Tuesday, 2 December 2014
Matters of Public Importance
I have a 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 Prime Minister’s policy failures and unfair Budget.
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—
In November of last year we proposed a matter of public importance that the government was not the government they had promised to be before the election, as shown by their actions afterwards. It was true in November 2013 and it is even truer today. There is a big gap, growing bigger, between what this government said before the last election and what they do every day. We have seen an unfair budget, friendless and built upon lies. We have seen the cuts to the ABC and SBS, where this Prime Minister expects to get a medal for telling Australians that he lied to them before the election. We already know that, Prime Minister. He talks about the Australian Defence Force pay. Before the election and, indeed, since the election, this government say they love our defence forces but then put in a proposition which would see the wages of our defence forces fall behind cost of living. Yesterday this Prime Minister said, 'What a good fellow I am, because I am going to hand back the leave entitlements that the defence forces already had.' This is a man who makes his own parsimony a virtue. He is still cutting the wages of defence forces, and they are not keeping pace with the cost of living.
Of course, we have the debacle over the submarines. Before the last election, the hapless Minister for Defence said that he would build the submarines at the ASC, and now he will not and he will not even have a competitive tender. We have the euphemistically named 'Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs', yet there is half a billion dollars being cut from Indigenous affairs in Australia. There is the misnomer—the complete passing off of himself—where he calls himself the 'Prime Minister for Women', yet he is putting a new $500 tax on the superannuation of over two million working women. Before the last election, this Prime Minister made a hero of himself by tackling former Prime Minister Gillard. He said that he would be a Prime Minister who would be more honest than any we have ever seen in Australian history, but he governs on lies, nasty surprises and pathetic excuses.
They know they have a problem in the government, because they are leaking like sieves, complaining about each other. They know they have a problem. What is worse is that Australians know that they have a problem, because they have got a government who is not adding up to what it said it would be. What is the strategy we get from the Prime Minister? It is a 46-minute therapy session. He has read what John Howard did in 2001 and has said, Oh, the book says I must go out and pretend to be contrite.' So he goes out for 46 minutes, does his first press conference on domestic matters in months and expects Australians to be sufficiently grateful that the Prime Minister has turned up for work on one 46-minute period in the last two months and said: 'Oh, that must be a reboot. We must have reset the government.'
When we thought that the government were willing to try to reboot, we never predicted that they would deploy the secret weapon of the government—Christopher Pyne on the text. That is the latest reset strategy. They have had the barnacle removal—the barnacle debacle—reset. They have a council of war. Goodness only knows what that group of older white Australian men are doing in their council of war. Maybe they might want a second woman in their cabinet. No, no; I get ahead of myself. Instead, we have the Prime Minister deploying Christopher Pyne texting, and we have as our evidence for this Senator Glenn Lazarus—a man who knows no fear on the playing field. The government have deployed a secret weapon—which makes such a skilled and powerful athlete slightly annoyed at the very least. We have a Minister for Education who is doing more texting than Shane Warne! The problem he has is that the Senate know exactly what they are voting for. No amount of text messages from Christopher Pyne—and he still has to explain how he got Senator Lazarus' phone number, because Senator Lazarus says that he did not give it to him—no amount of unsought attention from the Minister for Education and no amount of 'demon dialling' from the worst Minister for Education in the history of Federation changes a bad and rotten set of proposals. It is not the message that is the problem; it is not even the text messages that are the problem—annoying as they are; it is the plan to slug Australians with a debt sentence and make it harder for ordinary kids to go to university.
They have not changed their policies. The Prime Minister thinks he can turn up and say that he is 'not in compliance'—the man mangles the English language—'with what he said before the election.' This means he lied to people. What he does not get is that changing your tactics does not actually change the substance. The Australian people do not want a GP tax on the sick and the vulnerable. The Australian people do not want $100,000 university degrees holding back young people and older people from fulfilling their potential. The Australian people do not want a petrol tax increase—which they were promised before the election would not occur—pushing up their cost of living. The Australian people do not want the indexation rate on pensions cut, robbing older Australians of up to $80 a week over the next 10 years—demonstrating what this government really thinks about pensioners. They do not want cuts to schools and hospitals, stopping us from being smarter and healthy.
Fixing the budget will take more than texts from Christopher Pyne. It will take more than some angry messages from the former Victorian Liberal government to the Abbott government. Why on earth did they introduce a petrol tax, member for Aston, in the first week of the election? It is a good question, isn't it? We will get to the bottom of that one day. Apart from all of these matters, where we have a government of broken promises, implementing their unfair budget, desperately pretending that the problem is not their unfair budget but just the way they are selling it, there is a greater problem underway in this country a year and a quarter into the administration of the Abbott government. We are at a tipping point on the question of trust. During question time this week, the Prime Minister has loved saying, 'You can trust me.' He puffs his chest up, swaggers around and says, 'I can be trusted. Even if I haven't actually kept my word, I can be trusted.' He thinks the simple repetition of the word 'trust' makes him trustworthy.
