Senate debates

Thursday, 9 February 2017


Public Transport

4:42 pm

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

And what a disappointment it is that Senator Sterle is going to leave us, because I was going to refer to some comments of the then secretary of the Transport Workers Union Western Australia in regard to the performance of one Alannah MacTiernan and her role as transport minister. And of course—before he leaves—that official was none other than now Senator Glenn Sterle. But I will not be addressing that for some time, Senator Sterle, so, if you are on your way then you might as well go on your way, because it is going to be about 10 minutes into my contribution before I actually get to roll that one out again.

In 2008 I was a candidate in the state election for the seat of Alfred Cove. And do you know that the Labor premier was Mr Carpenter? We did not have a leader, as Senator Smith knows. Troy Buswell was on his way. Colin Barnett had made a decision to retire, and he came back in. And the complete program that we ran: do you know what we actually said to the people of Western Australia by way of launching our campaign? We said, 'Name us five things that Labor has done in government.' And do you know, they could not: the people of Western Australia could not name five things Labor had done in government. Now, Senator Smith sits here, and if I am wrong I ask him to stand up and correct me. Why did we end up winning the election? It was for two reasons. First of all, nobody could name what Labor had done in government. It is true what Senator Sterle says—that they retained their AAA credit rating—because they did not do anything.

The second thing was that Mr Carpenter at the time, the Premier of the state, had within his right to control and nominate the date of the election. He could have said, 'It's going to be on Saturday, 9 or 10 February 2009,' but did he? No. Why? I will tell you why: he was an opportunist. He knew his government had achieved nothing in his time or that of his predecessor, with the exception, I will say, of then minister MacTiernan, a competent minister. I agreed with the statements that the then Secretary of the Transport Workers Union, Mr Glenn Sterle, said about Alannah MacTiernan: that she was competent and she achieved something, but she was the only one in their government that did. So what did Mr Carpenter do? Believing in the chaos that he thought existed in our party, he called the election for the middle of September 2008, thinking he would get us offside. He got one thing right, and that was Labor had twice the amount of money that we had. But what poor old Alan Carpenter forgot to take into account was that the first two weeks of the campaign were the Beijing Olympic Games, during which time whatever message went out from Mr Carpenter was buried in the euphoria. Not even his strategist, Mr Jim McGinty, knew that Alan Carpenter was going to go to that early election, so by the time the games were finished, the game was on. We both had the same amount of money.

Colin Barnett had gathered us together. He is a man of enormous integrity. He had had years in government, in opposition, as Minister for State Development, as Minister for Resources Development. When I was chief executive of Rottnest Island, he was my minister for tourism, which is where I first came to understand the intellect of the man and, I must say, his intolerance for fools. Senator Smith and I would both agree that one of Colin's weaknesses is that not only is he is highly intolerant of fools but he has a bit of difficulty in concealing it. I was talking to him the other day and I reminded of a campaign. Mr Ben Morton, the now member for Tangney, was the new state director for that campaign. Coming from eastern Australia—now he is a confirmed Western Australian, fortunately—he had not been there five minutes, but he had woken up to the fact that Labor had done nothing in government, and he ran the campaign. I said to Colin Barnett the other day, 'Colin, if we asked people today—whether they like you or not, whether they like the Liberal Party or not—to name 20 things you've done in government, I tell you what, they would get RSI writing out the number of things that the Barnett government has achieved.'

Poor old Senator Sterle is going to go now, but I am going to get to his comments about Alannah MacTiernan in her time when I speak about the Roe 8and Roe 9 campaigns. But one of the very first things Barnett did was the undergrounding of the railway. You remember, Senator Smith, that they had talked for about 100 years about undergrounding of the railway in the centre of Perth. Who did it? Barnett. Did it cost? The benefit to the city has been the sale of the land on top of that area and the reconnection of the city with the area to the north.

You know, Acting Deputy President Bernardi, and I think those in the gallery know, that you incur debt in this world. We all have debt. We incur a debt to buy a home. We might incur a debt to buy a car. But there are two types of debt. There is debt that creates assets and there is debt that damns you in liabilities. In my contribution, thanking Senator Gallagher for the opportunity this afternoon, I intend on alerting the wider community to the miserable circumstances that the Labor governments of Mr Rudd, Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd left this country as a result of the squandering of what was a surplus handed to them on a silver platter, not through the debt from the creation of assets that create you further wealth, but the debt that damns you to the $360 billion that we inherited from Mr Rudd in 2013. But those of you that need to get a handkerchief in the gallery need to know this. It is not so much the debt that is costing you today and restricting our ability to do a lot of things we talk about; it is the fact that we are borrowing from overseas $400 million a day, or $1.2 billion a month.

