House debates

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Matters of Public Importance


Photo of Harry JenkinsHarry Jenkins (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for Warringah proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The government’s failure to deliver real economic reform

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—

3:41 pm

Photo of Tony AbbottTony Abbott (Warringah, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Today in question time the Prime Minister noted that when Mr Beazley called Mr Howard to ask him about the privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank Mr Howard congratulated Mr Beazley. Well may he congratulate Mr Beazley because Mr Beazley was proposing a real reform. Mr Beazley was a Labor leader of some courage. Mr Beazley was a Labor leader who understood that privatisation was reform in a way that nationalisation is not. I congratulate Kim Beazley for his understanding of what good economic policy was and I congratulate the former Prime Minister, Mr Howard, for his understanding of what good economic policy was. I think it is a bit rich of this Prime Minister to talk about the former Prime Minister as some kind of compatriot. Well may she congratulate the former Prime Minister. I wish she could emulate the former Prime Minister because that would be the best thing that she could do if she wanted to seriously fill the big shoes of the former Prime Minister.

We have seen today an extraordinarily shabby and tawdry performance from members of this government. We have seen today from this Prime Minister behaviour of a carping, nasty, unbecoming nature which we would never have seen from the former Prime Minister. It ill behoves this new parliament in which there has been an agreement for better behaviour to see the Prime Minister leading standards down as she has done today to her lasting discredit.

This debate is about reform. It is about effective reform. I say to the Prime Minister and to the government that building a nationalised broadband network is not reform. Privatisation is reform; nationalisation is not. Nationalisation that puts at risk $43 billion worth of taxpayers funds is not reform. I say to the Prime Minister: imposing a carbon price is not reform. Raising taxes is not reform. Lowering taxes is reform. Raising the government’s share of GDP by a permanent one per cent is not reform. Lowering the government’s share of GDP is real reform.

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan as it currently stands is not economic reform. In its current shape, it is a direct assault on the economic welfare of regional Australia. I say to the Prime Minister that abolishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission is not economic reform; it is economic vandalism, and that is precisely what this government has in mind. I say to the Prime Minister that blowing the surplus is not economic reform. Blowing the surplus is more akin to the work of the Whitlam government than it is to the far better work of her immediate Labor prime ministerial predecessors, Messrs Hawke and Keating. I say to the Prime Minister that if she is a serious economic reformer why was she complicit in the pink batts program, a program which is probably the most monumentally incompetent in modern Australian history, a program which tragically has been linked not only to 200 house fires but to four deaths. I say to the Prime Minister that blowing the best part of $16 billion on overpriced school halls is not economic reform; it is an absolute paradigm of how not to run a government program—and yet it is so typical of this government. I say to the Prime Minister that moving from a 40-60 federal-state share of public hospital funding to a 60-40 federal-state share of public hospital funding is not economic reform either; that is simply a bureaucratic reshuffle which is almost certain to make a bad situation in our public hospitals worse.

I am happy to try to be fair to this Prime Minister, who is not fair to us and she is certainly not fair to this parliament. But let me extend to her the courtesy and the decency that she does not extend to members on this side of the House. Let me say that, yes, the MySchool website is a reform. But it is only possible because of the good work of the former government in introducing standardised national testing across the schools of Australia. Let me further concede that, yes, the compulsory quarantining of unemployment beneficiaries who have been on a benefit for 12 months in the Northern Territory is a real reform. But, again, that is only possible because of the legislation that was introduced into this chamber by the former Howard government. It is only possible because of the work of the former Howard government in establishing welfare quarantining in the remote Indigenous communities of the Northern Territory.

Let me draw this together by saying this is a government that after three years of incessant talk of reform has this to its credit: one website and one change in one territory of this Commonwealth. So the result of three years of so-called reform is one website and one welfare change in one territory of this Commonwealth. Compared to the truly inspirational reforms of both former Labor governments, the Hawke and Keating governments, and of the Howard-Costello government, the work of this current government, and so the work of this Prime Minister, is a joke. It is not reform worthy of the name and I am waiting for the former Prime Minister, Mr Keating, to come out and say just that, because I am sure he will.

