Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Matters of Public Importance
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 stable government to build a stronger economy for all Australians.
I call upon those honourable 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—
With the standing of the government and respect for this parliament at near record lows I regret to say that this parliament, the parliament now drawing to its close, has been a low and dishonourable one.
At the beginning of the life of the current government, the Prime Minister stood and said to the Australian public that she would be:
… faithful to the trust that has been extended to us.
In 88 days time the public will finally have their chance to pass judgement on just how the Prime Minister has been faithful to the trust that was placed in her. I suspect that that will be a critical judgement because, wherever you look, this is a parliament which has let down the Australian people and a government which has betrayed the trust that the people extended to it—only just, nevertheless, they did extend to it—at the last election.
There is the carbon tax that was never going to happen, which did happen. There was the surplus—the 'no ifs, no buts surplus'—that would happen come hell or high water and that has never happened. Instead, we have a debt that is now racing towards $340 billion. There is the mining tax, which has achieved the extraordinary outcome of damaging investment, damaging confidence and employment, without actually raising any revenue.
There was the live cattle ban, in panic at a television program—perhaps the most disastrous decision ever taken towards one of our near and important neighbours in our country's history. There was the political execution of an excellent Speaker because it suited the political convenience of the Prime Minister. We have had three leadership challenges in three years. We have had the protection racket that has been extended towards the member for Dobell by a Prime Minister only too familiar with the operation of union slush funds—
Speaker, I rise on a point of order. You have ruled before that that language is not appropriate to be used with regard to the conduct of the Prime Minister in relation to the member for Dobell. I ask that the member withdraw.
The Leader of the Opposition has the call but I will advise that, as the member for Gellibrand rightly points out, the language has been asked to be withdrawn. I am not going to do it on this occasion, but I will be mindful of other words in the member's statement.
I appreciate your forbearance, Madam Speaker. There was the Australia Day riot, which turned out to have been orchestrated out of the Prime Minister's office. But, above all else, there was the failure that will haunt the memory of this parliament and this government: the ongoing disaster on our borders, a disaster that the Prime Minister promised to fix on 24 June 2010.
We have had almost 45,000 illegal arrivals by boat—more than the population of Gladstone, more than the population of Coffs Harbour, more than the population of Shepparton and more than the population of Mount Gambier. No-one wants to see any Australian government fail. No-one wants to see any Australian government give up on governing but that, I regret to say, is what this government has done.
We have 88 days until the election. The people will then have their chance to pass judgement on this government. They will have a choice between an incompetent and untrustworthy government and a coalition that will stop the boats, that will repeal the carbon tax and that will get the budget back into the black. That is the pledge that we make to the Australian people and that is a pledge that we will honour.
As things stand, the Australian people are frustrated and angry. They are frustrated and angry with a government that has let them down and a government that has repeatedly betrayed them. Indeed, Labor people—decent, honourable Labor people—are embarrassed and even ashamed at the performance of this government. I am pleased that the member for Hotham has stayed in the House to listen to this MPI, because the member for Hotham called it for Australia. That is what he did: he called it for Australia when he said he could no longer serve on this Prime Minister's frontbench. I regret to say that this particular government is now beyond cure. This particular government is now past the point of no return. The poison is so deep, the division and dysfunction so deep that there is nothing that can save the contemporary Labor Party except time out to decide what it actually stands for and what it now believes.
The Australian people are an optimistic people. We know that better times can come. We know that better times are ahead of us but what we need is a government that you can trust and a government that is competent to deliver effective administration. I want to say to the Australian people: I am proud of the team that I lead. I am proud of the fact that the team I lead is representative of the breadth and depth of the Australian people. I am confident that there would actually be more former tradesmen on this side of the parliament these days than on that side of the parliament. I am proud of the fact that the first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives is sitting on this side of the parliament for the Liberal Party. I am proud of the fact that, if every coalition candidate in this election were to come to this parliament, the most common name in the Liberal Party party room would be Nguyen. It is a sign of just how much the modern Liberal Party is standing foursquare with the decent people of our country.
I know that our team is ready to form a stable and competent government. My team does not need to learn on the job, because my team has done the job before. Sixteen members of the shadow cabinet were ministers in a government that did stop the boats, that did bring the budget back into the black, that did get taxes down, that did abolish unnecessary taxes. We have done it before and we will do it again. We understand in the marrow of our bones that you cannot have a strong society, you cannot have strong communities without a strong economy to sustain them, and a strong economy pivotally depends upon profitable private businesses. We understand this. We get this. We know that it is not government that creates wealth; it is business that creates wealth. No government has ever taxed a country into prosperity. Plenty of governments have taxed a country into the ground. Not one has ever taxed a country into prosperity.
So our economic plan starts with abolishing the carbon tax and the mining tax. We will cut red tape. We will boost productivity so that the creative businesspeople of this country can get a fair go to survive and prosper, and so the workers of Australia can get a fair go to keep their jobs and to prosper. A strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia—that is how this coalition will deliver hope, reward and opportunity should we be entrusted with the government of this country in 88 days time. We will relieve the pressure on families. We will relieve the pressure that we know the families and households of Australia are under. Under us they will keep the tax cuts and pension and benefit rises, but they will most assuredly lose the carbon tax.
This is not just about creating a richer country; it is about creating a better country too. What I want to achieve—what my team wants to achieve—is giving the Australian people confidence that we can come closer to being our best selves. We are all conservationists now. That is why I want direct action to improve our environment, not a great big new tax that will clobber the economy without actually reducing our emissions. As well as an emissions reduction fund for more trees, better soils and smarter technology, there will be a green army 15,000 strong marching to the help of our degraded land and waterways. Anyone who looks at our country knows that land care needs more than the largely volunteer efforts of farmers and of understaffed local councils. We will give our country the workforce it needs if our remnant bushland is to survive and if our creeks are to run clean. We will give idealistic young people and older people a way to turn their environmental commitment into practical action so that our gift to the future will be a country in better shape than that which we inherited.
