Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Matters of Public Importance
The Speaker has received a letter from the honourable member for Casey proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The failure of the Government to honour its explicit commitment to act with integrity.
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—
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?
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)
It has been a particularly unedifying spectacle over the last few days to see those members opposite lecture members of this government about integrity. It has been hypocritical on so many levels. Let us go through a few of them. The member for Casey and his colleagues fulminate, they belt their chests, about election commitments which have not been honoured. They say it is a matter of integrity that the government must fulfil its mandate. They say that it is disgraceful that the government has not met all its election commitments completely and in full. These are the people whose colleagues sit in the upper chamber and block us from implementing our election commitments. These are the people who say, ‘You went to the election promising an ETS; yes, we know you are upfront with the Australian people about that, we know it was part of your mandate’ —and, by the way, it was part of their election program as well—‘but we are going to stop you from implementing it.’
The ETS is a particularly germane example because this is where the integrity, or lack of it, of those members is on display because it was only two months ago that the then Leader of the Opposition came out of the party room and said that the Liberal Party had met and had endorsed the government’s ETS. He told us that a majority of those opposite supported an emissions trading scheme and supported letting the government’s election mandate through. These are the same people who, with a straight face, now stand at that dispatch box and in front of television cameras across the country and call this a great big new tax. It is part of their great big new scare campaign. These people, who in the privacy of their party room argued that we must let the ETS through, are the same people who say to the Australian people that the ETS must be stopped at all costs.
If the member for North Sydney had won his diabolical mini-election campaign to become Leader of the Opposition, he was going to allow a conscience vote and then we would have seen where they really stand. But, of course, he did not win and so they hide and argue in the privacy of the party room that Australia really needs an ETS and that Australia must deal with the climate change challenge; but, to suit their own tawdry political purposes, in the contest between complex truths and simple lies they choose simple lies. That is what the honourable members opposite do. So they sit in the Senate and block us from implementing our election commitments. The dental scheme is another one—a clear and transparent election commitment from the Labor Party in opposition seeking to be implemented in government. Those opposite say, ‘No, we will block you in the Senate from implementing your election commitments.’ Let us have none of this hypocrisy about election commitments being sacred, about governments having to implement every election commitment to the letter, when the opposition sit in this chamber and the other chamber and stop us from doing just that.
But, as I said, there are a number of levels on which this matter of public importance is hypocritical. The member for Casey raised the matter of jobs for Labor mates, jobs for the boys. He was, of course, a member of the Howard administration: a junior member, I give him that—he was not senior—but nevertheless a member of the Howard administration which used the diplomatic corps of this country as the retirement village of the Liberal Party, the administration which appointed so many former Liberal and National Party ministers to diplomatic posts which I do not recall being advertised that it was an embarrassment. As my friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry reminds me, the diplomatic corps faces a great challenge in Italy, for example. When a government minister visits, they have to decide: do we greet the minister at the airport with Amanda Vanstone or Tim Fischer? That is the challenge for the government with the diplomatic posts of those opposite. They appointed Andrew Peacock, they appointed Amanda Vanstone, they appointed Richard Alston—the list goes on—and they appointed Michael Baume.
The member for Berowra very helpfully chimes in that this government appointed Tim Fischer, and we appointed Brendan Nelson, because we recognise that there are occasions when former members of parliament and ministers can make very valuable contributions to the Australian public life. We recognise that there are times when it is appropriate to make those sorts of appointments. So we recognise the appointment of Kim Beazley and Brendan Nelson and Tim Fischer, because it is sometimes appropriate. But we will not be lectured by those opposite who sat in administration and used government appointments and diplomatic appointments as their plaything. Under the Howard government it was impossible to go to the first-class lounge at Sydney airport without tripping over a Howard government appointee jetting off to take up their position in some of the best and plummest posts in the world as they left the Howard ministry. And they come in here and lecture us about integrity of government appointments.
The member for Casey makes the point that there is something very unusual about the appointment of a former political staffer in the telecommunications field. Something very fishy is going on here, something very fishy is going on when you appoint someone to a very well-paid job in the telecommunications sector. Perhaps he could have used as his precedent the appointment of Mr John Short in Telstra. In April 2005 Mr Short’s position as government relations manager with Telstra was abolished. Fair enough. He received a redundancy payment. A short time later he was reappointed by Telstra as a consultant. Nice work if you can get it. This is what Senator Minchin had to say when he was asked if he had intervened, if he had spoken to Telstra, if he had asked Telstra to make the appointment. A very little interesting little statement, this. I quote from a news report at the time:
A spokesman for Senator Minchin confirmed the minister had known Mr Short for several years, but would not say whether he had any role in him being rehired by Telstra.
