House debates

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Matters of Public Importance

Gillard Government

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

I have received a letter from the honourable the Leader of the Opposition proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely—

Mr Briggs interjecting

The member for Mayo is warned. I have received a letter from the honourable the Leader of the Opposition proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The urgent need for better policies after four years of divided and directionless government.

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—

3:05 pm

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

This is the fourth anniversary of the election of the current government. It is the birthday that no-one wants to celebrate. Members opposite do not want to celebrate it because they do not want to acknowledge the fact that someone else led them to the election other than the person who currently leads them and the public certainly do not want to celebrate because the public know that this is a government which has been an absolute complete and utter failure.

What we have had from this government is four years of waste, four years of broken promises and four years of mounting pressure on the forgotten families of Australia. It is interesting, isn't it, the one person who has been completely scarce around this parliament today is the one person who had the popular appeal to lead the Australian Labor Party into government just four years ago this day? I wonder what the member for Griffith is doing to celebrate. Perhaps he is taking the knife out of the back of the member for Scullin and saying, 'This is the same knife that went into my back just over a year ago.' Perhaps having looked at the knife that has gone into the back of the member for Scullin, discovering it is the same knife that went into his back a year or so back, he is sharpening it up for a bit of use himself in the New Year. I suspect that might be what is happening. The fact is: this is a government of monumental incompetence. Some of the incompetence of this government has passed into popular folklore as just about beyond any ordinary imagination. There were the pink batts that this government could not put into roofs for free without houses catching fire right around Australia. There were the school halls that could not be built without rip-off after rip-off. There is the National Broadband Network that is digging up a street near you, whether you want fibre, need fibre or are prepared to pay extra for fibre once it finally arrives. There was the live cattle fiasco, because this is a government that panicked in the face of a television program. Above all else, hovering over this government like a constant symbol of failure, are the boats that keep arriving, day in and day out, because this government did not have the common sense to leave well enough alone and accept the policies that actually worked. Having changed those policies, having restarted the boats, the government now lacks the honour and the decency to put back into place the policies that have been proven to work.

This is a government which has been replete with broken promises. Within the first six months of this government, the promises started breaking and there has been an absolute cavalcade of broken promises since. I could spend 15 minutes talking about the broken promises of this government: the childcare centres that never got built, the so-called superclinics that have not been built, the 2½ thousand trades training centres that are yet to be rolled out, the Fuelwatch which stopped watching and the GroceryWatch which had its eyes closed and eventually got everything closed. There is the private health insurance rebate that was never going to be means-tested and which now is being means-tested. There is the baby bonus that was never going to be means-tested and now is being means-tested.

Above all, there is the broken promise that will haunt this government and this Prime Minister to her political grave: that notorious statement, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead,'—that notorious statement that she made five days before the election, to win votes, and then trashed after the election to hold onto office. What a shameful, embarrassing and unprincipled Prime Minister, who would make a categorical statement to win votes and then trash any concept of democratic legitimacy by overturning that commitment in order to do her sordid, squalid deal with Bob Brown and the Greens—the first of many sordid, squalid deals which have been done by this government and this Prime Minister over the last 14 months. If there is one thing that this government lacks, it is integrity. It is the lack of competence, lack of honesty and lack of decency which are causing the Australian people to suffer.

We all know how prices have gone up, because this is a government that cannot manage the economy properly. Since the end of 2007, power prices are up 60 per cent. Water prices are up 58 per cent under this government. Gas prices—and you would know this, Mr Speaker, from your own constituents telling you—are up 36 per cent. Education costs are up 21 per cent, health costs are up 24 per cent, rent is up 23 per cent, and food and groceries are up a whopping 33 per cent because this is a government which cannot be trusted with economic management. Above all else, this is a government which cannot be trusted with public money, because this government inherited a $20 billion surplus and turned it into a $50 billion deficit. This is a government which inherited $70 billion in net Commonwealth assets and has so far built up $107 billion of net Commonwealth debt. And the government says that it is going to move into surplus next year. Four years of the biggest deficits in our history and now it says, on the basis of nothing—because it will not face this parliament to have the crisis minibudget that our country needs—that it is going to bring us back into surplus next year.

There is a better way. The better way is the coalition's strong plan for a better economy for a better Australia. Our objective can be stated quite simply and quite clearly. It is lower taxes, better services, more opportunities to work and, above all else, stronger borders. If we are going to be a self-respecting country, if we are going to be a truly sovereign nation, we must have strong and secure borders.

The first task of a government, apart from securing the borders of the country, is to ensure that it lives within its means. On this side of the House there is the experience, there is the competence and there is, above all else, the will to get wasteful government spending under control. It is in our DNA to get wasteful government spending under control. We did it before, between 1996 and 2007, and we can do it again. Sixteen members of my front bench were ministers in the last government to get the fiscal position of the Commonwealth under control. We will not need to learn on the job. We will not need to wear L-plates, like the government are still wearing. In fact, they are not wearing plates, they are F-plates now—'fail' plates. In fact, they have been deregistered. That is what has happened to them. We can do it because we have done it. We have done it before, we can do it again, and one of the reasons why the Australian people are now so hungry for a change of government is that they know there is an alternative that can get the fiscal situation under control.