Should the coalition win the election, I will continue my practice of spending a week a year as a volunteer in a remote Indigenous community. If people are expected to live there, a Prime Minister should be prepared to stay there and senior public servants should be prepared to stay there too. Nothing would focus people's minds more on the issues of remote Australia than conducting the government from there even if it is only for a week. I do not underestimate the challenges of crafting an Indigenous recognition amendment that will be an advance for Aboriginal people without creating two classes of Australian. No, I do not underestimate the difficulty of this challenge; but, should there be a change of government on 14 September, we will persevere and get this right. In so doing, this nation of ours—this great nation—will finally be made whole.
Everyone knows that I am a late convert to the cause of a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme. I am a late convert, but I tell you I have a convert's zeal. Why should people get their full pay while on holiday and on sick leave and just a welfare wage while on parental leave? If blokes had babies, this never would have been tolerated. I did not always understand this, but I do now. A fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme is an important economic reform. It is good for population, it is good for productivity, it is good for participation—in fact, all three of the Ps which economic strength requires. Most of all, a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme is an issue of justice—justice for the women of our country that will finally be delivered under a coalition government.
I know I surprised people three years ago with this commitment to a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme, but serious people do have the capacity to grow and I am pleased to say that I understand this issue much better now than I did a decade ago. I have learnt from watching the example of good leaders—people like Bob Hawke as well as John Howard, who made the transition from tribal chief to national leader. I understand that a Prime Minister should never set out to deliberately divide one Australian from another, as we have seen in this current parliament. A Prime Minister should never think that he or she is somehow bigger than the party or the country. Prime ministers must always be the servants of their party and, above all else, the servants of their country.
Finally, should there be a change of government on 14 September, this parliament must be a better place. There has been too much venom and too many baseless accusations of bad faith—and I suspect we might even have a few in a few moments. We are better than that, and I hope to have a chance to demonstrate that we are better than that. After 14 September I am confident that the people of Australia will be able to have more pride in their parliament. (Time expired)
I have now heard it all and I have been in this parliament for 15 years. For the Leader of the Opposition to complain that there has been too much venom in this parliament, while the coalition spits venom across the table on a daily basis, is the height of hypocrisy. This is a man who said he wanted a kinder, gentler parliament and then set about systematically to try to destroy the reputation of this parliament. He tried to destroy the reputation of this parliament to create a sense of chaos every day in an economy and in a society that has actually been going pretty well.
The objective evidence of that is actually provided by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which only a few weeks ago completed its analysis and released it publicly. On a range of 11 different indicators—not only economic indicators but also quality of life indicators, such as longevity and sense of community—where do you reckon Australia came? No. 1 in the world; Australia is the best country in the world. But you would not have known it from this coalition after the last 2½ years, because they have spent every day in this parliament spitting venom and trying to trash talk the economy in the hope that, although it would cost tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Australian jobs, it might advance their own pathetic, personal ambitions. That is what has happened in this parliament. The interests of the coalition and their ambitions to climb up the ladder have stood and ranked above those of the everyday Australians who we are here to represent.
This is a matter of public importance debate about the strength of the economy. Now let us go to the strength of the Australian economy. The OECD projects that in the coming two years we will grow faster than any major, advanced country on earth. When we came to government, the Reserve Bank cash rate was 6¾ per cent; it is now 2¾ per cent. That is such a large reduction in interest rates that it is saving an average household with a mortgage of $300,000 at least $5,000 a year. That is unambiguously good news for mortgage holders and also for small businesses. Why have interest rates been able to fall? Because inflation is contained. The Reserve Bank is an inflation-targeting reserve bank and it has been comfortable with the inflation rate under this government. Compare that with the inflation rate and the interest rate performance of the previous coalition government, of which the Leader of the Opposition was a cabinet minister: after the 2004 election, when John Howard promised to keep interest rates at record lows, they went up 10 times because inflation went up. The Reserve Bank's arm was forced because the previous coalition refused to invest in skills, refused to invest in the education of our young people and refused to invest in infrastructure.
All of those investments are now taking place under the Gillard Labor government. We have eased those capacity constraints and as a consequence of that we have had very strong growth compared with all major advanced countries at a time when 28 million jobs were lost around the world because of a global financial crisis—a debate through which the Leader of the Opposition slept—which senior members of the coalition now claim did not exist: 'It was a little blip in the Northern Hemisphere.' Through that period, when 28 million jobs were lost through a so-called 'blip' in the Northern Hemisphere, 961,000 jobs had been created in Australia because the Labor government puts jobs first. That is in our DNA. We were created as a political party to advance the interests of the working men and women of Australia, and we stood up for the working men and women of Australia during the global financial crisis, which became the deepest global recession since the Great Depression.
The truth is the former opposition leader at least provided some support for our stimulus package, but the present opposition leader has senior frontbenchers, such as the Manager of Opposition Business, saying, 'A coalition government would never have gone into deficit.' Confronted with a write-down, a reduction, in expected revenues of $180 billion, the prescription of the Leader of the Opposition's team would be to match it with cuts of $180 billion. That would deliver in Australia, over that time, a deep and prolonged recession. But that was not just a mistaken quote from the Manager of Opposition Business. The shadow Attorney-General said the same thing. That it should never have gone into debt.
What did the Leader of the Opposition say? He said, 'I cannot see what was wrong with the New Zealand response to the global financial crisis.' Well, I can tell you what was wrong with it—a recession lasting more than a year. But the opposition do not mind recessions because they focus the attention, as far as the coalition is concerned, of the workers on their jobs so that they are good compliant workers because they are fearful every day of losing their jobs and worry if they can ever get one during a recession and its aftermath.
The indicators of a strong economy are the AAA rating of the Australian economy not by one or two but all three international ratings agencies. That is a gold standard assessment, yet we have the coalition every day in the parliament saying the economy is a disaster and a mess. Their policy prescriptions are a worry if the diagnosis from the coalition is that the economy is in an emergency situation and a mess, notwithstanding that we have inflation contained, interest rates down, a AAA rating and growth stronger than every major advanced country. They say that is an emergency.