Now you would think, 'Oh well, if Australia's doing that to pay the debt back, isn't that a good idea?' But no, as Senator Smith knows—he has cried out over this—we are not paying the $1.2 billion a month on the debt repayment; we are paying it to pay the interest on the debt. The $1.2 billion a month, the $400 million a day, 30 days of every month goes down the gurgler like it does if you have a credit card debt: you must pay. If you have a mortgage on your home, you know you have to pay the interest, and that is where we find ourselves in this country today. Mr Costello, who inherited a $96-billion debt from the previous government of Mr Keating—typical of Labor governments—said to me one day, 'Chris, when we paid the $96 billion back, we had $6 billion then that used to go out in interest that we could now put back into the Australian economy.' Incidentally, he did not sell anything. He did not sell any Australia Posts to pay back the $96 billion; he just did it through economic rigidity and stability.

Imagine that $1.2 billion a month today. Imagine if we had $15 billion or $16 billion that we could put back into services. I will tell you what that $1.2 billion equates to. It equates to the new Perth Children's Hospital, which Mr Barnett has just finished. That is one lousy month's interest on the debt. The Fiona Stanley Hospital that Mr Barnett has built—arguably, in the words of doctors I have spoken to in recent days, the most modern hospital in the world—is about six weeks interest on the debt. Do you know that we could be building two new primary schools are day, seven days a week, if we were not repaying that interest on the debt.

That brings me not just to the Fiona Stanley Teaching Hospital and the new children's hospital that Premier Barnett has been responsible for—in the time Mr Barnett has been in government, there are no less than 37 new hospitals in the rural areas of WA, the ones that Senator Smith and I represent. They are in the wheat belt, the South West, the Great Southern, the Mid West and the Pilbara—in towns like Merredin, Northam and Narrogin new hospitals are being developed—23 small hospitals. And we are invited to think that the Barnett government has not done anything?

Let me tell you a little bit more about assets versus liabilities, because I am going to get onto the liabilities of the federal government, where they wasted your money. In a visionary manner, Colin Barnett has reclaimed the Swan River back up to the city. It had always been river. It was reclaimed and he has brought it back up to the city and created what is called Elizabeth Quay. So we have this absolutely world-leading capitalised facility now, right at the base of the city. All the critics said, '$440 million. What a shock. What a debt he has incurred in doing this—' in creating the most phenomenal facility. Did you know that the other day he sold the last block that is available as part of the commercial development and he already has $390 million of the $440 million back in the kick? That is what expenditure of money on assets creates.

Only recently did I have the pleasure, on behalf of the federal transport minister, to open a section of the Forrest Highway-Kwinana Freeway, right beside that Aubin Grove railway station that Senator Sterle was asking, 'Would it ever be built? Is it ever likely to be there?' It is bad luck that Senator Sterle does not perhaps get into those areas a bit more often, because it was right beside where our Minister Marmion and I opened the $120 million freeway. The Aubin Grove railway station is there; it is finished. But I was able to say proudly at that time how phenomenal it is that the Barnett government, with the support of federal funding, has completed the Great Eastern Highway extension out to the airport. It has completed the multibillion dollar gateway road project around the international and domestic airports. It has built the Forrest Highway down into the south-west, down into our Margaret River-Dunsborough recreation areas, attendant upon all of the increased business in tourism, in mining and in agriculture. But I was also able to say that through the excellence of the combination of Western Australian and federal funding, each of those projects has been completed under budget, under time and if not superior to at least equal to the quality that was contracted for.

That is what the Barnett government is achieving in Western Australia. I was not always in favour of a new football stadium, but in most Western Australians are. We looked at the beautiful facility they now have in the Adelaide football oval in South Australia when we looked at the old heap of garbage that exists at Subiaco Oval. Yes, some people do not always want every project. But, as I said to somebody the other day when he was complaining about the debt incurred, 'Mate, just tell me which project you did not want. Tell me about not wanting Elizabeth Quay. Tell me about roads to the north of the state you did not want. Tell me about roads that are now more safe. Tell me about hospitals and schools. And tell me all about those infrastructure projects you don't want.' And this joker said, 'Chris, I want every one of them.' That is the difficulty in today's world—so, yes, the Barnett government has incurred debt.