On the contrary, there is a gap of unprecedented size emerging in Australian politics between the trust that is given by the people who are governed to those that they elect and there is a gap between the trust which is given by the Australian people and the delivery on that trust by the government that they elected. This failure of trust, this emerging gap, which is the real reason for the growing unpopularity of the government, arises from the paucity of principles and persuasion of a government that lacks leadership and lacks commitment. The lesson from Victoria, in which a first-term government was voted out—and which we know the Prime Minister wants to pretend had nothing to do with the Abbott government—is in part that they told the teachers of Victoria that they wanted them to be the highest paid and then attacked them, they said they respected education and then attacked the institution of TAFE and they said they respected the work of the paramedics and then attacked the ambulance officers and turned their back on them. That is the same problem that lies at the heart of the Abbott government. Those opposite say one thing before an election and then do something else straight after getting elected.
Before the election the Liberal and National parties sloganeered. Led by the Prime Minister, they sloganeered, they simplified, they promised the world. Indeed, many on the backbench must have wondered why Prime Minister Tony Abbott made so many promises, because now they are a noose around the neck of the government. The problem is that the government knew that once they got elected they were not going to keep the promises they made. They knew that. They were always just going to do what their right-wing ideology wanted them to do, which is cut and slash and wreck the nature of this country. The problem is that when the government breaks the trust of the Australian people our democracy pays a price for it. The problem is that the government is traducing the political process in this country. The government is leaving the Australian parliament a more diminished place.
The Prime Minister loves to complain about the opposition. The problem is that it is the Prime Minister's own conduct, his own inability to concede error, his own unwillingness to keep the faith with the Australian people that is damaging the Australian economy and is damaging Australian political processes. They complain about the Senate. If they just stuck to what they said they were going to do they would not have to worry about the vagaries of individuals and with the way they chase them. We have heard the stories from the crossbench about the reckless desperation of the government lobbying. The government says to the crossbenchers, 'What do you want?' There is a tone now of begging in the government's approach to the Senate. The government put itself in the position of being dependent on a hostile crossbench because it insists on breaking its promises and wrecking the Australian people. The tendencies of the centre of Australian politics are being damaged by the move to the extremities by a government that is sadly adrift. This is a government in search of a compass to find out what it should do.
Those opposite are debasing and dividing this country with their unfair budget. Never in political history have we seen a budget still being debated in December. That is the truth and they know it. This is not a government seeking to improve this country; this is a government seeking to grovel in its own low level of mediocrity. Labor will do better than this. Next year Labor will not only be fierce in our resistance to the government, we will not only hold this government to account but, as we approach the next election, provide a better alternative to Australia than a list of Tony Abbott's lies, as long as that is.
It takes a lot of courage for members of the most incompetent government in Australian political history to come in here and lecture us on policy and budget failure, on wrecking the country and on losing faith with the Australian people. The Labor Party in the Rudd-Gillard years was the most incompetent and most inept government that Australia has ever seen. I know that there have been bad Labor governments in the past. We could look at the Keating government and the recession that we had to have. We could look at the Whitlam government and see economic vandalism on an epic scale. But nothing matches the Rudd-Gillard years for the sheer waste, sheer incompetence, sheer ineptitude and sheer tragedy that they inflicted on the Australian people.
The Leader of the Opposition was not just the great assassin of two prime ministers under the former government he was one of the key architects of all of the policy disasters that they oversaw. The member for McMahon, who is in the chamber, was not just the Treasurer for some of that time but also the immigration minister, who oversaw one of the great disasters. The member for Ballarat, who also sits on the front bench, was a frontbencher during the time of the previous government. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the member for Sydney, sitting opposite me now, was a senior member of that government. Half of the shadow cabinet today were key architects of the disasters that the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government inflicted on the Australian people.
We should never let the Australian public forget the incompetence, disaster and waste that those opposite inflicted. I would like to outline three categories in relation to the former Labor government that we should never forget. The first is the human tragedy of the former government's policy failures. The greatest human tragedy occurred in relation to boat policy and border protection. I am glad that we have the former immigration minister, the member for McMahon, sitting in the chamber, because he was one of the architects of their policy. Their border protection policy is arguably the greatest policy failure in Australian political history. When the Labor government came to power in 2007 there were no boats coming, there were only four people in detention, there are no people drowning at sea and there were no children in detention. They decided to unravel the Howard Pacific solution, which policy worked. What did we see as a result of their policies? We saw 800 boats and 50,000 people arrive on our shores, an $11 billion blowout, 1,300 people drown at sea and almost 2,000 children in detention centres where there had been none beforehand. This is the raw human tragedy of the failure of the Labor governments in the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years. We have had to deal with this mess and we have dealt with this mess to stop those human tragedies.
The boats have now stopped coming. There are fewer children in detention now than there was at the end of the Labor years. Almost half the number of children are in detention. There are no people drowning at sea anymore because of the work which this government has done in fixing up the absolute disaster which the Labor government inflicted and the human tragedy that they inflicted. They should be utterly ashamed for that policy failure. It is one of the greatest policy failures in Australian political history. They should never forget that. But the tragedy is that they have not learned from it, because they are still determined to go to the next election and not proceed with our policies now, which are working. They have still not committed to turning boats around when it is safe to do so. That is one of the key measures that have saved children from drowning at sea and saved the boats from arriving on Australian soil. That is one of the great tragedies also.