When that is the prescription and the diagnosis, what is their policy? We know what their policy is. Their policy is to cut to the bone. They believe that we should never have had debt in this country. They think that, if they get into government, the objective is to race for a surplus. How do you race for a surplus? By cutting jobs and services. We know already that they have promised to cut 20,000 jobs in this country. They have also said that they will cut services. They will cut Medicare Locals and they will cut GP superclinics. They will cut the services on which the Australian people rely. We know some of that, but we do not know all of it. The reason we do not know all is that the mechanism that they have already announced is a commission of audit, otherwise described by the Treasurer as a commission of cuts.
There is form for this. We can check the form guide. Not only has Campbell Newman in Queensland used this device to conceal from the Queensland people the extent of the savagery of the cuts from which the people of Queensland are still reeling but the previous Howard government did the same thing. After the 1996 election, instead of laying out what they were going to do if they were elected, they had a commission of audit. What did they do? They cut training. They cut the vital services that were so important—TAFE funding—and we are only just recovering from those savage cuts. They lacked the courage to tell the Australian people and now what is the Leader of the Opposition—the big he-man who says, 'Look at me'—doing? He is hiding behind the commission of cuts. If he is elected, he is going to use exactly the same device as Campbell Newman. Campbell Newman's cuts are but the curtain-raiser to the cuts that the Leader of the Opposition would implement. Why? Because the shadow Treasurer has said that we are in an emergency. He has said economic growth is flatlining at trend. This is a new concept. This is the level of economic literacy. No wonder the Leader of the Opposition has been described as economically innumerate and illiterate.
A government member: Who said that?
It was actually Professor John Hewson and Peter Costello. They would know a thing about it because they have been in shadow cabinet with the guy. He was employed by Professor John Hewson. He knows the form of the Leader of the Opposition very well. I will tell you who knows it even better and that is former Treasurer Peter Costello. They described the Leader of the Opposition as economically illiterate and innumerate. But his diagnosis is that the economy is in an emergency situation. Why? Because of flatlining at trend. You cannot believe the economic incompetence of these people in the coalition. So they say, 'We need a commission of audit.' But we have been able to ascertain a few of the decisions that they have made.
We have coalition members of parliament writing to our minister for families saying: 'Some of our families are missing out on the schoolkids bonus. What are you going to do about it?' For goodness sake, write to the Leader of the Opposition and ask him what he is going to do about it. He has a sense of equity. There will not only be a few who miss out on the schoolkids bonus. He is going to be fair. Everyone misses out on the bonus because it is going to be axed. That is $15,000 for two kids over the lifetime at school of those kids. That is $15,000 ripped out of families trying to send kids to school and getting a bit of support from us to do so.
Wait, there is more! We have had a debate about superannuation in this parliament for about 20 years. The defining feature of superannuation is that Labor introduced compulsory superannuation to extend it to the men and women of Australia for universal retirement income. The defining feature of this coalition is they have opposed every single increase in superannuation that has been implemented by a Labor government. The shadow Treasurer went public and said, 'We support the legislation to increase superannuation from nine to 12 per cent.' That is blatantly untrue. They came in here and voted against it. Worse than that, not only did they oppose abolishing the superannuation contributions tax for people on low incomes, part-timers, students—mostly women—but they have promised to reimpose it. We have here in the parliament a speech by the Leader of the Opposition saying: Look at us. We are the party of lower taxes.' The party that has a policy to increase taxes is the Liberal Party. It has promised to reimpose a 15 per cent contributions tax on 3.6 million low-income, vulnerable Australians—casuals, part-timers, mostly women—and it says it is the low-tax party!
What else are they doing on the tax front? They actually opposed the reduction in the company income tax from 30 per cent to 29 per cent, which ended up, because we could not get it through, funding the schoolkids bonus, which they are going to axe if they get elected. What else are they doing? There is that great big new tax on everything you buy, their paid parental leave. Their gold-plated paid parental leave: a 1½ per cent increase in the company tax rate and the Leader of the Opposition said: 'Coles, Woolies, the banks and the petrol companies will absorb that. They won't pass that on. They're the good guys; they won't do that.' Of course they will. In fact, the banking industry is complaining because they are saying they will pass it on, so everyone will pay for this gold-plated paid parental leave scheme with increased taxation. And the Leader of the Opposition said, on climate change, 'We'll get rid of the carbon price and we'll put in this kind of like costless direct action plan.' Costless? At $1,300 per household! That is an increase in taxes. No wonder they call him economically illiterate. That is an increase in taxes.
The truth is it is not just a philosophical divide between Labor and the coalition; it is a chasm. You have Labor, which has presided over a resilient economy, which has reached out to people, making sure that no-one is left behind—a middle of the road party—and you have an opposition leader, who has dragged the Liberal Party to the hard Right, a party which has promised, with great zeal, that if it got elected it would scrap the national school improvement plan because it does not believe that every young Australian deserves a great education. From our hearts, that is what we believe in, that is what we have fought for. And the coalition is saying to state premiers, 'Don't do that, because our ambitious, our plans are more important than theirs.' It is a complete disgrace.
Just 88 days to go. Just 88 days for the people to decide whether this government deserves another term or whether they have had enough. It seems to me, as I walk around Australia and talk to voters, they are looking forward to 14 September just like children are looking forward to Christmas. They have had enough. For almost three years this government has fallen further and further into the mire and the moral abyss. The Prime Minister drank the Kool-Aid that the Greens had served up, and she accepted the poisoned chalice of the new paradigm from the members for New England and Lyne, and set about establishing this government. These colleagues, the Greens and the Independents, have been with Labor through every stumble, through every misstep along the way over the past three years. As this incompetent government lurched from one disaster to another, the Greens and the Independents were there with them, propping them up. Their full-throated support for the carbon tax and all of Labor's legacy fiascos has reduced them to an echo of this Prime Minister and the people have stopped listening to all of them.
