Thursday, 13 May 2010
I am very proud to stand here in support of this motion and in support of the evidence and the facts that we have on the table with respect to the waste and mismanagement that has been demonstrated by the Rudd Labor government over the last 2½, and a little bit more, years. It is not gross negligence; it is in fact worse—much worse. It is recklessness in the extreme. There has been a shocking amount of waste and mismanagement. In their time in office under Mr Rudd, Labor have wasted more than $4 billion of taxpayers’ money and they cannot be trusted with the public purse. Tuesday night’s budget delivery has confirmed what the coalition has been saying for months—that Australia cannot afford another three years of a Labor government.
I want to reflect very briefly on the federal budget before reflecting on other evidence with respect to waste and mismanagement under the Rudd Labor government. Labor’s mismanagement of all the major policies over the last two years has left Australia with a massive budget deficit to the tune of nearly $41 billion. That is the largest budget deficit since World War II, bar one budget. It is the second largest in all those many decades. Last Tuesday night’s budget also confirmed our fears with respect to the collapsed Home Insulation Program, the pink batts fiasco, which will cost the Australian taxpayer $1 billion to fix. This additional spending is needed only because of Labor’s mismanagement and maladministration. Labor is now spending good money after bad on this program, and I will say more about that shortly.
Labor will have to borrow more than $700 million a week to fund its reckless and wasteful spending, continuing the upward pressure on interest rates and the cost of living for everyday mums and dads and Australian families. It is wrong, dead wrong. Labor, sneakily, has set aside $126-odd million dollars of taxpayers’ money in the budget to fund its advertising in the lead-up to the federal election. That is very sneaky indeed. It has slipped it into the federal budget, and it includes advertising on climate change. ‘This is the great moral issue of our time,’ says the Prime Minister, yet he has deferred the decision regarding the emissions trading scheme for some three years—and I notice Senator Wong in the chamber today. But they are willing to spend taxpayers’ money on advertising climate change and the government’s response to it. Where is the connection? It is absurd; it is a disgrace. Those are a few reflections on the budget.
But what do we say about the waste and mismanagement? I am going to list the shocking evidence that we have from the 2½ years or thereabouts under the Rudd Labor government. I am going to list the points and then I will speak to a few of them to hopefully gain the support of this chamber for this motion. We have had Building the Education Revolution, with a $1.5 billion blow-out, and the Home Insulation Program, with $1 billion wasted. There was a promise to cut consultancies but there have been $1.2 billion in contracts awarded. We have seen a $1 billion blow-out in laptops in schools, with barely half delivered. In terms of the environment, we have seen climate change advertising, with $50 million wasted, and $1.5 million wasted on the Copenhagen delegation. In terms of the ETS, 150 public servants are doing absolutely nothing for and on behalf of the Australian taxpayers, with $81.9 million wasted. There has been an $850 million blow-out on the solar panel rebate. The Green Loans scheme, a $175 million program, has been cancelled altogether. Of course, we have seen the UN Security Council bid of $35 million by the Rudd Labor government—and I know that is of relevance to you, Mr Acting Deputy President Trood. There was a promise of $4.7 billion for the National Broadband Network before the election and that was replaced with a $43 billion plan by the Rudd Labor government. Also, $20 million has been wasted on the broadband tender process and $25 million spent on paid consultants for the broadband business plan.
What about legal fees under the Rudd Labor government? They are at record levels of $550 million last year. The tax review cost $10 million but we have seen no action. We have seen $46 million wasted on tax bonus payments. Remember the money that went overseas and the money that went to dead people. That was a shocking waste of taxpayers’ money yet again. We saw $2 million wasted on the 2020 Summit. A sum of $45 million was spent on the Indigenous housing program before one house was completed. What a shocking waste of taxpayers’ money! Of the 260 childcare centres promised, 38 were delivered—and, of course, that has now been cancelled. Of the 35 GP superclinics promised, three are fully operational. The government had a plan to stop Japanese whaling. It was promised but not delivered. They are spending $1 million on a whale envoy. Of course, the cost of living has risen under Labor, and I will speak more about that very shortly. We have had the GROCERYchoice website, and what did they spend on that? Eight million dollars—not a bad website. And this is all because Mr Rudd promised before the last federal election that he wanted to get grocery prices down. But, of course, they have gone up and they have wasted $8 million on a website, which they themselves, through public pressure, coalition pressure and obvious common sense, have closed down. But they have wasted $8 million of taxpayers’ money. It is a disgrace. What about Fuelwatch? Prices went up, and this is another broken promise. Of course, you have seen the interest rates rise and rise and rise again.
What about some of the substantial pieces of evidence, whether with respect to the home insulation scheme, to Building the Education Revolution or to the cost of living? Let us have a look at some examples to convince the Labor senators in this place that they should support this motion and hang their heads in shame at this shocking waste of taxpayers’ money. The primary schools element of Building the Education Revolution blew out by $1.7 billion to $14.1 billion, and construction has barely begun. We saw in the budget papers that they are still going to be spending on schools four years after the global financial crisis, which kicked in in 2008. They will still be spending in 2012 in response to the global financial crisis. How absurd! Millions of dollars were wasted on signs and plaques promoting Labor policy and commemorating the Minister for Education, the Hon. Julia Gillard. Fancy spending all that money for that purpose!
Reports of waste and rorting began to emerge, but only after sustained pressure from the opposition, members of the public and people in the media did the government finally concede one example of rorting and waste. It took all that time. Dozens more followed, and here are some examples. In New South Wales, Hastings Public School’s shade project cost blew out from $400,000 to almost $1 million—for a shadecloth! There are plenty more examples on top of that. Tottenham Central School requested a new lab under the BER; instead they received a $600,000 eight-by-2.5-metre brick canteen—a canteen instead of a lab; a canteen without any cooking facilities and rendered ‘useless’ by the school. Marulan Public School in New South Wales received $853,000 for a new library that they did not want. The building is still not complete after being promised by early February. Inclusions such as heating, solar panels and covered walkways have been omitted. Estimates suggest that the structure that has been built could easily have been completed for around $350,000.
Senator Brett Mason asked an excellent question today of the Minister representing the Minister for Education, Senator Carr, with respect to Rawlinsons, who are very credible and well-respected quantity surveyors. They did an assessment of the government’s Building the Education Revolution projects in terms of value for money. But do you think this government is interested in value for money? Clearly not, and the evidence confirms that. What did Rawlinsons say? They said that the way the government is approaching this is ‘insane and anomalous’. In terms of value for money, this government clearly is not interested. Its approach was to spend. Reckless spending is what it is doing.