We will not just talk. We showed before the last election that we could go through the Commonwealth budget, line by line, item by item, program by program, and identify serious savings. Before the last election we identified $50 billion worth of savings. We did it before; we can do it again. We appreciate that the task is hard. We appreciate that the challenge is great. We appreciate that the political difficulties are there. But we will not shirk them, because we know from experience of what is happening in Europe right now that a terrible judgment is pronounced against countries and peoples that keep on spending, keep on borrowing and keep on taxing when it is going to do damage to them—and it will do damage to them.

We have a clear plan not just to get government spending under control but to make our economy more productive. I have identified a six-point plan for higher productivity. It involves a bigger workforce. It involves more productive public institutions. It involves a serious attack on red tape, with serious savings for small businesses based on a model that has been working for some years now in the state of Victoria. It involves investing serious money in infrastructure that really will bring economic and social benefits to our country.

We will spend the money in Auslink on projects which have passed cost-benefit analyses and which always have published cost-benefit analyses. This government, having promised that nothing would be done without a serious cost-benefit analysis, has not published a single one. It is no wonder that the former Minister for Finance and Deregulation, the former member for Melbourne, resigned as soon as the current Prime Minister took office; he was made a fool of, because his promise was never adhered to and he knew that it never would be adhered to under this Prime Minister.

There will be a review of competition law to ensure that businesses large and small compete on a genuinely level playing field. There will be more productive workforces. We will build on the legacy of the former Howard government and have genuine participation reform in this country. There will be continuous activity for unemployed people under 50. We will extend welfare quarantining from the Northern Territory to long-term unemployed people right around Australia. We will reform the disability pension to ensure that older people in particular are not parked forever on the pension when they could still have opportunities for work. We will cut off the dole for young people in places where unskilled work is readily available, because Warren Mundine is right. Warren Mundine, the former National President of the Labor Party, is right: it is much better to have people showing the world what they can do than to have policies in place which encourage them to show the world what they cannot do.

We took really outstanding policies to the last election. You know, Mr Speaker, because you were advocating for the policies that we took to the last election. I hope you might find it in your heart to continue advocating for those policies. There were incentives to employers who took on young long-term unemployed people and kept them there. There were incentives to employers who took on seniors and kept them there. The seniors of this country should not just be social and cultural contributors; they ought to be economic contributors too if that is their wish. There should be no age of statutory senility. There should be no bar to older people contributing to our economy if that is what they want to do. The older people of this country have the skills, the work culture and, in many cases, the readiness to do more, and we should give them the encouragement that they need.

Since the election, my front bench colleagues have announced better water management policies, including new dams, because why shouldn't the north of Australia become a food bowl for Asia? Why do we constantly set limits on ourselves because members opposite are in thrall to Bob Brown, the real Prime Minister of this country?

We came forward with a $2 billion mental health policy. It was so successful that even this current government was shamed into doing something at budget time. I am proud of the antidumping policy on which my friend the shadow minister, the member for Indi, has done so much work assisted by the shadow minister for resources. That will put in place the same effective antidumping regime which has protected the industries of Europe and North America.

We can do better than this government. The Australian people are feeling down because they know we can do better. This is a great country. It deserves a better government, and we stand ready to give it to them. (Time expired)

3:20 pm

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

Mr Speaker, I congratulate you on your election as Speaker today.

I have to say the thing I like about the Leader of the Opposition is that you always know what he is going to say in these debates. He is a bit like McDonald's: wherever you go to McDonald's, you always know it is going to be the same. Whether it is Manuka McDonald's, Bankstown McDonald's in my electorate or the Caloundra McDonald's in the Speaker's electorate, you always know what you are going to get. A Big Mac always tastes the same. The thickshake always tastes the same. The fries always taste the same. It is a bit like that with the speeches of the Leader of the Opposition. Just like McDonald's, they are always cheap and nasty, and if you swallow too much of it then you get that negative feeling in the pit of your stomach. He is the Ronald McDonald of Australian politics: just cheap and nasty insults, and if you hear too much of him then you might just throw up. There is nothing positive, no ideas, no plan for Australia's future—just oppose everything that moves. It is just rancid, unrelenting negativity. Imagine what would happen if one day he said yes to something. Streamers would fall from the public gallery, confetti would rain in this place, a mariachi band would come from the press gallery, and I would probably have to order some Super Hornets to fly over Canberra to celebrate the great event. But the chances of that happening are not very high.