The other policy failure on a monumental scale, which is an enormous human tragedy as well, is the pink batts disaster. This pink batts idea came out during the GFC. I do not know whose idea it was to think, 'We have got a GFC, a global financial crisis, so I know what we will do: we will put pink batts everybody's roofs.' What an idea! It was not just the policy idea that was the great failure but the implementation of that idea which again had financial consequences and had enormously tragic human consequences. We know that as a result of that pink batts disaster—which the Labor Party oversaw and members who are sitting there now, the deputy leader and the member for Swan, oversaw—that 220 houses burnt to the ground. It saw four tragic deaths. They are deaths that we will never get back.
That is the human consequence of epic policy failure, which the Labor Party has never faced up to. There was a royal commission into the pink batts debacle. The royal commission said, after considering the full policy failure here:
The reality is that the Australian government conceived of, devised, designed and implemented a program that enabled very large numbers of inexperienced workers - often engaged by unscrupulous and avaricious employers or head contractors, who were themselves inexperienced in insulation installation - to undertake potentially dangerous work. … It should have done more to protect them.
It goes on:
In my view each death would, and should, not have occurred had the HIP been properly designed and implemented.
I do not raise this for any other reason than to point out that when you have policy failure, it can literally lead to deaths. It has done so. It did so in relation to border protection and it did so in relation to the Home Insulation Program.
The next category of policy failure is waste. I could go on for hours and hours, if not days, in terms of talking about the policy failures of waste. I think perhaps the very greatest one of them all was the NBN, which Malcolm Turnbull is now slowly getting back in charge of. In 2007, they promised the NBN and they costed it to be $4.7 billion. That was their policy: $4.7 billion in 2007. Then on the back of a napkin on a plane, they redesigned it and it came up to being $43 billion. An independent study found that actually it probably would cost $73 billion to be fully implemented. That is only a $68 billion difference between their initial proposal! After six years of promising they were going to have fibre to every single home, how many people actually had it? Fewer than 0.5 per cent of households actually achieved it. They only achieved less than 20 per cent of their initial rollout target and they only achieved less than seven per cent of their target for paying customers. That is just one where we saw waste at an epic scale.
We all know about the school halls. It was $16.2 billion program. We know that between $6 and $8 billion was basically wasted because of over costs. School halls were built in schools that were closing down. We know about the $900 cheques that were sent to backpackers and 27,000 Australians living overseas. Those $900 cheques were sent to 21,000 dead people. This is waste at an absolutely epic scale. We are not going to be lectured to by members of the front bench who were the key architects of this waste and oversaw these things. They had $67 million to administer a set-top box program. They had the live animal exports, which they shut down after seeing a television program. They then had to spend $100 million dollars to try to get the industry going back up again.
This is type of waste which they oversaw. This is the type of waste that has led to tragic human consequences, and has led to financial mismanagement on an absolutely epic scale. This is exactly the type of thing that we are getting back on top of. (Time expired)
Every now and again, I walk into the kitchen at home and I find a four-year-old there who was got melted ice cream all around his mouth, a few little chips of chocolate hanging out of the corners of his mouth and a little wooden stick in his hand. I say, 'Louis, have you helped yourself to a mini Magnum?' He stands there, with the stick in his hand and the chocolate falling out of the corners of his mouth, and says, 'No, mum. No.' I say, 'Louis, it is very bad to help yourself to a mini Magnum, but it is much, much worse to lie about it.' He says, 'No, mum, I didn't.' Then he waits a bit and he shifts from foot to foot. He then bursts into tears and he says, 'Yes, mum. I did it.'
They are mini Magnums; they would not satisfy you at all! He says, 'Yes, mum, I did it.' And the relief on his face when he tells me he did it and we have a little cuddle, and I say, 'It is all right, Louis. The most important thing is you told the truth when it mattered.' I can tell you that it is kind of endearing in a four year old—the struggle with the truth. Have I done the right thing? Have I been caught? What happens now? It is not so endearing when you are talking about the Prime Minister of our nation. The lie is bad enough, but the lying about lying is phenomenal. There is not an Australian who does not remember that famous election-eve quote:
There is no-one who does not now know that quote. And yet we still have this persistence from the Prime Minister and the government: 'No, no, nothing to see here.' We had it again today. After spending three-quarters of an hour yesterday telling journalists about the reboot—'we are going to reboot; it is all new and fresh from here on in'—we had the same old question time today of denial and dissembling.
It actually reminded me that it is not so much a reboot as a complete rewind to opposition. Instead of a government prepared to stand up, argue its case, put a positive vision for the nation, talk about the things they are achieving or that they would like to achieve, what do we have? We had minister after minister talking about us and when we were in government. We just had the last speaker talk about us and when we were in government. Even more bizarrely, we had the health minister, who never asked a question as a shadow minister, now getting up and not answering any questions as the health minister. It is just this kind of generic rant about what the Labor Party has done. We have not seen a reset; we have seen a complete rewind to their time of opposition.