“Senator Minchin has known John Short for a long time, but the company’s management policy is entirely a matter for the company,” the spokesman said.
“Obviously in his role as finance minister he talks to Telstra management on a regular basis but he doesn’t detail those conversations.”
But he does not detail those conversations. He did not come out and say, ‘I didn’t talk to Telstra, I didn’t ask them to rehire my mate, I didn’t ask them to reappoint him.’ So that is the difference. As the member Casey himself at the dispatch box just a few minutes ago said, the minister for communications openly and candidly declared what role he had played, at Senate estimates. You could not find a starker contrast with Nick Minchin. You could not find a starker contrast when it comes to integrity. We know the power and influence of Senator Minchin in the Liberal Party and he should come clean. If the member for Casey is going to make points about integrity in administration, he should come clean with the full story.
Hypocrisy on several levels. The member for Casey and his colleagues were members of an administration which treated government appointments and government money as their own personal plaything. They were members of an administration which spent $1 billion over 11 years on government advertising to support their own political purposes—$1 billion of taxpayers’ money to support their political campaigns. It is a situation we have fixed: substantially reduced and introduced new guidelines. It is a problem they would never fix because they did not regard it as a problem. They regarded it as a very good thing indeed.
The biggest advertising campaign was to sell Work Choices. Let us go to Work Choices, because we heard a lot from the member for Casey about integrity on election commitments, about how we have to be upfront with the Australian people. Well, I do not recall in the 2004 election, in which I was a candidate, a mandate being granted for Work Choices. I do not remember the then Prime Minister giving a solemn promise to the Australian people that he would reduce their working conditions and salaries. He was too busy promising to keep interest rates at record lows; that is what he was doing. Do not lecture us about integrity in government.
We will have none of this from the opposition. This is from a Leader of the Opposition who made a rock-solid, rolled-gold guarantee that the Medicare safety net would not be changed. Within a year of the election it was changed substantially. I understand that ministers get overruled. Ministers argue for their policy positions and cabinets take a broader view. I understand that. But there comes a time when if you have given a rock-solid, rolled-gold commitment to the Australian people and you get overruled, the decent and honourable thing to do is to tender your resignation. But the then minister for health did not even think about it. He did not even consider it because he did not consider his rolled-gold, rock-solid guarantee was worth his resignation.
In the time I have available to me I am not even going to touch ‘children overboard’. The Australian people know that tawdry episode oh so well and I am not going to detain the House on that particular episode. But this MPI takes the Australian people for mugs and treats the Australian people like fools. That is what this MPI does and this opposition does. The opposition says that every election commitment must be implemented 100 per cent, no variations, with no regard to changes in circumstances. The Australian people, when they are providing a mandate to a government, provide that mandate for three years. They give that government the mandate to protect them, to respond to crises overseas and to adjust. They do not want the Australian government to say, ‘Well, the right thing to do in the face of a reduction in government revenue of $170 billion would be not to change our spending, not to revise our priorities, not to ensure that our spending is as efficient as possible.’ That is exactly what they expect the Australian government to do. At the end of the three years they do two things. They weigh up how safe you have kept it, whether you have improved the nation, whether you have made the nation more prosperous and whether you have protected the nation against external shocks. They do that, and they will do that with us.
The other thing they do is weigh up who will be best placed over the next three years. Who will present the biggest risk? Later this year, the Australian people will do those two things. They will weigh up our performance and they will judge us appropriately. They will judge us well on some things and not so well on others. They will have regard to how we handled the biggest economic crisis in 70 years. They will think about those crucial three days, those crucial 72 hours following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, when the Australian economy was on the brink, when decisions being taken in the cabinet room were the most important decisions that had been taken since World War II. They will think about those 72 hours and they will judge us on them, and then they will think, ‘How would those 72 hours have gone if Barnaby Joyce had been in the chair?’