He is so negative that he even opposes a mining tax that the big miners support. He is so negative that now he opposes not only this government's policies but his own policies. He has a policy of cutting carbon emissions by five per cent by 2020, and a couple of months ago, when he was in Queensland, he said that policy is crazy. So he is so negative now that he thinks his own policies are crazy. His policy on asylum seekers is to place asylum seekers in Nauru. There is legislation before this parliament that would allow him to do that if he ever became Prime Minister, and he is opposing that. So he opposes not just government policy but now even his own policies.

He is so negative, Mr Speaker, that he even opposed you and issued an order that no-one from the coalition should stand for the position of Speaker, and he had no-one on that side of politics support your nomination or your election as Speaker of this parliament. He is that negative. He opposes our policies, he opposes his own policies and he even opposes you.

This is a debate about public policy. Let me tell you a little bit about what this government has been doing. We have put a price on carbon. After a debate that has now taken almost 20 years, it is this government that has been able to put a price on carbon. We are rolling out the National Broadband Network. We are delivering the first Paid Parental Leave scheme in Australia's history. We are delivering a national health agreement and $5.8 billion in a flood package to help rebuild Queensland and Victoria. We are delivering a budget that delivered 99 per cent of our election promises and keeps on track for a return to surplus in 2013. Finally, this week we have legislated through this parliament to introduce a minerals resource rent tax.

The Leader of the Opposition comes here and talks about the importance of good policy. I will tell you what good policy is: good policy is making sure that we stop Australia going into recession, and good policy is making sure that we do not have an unemployment rate such as you find in the United States or in Europe, of 10 or 20 per cent. It is about making sure you do not have a million people on a dole queue and all the strife that you see in other parts of the world. That did not happen here in Australia, because of the action that this government took, because we made the right economic decisions with the right policies—policies that were opposed by the Liberal Party and by the National Party and criticised by them all along the way. That is the difference that a Labor government makes.

There are five pillars that this country is built on, and each of them has been built by the Australian Labor Party, and this government is building on each and every one of them. The first pillar is the US alliance. Our alliance with the United States might have been signed by a Liberal Prime Minister, but it was built by a Labor one. Prime Minister John Curtin forged it in the darkest days of World War II. This relationship not only turned the tide of war in the Pacific but has underpinned Australia's security ever since. It was built by the Labor Party, and it is this government that is building on that with the announcement that we made with the President of the United States here only a week ago.

The second pillar that modern Australia is built on is our open and competitive economy, responsible for more than 20 years of uninterrupted economic growth built by the Hawke government and the Keating government. They are the ones who floated the dollar, opened our banks to competition, cut tariffs, developed competition policy and introduced superannuation for the first time for all Australian workers. It is this government that is building on that pillar. We are doing that by rolling out the NBN, by introducing a price on carbon and by increasing the superannuation that all Australian workers will receive from nine per cent—where the Howard government chose not to implement what the Keating government had promised—to 12 per cent. This makes sure that the average Australian worker out there—someone who is 30 now and on 50 grand a year—will have an extra $108,000 in their pocket when they retire.

The third pillar on which Australia is built is fair industrial relations. This is the party that helped to establish workers compensation, the old age pension and the disability pension, and we are building on that by getting rid of one of the worst pieces of legislation ever introduced into this parliament, Work Choices. The member for Mayo knows it well because he is the architect of it. He is the guy who drafted it. He is Dr Frankenstein, the man who created the monster that killed his own boss. We are the party that is building on that pillar, building a fairer workplace by getting rid of Work Choices and introducing the Fair Work Act.

Photo of Jamie BriggsJamie Briggs (Mayo, Liberal Party, Chairman of the Scrutiny of Government Waste Committee) Share this | | Hansard source

It's going very well!

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

I remind the honourable member for Mayo that he is under warning.

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

The fourth pillar on which modern Australia is built is access to health care. The Whitlam and Hawke governments built the Medicare system, and every step of the way the Liberal Party tried to destroy it. They opposed it when Fraser was in opposition, and then when Fraser got in they got rid of Medibank. We introduced Medicare under the Hawke government. They opposed it at every election ever since. It is this government that is building access to health care, and we are doing it now, building on that pillar. We have increased hospital funding by 50 per cent and provided the biggest increase in mental health funding in Australia's history, and we are now developing the National Disability Insurance Scheme that is underway.

The fifth pillar on which Australia is built, of course, is an education system that gives access to everyone. The Whitlam government made university available for many Australians for whom it would never have been available before. During the Hawke and Keating governments, the number of people that finished high school jumped dramatically, from the 50s to the 70s per cent. It is this government that is building on that as well by making sure that more people get access to university and more people finish school, increasing participation rates at school from 75 per cent to 90 per cent. What drove all of these Labor governments in the past are the same things that drive the men and women behind me now. It is the purpose that has always driven the Labor Party to improve the lives of ordinary working people and to build a stronger society, a stronger economy and a fairer country. That is what this Labor government is about. That is what Labor governments have always been about.

The Leader of the Opposition, in his constant stream of bile and unrelenting negativity, talks about policies. Maybe we need to talk about not just better policies but better judgment. In the Australian last month the Leader of the Opposition said:

Napoleon said that one quality he wanted in his generals was luck. Well, I think the one quality the public want in their Prime Ministers is judgment.