What is even worse than this? You would expect a prime minister not to lie—of course you would expect a prime minister not to lie. But this particular prime minister made so much of being purer than Caesar's wife when he was the opposition leader—when he said things like, 'It would be a government of no surprises and no excuses; a government that accepts it will be judged more by its deeds than its mere words; I want to be known as a prime minister who keeps his commitments.' He said, of course—there are so many quotes—that:
… Australians are sick of leaders who play politics ahead of governing the country and who blame everyone but themselves when things go wrong and the numbers do not add up.
We have had from this Prime Minister a series of broken promises and a wall of dissembling about those broken promises. And when that does not work and he presses the reset button, they do not reset but they rewind right back to the negativity of opposition—to the petty, complaining, whingeing, blaming of their period in opposition.
This government promised to make things better for Australians. All they have done is make things worse. They have cut health; they have cut education; they have cut pensions. They will be judged by their deeds. (Time expired)
As we have said before—and this MPI sums it up again—whilst those on the other side have some differences, there is one thing that unites them all: they are all great pretenders. They pretended right through their period in government that the budget did not matter. They pretended they could spend more than they were bringing in. Then they even pretended, as the Prime Minister and the Treasurer pointed out today, that they were back in surplus. And today they continue to pretend.
The Leader of the Opposition has moved this matter of public importance on the budget. It is obviously important to him. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition spoke second. That is a bit of a surprise. We thought the shadow Treasurer might be speaking at some point, but no. The leaders moved this. And there is not a word of concession about Labor's fiscal failure over all those years. They inherited a surplus; they inherited $45 billion in the bank. They spent all of that and then they ran us into an incredible amount of debt over those six years. After forecasting and promising surpluses on more than 500 occasions, when they did not get there they just pretended they were there. The Leader of the Opposition—and all of them—told the electorate that we were back in surplus when we were not. This is the gall of those opposite. And now that they are in opposition, they are voting against every attempt to fix their mess. They are not only voting against our proposals; they are voting against their own. They are voting against $5 billion worth of savings that they announced and announced they would legislate. So they do not just vote against our budget; they vote against their own when they are in opposition. This takes some gall.
Those opposite have a united position on forgetting their period in office. From 8 September, they have forgotten everything they did. It goes right through their approach to policy. Not only did they predict a surplus and then promise they had a surplus when none existed, on so many other policy measures they have done the same thing. The shadow Treasurer, who is not here, of course, is the architect of their alternative budget. What a wonderful track record from the shadow Treasurer! During his time in government—he actually started back in 2007 as the Assistant Treasurer—he established Fuelwatch and he established GroceryWatch.
Well, he became the fool of Fuelwatch; he became the goose of GroceryWatch. Then he went on, in the 2009 budget, to wipe out employee share ownership in this country.
Swannie gets a lot of blame for a lot of things—and so he should. But I know for a fact that this is one measure he left in the hands of the then Assistant Treasurer. He left him with one revenue measure, and he snap-froze employee share ownership in this country. Then, earlier this year, as the architect of the destruction of employee share ownership, he had the gall to welcome our restoration of what he wrecked, and not only that, but to say:
… Labor of course welcomes the … decision to ease restrictions on employee share schemes—
his restrictions that he implemented! And then he went on to say:
In March, Labor called for changes to … better support new ideas and innovation and we are pleased the Government has listened—
pleased the government has listened to a call he made to reverse a disastrous policy change he implemented when in government. What utter hypocrisy and falsehood!
He changed from Assistant Treasurer to immigration minister, as we well know. But then, if he felt any sense of guilt at all for his employee share debacle, you would think he would have rectified it at the first opportunity—which is not now, as shadow Treasurer; it was when he became Treasurer. You would have thought it would have been one of the first things he did when he became Treasurer under the former member for Griffith. But, no; this MPI from the Leader of the Opposition and from those opposite is another exercise in pretending—pretending they never wrecked the budget; pretending it does not matter. And in opposition they will go on pretending just as they did in government, but what they will not ever do is to offer a solution to Australia's problems.
The former Governor of New York Mario Cuomo was famous for saying that you campaign in poetry and you govern in prose. Unfortunately, with this government that we have, they campaigned on honesty and they govern in lies. They started this year all puffed up—they had the smell of ministerial leather in their nostrils; they had the electoral wind at their backs—and now they end it with a whimper, broken down and busted up as a government, limping towards Christmas but determined to deny Australians the festive season that they deserve.
There has never been a bigger gulf between promise and delivery than what we have seen in the first year of the Abbott government. Tony Abbott promised that there would be an adrenaline charge of confidence in the economy, and we get a note today from Commonwealth Bank economists saying that confidence is the missing ingredient in the economy—not an adrenaline charge, but a lack of confidence in the economy.