That is what they will do. They will weigh it up. They will consider the risks and they will think, ‘If Barnaby Joyce has been appointed to one of the most senior economic roles in the alternative government, what does that say about the judgment of the alternative Prime Minister of Australia?’ They will compare the judgment of the Prime Minister with that of the alternative Prime Minister. They will compare the important decisions they make. They will compare how they respond in crises. They will compare how they respond to very difficult circumstances and then they will make their decisions. They will not stand there with a clipboard and go through Labor’s 500 pages, or whatever it was, of election commitments and say, ‘You haven’t met paragraph 3.’ They will say: ‘You have met the thrust of your commitments. You have met our requirement to protect us, to withstand international crises. You have shown judgment.’ They will weigh us against the alternative, the erratic and dangerous alternative that sits opposite: the Leader of the Opposition who says: ‘I don’t understand economics; I am bored by it,’ the Leader of the Opposition who says, ‘We could’ve adopted the New Zealand method, which has lower unemployment and lower debt and deficit.’ Wrong on both counts. He does not understand economics.
Australians will judge us against the shadow Treasurer, whose most credible performance in two months has been wearing a tutu and carrying a magic wand, and the shadow minister for finance, who shows no basic understanding of economic fundamentals and does not understand the importance of his role. The Leader of the Opposition was out there the other day saying: ‘It’s fine. There’s no problem. Barnaby’s going to be very popular in the marginal seats in Queensland.’ He may or may not be, and you would be a better judge of that than I am, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott. But I know this: he is not a credible alternative finance minister of this country. The bigger risk is that the man who thought it a prudent judgment to appoint him is the alternative Prime Minister of Australia. That is the bigger risk. That is what will be weighed up by the Australian people and that is a more important issue than the nonsense we heard from the member for Casey today. (Time expired)
In rising to speak on this matter of public importance, this very important issue that goes to the core of our basic democracy, I want to begin with a quote:
Trust is the key currency of politics, and unless you can be trusted to honour that to which you’ve committed to do, then, I’ve got to say, you’re not going to obtain the enduring respect of the Australian people.
That was from Kevin Rudd a couple of years ago. It is even more important than just enduring trust. We are looking here at the integrity of the whole government. Who is head of the government? The Prime Minister, Mr Rudd. We do need to look at this issue of integrity and trust because it is the Prime Minister himself who has raised the issue.
There are two particular instances that stand out that go to the issue of personal integrity. I will get groans from a couple of members on the other side but they know it is true. One of them was the attempt to fake a dawn service at Long Tan. His office denied it because they were under pressure. This is what the Prime Minister does when he is under pressure: he finds it extremely difficult to take responsibility and own up to the truth. The other instance that comes to mind is the lie refuted in the media by the owners of a particular property. He used that occasion to portray his family as downtrodden, at the expense of decent employers.
Both of these issues go to the heart of integrity. In the latter case, it was the Prime Minister’s own image and reputation at the expense of a decent employer. In the first example, Anzac Day was being treated as a media opportunity for himself at the expense of a sacred memorial service. When he got caught out, he lied. It is as simple as that: he just lied. Both incidents were for selfish political gain at the expense of honesty, integrity and the reputations of other people. This is the same man who refuses to do a press conference on a Sunday—
I withdraw. This is the same man who refuses to do a press conference on a Sunday unless it is outside a church. We see that even God is expendable to the Prime Minister’s political career. These issues go to character. They go to values. They go to standards that he brings to the government as the head of the government.
Many of us women will particularly recall his claim that he was too drunk to remember that he visited Scores, a particular gentleman’s—some would not call it a gentleman’s club—a particular club overseas. Blackouts are normally due to alcoholism or paralysing drunkenness. In his case it was to cover for any accountability or memory. Not even another former Labor Prime Minister who was well known and is well known to enjoy his alcohol has ever blamed alcohol for not remembering misconduct or misbehaviour.
When the core of a person’s integrity does not exist, when it is challenged, it feeds through government like a disease and through the decisions that governments make. I was having a look at the definition of integrity. One definition says that some people see integrity as ‘the quality of having a sense of honest and truthfulness with regard to the motivations for one’s actions’. Some people use the term hypocrisy in contrast to integrity for asserting that ‘one part of a value system demonstrably conflicts with another’, and so it goes on. So some would claim not only that the assertions and promises that this government has made have been broken but also that this government has acted in a hypocritical way in standing up with such moral virtue, claiming a war on this and that greatest moral challenge of our time, and stepping back as soon as the media circus disappears and the news cycle for those 24 hours is dealt with, moving on to the next issue that they use as a circus.