Too right. The problem is that the Leader of the Opposition does not have any. In particular, he does not have any economic judgment. Remember: this is the bloke who in his first big speech on economics a few years ago said that the stimulus that stopped us from going into recession 'wasn't necessary'. This is the bloke who said Work Choices was 'one of the greatest achievements of the Howard government'. This is the bloke who made Barnaby Joyce his chief financial adviser. It is like putting Homer Simpson in charge of the nuclear power plant. And this is the bloke who still opposes the mining tax even though BHP and the other big miners support it. His economic judgment is worse than that of Herbert Hoover. At least Herbert Hoover was awake. At least Herbert Hoover was not asleep when he made the worst economic decisions that caused the Great Depression. When the greatest economic crisis since the Depression hit, where was the Leader of the Opposition? He was not on this side of the chamber voting for the stimulus that stopped a recession. He was not on that side of the chamber voting against it, which would have caused a recession. He was upstairs in his room asleep, sleeping through not one division but five. He topped it this week by almost sleeping through 32 divisions. As the Leader of the House said, he only woke up to vote no and that is all he did.

His judgment on other things is no better. Look at health and education. When he was Minister for Health and Ageing, he ripped $1 billion out of our hospital system. What was his promise on education at the last election? He promised to rip $2 billion out of education. His personal judgment is not much better either. Remember: this is the bloke who told people to donate to the Liberal Party during the Queensland floods instead of donating money to help the people of Queensland. Remember: this is the bloke who attacked Bernie Banton during the 2007 election just weeks before he died of asbestosis. This is the bloke who tried to stop an expectant father from being at the birth of his own child only a couple of months ago. The Leader of the National Party may not like it, but he knows it is true and he must pose in his own mind—like the member for North Sydney, a man who did not agree with that action—what sort of a man would try to stop another man from being at the birth of his child.

The problem that the Leader of the Opposition has as well is he also stands for nothing. Remember John Howard used to say, 'Love me or loathe me, at least you know where I stand.' You cannot say that about this Leader of the Opposition because he flips and he flops. He changes his position on everything. One minute climate change is crap; the next minute it is real. One minute he has a policy that says he will cut it by five per cent; the next minute he says that is crazy. One minute he says Work Choices is one of the greatest achievements of the Howard government; the next minute he says it is dead and buried. Apparently, one of the Leader of the Opposition's favourite quotes is from Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great American essayist. Emerson said:

… consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

His former boss John Hewson used to say of the Leader of the Opposition that he was all over the place—black one day, white the next. He got that right. The Leader of the Opposition said that superannuation is a con job 15 years ago. Now he says he is going to support it. He said paid parental leave would only happen over his dead body. Remember that one! Now he says he has his own scheme. He bags the Australian economy here in this place and then he goes to London and says that we are the envy of the world. He calls on the Australian government to establish the Nauru solution and then when we put legislation in that would allow him to do that he votes against that too.

How has this disciple of John Howard ended up opposing the policies of John Howard? Because he is a man who does not believe in anything. When you do not believe in anything you get things wrong. He has come into this place and said that the carbon price would be the death of the coal industry. He said the mining resource rent tax would kill the mining boom stone dead. Last time I was here I reminded the House that one in six members of the opposition have bought shares in coal and resource companies over the last few months since we made that announcement. I have had the Stasi in my office check. There is a sudden silence from the opposition about buying shares. I wonder how that happened. (Time expired)

3:35 pm

Photo of Warren TrussWarren Truss (Wide Bay, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

The honourable member opposite, in amongst his personal insults, tried to rewrite history so that Labor could take credit for every good thing that has happened in this nation. They have to monumentally rewrite history to do that, but of course the Labor Party spin machine usually does not want facts to get in the way. I acknowledge that Labor governments have done some good things over the years. The sad thing, on this the fourth anniversary of this Labor government, is that this government is not in their league. This is a government that is an embarrassment to its own history and it is certainly an embarrassment to our nation. It is a government that will be recognised for its failures, for its inability to deal with simple policy issues, for waste and mismanagement. Dirty deals done in the middle of the night are the hallmark of this government. Treachery and betrayal are its stock in trade. Even the chaotic events of this morning carry the unseemly stench of a government that, along with those who provide comfort to the government in this place, is consumed by self-interest and hanging on to power at any cost. No matter how worthy a person may be, if he needs to be turned into a carcass to achieve an objective then the Sussex Street mob are prepared to do whatever it takes. History will judge all involved.