At what point during these three years did it first occur to the Prime Minister to go back on her solemn promise to the Australian people that there would be no carbon tax under a government she led? Was it seconds or just milliseconds? Was it even a consideration? Did her word ever matter to her? She lost the trust of the people of Australia in her very first days after the last election. Did she ever give a thought to the rank betrayal that she was inflicting on the entire nation? No, her political survival was always at the top. Honour and integrity have had no role in the life of this government and the Australian people have endured an endless chain of bungles, scandals, backroom deals and lost opportunities.
The national accounts show that this government has squandered the resources boom. Labor headlined its previous two budgets as spreading the proceeds of the boom and then set about spending the money that it expected to be raised over the years ahead. But in fact the boom has not come. Labor busted the boom before it even existed with its ill-considered new taxes and incompetent policies. This budget was something different. It forgot about sharing the proceeds of the boom. We were told it was a budget that was about growth and jobs, except it was predicted to have lower growth than the previous year and higher unemployment. So the very objectives that the Labor Party set for itself in its budget were in fact shattered by its own predictions for the year ahead. The truth is businesses are cutting investment, and that means lost opportunity. Consumers are not spending, and that means fewer jobs.
Our domestic economy is going backwards with just paper thin growth, just over 0.6 per cent—and, frankly, we would not have had that if confidence was not so low that imports have been declining. At the heart of what is afflicting our nation is a debilitating case of despair. I think of the words of Cameron Clyne, chief executive of the National Australia Bank, when he said that there is a 'bias towards pessimism' among the business community. He said:
We have a national mood of gloom …
Well, if the head of a bank thinks things are gloomy, what do their customers think? If the banks are worried, how can small businesses ever hope to succeed? We could call the Treasurer's Fix-o-Gram to find a solution. You will not find any fixes in the budget; you just have to subscribe to his app Fix-o-Gram. Unfortunately, this government has been too much about fixes over the years—deals, fixes—but no solutions to the issues confronting the Australian people.
The lack of confidence that this government inspires spreads throughout the business community and households really like a cancer. Their record is of failure and of ineptitude, of a people incapable of governing let alone in the national interest. They are unable to govern themselves. Here we are, only 88 days away from an election, and we still do not know who the Prime Minister is going to be on that day. Is it going to be the Rudd-Gillard government or is it going to be the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government? We have another few days and so it might be the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd-Gillard-Rudd-Gillard government. This is because Labor cannot even make up their own minds about who should be their leader. How can the public have any confidence in that kind of rabble?
Is it former Prime Minister Rudd who failed on border protection or is it Prime Minister Gillard, who on election promised to fix it? Should we be holding former Prime Minister Rudd to account for the failed mining tax or should we be holding to account Prime Minister Gillard, who promised to fix it and did not do it? Should we be holding the Prime Minister to account for the carbon tax that she promised to fix? Or do we hold the inventor of the tax, former Prime Minister Rudd, to blame for all of these debacles?
An opposition member: Both!
Yes, as I have just heard, they have both failed. They have both failed their party and, more importantly, they have both failed the Australian people. There are so many examples of failure: the carbon tax that the Prime Minister said in government she would not deliver; the supposed community consensus before any action would be taken on climate policy; a people's assembly to build that consensus. These are all government election promises and they have just disappeared. There are the secret deals with the big three miners, who carved themselves out of the mining tax and left the small miners to carry the can; the roof batts program that burnt down people's houses; the overpriced school halls; and GroceryWatch and Fuelwatch that never got off the ground. Now we have, of course, 'asbestos watch' while the NBN continues to squander the nation's savings. The NBN itself is an example of a $90 billion white elephant which no-one is signing up to. Clearly, there are more years of costly delays ahead. They gave Telstra $11 billion to stop using their own perfectly functional network and they have got nothing much to replace it with.
Take the private health insurance rebates that Labor swore were part of the family budget and as such were guaranteed would remain untouched. In almost every budget Labor have sought to reduce the private health insurance rebates. They have offered to take five asylum seekers from Malaysia for every one person sent by them: 'Hey, we've got 44,000! How many are you going to take?'
Opposition members interjecting—
Yes, this is a good deal for Tom Waterhouse! Of course, there was the mining tax that collected only 10 per cent of what was expected and the near destruction of Australia's northern beef industry because of a panicked overreaction to a television program. On this government's watch a manufacturing job in Australia has been axed every 20 minutes. How is that for the party for jobs? Now we have got Ford, after being given $34 million to save jobs, closing its plant down. What about the future of Simplot and SPC, the last of our major food-processing establishments in this country? Labor has no answer. It is doing nothing for employers and it is doing nothing for employees as factories close down one after the other.
There has to be a change. We do need to have a government that has actually got a plan, a vision, for our country. All this would be laughable if it were not so insulting to the people of Australia. In 88 days the people will decide whether they want this tragic soap opera as a rerun or they want a change, a coalition government that has a plan to bring the budget into balance and to start paying down Labor's runaway debt. Abolishing the carbon tax is a positive action to reduce costs for families and businesses, as is abolishing the mining tax, cutting red tape by $1 billion a year to give small business the relief that they need, or creating two million new jobs. We will cut the green tape and will have a no-nonsense, one-stop shop to fast-track approvals. Our plan provides families with the surety that they need to be confident for their future. We have the experience. We have the record. We have done this before. We have created these jobs and we will make sure that Australia grows— (Time expired)
I rise to speak on this MPI, having listened to the member for Wide Bay's contribution—and, unfortunately, it is a bit of my life that I will never get back—but I was looking for him to be a bit fair dinkum. As he is a Queenslander, I thought he might have touched on a couple of the significant things about stable government. I thought that, rather than talk about his dream of two million jobs, he would have spoken about the 960,000 jobs that have actually been created since he has been sitting on that side of the chamber. So I thought he would have spoken about that. I thought that perhaps he, as a world-travelling man—and I have travelled overseas with the member for Wide Bay—he might have touched on what conditions were like around Europe. We have 5.5 per cent unemployment—and it went down last month—but you can look at places in Europe where it is 11.9 per cent. There are places in Spain where one in two young people are unemployed. I thought he might have mentioned that because he does come from a part of Queensland that has higher unemployment. So I thought that as a Queenslander he might have mentioned that.