Let us have a look at some of their broken promises. One that particularly affects many Australians is the broken promise on hospitals. We see elderly Australians who have worked and contributed to this nation waiting years in pain to get basic surgery. We see women miscarrying in the toilets in public hospitals. And what did we have pre the election? We had Kevin Rudd say that the buck stopped with him. He gave himself a deadline, 30 June. If hospitals were not fixed he was going to take over and fix them. Well, that did not happen. That date, 30 June, has come and gone. We are well into the new financial year and he has not fixed up private hospitals.
Labor said that they completely opposed cutbacks to Medicare funding for IVF and even launched petitions. But guess what? They have introduced caps to IVF. They promised services for defence health. They said they were going to fund 12 defence family healthcare clinics across the country, but to date no such clinics have been built. We heard them promise 260 childcare centres, but my advice is that to date only one has been built and most of them have been put on ice.
This is a government which said they were going to take responsibility; the buck was going to stop with them. Clearly, we see a Prime Minister whose time has run out. Time has run out for the great big con, for the Prime Minister to make big announcements and deliver nothing. They said they were going to take a tough line on terrorism and national security, but everyone knows that Labor are soft on terrorism. Late last year they announced an overhaul of Australia’s antiterror laws. They promised they would not means-test private health insurance, but ever since the time when the Deputy Prime Minister was shadow minister for health she made it known that Labor hates private health insurance, and now they are trying to gut the private health insurance rebate. They said that no worker would be worse off. They cannot make that guarantee now. There are pages and pages of broken promises.
Once, the Prime Minister said that he was an economic conservative. In fact, he went so far as to say that there was no sliver of light between the then government, the conservative government, and the Labor opposition on budget orthodoxy. What a joke! What an absolute contradiction! Eleven years of Howard government savings have been lost, and now we seem to be looking down the barrel of years and years of budget deficits.
Integrity is important, so it is no wonder that the Australian population reflects the attitudes of many people across the world in their cynicism about the political process and about politics. Why? They get lied to. They get conned. They think, ‘We’ll give this bloke a go. He sounds earnest. He says he’s like John Howard.’ What has happened? They have been miserably and utterly disappointed because this government lacks the integrity and the responsibility to deliver on what they promised. It is very easy to make all the promises in the world, and we see minor parties, the Democrats or the Greens, promise to deliver all sorts of things. But the Labor Party is the other significant party in Australian politics. They cannot get away with behaving like that. In government they need to deliver on their promises.
Even journalists are starting to get sick of being treated like fools. We see headlines like ‘There’s danger in PM’s spin addiction.’ He may have been on television last night talking about the dangers of alcohol and young people, but the Prime Minister seems to be addicted to his own propaganda, to a lack of substance and, as one editorial says:
… consistent and unattractive pattern of behaviour. Under pressure, Mr Rudd talks a lot but says little.
Indeed, we see that in question time every day. This is an issue that goes to the core of government, and those on the other side know that. It is no wonder that the Prime Minister has few friends. I wait to see in the months ahead the leadership challenge—(Time expired)
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.
I interrupted the member because I do not think he was addressing the topic. The topic clearly is the failure of the government to honour its explicit commitment to act with integrity. I know that the classic method of dealing with an argument that you cannot meet is to essentially attack your opponents. What we have heard from the government members who have spoken is a typical Labor attack. That is, if you cannot debate the issue you play the man. That is what we have seen. I am about to talk about the issue, because this is about a government that argued, in opposition, that it would restore trust and integrity. It did so in relation to access to information. I would like to quote the Minister for Defence, John Faulkner, who said:
Information is also the lifeblood of democracy … It is fundamental to openness in government, that cornerstone of government integrity. And achieving more openness in government is the Government’s goal.
They went with a policy on freedom of information that was designed to elicit support particularly from the press. They argued that they would break the code of silence that had developed over 11 years of the Howard government. They said:
Access to government information and decision-making are keys to a healthy and vibrant democracy.
They went on to say:
A more open system for obtaining reasonable access to government records is the mark of a strong democracy. In addition, it is essential that we keep a strong system in place to protect the privacy of individuals.
I mention those matters because I think they go to integrity. I agree with the statements that were made by the then opposition about the importance of integrity, and I would like to look at whether or not they have achieved anything in that regard in the two years, two months and two weeks that they have been in office. It is quite clear that any pretence of pursuing freedom of information by this government has lapsed. They have introduced a Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Bill and an Information Commissioner Bill 2009, but although those bills were expected to be passed and in place by January of this year, they still have not seen passage.