Two years ago our current Prime Minister said that Labor had lost its way. Of course she was right, Labor had lost its way, but now it is clear it has even lost the map—in fact, the whole atlas is lost. They have no idea where to go or what they should be seeking to achieve. Today as we commemorate the fourth anniversary of this government, its four disastrous years, it is Australian families who have suffered the most. For them, these four years have been a really hard, long slog. They are paying a high price for four years of Labor's broken promises, their wasteful and irresponsible spending, their economic mismanagement, their dodgy deals, their leadership intrigues, their absolute incompetence. This is a birthday that Australians are not celebrating. They grieve on this day, rather than celebrate it, because they have had to endure so much as a people so that Labor can hang onto the keys to the Lodge.

All Australians have received gifts from this government, like the carbon tax, the mining tax and budget deficits, and now we are going to have a government in crisis minibudget before Christmas, all delivering bad news to Australian families and bad news on Australian services. There have been cuts in services and cuts in the standard of delivery of the things we need in this country, and yet the government continues to run up more and more debt. The taxes keep rising, the deficit gets worse, the boats keep coming and the bad government finds new ways to be even worse, to sink even lower.

Labor has squandered its inheritance, turning $45 billion in the bank into $107 billion in net debt. Today the Gillard government is racking up a staggering debt of at least $100 million every day. It is out there borrowing and borrowing and borrowing. While there is intrigue going on in this country, our financiers running our country and seeking to pay the government's bills are going around China and the rest of the world trying to borrow more money so that the bills can be paid tomorrow. And it is not $100 million just today; it is $100 million, or even higher numbers, tomorrow and the following day—it has to be done every day to pay the deficits this government is racking up because it cannot manage its own affairs.

This is not the end of it. Australians are going to look forward to a carbon tax that is going to add $4 billion to the budget deficit—

Photo of Luke HartsuykerLuke Hartsuyker (Cowper, National Party, Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the House) Share this | | Hansard source

How much?

Photo of Warren TrussWarren Truss (Wide Bay, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

Four billion dollars—and a mining tax that is going to cost at least $6 billion to the budget deficit. How can you introduce gigantic big new taxes and actually end up with a deficit? Only Labor can run financial affairs like that. It takes an extraordinary feat of economic incompetence to create two new massive taxes that actually exacerbate an already woeful budget position. There are two great big new taxes but the nation's finances are $10 billion worse off despite these new taxes. And what is going to happen after the Treasurer delivers his government in crisis minibudget next week? It is always families that are going to foot the bill, with debts and deficits driving higher interest rates.

From the middle of next year the carbon tax will drive up the cost of everything, making next winter especially hard for Australian families as they struggle to pay the increased electricity bills or are forced to suffer in the cold. Labor should not claim that this is something that is happening accidentally. The very design of Labor's carbon tax is to encourage people, to force them, to switch off their heaters on cold days and to switch off their air conditioners during a hot summer. This is the strategy: make the price of electricity so high that we cannot afford to use it anymore and as a result there will be less CO2 emissions.

We have now seen the asylum seeker debacle. More people have arrived by boat in the last three days than in the last six years of the Howard government. Does that sound like a successful asylum seeker policy? It is a dismal failure. The welcome mat is well and truly out with their onshore processing arrangements these days: it only takes a few days and you are out living in the city and qualify for benefits et cetera. This has been the greatest encouragement to the people-smuggling business to ramp up their trade. Frankly, it is a shameful example of this government's failure—and it is a failure they could so easily fix. They pulled their own legislation; they failed to bring it into the House for a vote that could have resolved this problem. We could have had this problem fixed by this Christmas but it is not going to be. There will be thousands more people coming before the government have the courage to bring their legislation into the parliament to try and fix the problem.

What we have now is a government that is completely out of control. They talk so much about how they want to care for people and they make big announcements, such as that we must have a national road system—which is in fact paved with press releases. There are grandiose announcements, especially from the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, like $1 billion extra for the Pacific Highway. But, when it came to it, $700 million of it had already been announced, $200 million was being transferred from other projects in New South Wales and the whole billion was going to be spent on planning. There were announcements last week about a whole stack of new projects that are being brought forward to try and make next year's balance sheet look a little bit better by bringing the debt forward. The projects will not be built, but the debt has been transferred from one year to the next to try and help Labor deliver its dream of a balanced budget. Of course that will not happen, no matter what is said in the context of the minibudget that is in process.

In my own electorate just the other day the minister announced a large number of new projects that he said would fix black spots on the Bruce Highway. I do not know whether he even reads his own press releases because he has already announced all these projects, some of them many times, and most of them are already finished. He announced a new spate of activities that are going to happen on the Bruce Highway but most of the projects are already completed and have been for months. I also want to refer to a number of people who are not going to have a happy Christmas this year as a direct result of another government policy failure. They have spoken a lot about their proposed new mental health initiative—a $2.5 billion mental health initiative. We do need to do more on mental health, but what they do not front up to is the fact that the government are actually cutting expenditure for mental health this year. They are actually cutting expenditure. I have been approached by many psychiatrists in my own electorate who are now fronting up to the cruel reality of the limits that have been put on the Better Access program—people who cannot get any psychiatric care over the Christmas period because they have used up their 10 treatments for the year. One person who wrote to me has 63 patients who have accessed their maximum 10 rebates in 2011 and now cannot get any services until 2012.