I thought he might have mentioned how proud he was to be in a nation that has a AAA credit rating from all three ratings agencies. I thought he would have been bipartisan enough to say that that is a good thing, but he forgot to mention it. Only eight countries of 200 particular countries around the world have this status. That is an empirical fact. That is not a press release; that is an empirical fact from the ratings agencies. Since he moved to that side of the chamber, how have we performed in terms of the size of our economy? He talks about doom and gloom and the need for stability. We have changed from being the 15th biggest economy in the world. We have moved up to being the 12th biggest economy in the world. I thought he would have said, from pure pride as an Australian, that he is proud—but no mention of that. And it has happened six times faster than those powerhouse countries like Germany or the megacountries like the United States.
He did not mention the global financial crisis. That two years has been taken out of the LNP history books. It is almost a Goebbels-type experiment in removing things from history: 'This did not occur.' The reality is we did have a global financial crisis. You look around the world and see the results of that and how they are still flowing through—how homes have been destroyed, how jobs have been destroyed, how whole communities have been destroyed by the impact of the global financial crisis. Under the Labor government, under Prime Minister Rudd and Prime Minister Gillard, we have steered through with a focus on jobs. That is the reality that I thought the member for Wide Bay would have touched on. That is the reality I thought the Leader of the Opposition would have touched on. The Leader of the Opposition understands these facts. I think he has a degree in economics. I thought he would have been aware of this.
The reality is the world has changed for those on that side of the chamber on two significant dates. Obviously, 24 November 2007 was a tough day for many of them when they got thrown out of government by the people of Australia. That was tough and some of them have never recovered. We churned through a couple of leaders—not deputy leaders, we still have a deputy leader who has loyally served three different leaders. We went through Brendan Nelson and the member for Wentworth and then moved on to the member for Warringah.
Then there was 1 December 2009—and didn't the world change for that side of parliament from that day onwards? I have only been a member of parliament since 24 November 2007, so I can only see it through that prism. I have had two parliaments to see it through—the 42nd Parliament and the 43rd Parliament. That is what my observations are based on. Remember 1 December 2009, when the Leader of the Opposition was wholeheartedly endorsed by his party room by one vote, with one spoiled ballot and one absent vote? But for that moment in history, the history of Australia could have been changed perhaps.
Then we go through to the election day and those 17 days of desperate negotiations from the Leader of the Opposition, where he was prepared to do anything. He made that clear. He made the call to the member for New England, saying, 'I will do anything.' I think he made it very clear as to what he would do to grab power. He was happy to have power without glory. That has been the journey ever since.
Let us look at what has gone on in the 43rd Parliament in particular. As I said, I am comparing the 42nd and 43rd parliaments. Let us look at some of the little things that have happened around this place under the Leader of the Opposition. First a simple little thing. Apparently the Leader of the Opposition when he was in government used to play touch football every morning. The member for Rankin used to play—
Dr Emerson interjecting—
I think the member for Rankin might be misleading the parliament there!
But not deliberately. It was a very harmonious place, where people, irrespective of the party they came from, would go down and play touch football together. From 24 November the member for Warringah said he would not play touch football anymore. Then in the 43rd Parliament it changed again. He has actually frowned upon people even playing touch football together. So that has evaporated.
What are the other things? I notice a member from the Labor Party on the Speakers' panel. The member for Warringah said, 'No member of the Liberal and National parties will be a member of the Speaker's panel, apart from the member for Maranoa.' He ordered that they would not contribute to the democratic process, thus on one level saying, 'We support the democratic process,' but on the very other giving specific direction that undermines the political process.
Let us look at some of those other white-anting processes—not just removing people from the panel and not just removing people from participating in sports but saying no to everything in the legislative program. If you look at the percentage of votes in the 42nd Parliament where we had unanimous support from the parliament compared to the 43rd Parliament, it has gone down 10 per cent to 15 per cent. All those common-sense pieces of legislation that parliament just grinds out, irrespective of who is in power—which parties are on which side of the chamber—the member for Warringah has made it specific, has made it clear, has given directions to the Liberal and National parties that 'No!' is the starting point for any piece of legislation and then negotiations occur from there. What are the ramifications of that? That means that someone who has a sick child cannot even get a pair to go and see their kid. He has been white-anting democracy throughout—ever since 1 December but particularly since that election in 2010.
Why is that so? Maybe he has to examine his own soul in terms of the trap that he has laid for Australian democracy. Because he has such a naked desire to grab power at any cost, he has betrayed Australian democracy. Maybe that is something that happens. We are not dissimilar in age. Maybe as he is getting on in years he thinks: 'This is my chance. This is the time for me to make a mark on the world stage or the Australian stage'—or whatever stage he thinks he is strutting on. The reality is that he is prepared to do anything and bring down Australian democracy in that process—and to do so in a way which is so hypocritical. On the one hand he says, 'Oh, no, we are very bipartisan,' but at the very same time he is putting dog whistles out there in the community, sending out his spear throwers to attack great Australian institutions like the Public Service. Things that are normally supported in a bipartisan approach, this member for Warringah has undermined. He has undermined those democratic processes.
We all know that saying about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. That is what we are staring at—the fact that we might be contemplating on 14 September. Imagine a leader of the government, a leader of this nation, who is prepared to do anything to gain power. If you do not have the moral compass, if you do not have a soul that dictates what you do, then you are a rudderless person. You are unable to make the correct decision, the moral decision, the right decision—the decision in the nation's interest. This 'hate song of J Alfred Prufrock' that we have been hearing since election day from the member for Warringah has, I think, created a festering in Australian democracy, and it will come home to roost if on 14 September the Leader of the Opposition is made the leader of the government—and heaven help us if that does take place. (Time expired)
It is interesting to follow the bizarre lecturing of the member for Moreton on politicians doing anything to seize power. Perhaps he should spend some more time speaking to the Prime Minister or the member for Griffith, his neighbour in Queensland. But I rise to talk about what is becoming a matter of urgency: the need to install a new government of Australia that will put an end to the chaos and confusion that have seeped into everyday life, sapping confidence and dulling spirits. We are so much better than what the Labor Party has determined for us over the last 5½ years, and that is at the crux of this sorry story of the federal Labor government.