That is exactly right, Senator Corman: they stuff up everything they touch. In fact, it is a fraud on the public purse. It is just a dead wrong. They need to come clean. The Prime Minister needs to come into the chamber, hang his head in shame and say: ‘Enough is enough. I’m sorry for all the waste and mismanagement under my government.’ That is what should be done.
I want to make a few comments with respect to cost of living. An excellent summary of this was set out in the Herald Sun on Thursday, 29 April. The headline is ‘Your bills soar as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd fails to keep costs down’, and the story says:
THE soaring cost of petrol, child care, housing, electricity and health is proof Kevin Rudd is failing to deliver on his election pledge to tackle the cost of living for working families.
The Prime Minister sought to make living costs a key election issue when he courted votes from “working families” and repeatedly attacked the Howard government for having “no solution”.
An analysis by the Herald Sun, based on the latest report card from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, reveals price increases in the past 12 months for utilities, child care and petrol alone have ripped $1000 from the yearly budget of a typical working family.
And the cost of housing (both rent and interest rates), hospital and medical charges, education and even haircuts eats up more of the budget than the cheaper price for clothing and computers. Grocery prices have been mixed.
In Victoria, as the story goes on to say, electricity has gone up 20 per cent; water and sewage, 17.6 per cent; gas, 7.5 per cent; petrol, 7.4 per cent; house purchase costs, 6.3 per cent; property rates and charges, 5.3 per cent—and the list goes on. In terms of the cost of living, this government has failed absolutely and abundantly. It is very sad.
In terms of the environment, the Green Loans Program has collapsed and has been cancelled, at a cost of $175 million. What has happened at the tax office? Senator Sherry is responsible for what happens at the tax office, and what happened was that tens of thousands of taxpayers were left out of pocket after tax assessment letters went out without cheques attached—that is, 140,000 letters will need to be resent, while the ATO continues to pay interest on overdue refunds. I commend shadow Assistant Treasurer Sussan Ley, who said:
After 3 months ignoring the problem this is yet another example of the Rudd Government’s delayed response in addressing problems that are affecting families and business across Australia.
In terms of the environment again, a small-town Victorian football club was recently given 17 new hot water units, one for each player—how absurd!—under the Labor government’s hot water rebate scheme, which was intended for households only. The energy efficiency minister, Greg Combet, has been unable to explain how a sporting club benefited from the program. Koondrook footy club president Rod Barrington summed up the Labor government’s mismanagement perfectly when he said:
They just didn’t do any research about where it was going. It is taxpayers that pay for it.
Too right they are paying for it! They are paying for it through the neck.
In terms of the pink batts fiasco, it has gone from bad to worse. It was confirmed in the budget that $1 billion of taxpayers’ money will be spent to remedy that program, to fix it up.
What a farce it is, Senator Williams! It is a disgrace. Of course, there is no commitment by this government to inspect every one of the homes insulated under the program. So you have mums and dads, families, living in homes, anxious and in fear, not knowing exactly whether their homes are safe and secure. Under this program there have been 240,000 dodgy or unsafe installations, 1,500 electrified roofs, about 120 house fires—possibly more—and, tragically, four deaths. It is not good enough. There is a Senate inquiry, but the government should come clean and reveal all the information, including the letters between the Prime Minister and the minister for the environment.
So the Rudd government are piling on the waste and their mismanagement is in the extreme. They should come in and the Prime Minister should hang his head in shame and say: ‘I’m sorry. I apologise. Enough is enough.’ I commend the motion to the Senate.
Let me say at the outset of my contribution to the motion on taxpayer money that this government has nothing to hang its head in shame over. We are a government which tackled the deepest global recession since the Great Depression, we are a government which set about supporting 210,000 jobs in this economy and we are a government which, through the initiatives that we undertook, increased the level of GDP by three-quarters of one per cent. We are a government which has taken on the challenges, and we have done that with a number of initiatives to make sure that we have quality, adequacy and efficiency in our transport, communications, energy, education and health infrastructure systems. We have moved on higher education and we have moved on innovation.
This is where money has been spent, money that was not spent during 10½ years of the Howard government lying back and doing nothing, 10½ years of economic incompetence and 10½ years of lost opportunities. We have taken the steps to make sure that the schoolkids of this country have decent accommodation—something you did not care about. You did not care whether they could get out of the sun. You did not care whether they had a school hall. You did not care whether they had any language skills. You did not care whether they had any science labs. We do; Labor do. Labor want a decent society; we want a good society. We want a society in which everyone gets a fair go, not just the mining magnates that are pouring money into the coalition for its election purposes. We want a fair go for the children of this country, we want a fair go for the mums and dads and we want a fair go for communities both here and in the regions. We want a fairer society. We want a decent society. That is why, when faced with a $210 billion downward revision of taxation receipts as a result of the global recession, we decided to move. We decided to act decisively.
What did the opposition say? The opposition said: ‘We should wait and see. We should let the market rip. We should let workers lose their employment. We should let workers get put on the dole. We should let families suffer because we want the market to resolve this.’ We as a government knew the market would not resolve this. That is why we took the action that we did. We took action to ensure that working families were looked after and that working families had income immediately and jobs in the medium term. That is what we did. We supported the income of households through fiscal stimulus. We had shovel-ready infrastructure in place and we moved to create jobs. We had longer term nation-building projects that were absolutely essential to build a strong and productive economy for the future—something the Howard-Costello government never, ever did.
With this massive contraction in the world economy, with eight out of 10 of our trading partners contracting in 2009, we took that early and decisive action. We stimulated demand to make sure more Australians were in work. As I said, we invested in roads, rail, ports and broadband to boost productivity and growth because we understand the role of government—something that the coalition does not understand. The role of government is to step in and ensure that the economy continues when the market fails, yet we have a coalition that says, ‘Everything will be okay; we’ll sit back and we’ll wait to see what happens.’ We were not prepared to go down that path. We decided in the last budget to invest in roads, rail, ports, broadband and infrastructure, to invest in clean energy initiatives and to give first homeowners a fiscal hand-up. Many young homeowners would not have houses without that initiative of this government. We always had a deficit exit strategy in place.
In this budget, we have continued to invest in families through personal income tax cuts where a worker on $50,000 will be $450 better off. We have fairer and simpler tax returns. We are supporting banking competition to make the banking area more competitive, after-hours access to general practitioners, GP superclinics, training more doctors and allied health professionals and a COAG agreement on the National Health and Hospitals Network. We are also making sure we build for the future by giving ordinary working-class Australian kids an opportunity to get an apprenticeship—something that was never done under the Howard government.
Yet what do we get from those opposite? We get a scare campaign on behalf of their mates in the mining industry. The scare campaign is that the mining industry will be doomed under this government’s approach to making sure that they pay their fair share. You have to remember that the mining industry are making huge profits—$90 billion a year. Yet what the government gets back to invest in our schools and in our health system is minuscule. This lot on the other side want to make sure that the chief executive officer of Anglo American can pick up his $1.5 million a year and that we cannot make any improvements for our school kids. Anglo American’s profit is $511 million a year. It is our resources that we should be getting a return on.