The Prime Minister had the nerve to say that it has been a year of achievement. They said that they would make the budget better; they have made it worse. They said that they would make living standards better; they have made them worse. They said that they would make the cost of living better, and they have made it much, much worse. They said they would be part of the solution, and instead they have turned out to be the problem.
The Prime Minister also said today that the budget this year and the government this year have changed people's lives—and I agree with him. He has damaged the aspirations of people who want to go to university. He has jacked up the price of petrol. He has jacked up the price of medicine. He has introduced a GP tax to attack universal health care in this country. All of these things will change people's lives, for the worse. He has pulled $80 billion out of schools and hospitals, as their own budget documents demonstrate. So he has changed people's lives.
He puts this down, of course, to a change in the atmospherics. It is not the atmospherics that need to change; it is the government and their budget. But there is a stink in the air, and that stink is that carcass which was described by those opposite: the budget hanging around their neck. They say that they need to reboot the message, but what they actually need to do is to restart the budget—to redo the budget—because the judgements that they have made are damaging the Australian economy. In getting things so badly wrong, this hopeless Treasurer is damaging the economy.
The Australian people do not want better spin; they want their country back. They want our nation to be a place where the fair go thrives, and where people look after each other and look out for each other. They want to recognise in our country one of the great civilisations in the world. They want these things advanced not trashed. They want the fair go advanced not trashed. They do not want better talking points; they want a government with better values. They want a government with values consistent with the best of our nation and not the worst of our nation.
Australians want a new government for Christmas but, in the absence of that, they would settle for a new budget. The government should start again in this mini-budget—the Treasurer should start from the beginning and come up with a budget that is fair to Australians.
The first and biggest reason the government is having to modify or abandon so many of its measures is the budget's blatant unfairness. In 40 years of budget-watching I've seen plenty of unfair budgets, but never one as bad as this.
Even The Australian is getting into Joe Hockey for his performance in this budget. Even The Australian says:
The key player here must be the Treasurer but he has been all but invisible in past weeks and only a sporadic performer since the budget.
It is little wonder that Campbell Newman is saying that Tony Abbott is not needed in Queensland for the election that is coming up in Queensland—
As the member for Hunter says, he is box office poison in Queensland, just like he was in Victoria.
So the Abbott government ends the year not waving but drowning. And all of us on this side of the House end the year doing what we do best: we end the year standing up for people in our communities and right around the country—standing up for people against the unfair attacks being made by those opposite. And we will continue to stand up for people. We will continue to look out for people and look after people. We will continue to defend the fair go. But we will do another thing on top of that, as important as it is that we defend the fair go in this country—we also want to advance it.
So, as to all of the terrible things being done to people on low and middle incomes in this country, as the year ends, all of us on this side of the House commit to never rest while those opposite are attacking people in our communities, but also to come up with policies for the future that do not just defend the fair go in this country but advance it.
On this matter of public importance it is really hard to know where to start. Regrettably, there is an inexhaustible reservoir of Labor incompetence and mismanagement to draw from. The opposition is in no position to lecture the government on budgetary management and policy failures. The whole premise of this MPI is the equivalent of taking marital advice from Hugh Hefner. Some of the outlandish claims in the last six years have included promising a surplus in 2012-13 on no less than 500 occasions and they delivered not a single surplus, not one. Labor's incompetency allowed gross debt to rise to $667 billion.
Nothing could better highlight the difference between the government and the opposition than this. We are responsible for the tough but fair fix; Labor is responsible for the problems. Labor left a budget position that will not return to surplus within the next decade unless urgent remedial action is taken. No-one ever said it was going to be easy to fix Labor's debt and deficit disaster.
Some staggering examples of non-existent service delivery from the Labor Party include these: those wonderful GP superclinics in cow paddocks! When in government Labor promised 64 superclinics and only delivered a measly 33. A local example was the Redcliffe Superclinic. It was built seven years after it was promised at a staggering cost of $15 million. Imagine the medical services that that could have provided—the hundreds of mammograms and the hundreds of doctors services that could have been provided.
There were the non-existent child care centres. Labor promised 260 child care centres when in government and delivered only 38, a shortfall of 222 centres. That is a delivery rate of just over 14 per cent said—a pathetic result even by Labor's standards. That is 222 communities across Australia that do not have a child care centre as a result of Labor's broken promises.
Labor made a mess of just about everything they touched. A typical example is Labor's regional development grant mess. And Auditor-General's report has revealed that the Rudd-Gillett-Rudd Labor government went out of its way to abuse taxpayers' money under the regional development grants. Today we have heard that of the 42 grant recommendations, Labor overturned 34 of those recommendations.
It was another Labor shame, that is right, and Labor should apologise. Once again we see the extent of Labor's inability to responsibly handle precious—and they are—taxpayer dollars. What we see here is Labor's typical practice of treating Treasury like a union slush fund. Unless we take action debt will rise to $667 billion within 10 years. That will leave every Australian with a debt of around $23,000 per person.