What are this government's priorities? They go on with all this intrigue and political nonsense, when they should be looking after the Australian people. This is the fourth birthday of disaster, an anniversary of an underachieving government—a government that ought to give it away. (Time expired)

3:46 pm

Photo of David BradburyDavid Bradbury (Lindsay, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

Deputy Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your appointment to your office. It is great to be able to make a contribution to this important debate—a debate that gives us an opportunity to reflect upon the direction in which this government has taken the nation over the last four years. It is a very proud record of achievement.

We hear those on the other side reflect upon various matters, but there are a number of really important issues that you never hear them talk about. You do not hear them talk about jobs. In fact, when the global financial crisis was about to descend upon us, I remember the then Leader of the Opposition, the member for Wentworth, came into this place one day and he said, 'Its all about jobs, jobs, jobs.' I think that was the last time I heard anyone from that side come in here and place any emphasis on jobs. But there is a good reason that they do not want to talk about jobs, and that is that they supported policies that would attack jobs. They opposed policies that would create jobs.

During the global financial crisis we generated 700,000 jobs in this country. In fact, in the life of this government we have generated 750,000 jobs. As we generated those 700,000 jobs at a time when the rest of the world was confronting the economic contagion, we saw that right around the globe 30 million jobs were being lost. Here in Australia we created 700,000; around the world 30 million jobs were being lost. You will not hear those on the other side reflect upon that remarkable achievement.

As a government, we do not take all the credit. We worked with the Australian community and with the business community in order to ensure that we were able to generate jobs when that was the key priority. And it continues to be a key priority of this government—to save businesses and to keep people in work. We know that the moment you lose your job, the ability to rebuild your life at some future stage, if and when you re-enter the workforce, is a much more challenging prospect than staying in work. We kept people in work, and we did that through a stimulus package that delivered major infrastructure investments in this country.

As I travel around my electorate and around the country I see what we have achieved. I see the massive improvement in our schools, in public housing and in local community infrastructure delivered by our councils. I have seen the capital equipment that our businesses have invested in through the business investment allowance—and now we want to give them the opportunity to keep investing in capital, with the instant asset write-off for small business.

We have seen the improvements in health care that this government has delivered over the last four years. We came into office at a time when the former government had neglected public services. They failed to invest in our hospitals, by simply saying, 'This is a matter for the states.' Remember the blame game? Well, we have tackled it. We have worked with state governments to deliver a compact that is increasing funding for health and hospitals, like the Nepean hospital in my electorate, which has received a massive investment of over $100 million—$17 million on a new clinical school.

In the entire term of the Howard government, the 11 years, the most they ever put in was about $2 million or $3 million—across the entire period. We have invested over $100 million in this important hospital in the outer western Sydney region. We have made vital investments in hospitals all around our country. This is because we believe that our central, core, objective is about managing the economy for working families. It is about managing this economy but ensuring that the benefits of a strong economy are distributed across the community, so that working Australians and working families in electorates like mine and those of all members in this place are able to share in the bounty of this prosperous country. And we are a prosperous country. Do not let those on the other side tell us that is not the case.

When it comes to the cost of living, which is a big issue—and an issue that has been a great challenge for governments throughout the course of history—our government has delivered a lot to ease the burden of the rising cost of living. We have delivered tax cuts in the order of $47 billion. We increased the childcare tax rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent. We introduced an education tax refund, allowing families to invest in those important goods that their children need in order to support their education and for those families to get a rebate from the government. We have delivered a historic increase in the pension—for the first time in the history of the pension a government has increased it above and beyond the rate of the CPI.

We introduced a paid parental leave scheme. Remember what it was like—it was like pulling teeth—when those opposite were in government. People around this country campaigned to give working parents the opportunity to have some financial relief when they take that first step to have a family and those opposite fought tooth and nail to deny people that opportunity. 'Over my dead body' was one of the things that the former Prime Minister said when they were in government. We have delivered it. We have delivered the first national paid parental leave scheme—and aren't parents right across this country thankful for it!

We have doubled the investment in our schools, and now when I go to schools in my electorate I see the entire school has been remade; it has been made over—a once-in-a-generation opportunity to remake our schools, and we did it. Every time you go to one of these openings you trip over the coalition MPs, who want to get into the photo opportunity ahead of the rest of us. They voted against it, but they want to be there, up on the dais, celebrating the great achievement. It is an achievement that not only got us through the global financial crisis but delivered the investments our country was crying out for, so that, regardless of where you live in this country, you saw the benefits of that investment in the education revolution. You are seeing the benefits in health care. Our health reforms are designed to ensure that, regardless of where you live in this country, you will be given a quality standard of health care.