BHP Billiton’s profit in 2008 was $15.39 billion. The chief executive gets $10.399 million a year—some people do not earn that in a lifetime and he gets that a year. This lot opposite have money coming into their election campaign to run their big scare campaign in support of the richest players in the country. They are arguing that we should not get back a fair share of the tax to provide for our infrastructure, for our schools, for our health and for our pensioners. We will not accept that position. Some of that $15.39 billion profit should come back to ordinary Australians.
At the peak of the boom in 2008, Rio Tinto earned $10.194 billion. Its chief executive officer is on a pay of $5.59 billion, no million—I nearly did a ‘Barnaby’ there, sorry. Xstrata’s profit at the peak of the boom was $7.249 billion and its chief executive earned $5.5 million. I want some of that money in our schools. I want some of that money in our education. I want some of that money in superannuation for ordinary Australians. That is what we stand for. That is what Labor stands for—not the scare tactics and scare campaigns of the lot on the other side. We stand for a fair and decent society—a society that can deliver for ordinary Australian families.
The richest men in Australia are running a campaign against this government. Why are they rich? They are rich because they have our resources. Forbes has Twiggy Forrest, CEO of Fortescue Metals, as being worth $5.7 billion on its list of richest Australians. One individual is worth $5.7 billion, yet those on the other side are running a scare campaign that none of that should come back to ordinary Australian families—that ordinary Australian families should not be living in dignity in retirement, that they should not get their superannuation lifted, that they should not get decent health services, that they should not get decent education and that you should let the market rip and let the billionaires in the mining industry stay as they are.
When you hear them argue for the mining industry, always remember Clive Palmer. He has had a meteoric rise since he was a property developer, and back when he pushed Joh Bjelke-Petersen for Canberra. That was his start. He has handed $850,000 in funding to the coalition. Why would they not be standing up there denying children decent schools? Why would they not be standing up there denying decent roads to the community? Why would they not be standing up there doing what they are doing—that is, continuing an unfair tax system in this country? They are playing up to their paymasters—the mining companies that are pouring money into the coalition to try and stop this tax, and to try and keep their unfair position in this country. That is not a position that we are prepared to tolerate.
Let us go back to some reality in relation to this country’s finances. I ask any of the speakers who are going to follow me to look at the budget papers and to look at chart 1 in Budget Paper No. 1. That shows that we will be the only country with a positive GDP in three years time. Germany, Canada, Italy, France, Japan, the UK and the US will be nowhere near our fiscal position. Our debt is the lowest amongst advanced countries, and as a percentage of GDP we are the envy of the world. Let me tell you what the experts say—not what is said by Senator Barnett or Senator Joyce, the failed shadow minister, not them—the people who understand how the economy works. What did Governor Stevens say on 1 March at the ASIC summer school in 2010? He said:
We can come out of this episode as the country that didn’t have to buy their banks, where government finances are in terrific shape, where the ... debt ratio will peak at 10 per cent of GDP, with a strong regulatory framework, didn’t have to do very unconventional monetary and fiscal measures, the regular measures applied liberally worked, worked a treat actually ... how many other countries are on that list?
There are issues when you move to intervene to help ordinary workers. You do have problems from time to time. But what does the Governor of the Reserve Bank have to say? The governor says that our finances are in ‘terrific shape’, that we are the envy of the rest of the world.
What does Kyran Curry, from the credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s have to say? He said:
The deficits and additional borrowings do not alter the sound profile of Australia’s public finances, which remain among the strongest of its peer group.
I have more that I could go on with. But just let me contrast our position of fiscal responsibility—of economic responsibility, of looking after ordinary Australians—with the rabble that are the opposition. How many shadow finance ministers have they had in the last period of time? Peter Dutton, member for Dickson: gone. Joe Hockey, member for North Sydney: gone. Senator Helen Coonan: sacked to put in Senator Barnaby Joyce. What an absolute joke. And now Senator Barnaby Joyce has been sacked because he is so incompetent and we now have Andrew Robb. What a rabble this lot are. (Time expired)
‘Monstrous profits’, he called out. Who owns them? I asked that question of an accountant, a financial adviser, a couple of days ago and he said 10 to 20 per cent of the ownership of those companies is in superannuation funds—the $1.3 trillion superannuation funds of the workers, those very people that you are supposed to represent. They are the investors, the owners of such mining companies. But that word ‘profit’ is a dirty word over there in the Labor Party. They would much rather see businesses not make a profit. They would let everyone just go to the wall.
I will take your interjection, Senator Sherry. You want them to pay tax, tax and more tax. You want to strangle the goose that lays the golden egg. Your attitude is just to tax more and more.
The motion today says, ‘The Senate notes the Rudd Labor government’s waste and mismanagement of taxpayer money.’ Let’s just take a look back at the history—
and Senator Cameron perhaps might even consider listening—of these great investments by the Labor government, which just happened to fail. Let’s start with Fuelwatch: $21 million. There is silence on the other side, Madam Acting Deputy President. They might as well have thrown it in the gutter. What is the result of Fuelwatch today? It is a waste of $21 million of taxpayers’ money—or borrowed money—that will have to be paid back.
The National Broadband Network has gone from $4 billion, to $7 billion, to $43 billion and is to cost about $20,000 a connection. Where is the money coming from? We can see from the $25 million report on the National Broadband Network that it is not going to return a dividend; it is not going to attract private investment. It will have to be borrowed money that sets up and establishes it.
We will move on to GroceryWatch: $13 million. This was how Mr Rudd was going to put downward pressure on grocery prices. One of his many promises prior to the 2007 election was, ‘I will put downward pressure on grocery prices.’ So he introduced GroceryWatch, at a cost of $13 million. It is just like Fuelwatch: he might as well have thrown it in the gutter. It did not do any good; it was simply a waste of money.
Of course I will talk about the school infrastructure program, Building the Education Revolution—or the ‘builders’ early retirement’ scheme, as we should refer to it. And then there are refugees. How many boats have we had so far? Mr Rudd said prior to the election of 2007, ‘I will turn the boats back.’ What a great statement. Now, in this week’s budget, we find an extra billion dollars from taxpayers—sorry, put on the credit card that future Australians will have to pay for—to control the asylum seekers and the cost of them.
I am sure Senator Humphries, who is in the chamber, will remember the 2020 Summit—1,000 minds, 1,000 bed and breakfasts and a $2 million-plus program for nine usable ideas. I suppose that is nine more than the Labor Party would have had, anyway.