Under the previous Labor government more than $16 billion was stripped from the defence budget. This included a 10.5 per cent cut in 2012-13, the largest single cut to the defence budget since the end of the Korean conflict. This resulted in the share of GDP spent on defence falling to 1.56 per cent, the lowest since 1938.
Who can forget these fantastic contributions to Labor's greatest hits of budgetary calamities? The Rudd-Gillard government's six years of chaos, waste and mismanagement delivered higher taxes, record boat arrivals and debt and deficit as far as the eye can see. Labor turned $50 billion in the bank into a projected net debt of well over $200 billion, the fastest deterioration in debt in dollar terms and as a share of GDP in modern Australian history. Labor's debt is already costing $1 billion a month in net interest payments, and that is all borrowed money.
We have a government that is turning this around. We did not cause the problem but, unlike Labor, we are committed to fixing this problem. I would like to just say that all of my election commitments have been delivered, particularly the commitment on the new gate at Enoggera Barracks. We are about delivering. We are about turning budgets into surpluses. (Time expired)
Given that the topic for today's matter of public importance is the Prime Minister's policy failures, one does feel spoiled for choice. There is no doubt that the unfairness and broken promises that have characterised the government's actions in its first year of office played a significant role in the defeat of the Liberal Party in Victoria on Saturday. Voters took the opportunity to take a swing at a Prime Minister who talked up a storm about trust and integrity and keeping your word when he was opposition leader, then forgot about all of those things once he was elected.
But given the time constraints I will confine myself to just three policy failures. First, the proposal to deregulate student fees. I appeal as loudly as I can to the Senate crossbenches not to let the government increase student fees. I find it indecent that my generation, beneficiaries of all the career opportunities that came through Gough Whitlam's abolition of student fees, can pull the rug out from under this generation and deprive them of the same opportunities. Frankly, young people deserve better. A tertiary education is important for young people, as is technical and further education. But it is also important for the nation. We need to educate and train and skill our young people. It is unspeakably short sighted for the government to make tertiary education opportunity a function of parental wealth.
Second, the hostility to public transport. The Prime Minister should accept the verdict of the Victorian people on the weekend and abandon the East West Link tollway. Melbourne's never before seen rate of population growth—200 people per day, 1,500 per week, 75,000 each year—is creating massive traffic congestion. But study after study shows that the better way to deal with traffic congestion is public transport infrastructure, not more freeways. The Prime Minister should not incite the new Labor Premier to break his election commitments. He should not blackmail the Victorian people by threatening them with a loss of billions of dollars in federal funding. He should work with the Victorian Premier to build the Melbourne Metro and underground the level crossings like Glenroy and Coburg in my electorate of Wills, which are a daily source of traffic congestion.
Third, the hostility to science. Under this government scientists working in institutions such as the CSIRO are seeing the results of their work denounced, their livelihoods threatened and their funding withdrawn. This government sees no value in modern instruments such as the Mopra radio telescope, near Coonabarabran, that is being shut down, at the same time as funding cuts have put the world-renowned Parkes radio telescope at risk of being abandoned as hundreds of professional scientists lose their jobs.
Equally damaging to Australia's international reputation, the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, part of a scientific collaboration of over 20 nations, has no government support beyond the next two years and it appears that the government expects the private sector will somehow provide ongoing funding. Perhaps the government hopes to see this important international telescope renamed 'The Big Mac.'
Just like Galileo was punished for speaking the truth, CSIRO scientists are being punished, with one quarter of the organisation's staff facing dismissal for, evidently, producing documents such as Climate change: science and solutions for Australia, a factual report that directly contradicts the government's endless fraudulent claims on this matter.
Given the Prime Minister's status as an authority figure hostile to science it is not surprising that, according to the Australian Science Teachers Association, enrolments in senior secondary science and maths subjects are continuing to decline. Since taking office this government has done nothing to reverse that trend, even though the Chief Scientist, Professor Chubb, in 2012, warned:
We need a growing pool of science graduates to ensure Australia will be able to continue to compete on the international stage and develop scientific solutions to problems facing our nation …
There is no evidence that the government has given any regard to Professor Chubb's concerns. Michael Faraday, the English scientist, whose early 19th century electrical investigations led to what has been called the second industrial revolution of electricity, steel and chemicals, worked at a time when science was regarded as an excellent hobby for a gentleman but a miserable career choice.
Under this government, science in Australia appears to be returning to the lowly status that it held in England during the early years of Queen Victoria's reign. (Time expired)
It is a joke that the opposition today is whining about so-called failed policies and budgets. If anyone knows about failure, it is the Australian Labor Party.
They had two failed Prime Ministers who were so distracted by their own catfight, they led the nation over a cliff. The debt Australians are now paying off is a debt left by the Australian Labor Party. Let us take a look at some of Labor's so-called policy achievements. Labor's failed roof insulation policy, tragically and sadly, led to the deaths of four young Australians, one in my own electorate, that of young Reuben Barnes. Labor's failed fiscal policies drove up national debt to historic levels. The result is an interest bill of $1 billion a month.