But we have an eye to the future because, like all Labor governments, we are focused on not only delivering for today but preparing our country for the future. That is why we are investing in the National Broadband Network. There are those on the other side who criticise this initiative. There were plenty of people who criticised the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and there were plenty of people who criticised the Snowy Mountains hydroelectric scheme, but today we look back and we celebrate the vision of the people who implemented those projects. We enjoy the benefits and we celebrate those benefits. Future generations will look back at what this government is doing with the National Broadband Network and they will thank us and they will herald the long-term vision of this government.

In the entire time I have been involved in politics—and I was involved in local government for many years—one of the principal laments of people in the community has been that governments are too short term. Often they are short term because it is hard to be long term, but this government aspires to a future of prosperity for the nation by delivering long-term programs like the National Broadband Network and pricing carbon so that we can begin the process of creating a clean energy transformation to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. We all know that at some point in the future our nation will have to wean itself off fossil fuels, but our government is doing something about it. We are ensuring that future generations will be able to share in the prosperity that we enjoy today. In fact, they will benefit from the clean energy jobs that will be created in this country today and tomorrow. We want to make sure that no-one is left behind, and that is why we want our national disability insurance scheme. Something talked about for generations will be delivered. We are laying the foundations, but it will be delivered.

And, of course, we repealed Work Choices—the greatest assault upon the decency of the Australian people that we have witnessed. They put it in; we repealed it. We continue to ensure that working Australians have access to fair arrangements in their workplaces so that they have some rights; they have a framework that allows them to go to work knowing that they have some protection from being summarily dismissed without any recourse. They know that they can bargain with other workers in a context where they will never have equal bargaining power with their employer but they might have a fair go. These are the things that Labor governments deliver, and I am proud to be a part of a government that has been delivering these things over the last four years. We will continue to do that. The challenges that this country faces in the future are just as great, but we believe and have sufficient hope in the Australian people. We know we have the capacity to take those challenges on in the future, and that is what we will do. (Time expired)

3:56 pm

Photo of Ms Julie BishopMs Julie Bishop (Curtin, Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Madam Deputy Speaker, I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your elevation to this position.

Not since the dying days of the discredited Whitlam government have we seen such a pitiful excuse for a government, with a leader who cannot be trusted, whether she is backstabbing her leader to take the top job of Prime Minister, having promised faithfully that she would never challenge him, or whether she is backstabbing the Australian people. This government is contemptible. A Prime Minister who promised the Australian people on the eve of the election that there would be no carbon tax under a government she led then did a secret deal with the Greens and broke her promise to the Australian people. She broke faith with the Australian people. It was a solemn promise that she was prepared to walk away from. When it comes to the choice of keeping faith with the Australian people or clinging to power, this Prime Minister will ditch the Australian people every time. This is a contemptible government led by an untrustworthy Prime Minister. No wonder the joke going around the Twittersphere is: if Australia is the lucky country, how come it is Greece and Italy that get to change Prime Minister?

A survey was undertaken by JWS Research asking Australians to name the best government in Australia over the last 30 years. Ninety six per cent of those people surveyed named any government other than the Gillard government. Four per cent named the Gillard government. I was thinking about that four per cent, but then I read another survey that said four per cent of the Australia people still think Elvis is alive. That explains it, doesn't it, Member for Brand? The vast majority of those surveyed named the Howard government as the best government of the last 30 years, and that is because it was and is the best government of the last 30 years. The legacy that this incoming lot received from the Howard government was invaluable. Unemployment was around four per cent and there was no government debt. We paid off every single cent of Keating's $96 billion debt so that we did not have to pay $9 billion or $10 billion a year in interest. We provided successive budget surpluses. I think it was about seven in all, wasn't it, Member for Flinders?

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage) Share this | | Hansard source

Ten out of 12, we had.

Photo of Ms Julie BishopMs Julie Bishop (Curtin, Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Ten out of 12 years were budget surpluses. But, for the past four years, the Australian people have been subjected to a divided, directionless, dysfunctional and increasingly dishonest government. What everyone has learnt, to this country's great cost, is that you do not listen to what Labor say; you watch what they do. Remember when the member for Griffith, before he was toppled by the Prime Minister, was campaigning on being an economic conservative. He was 'John Howard light'. He would have advertisements of him standing in front of the Brisbane skyline saying, 'I've always been an economic conservative. I'm committed to budget surpluses. I believed in them when in opposition. I'm committed to them in government.' Budget surpluses—what a cruel hoax on the Australian people.

What have they delivered? Deficit after deficit after deficit after deficit. The past four budgets have been in deficit—four successive budget deficits—a cumulative total of $150 billion in deficit. That means this government have spent $150 billion more than they have raised in revenue. That is one of the worst performances of any national government in living memory. How have they paid for this cumulative total of $150 billion? By cutting back the wasteful spending on their pink batts scheme and every other discredited scheme? By growing the economy? No—they have paid for these budget deficits by borrowing. From a standing start of zero government debt, in the last two or three years, net government debt is over $110 billion. It went from zero to $110 billion in two years. It took Labor 13 years to accumulate a $96 billion debt by 1996, and now it has taken just a couple of years for a $110 billion net government debt. The economic conservatives committed to budget surpluses have one of the largest debts in peacetime history and successive budget deficits with a cumulative total of $150 billion. Not even Paul Keating could rival that kind of economic vagrancy.