Then there is the ‘batts-in batts-out’ program, the $2.6 billion stimulus package to insulate houses. This is a very serious issue. I feel so sorry for those relatives and loved ones of the four men who lost their lives. It is darn lucky that more people have not lost their lives, when more than 100 houses have burnt down. Now we see in the budget almost $1 billion to clean up the mess. Is that money well spent? It is money wasted.
And when we talk about money wasted we should talk about the $42 billion ‘cash splash 2’: $900 to most Australians—all those on less than $80,000 gross income—to stimulate the economy. I am sure China would have been very grateful for that $900 handout spent on the new televisions and electronic items that we import from there. We do not make any in Australia these days, of course—or, if we do, it would be very few. I am glad my daughter used her $900 dollars wisely to stimulate the economy. She paid off her credit card with it, which was the way she saw to stimulate the economy. She said, ‘What a waste of money.’
We will move along to further programs. The GP superclinics: $275 million. How many of those do we have in action? I think there are two—or is it three?—completed GP superclinics. Health is a major issue. The money should be spent wisely and we should get a decent return.
The Rudd government was going to reduce consultancies by $112 million. Instead, what do we have? An increase to $800 million—6,354 consultancies. There is a blowout of almost $700 million.
It gets better. There is digital TV from Senator Conroy. In 2008 he was going to slash $22 million from the cost of the changeover. The original estimate was $16 million. It is now to cost $66 million. It goes on and on and on.
Let me look again at the Building the Education Revolution. I have had some people come to me, but I will not name them because they do not want to be publicised. They are in the education department and fear the repercussions of being named. A local builder quoted $78,000 for a covered outdoor learning area, which included the footpaths, but the government contractor came along and charged $228,000 excluding the footpaths—basically, four times the price.
Dr David Gillespie, the Nationals candidate for Lyne, is still amazed that Hastings Public School at Port Macquarie had a shade project blow out from $400,000 to almost $1 million, and the education minister only intervened after the media blew the whistle. I do not know why the local member did not raise the issue.
At Manilla Central School near Tamworth in New England, up where I live, they have two demountable classrooms off the back of a truck. That is two demountables for $1.8 million! Again, it was Senator Joyce on a television program who highlighted this waste, and again the local Independent member was asleep at the wheel. Think about building a house. Three hundred thousand dollars would build you a good brick home. So for $1.8 million you could expect to build six really good brick veneer homes. What do they do? They get two demountable classrooms. That is far from equivalent to six brick veneer homes.
The education minister was in denial. She thought this program was fantastic. But now she is not sure and is spending another $14 million to find out. Senator Mason and I, through the Senate, asked the Auditor-General to address a question of value for money. But his report, released last week, did not answer any questions. No doubt we will be asking more. No doubt the inquiry in the New South Wales parliament—in the Legislative Council—will release the information about the waste in this whole Building the Education Revolution.
I will give you another example. A school in the New England area had a barbed wire fence. The top wire of the fence around the school was made of barbed wire. Along came the experts in the Building the Education Revolution and they said, ‘That fence has to come down.’ It cost $32,000 to replace it with a new fence. The cocky next door took the barbed wire off and put a plain wire on, and $900 later the job was complete. There is a saving of more than $31,000. But, to remove the barbed wire, they had said, ‘No, we’ve gotta pull the whole fence down.’ This is a very small school I might add.
I will tell you about another school in western New South Wales. We talk about spending money for value—and we might get a reaction from the other side here. I know of a school in western New South Wales that got a new classroom for around $225,000. You might say: ‘That is a great investment. Schools need classrooms.’ But this school has a student total of three. You have three students in the whole school, and they put in a new classroom! How many classrooms do you need in a school with three students?
One each, it would seem. They go and build a new classroom for a school that has a total of three students. This is just outrageous.
What annoys me so much is that when I visit places like St Annes Nursing Home up in Broken Hill I find that they do not have enough money to expand their buildings to provide more facilities. They are a really good organisation, and Broken Hill has many people in that age bracket where they are needing care and will need care in the very near future. But we see a new classroom going into a school in western New South Wales that has a total school attendance of just three. So much for the neglect of our aged care and so much for the waste in this program.
Let us move on to the climate change and the ETS. Let us talk about climate change. It is ‘the greatest moral challenge of our age’, but the Prime Minister puts it off until 2013 and blames the opposition for it. The Copenhagen junket in December last year cost $1.5 million, with the Prime Minister and his entourage, and for what result? Nothing. They virtually told the Prime Minister to go away. Yet he is spending millions and millions of dollars advertising to raise awareness of climate change.
Back to the broadband issue. Labor promised broadband $4.7 billion and spent $20 million on a cancelled tender process and another $25 million on consultants to work out if it was viable. The end result is the $43 billion project. But we know who the seven per cent who miss out will be. They will be from regional areas—around one and a half million people.
What about the home insulation program? The government was warned there were problems with this program, but the Prime Minister put his hands over his ears and ordered his environment minister to roll out the program. It was payday for the crooks and conmen out there. It cost $1 billion to fix the home insulation debacle. There were 240,000 dodgy or unsafe installations, 1,500 electrified roofs, 120 house fires and four deaths. That $1 billion could have built 32 cancer clinics. It is $1 billion wasted—not of taxpayers’ money but of borrowed money—that could have built 32 cancer clinics.
And what has happened to those businesses who took the Prime Minister at his word? They ordered in the batts and put on workers and then had the rug pulled out from underneath them. Many legitimate businesses are still owed thousands of dollars by the Rudd government for work done before the program was closed on 19 February. This would have to be the biggest waste of any government program in Australia’s history, and the ‘economic conservative’ is presiding over it.
I want to go on to talk about the buyback of water. The Kahlbetzer family was paid $303 million to buy back their water licences. Two of the rivers—the Gwydir and the Lachlan—do not even run into the Murray. The Gwydir empties out into the Gwydir wetlands. In a once-in-100-years flood, the Lachlan may get to the Murrumbidgee, but it is unlikely. Then we have the Macquarie River going through Dubbo, where a licence was bought back, and it runs out into the Macquarie Marshes. But the Kahlbetzer family said, ‘You buy all or none.’ That is $303 million to let more water go down the Murray, and three of the rivers do not even run into the Murray. The wasteful spending that we are seeing in this whole program is outrageous.
When you look back at the Whitlam era, and the borrowing and waste, this government today makes the Whitlam government look conservative. The wasteful and reckless spending will cause interest rates to rise. That is a big thing about this whole program—the borrowing of money. We had a debt of—what? A couple of days ago it was $140 billion of gross debt. That will run at about $150 billion before the end of this financial year. Add another $41 billion onto that, and that is $191 billion by 30 June 2011. Add another $13 billion after that, and we are looking at about $204 billion gross debt. Even in two years time, that is $6.5 billion to pay the interest alone. Imagine what $6.5 billion could do. We realise there is a global financial crisis and we realise that you need some stimulation, but—
You betcha we voted against the wasteful programs. If you had not borrowed so much money and not spent so much money, interest rates would have fallen further and stayed lower. You would have grown the economy through the private sector and not had a clayton’s growth, where the government borrows money and spends it and you call it economic growth. That is clayton’s economics. That is what it is.