Under their stimulus package, Labor wrote stimulus cheques out to 21,000 dead people! In fact, the Australian Labor Party's fiscal policies are akin to a teenager using grandma's stolen cheque book. However, I do not want to dwell on them and their failures.
Let me tell you about some really positive things this government is working hard to achieve in regional Australia. It is regional Australia that creates the real wealth for our nation, because this country relies on the export of agriculture and mineral resources to feed our GDP. That is why it is significant that the Abbott coalition government continues to push for the development of dams and water infrastructure in regional Australia.
In the electorate of Capricornia we want the Connors Dam, between Sarina and Moranbah; the Fitzroy Corridor's Eden Bann and Rookwood weirs near Rockhampton; and the Urannah Dam that would benefit the struggling town of Collinsville. These projects are now listed in the green paper on agricultural competitiveness. Such projects would create economic diversity and set up the region for a brighter future and provide more jobs. This is a policy that Labor never talked about. Labor had no vision for regional Australia and no long-term policy to secure its future.
Let me outline some of our successful policies for rural and regional Australia. Our coalition government has, so far, abolished the carbon tax, an impost round the neck of small business, families and industry, which drives job creation. We abolished the mining tax, saving around $50 billion over the next decade. We negotiated free trade agreements, to stimulate trade and therefore jobs, with South Korea, Japan and China. We have given environmental approval for more than $1 trillion worth of projects to boost the economy and have provided a $320 million drought support package for our nation's farmers. We are investing $2.5 billion to help local councils fix streets and roads under our Roads to Recovery program. We are spending $300 million over the next five years through our Bridges Renewal Program to help repair or replace old bridges across the nation. Our government is spending $100 million to fix mobile telephone black spots. We are developing a future for Northern Australia. We are fixing roads, under the largest infrastructure investment in Commonwealth history including: $6.7 billion to upgrade the Bruce Highway and up to $1.3 billion for the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing. Next year our $1 billion National Stronger Regions Fund will be rolled out to provide the infrastructure that regional communities need for families and businesses.
Under this program, several key projects have been submitted for funding in Capricornia, including construction of a convention centre for Rockhampton city and stage 4 of a revitalization project on Yeppoon's beachfront. Both projects aim to attract tens of thousands more visitors to both cities, visitors who will spend money and stimulate the local economies, leading to greater job creation.
Our government is getting on with the job of sensible policies to help regional Australia realise its full potential.
This matter of public importance relates to this Prime Minister and this government's many, many failures and also to its very unfair and cruel budget. In fact, here we are, months after the budget, still talking about how unfair and how cruel it is. It has been the government's year of broken promises and policy failures across a whole range of different issues. It has indeed impacted everyone across Australia but, in terms of the broken promises, these have been very severe for those in rural and regional Australia.
Before the election we had the Prime Minister and all the members of the Liberal and National parties out there, saying, 'There'll be no cuts, no new taxes—none of this will happen.' I know that in areas like mine, the North Coast of New South Wales, we had those members of the National Party out there running around and saying that to everyone. That is why no-one trusts the National Party in my area now, because there they were, saying, 'No cuts; no new taxes', and that is precisely what happened after they got into government.
And if we look at some of those measures, the really cruel and unfair measures, we see things like the GP tax, which is a tax on the sick and vulnerable. We see the $100,000 university degrees stopping kids, particularly from regional and rural areas, getting to university. We see the petrol tax pushing up the cost of living. We see cuts to age pensions—how cruel is that?—robbing our older Australians of $80 a week. We see cuts to family payments, cuts to schools and hospitals, cuts to the ABC. And remember, before the election, we had the Prime Minister on the SBS news saying, 'No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no changes to pensions, no changes to the GST, no cuts to the ABC or SBS.' And since that time, what has the government done? They have cut more than $500 million from the ABC and SBS. And of course for regional Australia this is indeed another betrayal by the National Party, because these cuts will be devastating to regional areas like mine on the New South Wales North Coast.
So, you can call it what you like. You can call it a lie, you can call it a broken promise, you can call it deception, or you can call it an untruth. But one thing is very, very clear: this Prime Minister and the Liberal and National parties just cannot be trusted. That is the reality. And what do they do now? They lie about lying—it gets even worse. Let us have a look at another one of their massive broken promises, and that of course is their $7 doctor tax. In this budget, the Abbott government's first budget, they essentially declared war on Medicare and universal health care, and I think that is one of the worst broken promises—again, particularly for regional and rural areas. We have the doctor tax plus the PBS hike. It really is devastating, because introducing a $7 GP tax for all patients will cost over $1.4 billion to communities living outside of metropolitan areas. Indeed, Department of Health data shows that people in these regional and rural areas will be the hardest hit by the Abbott government's more than $1 billion hike in PBS medicines. And the top 12 electorates that will pay for the highest out-of-pocket expenses for PBS medicines are in regional and rural areas; that is a fact. So, they are getting a double whammy: the cost of the GP tax and the PBS increases will increase total out-of-pocket costs to patients. It is unfair that those patients get charged out of pocket when they go to see the doctor—they are charged $7—and then when they need to fill their prescriptions or have scans or X-rays they also have those increases, and when they go for blood tests. So, it will be particularly devastating for people in regional areas.
