen not only 2.1 million new jobs created up to March 2006 but also an unemployment rate of 4.3 per cent. No family can begin to plan for their future, no family can begin to dream— (Time expired)
Today’s matter of public importance is very well timed. Today we have seen the most compelling evidence that this is a government that is totally preoccupied with its own survival. This is a government that is willing to do anything and say anything to get re-elected. As the previous speaker proved, it is willing to slander anybody, attack anybody and override anybody to scrape up some electoral advantage for itself. The Treasurer is accusing senior members of the press gallery of being liars. He talks big over a few bottles of red wine, then he has a panic attack and insists that his bragging was off the record. He said he would destroy the Prime Minister, then he lacked the guts to follow through. He denigrated the Prime Minister behind his back, then he denied to his face and to the public that he did it. He safely ridicules former Prime Minister Keating from this House, but he does not have half of Paul Keating’s ticker. If one doubts how division is consuming the government, one only has to see the performance of the Minister for Ageing on TV this morning. He was asked about the Treasurer and he was effusive. He was asked about the Prime Minister. He made a face, said nothing and walked into the House.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is totally obsessed with preserving his reputation. He had the chance to bow out gracefully last year but hubris got the better of him. Hubris is followed by nemesis, as it always is. In his desperation he is lashing out at the states, claiming credit for state initiatives he thinks the voters will like and sticking his nose into areas where he thinks he can find some advantage. Once it was possible to respect the Prime Minister as a born-again economic rationalist, even if we disagreed with his principles, but no longer. Now he has thrown overboard the advice of Mr Henry, the Secretary of the Treasury. He has thrown overboard principles in pursuit of naked political self-interest. Whatever happened to small government, to states’ rights, to federalism? Robert Menzies would be horrified to see the rampant centralism, the big government and the high-taxing, big-spending excesses of this government. Their TV advertising is bigger than that of McDonald’s and Coca-Cola combined. None of the strong Liberal premiers of the past—Bolte, Askin, Court or Playford—would have tolerated a Liberal Prime Minister behaving in this way.
Now we have a government that is so determined to get itself re-elected that it is willing to spend unprecedented amounts of taxpayers’ money on thinly disguised political advertising. This year alone we have got $14.5 million for promoting private health insurance, $15.8 million for promoting so-called simpler superannuation; $12.9 million on something called Skills for the Future and at least $4.1 million for selling the disastrous workplace relations laws. This is a scandalous waste, far outstripping any spending on political advertising by any previous government. Meanwhile, the problems this government has neglected continue to fester.
Many people on this side have spoken about housing stress. In my electorate 53 per cent of all households are in rented accommodation, which is the fourth highest rate of all electorates. More than 30 per cent of these households in my electorate are paying more than 30 per cent of their income on rent. Rents in Melbourne have risen by nearly nine per cent in 2006 and they are still rising. People in St Kilda, Elwood, South Melbourne, Caulfield and Balaclava, many of them young families with children, are being squeezed out of the rental market, but they are shut out of the homebuyers’ market by rising property costs and rising interest rates.
The childcare crisis continues to affect many people in my electorate, as it does across the country. At one centre in my electorate childcare fees have risen by 39 per cent over the past year. Of course, fees rise because demand is outstripping supply. The government’s response is, ‘Crisis? What crisis?’ The government legislates to force mothers with young children to go back to work but does nothing to help them to find affordable child care, which is vital for working families.
Other vital issues are being neglected while this government is preoccupied with its own survival and its own leadership. The rest of the world is moving on to deal with issues of climate change, for instance. But this government is paralysed because the climate sceptics led by Senator Minchin are preventing any serious action. The honourable member for Tangney and his flat-earth friends have let the cat out of the bag with their dissenting report. Australia is paying a heavy price for this government’s inertia and policy paralysis.
Government paralysis is also evident in local education, which has seen 10 years of inaction. Only measures by the shadow education minister, the member for Perth, and Kevin Rudd have changed these schools, prospects and put pressure on this government to do the right thing. We have also seen evidence of this government’s preoccupation with its own survival in its shameless manipulation of the electoral system. Recent changes to the Electoral Act will deprive more than 100,000 Australians, mainly first-time voters, of their vote. The Special Minister of State will say that it was their own fault for not enrolling on time. What harm is done by allowing them the traditional five-day period of grace to enrol? The government hopes that by shutting 800 or 900 young people per seat out of the election it can scrape up some petty advantage. Maybe it will, but it will not be enough to save the Special Minister of State, the member for Eden-Monaro. (Time expired)
Standing here this afternoon I think what an important discussion this must be because we are debating some very core issues at the present time. When we have someone that is prepared to stand up—and we have had a few here this afternoon—and attack someone’s character, we want to think very carefully because I am reminded of the biblical quote, ‘Let he who has no sin cast the first stone.’ I think to myself that no-one in this place could stand up and cast the first stone. I am appalled on a number of fronts. For a start, I am appalled that a few weeks out from an election a private dinner with discussions that were in camera two years ago all of a sudden is the most important thing in Canberra. It really does say something about journalism in Australia. No wonder the people of Australia say, ‘What the hell goes on in Canberra?’ It is never reported. We discuss some very important issues in this chamber, but rarely do I see them highlighted where it is important. And when you have journalists who are prepared to break a confidence and run a story like they have just out from an election you have to ask yourself why.
I have been around politics for a long time and I have a very strong feeling about journalists. I have never given off-the-cuff comments to any journalist. I have a good reason for that. I come from a country background and I learnt long ago you never pat a black snake on the head—it will bite you. That is what happens here. I warn young members of the parliament to take this as a lesson that you never brief the journalists. Do not try and buy them and think you will get some meteoric rise in politics by going behind your friends’ backs to try to give them some information. They will bite you. There is a good lesson in this for young parliamentarians—do not get involved.
I take it very seriously because, as I said, there are very important issues here that we are discussing weeks out from an election, yet we are not interested in those. If the Leader of the Opposition wants to stand up here and talk about character, he has a very short memory because I recall in this place only a few weeks ago that certain questions were being asked about a lunch and a dinner in Western Australia. We saw some obfuscation at that particular time about whether we attended the lunch or the dinner or whether we did not. If you are going to point fingers, you want to think about yourself and where you stand on some of these particular issues. There are a number of points that need to be explained by the Leader of the Opposition.
Investigation is rare in journalism in Australia. We have a lazy press. We do not get investigative journalists any more, just people who want cheap headlines. When there was some investigation about a company run by the wife of the Leader of the Opposition, there was a quick headline saying, ‘Oh, we will sell it.’ I have not seen it for sale. And we have had no questions asked by the media about that, have we?
Another point that many in this parliament probably do not realise, but it was certainly an issue at the time, is that the Leader of the Opposition was a senior adviser to the Goss government. It has been mentioned in the parliament on a number of occasions, but something that has never been told is the fact that the very first contract that Therese Rein got in Queensland was with the Goss government when the Leader of the Opposition was the senior adviser and he did not abstain from giving advice to the government. If you want to point fingers, you have to start explaining some of these things about what went on. You cannot run away and hide.