Now we have had six interest rate rises in the last eight months and more to come. My home loan has gone from a start of 4.99 per cent to now almost seven per cent and I know there are a lot more to come because you are simply releasing the fiscal handbrake and the Reserve Bank will have to pull harder on the other handbrake for interest rates. Those who will suffer will be the battlers, the ordinary families paying for their homes, the people in small business, the farmers who have suffered drought—in many areas since 2002. They are the ones who will suffer most. The waste of these programs has just been humungous. (Time expired)
It is very interesting in this budget week that, rather than having any constructive response to a very well put together budget by the Treasurer, Mr Swan, and the Labor Party, the opposition goes back to its old mantra that it has been trying to push for so long now and moves the motion:
That the Senate notes the Rudd Labor Government’s waste and mismanagement of taxpayer money.’
This is a push fuelled mostly by the Australian, which has been plugging away at it for a long time. I would like to take the opposition senators back to the time of their government when waste and mismanagement were a hallmark of some of their policies—and pork-barrelling, as Senator Sterle points out. I know that this is something that we on this side of the house often quote, but I think it so clearly illustrates what the Howard government was about that I take this opportunity to quote it again.
The Senate committee inquiry had its origins in concerns raised about the approval of grants for certain projects. In this respect, in the first three years of the Programme examined by ANAO, departures from the published guidance were a feature of the Programme.
Of course, this is the regional rorts program. I continue:
For example, in that period:
- there were instances where no application for funding was received prior to funding being approved or the funding decision was not informed by a departmental assessment against the published Programme Guidelines and criteria;
- departmental assessments have been truncated, or ‘fast tracked’, or assessment procedures were not rigorously applied, such that DOTARS did not adequately scrutinise applications before providing advice to Ministers;
- projects had been approved for funding notwithstanding that one or more criteria had not been satisfied, combined with inadequate documentation of the basis for those decisions; and
- Ministerial funding decisions had been taken or revised through processes other than those provided for in the Programme Guidelines and procedures advised to applicants.
That is the Howard government, its regional rorts program. We are dealing with mismanagement and the Howard government provided the rolled gold standard of mismanagement under this program. It goes on to say:
... ANAO analysis revealed that Ministers were more likely to approve funding for ‘not recommended’ projects—
I repeat ‘not recommended’ projects—
that had been submitted by applicants in electorates held by Liberal and National parties and more likely to not approve funding for ‘recommended’ projects that had been submitted by applicants in electorates held by the Labor party.
I will quote back to the opposition their favourite source, the Australian:
Jim Nelson’s jaw dropped in surprise when he heard John Howard announce three years ago that his railway society had just received $845,000 for a tourist project in the southwest of Western Australia.
Mr Nelson didn’t know anything about the announcement and neither did the federal Department of Transport and Regional Services, which was supposed to assess all projects funded under the Regional Partnerships Program.
That is the kind of management that the Howard government conducted. So the opposition are once more giving us this golden opportunity to remind them of their gross incompetence in this area and gross rorting of a great deal of federal government money—the waste that was poured into a number of those projects that were not adequately assessed and, indeed, never really got off the ground. That is what waste and mismanagement is about.
The opposition have come in here and said that we should have done more in the time we have been in government. I am standing here looking at page 26 of today’s Notice Paper, which has nearly three pages of bills discharged or negatived because of the current opposition not allowing the Rudd Labor government to get on with the job, to fulfil its programs and to work efficiently in the best interests of the Australian public. The opposition come in here time after time with their negative comments and their negative votes without putting forward any alternative. The opposition have not put through revenue measures from the last budget and have not allowed us to proceed with well-structured programs that would allow benefits to the Australian people. Indeed, they have signalled that they will do that again with this budget. I do not know what we will hear from the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, this evening in his budget-in-reply speech. We are all hoping that we might hear something substantial rather than the ‘No, we will not pass the resource rent tax; no, we will not pass this and we will not pass that’ because they are bereft of any ideas. Of course, it is perfectly easy to criticise programs and we heard Senator Williams address the Building the Education Revolution Program and the Home Insulation Program, which were part of the government’s stimulus package. I have been to two openings of BER schools.
Senator Williams has not been to any. I feel very sorry for him. If he had he might not have come into the chamber, like he has, and criticised them. Anyone who has been to one of those openings has been overwhelmed by the appreciation of the school and the community for the facilities they have been given as part of that program. The two schools I have been to have been in rural South Australia, and they each made the point that, in a small community, it is very hard—very difficult indeed—to raise funds for this kind of capital expenditure. They are very grateful to the government, as building these facilities means that they can now concentrate their fees and their fundraising on improving resources for their students, improving curriculum and doing the other things that schools need to do, rather than saving their money for capital expenditure or making do with substandard facilities.
I know as a former member of a state parliament where the state government had responsibility for the upkeep of those resources how difficult it was to put money aside for that sort of essential maintenance and renewal of school facilities. Too many schools, particularly schools in rural and regional areas, had substandard facilities. This program under this government has set about addressing the problem—and has set about addressing it in a climate of global financial crisis.
The Minister for Education, Ms Gillard, has put in place an auditing program through the implementation task force, which ensures that the taxpayers of Australia are getting full value for money. The terms of reference for this task force are comprehensive and will ensure that, where there have been problems and where there has been outright rorting of the system, that will be pursued vigorously. There is also the opportunity for that program to be stopped if that is found to be the case. So rather than allowing a regional rorts type program to proceed, as under the Howard government, the minister and the Rudd government have acted quickly to ensure that, if there is any problem with the program, it is stopped and stopped now.
Similarly with the insulation program, part of the stimulus program, once the problems were identified—and unfortunately it cost the lives of four young men, and that is tragic—the Rudd government moved in to stem the results of that loss and redress the problems of householders who received the grant under that insulation program. Many of those households, of course, have got perfectly good insulation. They are very happy with it and it is performing the job that it is required to do. But there are households—and we do not yet know how many—where there are problems with either the installation or the safety of that installation. The government has put in place programs to ensure that those problems are redressed, and most certainly that it does not happen again. Furthermore, not content with that, the government has put in place programs to make sure that the workers in that industry are not simply abandoned, that there are programs in place that they can access to make sure that they have the best chance of getting another job—to keep intact the aims of the government’s financial stimulus package.