As the Senate is considering this matter, we know that it is more likely that, rather than dealing with greater access to information, the government’s proposals will inhibit access to information—in other words, rather than creating a culture of disclosure it is more likely that they will close off opportunities for people to get access to information. In Senate committee hearings recently, it has been drawn to attention that, in relation to appealing decisions to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal dealing with access to information, the onus to prove an entitlement to access to information is being reversed. An applicant must now prove that information should be released. As Mr Mark Robinson, from the Law Council of Australia, pointed out in the Senate committee, it makes it virtually impossible for any applicant to succeed in having a decision taken by an information commissioner reversed. He went on to say that applicants often do not know what document they are seeking or what it contains; they just believe it exists and that it will be useful. Yet if they do not know what the document is or exactly what it contains, how are they to prove that they should be given access to it?
More importantly, if you look at the issue of disclosure, the Rudd government in office have been even less willing than the Howard government to give access. My colleague Senator Brandis recently dealt with the 2008-09 report of the Rudd government dealing with exemptions in relation to freedom of information, and it disclosed an absolute rejection of 6.1 per cent of freedom of information applications. By comparison, in the last full year of the Howard government, only 4.4 applications were completely blocked. (Time expired)
Can I say that it is just galling to come into this place and be lectured by those opposite about integrity—with their lack of integrity when they were in government. I find it particularly galling to be lectured about integrity by the former Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, with ‘children overboard’.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order in relation to this matter. There was clearly a government inquiry in relation to my behaviour, and any assertion that I misled the Australian public in relation to that matter was shown to be completely unsubstantiated. You should be very much more careful about—
I really am concerned about those opposite and their lack of understanding about what integrity means. As we heard from their own speaker, the opposite of integrity is ‘hypocrisy’—which is a word they should learn. They should know it well by now, because they have been so hypocritical about the NBN from day one, and their lack of integrity really is about the fact that they do not actually support the NBN at all.
They should come down to my home state of Tasmania where the NBN is being rolled out. It is really important to my home state and is well supported by the people in my electorate, by the small businesses and the big businesses. The people in my electorate support the NBN. The opposition should have the guts to come down and tell my electorate that they do not support the NBN. That is what this is really about. It is about the fact that they do not support the NBN. In fact, we have heard it from the Leader of the Opposition himself when he said in the Australian Financial Review ‘we’ve got the $43 billion broadband waste’. The broadband is a waste, according to the Leader of the Opposition, and that is the real truth about their view of the NBN. There is potential to fund a few things with that money, so they are going to stop the rollout of the NBN, particularly in my home state of Tasmania—
They are admitting to it over there. The member for O’Connor is admitting they are going to stop the NBN rollout. I hope they come down to Tasmania and tell the electorate and the state of Tasmania that they are going to stop the rollout of the NBN, because I can tell you that it has been well received down there. Everybody in Tasmania supports the NBN. We even have the Leader of the Liberal Party, Will Hodgman, saying that he supports the NBN. He said:
The Tasmanian Liberals believe there are great opportunities for Tasmania … to capitalise on the NBN … As Premier I would work with the Federal Government to ensure a speedy roll-out of the NBN—
I am sure he would—
and then actively pursue ways to capitalise on the benefits it presents to our states.
The NBN has been really important in my home state of Tasmania and Mr Abbott has been very clear that he thinks it is a waste of money and that he is going to stop that rollout. It is absolutely galling to come in here and hear about ‘integrity’ when they are the ones with the lack of integrity, because they are not being honest with the people of Tasmania about what they really think about the NBN.
We have also heard from previous speakers about Mr Abbott and his lack of integrity when it comes to the Medicare safety net—that cast-iron, rock-solid guarantee. We have heard about the ETS and the dental health scheme. Those opposite are not being honest with the Australian people that they are the ones holding up a lot of our election commitments in the other place, in the Senate. They are voting against our election commitments, the ones we have a mandate for and that we want to deliver to the Australian people, and the only thing between us and delivering that is you. It is the opposition in the Senate which is not delivering on our election commitments. The biggest obstacle to us delivering on our election commitments is the Liberal Party of Australia in the Senate. That is the truth of the matter. One of the other things I have seen in my home state that has been particularly galling is the lack of integrity involved in failing to support the stimulus package in this place and then going out and having your picture taken pretending you supported it.