What we have from this government in this House is a Prime Minister who has the effrontery to demand bipartisanship from this opposition on reforms that are not worthy of the name. I say to this Prime Minister: we will not save her from her own bad policies. It is not the opposition’s job to rescue a drowning government. We will not help her to break her pre-election promises—and she should not ask. We as an opposition will not join in a false consensus with a bad government to back bad policy which will be damaging to the long-term welfare of this country. That is not our job.

I am happy to support good reform. The last thing this opposition would do is stand in the way of good reform. We stand for lower, simpler, fairer taxes, not great big new taxes that damage Australia’s economy, not great big new taxes that are yet another hit on the cost of living of struggling Australian families. We stand for real welfare reform, not this government’s changes which have watered down the highly successful Work for the Dole program. We stand for genuine community control of public hospitals and public schools. We do not stand for this government’s policy which will simply substitute one lot of bureaucrats for another.

This is a government which has demonstrated time and time again that it is chronically unable to deliver real economic reform. Let me go into some of the reasons for that. First of all, this is a government which is chronically incapable of consulting with the Australian people, the very people who are affected by the government’s changes. There was no consultation with the people of Northam before the detention centre was announced there. There was no consultation with the people of Inverbrackie before the detention centre was announced there. There was not any consultation with even the government of East Timor when the detention centre was announced there. There certainly has not been any consultation with the people of the Murray-Darling Basin about the guide to the draft plan which poses such a deadly threat to their economic welfare. Not only was there no consultation before the guide to the draft plan was announced but the minister was too cowardly to front up himself and actually explain what the government has in mind for those people.

This is a government that cannot deliver economic reform because it is led by a Prime Minister who cannot be trusted to keep her commitments. There was the carbon tax that she ruled out before an election and ruled in after an election. There was the East Timor detention centre that was going to happen before an election but is not going to happen after an election. There was the domestic detention centres that were not going to happen before an election but are going to happen after an election. This is a Prime Minister who has chronically poor judgment. The East Timor detention centre was a joke. The Parramatta to Epping railway line will never be built. If it was not on the New South Wales 10-year infrastructure plan, it certainly is not going to be built by this government. The citizens assembly was another example of the Prime Minister’s bad judgment. Even the execution of the former Prime Minister, the member for Griffith, was an example of this Prime Minister’s bad judgment.

I used to say that the longer the Rudd government lasts the better the Howard government looks. I now say that the longer the Gillard government lasts the better the Rudd government looks, although I have to say the member for Griffith was not looking very pleased about the Gillard government today in question time. This is a government which cannot deliver economic reform because it is hopelessly divided between the old pragmatic Right and the new green Left. It is torn by the promises it made, on the one hand, to the Greens to enter government and, on the other hand, to the rural Independents to enter government. It is torn between the Left, represented by Senator Doug Cameron, and the Right, presumably the lobotomised zombies, a representative of whom is about to speak in this matter of public importance debate. The truth about the current situation is that Labor is in government but the Greens are in power. That is why this government is incapable of delivering real economic reform.

This government cannot deliver real economic reform because it has lost the two ministers in the government who were actually capable of it. This government has lost the former Minister for Finance, Lindsay Tanner, and Senator Faulkner, the former Minister for Defence, who were clearly the two most economically literate ministers in this government. The former member for Melbourne, Lindsay Tanner, said at the start of the current government’s tenure that not one single major project would go ahead without a full cost-benefit analysis, a cost-benefit analysis that would be published. How many cost-benefit analyses has this government done? How many cost-benefit analyses has this government published? We know what they did to Kevin, but not a single project has had a cost-benefit analysis done. It is no wonder that Mr Tanner has left this government which has so abandoned the economic principles which he tried to champion.

Then there is Senator Faulkner, who said that the Labor Party—meaning this particular government—was long on cutting and short on courage. That is the essential reason why we will never see economic reform from this government. The truth about this government is that it is arrogant, it is incompetent, it is untrustworthy and it is cowardly. Mr Tanner knew that, Senator Faulkner knows that, we on this side of the parliament know that, and the people increasingly know that.