Senator Williams said, ‘Why didn’t we leave this to growth through the private sector? Why put in a government stimulus?’ Because it works, Senator Williams. That is why it was done. It was done because the private sector was pulling back on their investment. It was well documented that business investment was pulling back, particularly from small to medium businesses. They were not prepared to take the risk, given the global financial situation. In order to stop massive unemployment and in order to stop a decline in confidence in the economy and a spiralling downturn, the government stepped in and performed the role that the private sector was not going to perform. Rather than having the battlers suffer—as Senator Williams said—we have put in place programs to ensure that there will be far fewer battlers than there would have been if the Howard government had stayed in place.
I am astonished at the hubris of the opposition to come in and complain about waste and mismanagement and a lack of activity by the Rudd government. Clearly, it is a case of people in glasshouses should not throw stones. They make themselves far too easy a target. But the Rudd government is not, I have to say, spending too much time with the opposition here; the Rudd government is getting on with the task that it was elected to do—that is, to build Australia’s future. Despite the negativity and the willingness of the opposition to vote against any piece of legislation that is brought into this place, the Rudd government has still had a number of sterling achievements in the last couple of years. Apart from dealing very decisively and officially with the global financial crisis, the Rudd government has funded 1,000 new nurse training places; supported record investment in solar and wind power; very critically, abolished Work Choices; helped to secure our water supplies by buying back water licences from the oversubscribed water of all rivers—not just the Murray-Darling Basin—and therefore helped the health of the Murray-Darling Basin; invested in new cancer research and treatment centres; funded increases in GP training; and worked very hard in general in education and skills development.
I thank the opposition for giving us this opportunity to stand up and run through the achievements of the Rudd government and contrast them with the appalling record of the previous Howard government.
There is a song of which the refrain comes to mind, ‘If it feels good, do it’, but in the case of the Rudd government it is more like, ‘If it sounds good, let’s promise it and keep promising it for as long as we can get away with having it sound good. And when it comes to D-Day’—that is, delivery day—‘we will break our promise or, if we proceed to try and deliver, then we will mismanage and the botch the delivery and create nothing other than waste in the process.’
If it sounds good, promise it. ‘If it sounds good, we will promise Fuelwatch.’ It sounded good, alright. Did it do any good? No. ‘GROCERYchoice sounds good, so we’ll promise it.’ Did it do any good? No. ‘Computers for every school kid: sounds good; let’s promise it.’ Did it do any good? No. ‘The Building the Education Revolution: sounds good, so we’ll promise it.’ Has it delivered value for money? No. And that is the least of it. ‘The Home Insulation Program—stimulating the economy, creating jobs and protecting the environment: sounds good; let’s promise it.’
In this process the Rudd government has turned its back on the most fundamental of its promises that could have helped it to deliver some good from what sounded good. That most fundamental promise, given by the Prime Minister himself, was evidence based policy. With any of these promises, had the government bothered to keep that promise—to actually do a cost-benefit analysis, to map the problem that they were trying to fix or the good that they were trying to do and show that their policy was going to achieve it—then they might have avoided the waste and mismanagement that is tragically unfolding with broken promises and botched delivery daily.
The Home Insulation Program: sounds good—stimulate the economy, create jobs and help the environment. There was no evidence base for the Home Insulation Program. It was characterised instead by haste to get the money out the door at all costs—pun intended. The top priority was to get the money out the door; little else mattered. Those were the writing instructions. That is the evidence behind the scenes that we would get, if we could get it, through the Senate committee process attempting to do its best to show the Australian people what they deserve to know about the management of the Home Insulation Program.
The Rudd government promised that the Home Insulation Program would stimulate the economy—we were told at the time. It is a broken promise, particularly with the budget, because we now see that all the Home Insulation Program is going to do is realise the warnings that the government got in its own independent risk analysis from Minter Ellison. More than a year or so prior to today, and certainly months in advance of rolling out the program, the Minter Ellison risk assessment foretold that if the risks identified in that assessment were not addressed, then there was every prospect that the program would cost more than any money it was ever going to bring into the economy. Sadly, that is exactly what is now set to happen with the home insulation debacle, as most recently proved by the budget delivered by the Treasurer this week.
All that the Home Insulation Program is going to do is break the first plank of what the program was supposed to do and which sounded good: stimulate the economy. No, it is going to back money out of the economy. Create jobs? Please, tell that to the Australians who came to the industry at the behest of the government. They answered the government’s call yet many of these workers had their jobs destroyed overnight by the stroke of a ministerial pen when Minister Garrett first suspended and then scrapped the Home Insulation Program—not that I am suggesting that that was not the right thing to do. It was just after too many months, too many millions and too much waste—too late.
The third plank of the Home Insulation Program was to supposedly help the environment. How can a program help the environment when it has not been evidentially assessed and when the wrong insulation is put in the wrong sorts of houses in the wrong places for the wrong sorts of climates? How can a home insulation program help the environment when in tropical Queensland, insulation is laid underneath corrugated iron roofs, which naturally attract condensation due to the tropical climate? How can that insulation help the environment when it collects moisture and risks not just the insulation becoming mouldy but also ceiling collapse? How can the wrong insulation in the wrong sorts of houses in the wrong sorts of climates help the environment?
How can the Home Insulation Program help the environment when everybody other than the government seems to be saying that every home that has had insulation laid under this program must at the very least be inspected? There will be quite a few damn carbon miles created in inspecting all that has been laid. What to do once it has been inspected? There are electrical risks waiting to be realised. There is dangerous and dodgy insulation waiting to be realised. What to do then? It is not so simple as to rip out the foil insulation, for example. There is evidence to the Senate inquiries into the Home Insulation Program that much of the insulation that has been laid is not biodegradable. What about the environment in that?
What is to be done if insulation—for example, foil—is ripped out and the electrically risky staples remain, which the electrical experts say still leaves electrocution waiting to happen who knows when? What to do about that mismanagement and the waste that comes therefrom? The Home Insulation Program sounded good but did no good at all. Indeed, it has created—I am sure unintentionally, but it is so nonetheless—tragedy and destruction rather than construction of anything good.
Round 1 of the National Broadband Network sounded good in its promise to connect some 98 per cent of Australians at a cost to the taxpayer of some $4.7 billion. The $4.7 billion debt, of course, did not sound very good to the Australian public, but some 18 months after the making of that sound-good promise, and some $30 million of taxpayer expenditure on that promise later, the government decided to up the ante with something that sounded even better. So it broke the NBN round 1 promise and made the NBN round 2 promise. In making the NBN round 2 promise, the government is now telling us that it will spend up to $43 billion of taxpayers’ money to connect some 90 per cent, maybe, of Australians to a fibre-to-the-home network. It sounds good, but look at the government’s track record on promises broken thus far and botched delivery and look at the clues as to why. The clues, as I have said, are no cost-benefit analysis and no delivery on the promise of evidence based policy.