On our side of this place, we believe all Australians should have the right to self-determination along the precious journey that is their life. That is freedom to choose their path, not have it charted by the government. We believe that a hand-up will always be better than a handout; we believe in the idea that equality of opportunity is the great leveller in our society, not subsidy; and we believe in the principle that if you work hard you should be fairly rewarded for that hard work, not penalised. Indeed, we are bound by the idea that liberalism is the path to fairness and the knowledge that, conversely, enforced equality never liberates anybody.
Our nation deserves and is now hungering for a strong, steady, reliable government to fuel and reinvigorate our economy and return it to prosperity. To make that happen, we need to unlock the potential of the Australian people by removing government from their lives. On 14 September, the Australian people will have an important choice. On one side is a divided and dysfunctional Labor Party that is only focused on itself. As the member for Swan has often said to me, the Labor Party wants the Australian people to re-elect it on another dubious promise, not its performance. On the other side is a coalition that has positive plans for real solutions for all Australians.
We are ready to govern. We have the experience, the know-how and the attitude, and we have 12 rock-solid layers of policy priority. First, the coalition will build a strong, diversified economy by lowering taxes and delivering more jobs, higher real incomes and better services for all Australians. We will then secure this prosperity by reining in the budget and cutting the waste and mismanagement of Labor. The coalition are proven prudent financial managers who will keep interest rates as low as possible and safeguard the Australian economy from economic shocks. We will help families get ahead by abolishing the carbon tax, the world's largest carbon tax, which has proved a springboard for electricity and gas prices. By reducing taxes, regulations and onerous reporting requirements, we will help small businesses grow and expand to employ more Australians. We will cut red and green tape by $1 billion every single year. We will create even stronger job growth by building a diversified five-pillar economy, generating one million new jobs over the next five years and two million jobs within 10 years.
We are committed to building better and more modern roads and infrastructure to get things moving, with a special emphasis on reducing the bottlenecks on our gridlocked major roads and highways. We will deliver better services, including health services, by increasing cooperation with the states and territories and by putting local communities in charge of improving the performance of hospitals. Similarly, we will deliver better education by giving communities, parents and principals carriage in the running of their local schools. On the environment, we will take direct action to reduce carbon emissions within Australia, not overseas, as well as establishing a 15,000-strong standing green army to clean up the environment. We will deliver stronger borders when the boats are stopped with proven tough measures. Finally, our united and experienced team will deliver a strong and stable government set on restoring confidence and accountability. We are the team that will not only rebuild the economy but renew the bonds of trust between the Australian people and the parliament.
Perhaps it is because I am a product of generation Y or perhaps it is because, like my colleagues, I care about the future, but I am alert to the fact that Australians can no longer turn a blind eye to what is a brewing coalescence of intergenerational issues. We are now a land uniquely placed in the heart of a globalised world, between the dominant West and a rising Asia. While this changed landscape will assert its own influences, the next generation will face additional changes such as the ageing of our population. There will be a greater burden on a government drawing from a smaller revenue base. When the baby boomer generation fully leave the workforce, they will take with them not only their skills but their taxpaying capacity. While the preceding generation saw 2½ million Australians enter retirement, we are now on the brink of four million Australians edging towards retirement, about to draw on age pensions, pharmaceutical benefits and other assistance from government.
As a nation, it is absolutely critical that we meet this challenge from a position of strength. But instead, with the approach to this watershed challenge ticking down, this Labor government has chosen to pursue its own agenda and to turn inward and concentrate on its own political survival ahead of listening to real Australians—those hardworking Australians simply trying to make their way in life. In the shadow of an epoch of intergenerational challenge, this government has embarked on a sustained preoccupation with incompetency, broken promises and spin. Labor promised that there would be no carbon tax, yet we have a carbon tax. For this deceit, I am sorry to say that we are about to pay more. From 1 July, struggling businesses and family budgets will be hit with a five per cent rise in the carbon tax. It is another cruel blow for an already hamstrung economy, adding to cost-of-living pressures and placing jobs at risk. Under this federal Labor government, electricity prices have risen by 94 per cent nationwide and gas prices have increased by 62 per cent. On 1 July they will go up again.
A few days ago, I received an email from a local businessman who was closing his small to medium enterprise as a result of this government's taxes and regulation. He said:
I have conceded. That's it; I'm out.
While his story is especially tragic, the thrust of it has been echoed by many hard-working local business owners and managers who I have met over recent months.
One shop owner in Burpengary told me he was coughing up an extra $1,300 a month in carbon tax bills. Meanwhile, small business across the region has been damaged further by this government's overregulation and inflexibility in the workplace. A popular local coffee shop owner told me he wanted to expand and hire more staff, but rising overheads and reams of paperwork were a serious barrier.
In 5½ years, the Rudd-Gillard—now possibly Rudd—government has created 21,000 new regulations and 39 new or increased taxes. If a strong and stable government—a coalition government—are elected in September, we will keep income taxes cuts and fortnightly pension and benefit increases. So, that is tax cuts without a carbon tax, and, yes, we will cut red and green tape by at least $1 billion every year to give small business the chance to breathe, grow and thrive again.
While this Labor government has turned a $20 billion surplus under the Howard government into nearly $300 billion of debt, the next coalition government will draw only on its political pedigree and inheritance. It was Sir Robert Menzies who said:
We are a tax-reduction party.
Menzies understood, as the coalition does today, that:
…real tax reductions would be the best of all incentives to increased effort, earnings and production.
Australians require a government that will scrap unnecessary taxes, cut wasteful spending and reduce the tax burden on business. We need a government that is guided by the discipline that governments do not have any money of their own, just the people's money held in trust. We need a government that recognises that it may not have a solution to every problem, but, all too often, it is the problem. We need a government that does fewer things, but does them better.