I now want to turn attention to where the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governments incurred the debt that the Australian taxpayers will be paying back well beyond the time of their children and their grandchildren. Remember, Rudd came into government with no debt—the only country in the OECD that had no debt. No deficits; we were in surplus. We had $40 billion or $50 billion sitting in the bank earning interest. So, what did he do that? Well, he chucked it out on $900 and $1,200 cheques. That was successful! People who had died got them; people in prison got them; backpackers back in Switzerland who had paid tax in the previous year got their $900 cheques; and my aged mother, wheelchair-bound in a nursing home, got both the $900 and $1,200 cheques. Do you know where most of the money went? We know this as a result of Senate inquiries and joint inquiries. It went into three main sources: drugs and alcohol, evidenced by the increase in accidents and emergencies at all of Australia's major hospitals on those two Friday nights; poker machines, as evidenced in evidence to us in the Mr Wilkie inquiry on mandatory pre-commitment; and, of course, Chinese TVs. That was the first great effort by the Rudd government.

Was any money spent on asset development lake exploration from mining, which might learn actually lead to some more employment. No, no, no—no Labor government ever spends money on asset creation! What was next? Next was the Gillard memorial halls. I chaired the Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committee at that time, and for my sins I was for nine years on the Catholic Education Commission of Western Australia, so I know a little bit about spending Commonwealth government moneys, because the Commonwealth gives the independent and Catholic schools money, and we spend that money down to the last dollar, because it is so rare to get it. But we sat there and watched the states like New South Wales—not so much Victoria, because they had the sense not to spend the money initially, and that was fairly unusual because the whole purpose of giving it to them was to create an economic activity. Victoria did not do the spending but at least they did not waste as much money. The other states all did. So it was about $13 billion or $14 billion on the Gillard memorial halls.

Moving on, there was the $2.8 billion of the pink batts—do you remember that? There were people going up and down streets saying, 'We put pink batts there, there, there and there,' and they sent in the bill and the Labor government paid the bill. The unfortunate thing was that four young people, I think, regrettably were killed as a result of the dereliction in terms of oversight of those young people in roofs. People were saying, 'No.' When it all came out and there was a royal commission, they went back and said, 'We better go back and address ourselves.' Officers knocked on doors and they said, 'Oh, Mrs Fognucklevitch, we're here to check on the pink batts for which the Australian taxpayer paid $1,600 to some charlatan.' And Mrs Fognucklevitch said, 'Nobody's been to my home to put in pink batts.' That was $2.8 billion, plus the other costs associated with further compensation.

We know, of course, there was the infamous mining tax. Some of us from the west actually know a bit about the mining industry. And to give him credit, the then shadow minister, Mathias Cormann, stood up here and said to the now Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Wong, again and again: 'You will make no money out of the mining tax. It'll be the first ever tax which is going to cost you more than you'll get back.' And indeed that happened. That was a bit more expenditure on liabilities. We also had the carbon tax offsets that went up in smoke. We had the Green Loans scheme, another $175 million. You see? That is the difference between a Barnett government and a Labor government. A Barnett government, with the assistance of a coalition government in Canberra, will spend its resources and those of the Australian taxpayer on assets, whereas a Labor government will squander them—your money; not government money, but your money.

I conclude my contribution with the Roe Highway, going through an area very close to where I live and where my electorate office exists—Roe 8 and Roe 9. I did mention many years ago that this project should have been completed. But a then state Labor government, with then minister Ms Alannah MacTiernan and the local member for Fremantle at the time, Mr Jim McGinty, decided that they would put a spoke in the wheel. They rezoned the land as residential and they started selling it. I said—I promised—that the biggest critic at the time from a heavy transport point of view was none other than a person I regard as a personal friend, the highly respected Senator Glenn Sterle, who was the secretary of the Transport Workers Union in WA at that time. He resoundingly criticised Ms MacTiernan.

So here we are today building Roe 8 and Roe 9, a project mainly funded out of federal government funds because Infrastructure Australia has concurred how critically important that project is—one that will add immeasurably to safety and one that will cut down on travelling time. And, yes, the heavy industry will pay a little bit of a toll. Residential cars will not pay a toll, but the trucking industry will pay a bit in consideration of the enormous savings they will make. I can only thank Senator Gallagher for the opportunity to highlight why Western Australians must re-elect a Barnett-led government.


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