With the National Broadband Network round 2, Minister Conroy suggests all will have been revealed by now in his implementation study, which he has belatedly released. All that the implementation study, that $25 million taxpayer spend for some 500 pages—and we do not want to contemplate how much taxpayer money has been spent per page on that diatribe—
You can work it out. All that the implementation study tells us is that it is a very optimistic forecast of what the National Broadband Network will cost. Yet there is still no mapping and no empirical analysis of the benefit of this sounds-good National Broadband Network.
But, if you dare to question the National Broadband Network, you are branded, just as you were branded a climate change sceptic when you dared to question the Prime Minister’s solutions to so-called climate change. If you dare to question the National Broadband Network, you are branded as a National Broadband Network sceptic. Why should you not be so when thus far the only thing that we have seen from the government is the $25 million taxpayer funded implementation study, which is very robust when it comes to how much this thing is going to cost but very light on telling us the benefits?
The implementation study projects take-up rates of between 70 and 90 per cent, so it is suggesting that between 70 and 90 per cent of Australians will take up fibre to the home. For example, it suggests that if 70 per cent of Australians take up the National Broadband Network and there is a small blow-out in costs then the profit—I wonder if it is super profit; no, of course not, because this is NBN Co.—will be in the range of some three to five per cent. The study then goes on to say that if 80 per cent of Australians take up fibre to the home and there is no blow-out in costs then NBN Co. will realise some six to seven per cent in profit. Then it goes even further and suggests that if 90 per cent of Australians take up the National Broadband Network and costs come in—yes, you have guessed it—slightly below par, slightly below what is predicted, then NBN Co. will make a profit of some eight or nine per cent, which of course is not a super profit in the mind of the Rudd government, because after all this is a government that clearly has two standards. This is an implementation study that is very conservative on the cost and totally light on when it comes to benefits.
If you look at the broken promises and the botched delivery of this government thus far, Australians are entitled to question what is looking set to happen with the second round of the National Broadband Network. Let us not forget that today, finally, this government has fessed up. Yes, it is going to break its promise made to the Australian business community, supposedly, about the Do Not Call Register. It sounded good to promise the business community that they would not be bothered anymore if they did not want to be by unsolicited business calls, but the government forgot to do what it promised to do, which was to deliver evidence based policy with a Do Not Call Register. It did not map who was going to benefit from the bill and it did not map at what cost that bill would come. So they waltz into parliament this week needing coalition support to deliver their breaking of their promise but more importantly to deliver ongoing registration for households that want to continue on the Do Not Call Register.
All that waste could have been avoided. The Australian public is entitled to continue to ask the Rudd government what it is going to deliver in terms of the National Broadband Network, how it is going to deliver it, when it is going to deliver it and what they are going to have to pay to enjoy the benefits. They are all the more entitled to ask that when you look at the Rudd government’s record of broken promises, botched delivery, waste and mismanagement.
This is the third day in a row that I have had the pleasure of rising to support the record of the Rudd government in the face of motions moved by the opposition. On day one we had the Rudd government’s litany of broken promises, on day two we had the recklessly spending, high-taxing Rudd Labor government, and today, perhaps as a finale for the week, we have the Rudd government’s misuse of taxpayers’ money. I am not sure what those opposite think that they are achieving with this string of vague, tendentious and misleading motions. They are clearly in danger of breaching standing order 196, which prohibits tedious repetition. If they think they are doing any damage to the Rudd Labor government, I will not try to disillusion them.
As Napoleon said, ‘Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake’—or perhaps, as Senator Birmingham may take note of, never argue with the guy with the microphone. I can assure them that my colleagues over here and I are enjoying the opportunity to work up some campaigning material for the months ahead.
Today we are being accused of wasting taxpayers’ money. I said yesterday that the motion introduced by the opposition, accusing the Rudd government of reckless spending, required cheek of a very high order. Today’s motion goes even further: it is positively reckless. For the Liberal and National parties to raise the issue of wasteful use of taxpayers’ money in this Senate shows a truly reckless disregard for their own political safety. We knew that they would abandon the truth, but now they have abandoned caution as well. Senators opposite seem to think that they can come into the Senate and berate us for allegedly wasting taxpayers’ money, without anyone pointing to the monumental hypocrisy that this charge entails, coming as it does from the most shameless misusers of public money in the history of Australian politics—and that is indeed saying something. They must have very short memories; they must imagine that we all have the memories of goldfish and they must assume that the electorate does too.
Fortunately for the forces of truth and virtue, however, I have a very long memory, and I also have a big fat file on the record of the Liberal and National parties misusing taxpayers’ money. It is now my privilege to share with the Senate some of the contents of that file. Perhaps fortunately for those opposite, the time available to me will not allow me to go through every example of their gross waste of taxpayers’ money. The rest will, however, keep for another occasion.
The first item from this file is the report of the inquiry held by the Senate Finance and Public Administration Reference Committee entitled Regional partnerships and sustainable regions programs and dated 6 October 2005. This was the notorious ‘regional rorts’ program, as it came to be popularly known—a program which the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government referred to in such a timely way in question time in the House of Representatives just today.
What did that committee inquiry find? It found:
In six case studies involving grants in excess of $15.5 million, the Committee uncovered major deficiencies … “In these projects the Committee found common problems—funding criteria were bypassed, the department and area consultative committees were cut out of the picture and ministers and their advisers intervened to fast track the approval of select projects at the expense of due process” …
There you have it—but the story continues. It is very clear from the committee’s report that the Regional Partnerships program was used by ministers in the Howard government as a way to channel taxpayers’ money to their own marginal electorates. The clinching proof of this dire allegation is that the committee found that over half of the grant approvals, amounting to over $70 million in funding, occurred in the three months leading to the federal election of 2004. Fancy that! They were timed so that coalition members and candidates could announce these projects just before or during the election campaign—what a coincidence!—and then, of course, take credit for them. They were, in other words, a blatant exercise in vote buying. These are the people who now come into this place and seek to lecture us about the misuse of taxpayers’ money.
Let me give some striking examples of this magnificent program. The Beaudesert Rail project was the recipient of four grants totalling $5.7 million, including a $600,000 grant under the Regional Partnerships program. Beaudesert was, of course, in the marginal Liberal electorate of Forde, and the committee concluded that the $600,000 Regional Partnerships grant to Beaudesert Rail approved in November 2003 was made for political purposes. The committee said:
Documents provided in evidence to the Committee reveal that in the final days leading up to the government decision on BR the Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon. John Anderson MP, who was also the portfolio minister for RPP, was involved in discussions with the Prime Minister’s office about the matter of government assistance.