This is the territory of the coalition: a government of hope, reward and opportunity. On 14 September, the could not be clearer.
It is a great pleasure to speak on today's matter of public importance about stable government and a strong economy. Stability of government can be measured in a very simple fashion. The measure is: can the government of the day propose and pass its legislative program through the parliament? The answer for the Gillard-Labor government is, definitively, yes. That is why more than 400 bills—I think, by my rough counting, 482—have passed this parliament since September 2010. There are a few people here saying that it could be even more than that, and they may all be right. I hope it is because it is a bigger measure of our success.
Every sitting day in this place since September 2010, we have heard the ranting, the complaints and the stream of abuse from those on the opposition benches and, dare I say it, their fellow travellers in the media. It is a common perception. The story of the day that comes up from the other side is usually read in the paper that morning. Despite all the words and rhetoric of September 2010 in the lead-up to Labor forming a minority government, the reality is that the Liberal and National parties have never accepted that they lost election in 2010. As the Leader of the House has said on so many occasions, it is the longest dummy spit in Australian political history, and I have to agree with him.
During the 17 days following the 2010 election, we saw statements from the Leader of the Opposition. He said he would dignify the parliament and respect whatever decision the crossbenchers made. We had the parliamentary reform agreement, which went to a point where the speakership would not have even been partisan, if that had gone the whole way through. The Liberals and the Nationals agreed to it, not under coercion, but voluntarily. It was signed by the Manager of Opposition Business and the Leader of the Opposition as well as the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House and the crossbenchers.
Every sitting day, the Liberal and National parties' whole political strategy has been to wreck the parliament and disrupt the daily proceedings. The Leader of the Opposition has boasted about wrecking about the parliament. He has tried to do it on issue after issue. Who can forget the moving of more than 50 suspensions of standing orders by the opposition during question time in this parliament? Too lazy or too arrogant to ask questions of ministers during the time specially allotted to it, the opposition have repeatedly used up this time put aside for question time as a platform to deliver their media line of the day.
What we see, and continue to see, is the first opposition in Australia's is history that are not actually worried about policy, the details or the details of what is happening during the parliamentary day. They are more concerned about what the media line is for their side rather than worrying about the debates that affect the future of our country. I think the Australian public deserves far better than that. With their current numbers, the opposition form almost half the House, yet in spite of the fact that they are in a position, if they were to win support from the crossbenchers, to make a difference to the way this nation operates, in terms of policy, they have achieved nothing through this term of the 43rd Parliament.
The constant talking down of the Australian economy by the opposition for political advantage is proven wrong time and time again, yet it is so often repeated in the conservative press that one may well think it is Groundhog Day. For example, on 12 June this year a story ran that cited the private economist from Goldman Sachs who predicted that there was only a 20 per cent chance that Australia would head into recession. I suppose that is fair enough; he is entitled to his outlook as an economist, but so are the hundreds of other private-sector economists not all of whom share that same despondent outlook. So instead of fair or balanced coverage—let alone positive coverage—on that day we saw journalists, who should know better, blindly taking the hook, splashing the word 'recession' all over the headlines and lead paragraphs as though there was some consensus to this and that it was a credible view of our economy. The consequences, as we know, of this kind of misrepresentation about our economy live on for much longer than the 24-hour news cycle.
I would much rather rely on a credible authority, one who works as a highly respected senior public servant—indeed, the Secretary of the Treasury. As the Treasury secretary, Martin Parkinson, said earlier this month:
I do not think anybody should lightly throw around accusations that we are in recession or on the verge of recession. The most important thing when you think about economies is confidence. Trashing confidence, for whatever reason and however it is done, is not something that I think is in the national interest.
That was what Martin Parkinson, the Secretary of the Treasury, had to say, and I completely concur with that statement. But the newspaper report on 12 June was the third time in the last five years that economists from Goldman Sachs have predicted the same chance of a recession in Australia. Did these predictions come to be? No, they did not. But was it mentioned in any of the TV spots or newspaper headlines on the day? Of course not.
Too often we see both the Liberal and National parties—the opposition—determined to talk down our economy at every turn; to be slippery with the truth and to tell straight-out untruths about the economy. In particular, I am reminded of the opposition leader's pledge to return growth to the economy, which I find a bit strange. It is actually more than stretching the truth; you cannot return growth to something that already has it. Our economy is growing, so it is impossible to return growth to it.
Just because the Liberal and National parties cannot accept the facts it should not give licence to others outside this place who do know better but then ignore their responsibilities to base their assertions on reality. I think that is all that anyone can ask in this place—that the facts are put out there and that people can judge those. But when other assertions are made that have no factual basis, they should not get the same sort of coverage nor, indeed, any coverage unless they can be proven.
Australia has been through the GFC and we still, of course, have the effects of the GFC. But like so many of us who have been elsewhere during that time and seen the effects on other countries, I am always amazed at how much our domestic economy is talked down by people here, almost blindly, with regard to other countries across the world. I have been to Europe and other countries in that time and seen the effects on employment rates, on investment rates and on company profitability. It is something that is pervasive; it goes right through an economy and it drags people's wills down. I think that in Australia we are an optimistic bunch, most of us. We do look at the bright side of things because we have very good reasons to in this country—and that is a great thing.
Since late 2007 our economy has grown more than any major advanced economy to become the 12th largest in the world, climbing up from 15th. But if you look at that in terms of population we are only the 51st-largest country in the world. That is not a bad example for anyone to follow. We have unemployment with a rate that starts with a 'five' and an official cash rate at 2.75. And, even more importantly, from the point of view of someone who has a mortgage, we have a variable mortgage rate now at the bank that I use—Members Equity—of 5.63 per cent. One only has to think back to a few years ago when it was almost impossible to get a variable rate loan under 10 per cent. In fact, when my wife and I first took out our loan our house it started at nine per cent, and within six months it had gone over the 10 per cent rate. So if we look at how much mortgage rates have gone down over that period of time, the savings to households are huge.