Let us move to the petrol tax, which is incredibly unfair—a harsh tax that will hit people in the regions. Indeed, in my area they call it the National Party petrol tax they are so angry about it. The reason it is so unfair is that people in regional and rural areas have to drive so much further in order to access activities. Remember the Treasurer said, in relation to that, 'Poor people don't drive'. That shows how out of touch they all are. They do not understand people in regional and rural areas one bit. People are incredibly angry about the petrol tax, just as they are about the $100,000 degrees. A university degree should depend on hard work and good marks, not on your parents' bank balance. But what people tell me in regional areas like mine, the electorate of Richmond, is that it is just out of reach for their kids to be able to get to university. That is what this government has done when it comes to their unfair and cruel budget—measures like the GP tax; $100,000 for university degrees; the petrol tax; the cuts to age pensions, which is so incredibly unfair to our elderly Australians, those who have served our nation; and the cuts to family payments. You can look across any area and see these severe cuts that are impacting our community.
And now they are saying, 'We've got to reboot, reset.' That does not change the substance of what they have done, it does not change the cruelty and the unfairness of it. The problem is that they said one thing before the election and then did something else. That is why people do not trust them: because they did exactly the opposite when they got into government. (Time expired)
It is a privilege to address the House in the last sitting of the year. As we wind down our parliamentary business and take stock of the year that has been, it is timely to reflect on the legacy left to us by Labor after six years in office and celebrate the new legacy we are writing after a year in office. Just over a year ago, Australia had had a gutful of the chaotic dysfunction that the populace had come to expect of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd leadership. Live export shipments were halted overnight, throwing our trade relations into chaos. Labor's commitment to slugging the people with the world's biggest carbon tax consistently outranked its promise to honour its commitments. Surpluses were promised, falsely announced, and hastily recanted. Prime ministers were deposed overnight. Portfolios were switching hands like hot potatoes. Prime ministerial planes were diverted at the passing whim of every prime ministerial thought bubble. The legacy that was left to Australians by this level of chaos, paucity of ideas and severe lack of respectable governance is dire. Labor's legacy to Australia is 200,000 more unemployed, gross debt projected to rise to $667 billion, and $123 billion in cumulative deficits.
Today, over a year after the coalition team was given a mandate to take the reins and get the nation into order, we look back upon an action-packed year of challenges and achievements. In our first year in office we repealed the world's biggest carbon tax, saving the average Australian family $550 per year and reducing the cost of electricity for small businesses by up to 10 per cent. Small business is the engine room of the economy, and the family budget is the document that provides the most meaningful reflection upon the state of the nation's finances. By easing the pressure on both these institutions with our tax-repealing and red-tape-cutting measures, the coalition is delivering for the Australian people where it matters most. We repealed the mining tax, giving our natural resources sector room to grow and prosper. And we are a government that unequivocally supports the mining sector, because we want to see a strong Australia and a strong economy that produces jobs for Australian workers.
We have seen major infrastructure wins right across this country: a $50 billion infrastructure program that includes major projects in every state that will save Australians time and money. Groundbreaking projects such as the WestConnex are on track to make a real difference to the everyday lives of Australians. We have put our country back to work, with key policies like the Restart program and the comeback of work for the dole, injecting life back into the economy and restoring confidence and opportunity to senior and young Australians alike. In this vein, we have seen a massive equalisation of opportunity with policies such as our trade support loans—a measure that has particularly benefited the young people in the St George area, which I represent, many of whom pursue technical vocations. We have stopped the boats. It is incredible to me that just over a year on from a complete surrender of our borders to people smugglers, a failure that saw the tragic deaths of thousands at sea, those on the other side of this chamber have the nerve to speak of policy failure. What better example of a resounding policy success than to re-establish trust with the people on the matter of securing Australia's borders?
Looking back over these major milestones, we can see clear evidence of public progress right across the portfolios of government. However, the task which underpins all others, the biggest task facing the government yet, is undoubtedly that of budget repair. Ultimately, the difference between the two sides of this chamber is the coalition team's willingness to take on the task of budget repair and to take responsibility for the state of the nation's economy. We were given a mandate by the people of Australia to lift the nation's economy and bring the budget back into the black. The people of Australia asked us to make the tough decisions necessary to create a secure future for all of us and our children. This year the government has delivered on key milestones of the mandate given to us by the Australian people.
Those on the other side will pontificate about unfairness and failure, but what could be more of a failure than refusing to face up to the task at hand? What could be more unfair than to saddle future generations with a mountain of intractable debt? We refuse to shirk the task assigned to us by the Australian people. We refuse to shy away from the tough but fair decisions and are absolutely determined to repair the budget. The truth is that there is only one team in this place with the mettle, the resolution and the plan to acknowledge and tackle the task at hand. The coalition team has reached key milestones of progress in this first year in office and our resolve is absolutely unshakeable as we approach the year ahead.