3:56 pm

Photo of Craig EmersonCraig Emerson (Rankin, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

The coalition has had a bad week, a shocking day, and it just got worse. What an appalling effort from a Leader of the Opposition who would not be able to spell the words ‘economic reform’. I noticed that he did early on congratulate former opposition leader Kim Beazley, confirming that while in opposition Labor in fact did support economic reform; we did support those elements of the Howard government’s program that constituted genuine economic reform. Of course, we did not support Work Choices and we are proud of not supporting Work Choices. There are other measures that we did not support but, of course, as a general presumption, Labor supported economic reform.

I know that former Prime Minister Howard has been very prominent in the media this week. On a number of occasions going back a long time, I have taken the opportunity to pay tribute to the fact that, when he was the opposition leader during the Hawke and Keating period, John Howard did lend bipartisan support to the essential elements of the great modernising economic reform program of the Hawke and Keating governments—an economic reform program that locked in 19 years of recession-free, robust economic growth. Now that is under threat because, for the first time in living memory, we have a Leader of the Opposition who is against reform, who is anti-reform, who is still sulking and sooking because he was not able to be Prime Minister after the election. He now has declared and is carrying through his threats to be a wrecker, to be a spoiler, to be anti-reform. It will be the Australian people who lose out of that because the Australian people need the benefits of ongoing economic reform to lock in high-skill, high-wage jobs and future prosperity.

I want to go a number of the points that the Leader of the Opposition just made in his contribution. He said that lowering taxes is economic reform, raising taxes is not. So why on earth did he go to the election campaign with a proposal to raise income tax to pay for his great big new tax—that is, the increase in the income tax rate to pay for paid parental leave? He said that the coalition is for lower taxation. Who holds the record as the highest taxing government in Australian history? It is the coalition—2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, the highest ratio of tax revenue to GDP in Australia’s history.

The Leader of the Opposition went on to the say that blowing the surplus is not economic reform. This is the first time, since the formation of the Labor government, I have heard the opposition saying that the government should not have put the budget into deficit. The impact of the global financial crisis initially was to strip $200 billion of taxation revenue out of the books. What the opposition leader said today flatly contradicts the position taken by Mr Turnbull, the member for Wentworth, when he was opposition leader, who said, ‘Of course the budget needed to go into deficit in those circumstances.’ We now have a glimpse of what the current Leader of the Opposition would do if there is an economic downturn in the future and it strips away revenue: he would keep the budget in surplus—so he says.

But what happened when he was brought to account during the last federal election campaign—or, more particularly, after it? Following the forensic efforts of the Independents, it was revealed he had presided over a black hole in the coalition’s costings in the order of $7 billion to $10.7 billion. Yet we heard the opposition leader saying: ‘I’m a reformer. I would have cut government spending.’ There was a black hole in their costings in the order of $7 billion to $10.7 billion and that was revealed as a result of the activities of the Independents and their insistence at looking at the costings. We could not get the opposition to fess up during the election campaign. They said they had a favoured accounting firm that had audited the costings.

The shadow Treasurer is in the chamber at the moment. He revealed today that he only saw the figures five minutes before the shadow finance minister, the member for Goldstein, produced them. We know that they are at war, but you would think they could have had peace for just a couple of hours so that the shadow finance minister could have familiarised the shadow Treasurer with the costings, and the fact that there was a black hole in those costings of up to $10.7 billion.

This has been a shocking week for the coalition. This debate this week was kicked off at a doorstop interview with the shadow Treasurer, where he talked about the banking and financial system in this country and said: ‘Obviously legislation is part of it.’ The shadow Treasurer was talking about re-regulating the financial sector of this country, undoing a quarter of a century of economic reform. Why? For cheap, populist reasons. The coalition, led by the opposition leader and joined by the shadow Treasurer, are only in this for votes for themselves, for populism, and not in the national interest. That is what got the shadow Treasurer into all of this trouble.

The most cutting commentary on it was provided not by one of us, though it was not as if we were not trying; the gold medal went to the member for Canning, who said:

This is just another one of their … lunatic fringe-type ideas.