The wiser households, rather than just spending that money on something else, of course have used it to pay down their debt. That is a good thing; that is a great thing, because so many people do worry about how much money they owe. That is fair enough. Having low interest rates is one of the best things that a government can do for our economy to help out people in that situation.
The position of strength that our economy faces is better than just about everywhere else in the world, but it is not the same world that we see those opposite living in. It always strikes me that where we see opportunity and where we see a future, from the other side of this place we see this never-ending stream of negativity. One would have thought that Australia had gone down the drain. Of course, it is far from it, and I will finish on this positive note: I know that the Gillard Labor government has been a great force for our economy through the GFC, to take us to where we are now and to lead us on to even better and brighter things in the future.
I do appreciate the opportunity to speak on the MPI today. This MPI is about stability and this MPI is about a stronger economy. Having just listened to the member for Deakin, there was a fair bit of paranoia there. It was as if the media were against them; it was as if the opinion of the public had nothing to do with this. You would think that it was all just about our opinion over here as opposed to what so many people around the country are saying. If you look at the letters to the editor and if you look at not just the front pages but even the ABC—that network really does represent mainstream Australia, whatever that is: 41 per cent Green voters and 32 per cent ALP voters—
A government member interjecting—
Even the ABC casts doubt on you guys! It is not just some right-wing media. Even the ABC has a go! The government just dismisses the instability. Have you really read what is going on? Do you really have confidence in the fact that people are behind you and your Prime Minister? The contrast on the other side is a team that is absolutely united behind someone who people can have trust in.
A government member: Who is that then?
Yes—you would know that. It is the guy that the government has been talking about. Not a sentence goes past without the government mentioning Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition. Not a sentence goes past! It is like word bingo—
Government members interjecting—
You guys have to live with it! You keep thinking that there is a liability here, when he is our greatest strength. He is someone with integrity, and that is in contrast to the Prime Minister—
A government member: Oh, it's Tony!
That is so clear now. Even the ABC says that. Even the media says that. The Australian people say that as well. That is why there is so much instability over there, because you guys know it as well. You know what the liabilities are—and they are all sitting over there.
When we talk about what is going on around here, what the Australian people look to this place for, and look to any government for, is to make their lives better. That is why we are here. We are not here because we suddenly want to sit on that side. We are not here because we want the chequebook. We are here because we believe that this country can be a better place and that our role, everything we do, is about making the lives of people on the streets of our country better. That is what it is all about. It is not about who sits on that side. It is about the lives of the people of this country. That is why we are meant to be here and that is what we should be concentrating on.
I go out on the streets and I doorknock a lot. People come up to me in the shopping centres of my electorate, and even in some other places as well, and they talk about the things that are most important to them. They talk about three things constantly when I am out in my electorate. The first points are about trust and failures, which they talk about with regard to this government. There is the carbon tax: five days before the election the Prime Minister said 'no carbon tax under a government I lead' and after the election there is a carbon tax. Of course the deal had to be done with the Greens, so that was the very clear betrayal of the people by the Prime Minister.
On failures, there is the mining tax: the tax that has been negative for investment and cannot even recoup the money that the government now spends against that tax. There was a ban on cattle—that overreaction. What happened with that? It cast all sorts of problems on the north of Australia. It put Indigenous people out of work, caused businesses to fail, destroyed or damaged the livelihoods of so many people in the north and damaged our reputation with Indonesia. It was: 'Oh, yes, I've got a good idea'—because of some social media program, some ABC report—'let's suddenly just tell Indonesia we're not sending them any more food, just cut off the food.' No wonder they took that pretty hard. The surplus is another failure of this government. So many promises, so little delivery—pretty typical, sadly. And there is the NBN: a lot of problems these days, massive cost blow-outs, way behind schedule and now the asbestos fiasco as well. It just goes on and on.
Today the minister of mendaciousness, the man who uses the thesaurus to cast the word 'lies' across the chamber, had the gall to lecture us on Holden when this government presided over the departure of Ford from this country—$34 million and Ford ceased production on the day before the government's new emission standards started. That is not exactly a record they should be proud of.
The next point that people are raising is about the budget. Throughout my time here, since I was first elected at the end of 2007, on no occasion have the budget figures of surplus or deficit or even the predictions of the government figures ever matched up. They have always been worse than the government have predicted. There have also been the massive borrowings that now see gross debt closing in on $300 million, and apparently it will exceed that before the end of the year. And another betrayal, which I missed mentioning before, was on the private health insurance rebate: the government said they would not touch it but they have.
I am now running out of time, but the next point—which is a Western Australian thing, though I guess it is raised more and more across this country—is the government's failure on boats. This is the failure that former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd presided over. He assured us in this place that the changes he would make would not see the boats commence again. How wrong that was. We are now up to more than 700 boats and more than 44,000 illegal arrivals—all, of course, at the cost of those legitimate refugees who are out there in refugee camps around the world and do not have money to bypass the system. I ask: how compassionate is that?
This government is constantly on the lips of people who come up to speak to me about trust and failures, about Labor's budget failures and their mismanagement of the boats, the borders and immigration. Alternatively, what is required? What is required is the return of hope, reward and opportunity in this country, with a leader that can be trusted, backed up by an experienced team. As was said earlier, on the opposition front bench there are 16 former ministers and a team of people who have great experience from across business, from trades, from science, from so many different areas. That is what is available to the Australian people. So there is an alternative option here: a proven track record from a successful government, a government that knew how to control the borders, how to balance a budget, how to keep this country in good shape. Australians may choose to take up that opportunity, and that opportunity is coming in some 88 days.
There is a contrast. There is a leader with integrity, a front bench with experience and a back bench with a great range of skills across so many different areas. Alternatively, what have you got? The latest government play book will be about blue ties, raising state issues like abortion as if that is suddenly some sort of banner the Prime Minister can hang her hat on, and 457 visa attacks. That really does go to it, doesn't it? The Prime Minister would not want to talk about visas when she herself has a 457 visa holder in her office, but 457 visas is something the government wants to pursue. So there is a great contrast between integrity, trust and experience on this side and a proven mob of failures, of people without trust and with failures on budgets, immigration and boats.