Is there anything that the Prime Minister can be believed on? What of the Labor principle that they would not send asylum seekers to a country that is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees? That is what the Prime Minister said when she announced her ill-fated East Timor processing scheme. She said, 'The government will not send asylum seekers to any country that is not a signatory under the UN convention on refugees.' She cannot even be believed on what we thought was an immutable Labor Party principle. Her Malaysia swap deal, the appalling deal that would see 800 asylum seekers sent to Malaysia, would already be exhausted by now because many more than 800 people have arrived since the deal was announced. This deal is, of course, to send asylum seekers to a country that is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees. So, what happened to this great Labor principle, the moral high ground that the Labor Party stood on to say, 'We won't send asylum seekers to a country that's not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees'? The only country they want to send asylum seekers to is one that is not a signatory. There are about 140 other countries to choose from. But, no, this government are committed to the one country that is not a signatory.

Then, what of that other immutable Labor principle that they will not sell uranium to any country that is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty? I understood that that was Labor's moral high ground. They stood there saying, 'We will not sell uranium to a country that is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.' The coalition happen to disagree with that because we believe there are countries that can be trusted with Australian uranium. The Labor Party insisted, year on year on year, that it would not sell uranium to India because it was not a signatory, and we have had four years of unnecessary tension and diplomatic frustrations with India because Labor said that it was committed to a principle not to sell Australian uranium to a country not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Well, guess what ladies and gentlemen, Labor has now done a backflip, a 180 degree turn, and all of a sudden they are not on the moral high ground anymore. They are now going to put it to the annual national gathering of the Labor bosses, the union bosses, the union officials who run the Labor Party, to ask them for approval to sell Australian uranium to India, which is not a signatory. Is there no conviction that this government will not trash? Is there no principle they will not walk away from? Have they no ethics, no principles? This is a dysfunctional, divided, dishonest government.

It does not stop there. There is another really disgraceful episode that has not received a lot of publicity but, believe me, it is on the slow burn. This is in relation to the $223 million taxpayer funded tender for the Australian Network which is an important element of Australia's engagement with our region. This is a taxpayer funded international television service, the Australian Network. It broadcasts to about 44 countries in the Asia-Pacific Indian Ocean. In the past the Seven Network has had the tender, the ABC has had the tender, and it is put out for tender from time to time.

The Gillard government announced the most recent tender in December with tender documents issued in February and at stake is $223 million. It was meant to be an arm's length tender. It has always been done through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as it should, because it involves soft diplomacy into our region. Responsibility for the decision rests with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, but so divided and so dysfunctional is this government at the top that, without explanation, a secret deal was done. They ripped responsibility off the Minister for Foreign Affairs and gave it to none other than the minister for the ABC, Senator Conroy. Talk about a conflict of interest! The minister, who is responsible for the ABC, one of the tenderers, gets to decide the tender. And the Minister for Foreign Affairs is backstabbed yet again. It is like Lucy and Peanuts holding the football and poor old Kevin comes running in and she takes the footy away. This tender is now so discredited, the political and government interference in this tender is no so discredited, that the Attorney-General is intervening to investigate the circumstances. The Prime Minister and the minister for communications are complicit in yet another disgraceful episode of this contemptible— (Time expired)

4:06 pm

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Throsby, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Madam Deputy Speaker, can I add my voice to those who have congratulated you on your elevation. At the end of an extraordinary day, an extraordinary week and an extraordinary year it is indeed extraordinary that those opposite send in the peashooters when a cannon is needed. If that is the best they can do, they really are in a lot of strife and there is going to be a lot of soul-searching when they go back to camp at the end of this parliamentary session.

It has been an extraordinary year because we have delivered 250 pieces of legislation, we are continuing the rollout of the National Broadband Network, 750,000 jobs have been created, there has been a historic agreement on health with more doctors and more nurses, $36 billion is being invested in infrastructure, and there is a record increase in pensions. On the other side of the chamber the penny has dropped because after 15 months of saying no those on the other side have realised that they have to have a positive policy agenda. They have sent the Leader of the Opposition in here in some panicked attempt to set out a positive policy agenda, but the best we get is a litany of sentences that start with the words 'no', 'stop' or 'John Howard'. If that is the best they can do, then this country and the Liberal Party are in a lot of strife. At the end of a very tough parliamentary year and a very torrid parliamentary session we can see why those on the other side are looking very worried indeed. They have members leaving the coalition, they have people all around the country calling them the 'noalition' and they have people wondering whether their leader has the temperament to not only lead the country but also his own side. I think over the long break there will be a lot of people wondering whether the Leader of the Opposition has the judgment, the temperament and the ability to lead them into next year. There will be a lot of nervous backbenchers on that side, indeed.