The member for Canning was actually saying that the shadow Treasurer has come up with a lunatic fringe type idea. I know the various policy prescriptions of the member for Canning. If he reckons it is a lunatic idea, it certainly must be, because the member for Canning has a few wacko ones of his own. Even he was able to identify that the proposition put by the shadow Treasurer is lunacy—and that came from the coalition not Labor. For the first time in living memory, I agree with the member for Canning. The shadow Treasurer said today: ‘I need a personal explanation. I have been verballed.’ Why is it that we have senior Liberals, including a frontbencher, telling the Australian:

This is certainly not coalition policy. I think this was just Joe being Joe.

If it is such a sensible, rational policy and the poor shadow Treasurer has been misrepresented, why does a coalition frontbencher feel the necessity to declare anonymously that it is not coalition policy; it was just Joe being Joe? It goes further. We know, again, from the Australian that he was strongly criticised by colleagues at shadow cabinet on Monday for proposing that a coalition government would use levers to have an influence on bank interest rates.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the member for Curtin, warned Mr Hockey not to trash the coalition’s economic credentials. If the shadow Treasurer was misrepresented, and he has said that he never said it—that he was never there, that it was not him—why did the Deputy Leader of the Opposition feel compelled to warn the shadow Treasurer not to trash the coalition’s reputation as a free market party? Because she was very concerned about what he was up to. Reportedly she said:

We shouldn’t forget who we are as a party—

when running a populist line on rate rises. The Leader of the Opposition was asked three times to support the shadow Treasurer’s nine-point plan. Three times he denied answering—the cock crowed. The shadow Treasurer’s policies are so wacko. But we have now found out the truth: the opposition leader had not read it. This is an extraordinary development. The shadow Treasurer put out a nine-point plan, which included the re-regulation of the financial sector—he is allowed to do that—and the opposition leader did not read it. That helps explain a statement that the opposition leader made some time ago, when he said:

I have never been as excited about economics as some of my colleagues …

Ain’t that the truth! The opposition leader said that he has never been excited about economics. He told other people that he is bored with economics. The shadow Treasurer produces a nine-point plan and it is so boring to the Leader of the Opposition that he does not bother reading it before it is put out. Then when it is drawn to his attention by the media three times, he thinks, ‘I’d better have a look at Joe’s plan.’ He goes to look at Joe’s plan, but thinks: ‘It’s out there now. I’ll have to endorse it.’ In so doing, he has endorsed the re-regulation of the financial sector of this country, a return to the bad old days before the Hawke and Keating governments.

There is plenty of further evidence. During the election campaign the coalition was developing a policy to reinstate wholesale funding guarantees for banks that engaged in small business lending. I know this for a fact. I know that the shadow Treasurer was involved in that and that when he was told that it would go over like a lead balloon—I will not use the other possible analogy or description as to how it would go over very badly—they withdrew it. You know what? That was going to be the centrepiece of the opposition leader’s policy launch. What a shocking message that would have sent to the rest of the world, to international financiers: that an Abbott led government would require the reinstatement of wholesale funding guarantees for lending.

We go further. The shadow minister for small business proposed, in front of me and subsequently in the media, the re-establishment of a state bank—that is, a Commonwealth bank—to lend to small business. It is everywhere you look. There were no lessons learnt from the state bank collapses of the early 1990s. No, it is: ‘We want to give it another go because we’re smarter than the average bear. We’ll get in there and do some small business financing and re-establish a state bank’—in this case a bank run by the Commonwealth of Australia.

One reason that this whole debate was kicked off is the coalition’s opportunistic position on the reform known as putting a price on carbon. Every major business CEO to whom I have spoken has said, ‘We need to get the uncertainty removed; we accept that there is a need to put a price on carbon.’ What do we hear every day in this chamber? A set of questions, one after another, from frontbenchers on the other side of the parliament saying, ‘This is going to increase electricity bills by $10,000.’ They just make it up as they go along.

But we remember that this is the same opposition leader, when he knocked over the member for Wentworth in a ballot, who had told the member for Wentworth beforehand, through the pages of the Australian, that it was essential the coalition back Labor’s emissions trading scheme. Of course, this was the weathervane going round and round and round because he saw some political benefit in reneging on that commitment and then using it to skewer the member for Wentworth—and that is exactly what he did.

The shadow Treasurer did not know what he was going to do, so he said, ‘We’ll have a conscience vote on it—a free vote.’ So we had one ‘for’, one ‘against’ and the other one ‘I don’t know’. All the two of them—I will not include the member for Wentworth in this—were trying to do was harvest votes within the coalition party room and harvest votes more broadly because if they can see any opportunity they will take it. The fact is—

Photo of Bruce BillsonBruce Billson (Dunkley, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Small Business, Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. Craig Emerson has just told a blatant lie in this parliament and I would invite you to invite him to withdraw what he said about the government owned bank. Craig, you know that is not right, mate. That is a blatant lie.

Photo of Peter SlipperPeter Slipper (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Would the minister resume his seat. Would the member for Dunkley explain what he considers is the blatant lie uttered by the minister.

Photo of Bruce BillsonBruce Billson (Dunkley, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Small Business, Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

The minister accused me of proposing a government owned bank, and that is a blatant lie. He knows it to be a blatant lie and he should withdraw it if he has any decency whatsoever.

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Chisholm, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The honourable member for Dunkley will resume his seat. There are procedures of the House which would permit him to correct any perceived misrepresentation.

Photo of Craig EmersonCraig Emerson (Rankin, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker, I will come back on that but I indicate that the next speaker will gets points of order to gobble up time and the sort of behaviour that we have seen in this parliament all week from the coalition. If you want disruption, you will get disruption. You will get plenty points of order.

The opposition leader is the godson of BA Santamaria. He is an interventionist. He is an anti-reformer. He has actually said that he worshipped the water that BA Santamaria walked on; that he is a lifelong admirer. BA Santamaria was an interventionist. Whatever you might say about his religious views, he actually believed that capitalism is intrinsically more evil than communism. That says it all. That is the position of the opposition leader. He is an interventionist and he has demoted each and every member who believes in markets. (Time expired)

4:11 pm

Photo of Joe HockeyJoe Hockey (North Sydney, Liberal Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

In Greek mythology I think it was Homer who, in The Odyssey, about the journey of Ulysses, referred to the sirens. From memory—and it is only from memory—in that case there were two sirens, but in Greek mythology they usually talk about three sirens. The sirens are the ‘bird women’ who, using a seductive voice and seductive entreaties, encourage sailors to hit the rocks so that their ship comes aground.

So when the now Prime Minister says, ‘Come and join us on a journey; come and join us in supporting our proposals for a carbon tax, our proposals for budget changes,’ I say to myself—

Photo of Steven CioboSteven Ciobo (Moncrieff, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is a siren call.

Photo of Joe HockeyJoe Hockey (North Sydney, Liberal Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

that is a siren call that has been around for literally thousands of years and we should avoid that call.

And when the Treasurer says, ‘Come on board with consensus economic reform; join with us on this great united journey, the Labor Party and the Liberal Party working together to deliver ongoing economic reform, as we have in this beautiful partnership for the last 25 years,’ I say to myself: that does not seem quite right. It is another siren call.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I would say to you that, just as the sailors many years ago avoided the seductive temptation to come into the bay and end up hitting the rocks, we too will not join with a government that is going to lead our nation onto the rocks. We will not go on that journey. We will not sail into that shore. I say to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that it is the Labor Party—writ large in the last three years—that has not had the fundamental ingredient so necessary to delivering real economic reform, and that is courage. Courage is the main ingredient. It is the flour and wheat in the bread.

It is a fact that you cannot deliver economic reform if you do not have ticker. This is a government with no ticker. They had no ticker when they had a 12-seat majority, so why would you expect them to have ticker when they are three seats short of a majority, when they have cobbled together an unholy coalition of the ideological Left and the ideological Right? As someone said to me—and I will not attribute this quote—‘Before the election the Labor Party was all right wing and after the electorate it is all left wing.’ Why? Because it has not only confused ideology; it has confused goals. Before the election no carbon tax; after the election, ‘Let’s have a carbon tax.’ Before the election, fiscal conservatives; after the election a $2½ billion hole in the budget. Before the election, the Labor Party were all about doing the hard yards of tax reform; after the election they will not even release the Henry documents! Even after the election they said they were going to ‘let the sunshine come in’. That is what they said. They were going to open the doors and have a new, clean breeze pass through this parliament, so that everyone can see the true inner workings of the public sector.

At the first hurdle today, when a motion was before this House to release all of the documentation in relation to the review of tax, which was paid for by Australian taxpayers, this mob went to water—disappointingly the Independents went to water too. There was, out of all of this, a lack of commitment. If they do not have the guts to release the documentation on a review that delivered 138 recommendations of which they accepted only 1½, how can you expect them to have courage for real reform, which from time to time will be unpopular? I would have thought that, if they believed in reform, there would be no more compelling case than the flow of capital and the flow of finance and the challenges that involves at this very moment.

The coalition stands by our plan to have more competition in the delivery of financial services. And after the Labor Party criticised that proposal, we now hear that they are accepting it. They are now saying that they are on board. The Labor Party now say that they want to join with us and hold hands in taking an approach to deliver more competition.

The difference between the Labor Party and the coalition is that the coalition has a proposal. The difference between the Labor Party and the coalition is that the coalition has done it before and will do it again. Previously we have facilitated economic reform. Economic reform improves trade. It increases trade. It liberates the individual. It empowers individuals to create more wealth. Reform is not about increasing the cost of business; reform is about decreasing the cost of business. Reform is about freeing up and liberating business to get on with the job of wealth creation. That is what microeconomic reform is about.

When this government was in opposition, it sought to derail the creation of the Productivity Commission. Now the Labor Party in government will not even heed the words of the Chairman of the Productivity Commission, Gary Banks, and put in place a system that ensures that there is a cost-benefit analysis on all major projects so that taxpayers get the best value for money.

The purpose of economic reform is to facilitate greater productivity. ‘Productivity’ is a word which has not passed the lips of the Labor Party since Kevin Rudd, as opposition leader in this place, was asked, ‘What is productivity?’ and he could not explain it, having talked about it for days in advance. My colleagues who were around at the time would remember that.

Productivity is about improving the output for workers. It is about improving output in the economy. The Labor Party does not talk about productivity. Why? Because their biggest investment in infrastructure, the $43 billion NBN, is in fact a detractor from productivity for the next eight years. The Labor Party does not talk about productivity because the most significant productivity contribution that can be made at this very moment is to increase work force participation.

The Leader of the Opposition is the only person to have laid down policies in the last three years that improve workforce participation. By targeting people under the age of 30 on welfare, by helping people over the age of 30 on welfare, by putting in place a genuine paid parental leave scheme, this man laid down the foundations for greater work force participation and therefore greater productivity. But it goes further. The coalition was the only party that had real courage to put in place a $50 billion fiscal consolidation plan, which is the only way you can take upward pressure off interest rates.

Let it be known by the Australian people that over the last three years interest rates on average under Labor have been higher than they were for the 11 years of the coalition. For home buyers and for small businesses interest rates on average have been higher under Labor in three years—even when the cash rate of the Reserve Bank got down to just three per cent. The Labor Party are overseeing a period of higher interest rates. That means there is less accessible credit. That means the wheels of enterprise suffer and are unable to run on a fair road. And this proves that the Labor Party are not serious about economic reform. The Labor Party are all bluff and bluster and words of ill advice. (Time expired)

Photo of Craig EmersonCraig Emerson (Rankin, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek to make a personal explanation.

Photo of Peter SlipperPeter Slipper (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Does the minister claim to be misrepresented?

Photo of Joe HockeyJoe Hockey (North Sydney, Liberal Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker, my understanding is that this can only take place in a break in proceedings. The MPI is still continuing.

Photo of Craig EmersonCraig Emerson (Rankin, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

You saw what he did during—called me a liar and I’m going to clear that up.

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Chisholm, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Would the member for North Sydney resume his seat. Would the minister resume his seat. I will give the call to the member for Dobell and the minister, under the forms of the House, does have the ability, if necessary, to extend the adjournment if he wants to make a point.

Photo of Craig EmersonCraig Emerson (Rankin, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: I remind you that during my MPI this shadow minister misused the standing orders in order to call me a liar.

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Chisholm, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

There is no point of order. The Minister for Trade will resume his seat.

4:23 pm

Photo of Craig ThomsonCraig Thomson (Dobell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What we have been hearing in this matter of public importance debate is from an opposition that is full of wreckers and blockers with no positive program at all for this country. You know you are having a bad day when the member for Canning describes your policies as ‘lunatic’. From what the member for North Sydney was saying, and his analogies with sirens, I can hear sirens as well, but they are the sirens of the ambulance service coming to pick them up for the funny farm because we have so many lunatic economic ideas coming from the other side that they certainly need that sort of medication to make sure that they get back on track. The opposition members are what KFC is to fine food: they are cheap and populist but, once you have had quite a bit of it, it makes you feel rather ill. That is what the general public is starting to find with the opposition in relation to its economic policy.

Let us have a look at some of the things that have been proposed in recent times. We start with the election—let us go back there—when we had an $11 billion hole in the promises of the opposition. It came out and misled the Australian people about their promises. It said they had been audited, looked at carefully, made sure that they had been audited to a ‘t’ so that we could rely on them. We found out afterwards that they were not audited and when we did look at the numbers there was an $11 billion hole. We have a Leader of the Opposition who is not interested in economics at all. The former Treasurer Peter Costello made that clear. We did not need Peter Costello to tell us, because the performance of the Leader of the Opposition time after time on any economic matter has proved absolutely that he has no interest in economics and no understanding of it.

But you have to feel a little bit sorry for the Leader of the Opposition, because look at his two lieutenants who are advising him on economics: the member for North Sydney, Joe Hockey, and the shadow minister for finance. Have we ever had a weaker pair in the history of this parliament in putting forward solid economic policy from an opposition? The shadow finance minister is proposing that we should be intervening directly in the floating of the dollar, that we should be there regulating that. I do not think that we have had a finance minister or a shadow finance minister raise that sort of crazy talk for 30 or 40 years, certainly not since the dollar was floated. It flies in the face of modern orthodoxy in terms of economics.

Photo of Craig EmersonCraig Emerson (Rankin, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

Black JackMcEwen might have done that.

Photo of Craig ThomsonCraig Thomson (Dobell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The suggestion comes from the Minister for Trade that ‘Black JackMcEwen may have, but I think even ‘Black Jack’ McEwen would be embarrassed at that nowadays. Then we have the shadow Treasurer with his proposal that we reregulate the banks. Where does this come from? Are we going to start calling him ‘Chairman Joe’ from now on? Have they got the ‘little red book’ that they quote from for their economic policy these days? The sort of garbage that is coming out from the other side is unbelievable in terms of their economic policy. I do not think there has been an idea—not even one idea—that we could say is a sensible modern proposal that we could work with on economic reform.

So we ask the opposition to put aside their stupid ideas, put aside—to quote the member for Canning—these ‘lunatic’ ideas and get on board with the reform program that this government is involved in. This government—and the Labor Party—is the government of economic reform. It was us who oversaw the modernisation of the Australian economy. We floated the dollar. We did not say after a few years of floating the dollar that we should reregulate it. We floated the dollar, and that was applauded internationally. We brought down the tariff walls. We introduced a modern superannuation system. One of the reforms that this government is determined to get through is improving superannuation for working people. Again, I am sure that that is something that those on the other side will oppose.

It is worth remembering that before compulsory superannuation came in only 15 per cent of female workers were covered by superannuation. The change happened because of Labor reforms, and this government, in the tradition of the great reforming governments, wants to continue with that.

What are the things that we are proposing to do? We are going to cut company tax. The Leader of the Opposition said, ‘If you are about reforming, you will cut tax.’ That is what we are doing. We are cutting company tax. What are the opposition doing? They will put up taxes. They are going to put a great big tax on absolutely everything whereas we are cutting taxes. We are a reforming government. We have an agenda, whether it is in education, health or the economy. We are reforming and making Australia a better place.

Debate interrupted.