Next we have the notorious Tumbi Creek dredging project—and, I must confess, it is one of my personal favourites. Surely senators opposite remember Tumbi Creek. They might have recalled this matter before they came into the Senate and tried to raise the issue of misusing of taxpayers’ money. Let me remind them that two grants totalling $1.5 million to Wyong Shire Council for dredging work at the mouth of Tumbi Creek were approved by the National Party parliamentary secretary De-Anne Kelly in mid 2004. Tumbi Creek happened to be in what was then the marginal Liberal seat of Dobell. It has of course since been liberated from the forces of darkness and evil and is held by Mr Craig Thomson.
The committee found that there was ‘a high degree of political collaboration’ involving ministerial advisers and the federal member’s office in relation to this project. In one instance a ministerial adviser countermanded departmental advice. This meant that, even though the dredging project was actually ineligible to receive funding because it did not have the relevant state licence, the grant announcement could still be made by the Prime Minister just days before the 2004 federal election was announced. Fancy that!
If I had the time, I would offer the Senate some more fine examples that were set out in the Senate committee’s report on the Regional Partnerships program—more examples of the gross and deliberate waste of taxpayers’ money by the previous government. Alas, if I did that, I would not have time to remind the Senate of an even bigger abuse of public funds by the government to which senators opposite belonged. I am referring, of course, to the huge amount of money spent by the Howard government on government advertising.
During the 11 years of the Howard government, something in the order of $1 billion was spent on government advertising—a truly extraordinary sum, and there was not even a pink batt to show for it. The biggest ticket items in the Howard government’s advertising budget were blatantly political campaigns designed to further the government’s agenda. There is no person active in politics in this country who would doubt for a single moment that those campaigns were tasked with anything other than the re-election of the government that paid for them.
The campaign to promote the GST cost something in the order of $400 million. This was a campaign launched before the relevant legislation had been passed by the Senate—that is to say, the coalition government launched the television campaign to support their policies before they even bothered putting the legislation into the parliament. This was not a legitimate advertising campaign designed to explain a new tax system to the taxpayers. It was a political campaign designed to put pressure on this Senate to pass the legislation, to persuade the electorate at large that that legislation was desirable and to do that before even legislators had had the opportunity to consider it. It was a campaign that met all of the tests of an outrage.
The other big-ticket item on the Howard government’s advertising bill was the campaign to promote the Work Choices legislation, a campaign that cost taxpayers well over $120 million and which was one of the most blatantly political campaigns ever seen in this country. It is true to say that it was a terribly unsuccessful campaign. It is true to say that the coalition government’s campaign to sell Work Choices was a complete and miserable failure. It proves that old advertising adage that nothing kills a poor product like good advertising. Notwithstanding the abject failure of that campaign, the intent and the reasoning that gave rise to it make it clear that it was one of the most blatantly political campaigns ever seen in this country. Australian working families were forced to watch their own taxes being used to pay for advertisements telling them that they would be better off under an industrial relations system that stripped away nearly all of their workplace rights. Most importantly, of course, they could see through its transparent political agenda.
Today’s motion seeks to criticise the Rudd government for wasteful misuse of taxpayers’ money. It comes from senators who were themselves part of a government that was guilty of massive and systemic misuse of taxpayers’ money. They wasted taxpayers’ money on middle-class welfare, showering money on their own supporters at every budget and during every election campaign. The Australian newspaper famously calculated that, in his 2004 election announcement, former Prime Minister John Howard spent $94 million a minute—an extent of largesse and an orgy of pork-barrelling that even appalled their friends at the Australian newspaper.
Those opposite are not strangers to misuse of taxpayers’ moneys. Even some of the Howard government’s strongest supporters became queasy about the reckless spending of the Howard government. In December 2006 Greg Lindsay, Barry Maley and Peter Saunders from the Centre For Independent Studies, a conservative think tank—which, I might wryly remark, was neither independent nor guilty of much study—wrote in the Australian about their concerns at the Howard government’s wasteful spending:
We are among those who have expressed concern about the federal Government’s family policies …
We were appalled by the $3000-per-child cash handouts showered on parents at the time of the last election, and we are increasingly convinced that the Government’s new family relationship centres are a waste of money.
… … …
The Howard Government is spending record sums of taxpayers’ money providing for families who could provide for themselves if only it taxed them less.
Earlier in the article, they also stated:
Families are losing their financial independence as they become habituated to receiving handouts from Canberra.
This motion today is a masterpiece of hypocrisy. It comes from a coalition which has no credibility when it comes to the subject of wasteful spending and whose leaders were members of the cabinet that presided over some of the most wilful and exposed rorting of the public purse of any government in Australian history. No-one who has had the patience to listen to this debate would be fooled by this motion.
Let us remember that the stimulus package and the expenditure of the Rudd Labor government were designed to fulfil an important macroeconomic task. That macroeconomic task was the preservation of our economy in a period of unprecedented turbulence. The global financial crisis raised the very real spectre of a global recession and even, some feared, a global depression. It was in those circumstances that the Rudd government acted boldly and decisively. It introduced a stimulus package which saved the Australian economy. A technical recession was avoided and the Australian economy is now the envy of the world. This was the great macroeconomic task that our expenditure was aimed at.
Those opposite might whinge and wail about some of the implementation of some of the smaller parts of that stimulus package, but let us remember that the stimulus package was conceived by a government concerned for the national good. Compare and contrast that to the behaviour of those opposite, because these abuses of taxpayers’ money that I have cited here today were not conceived in the national interest. They were not part of a broader program aimed to preserve and protect Australian jobs. They were not part of a program to bring about better government in this country. They were not conceived by politicians anxious to protect Australians from a global financial crisis. No, their atrocities were nothing more than the small-minded plotting of politicians desperate to protect and preserve their own election. The opposition come into this place with such a miserable record and seek to berate this government, when in fact what they should be doing is looking at their own record and the fact that not only have their own abuses of the public purse been dramatically exposed but the reasoning that gave rise to them was utterly bereft of anything other than a greed for power.
Last night Australians tuned into the ABC 7.30 Report with Kerry O’Brien and were staggered by Prime Minister Rudd’s behaviour. It reminded us all here in the chamber of the appalling mistake that the Labor Party made when they chose Mark Latham to be their leader. It was only due to the total rejection by Australians of that choice that the Labor caucus dumped him. After last night’s gripping performance—about which we have heard and seen a lot of editorial comment today—I can only ask: can the real Kevin Rudd please stand up? No matter how much he would like us to believe that he is a calm, conciliatory, approachable family man, those who have the misfortune to be close to him in the political arena seem to know otherwise. Air stewards, restaurant owners and waiters in Melbourne and even Labor caucus members, along with many former staffers, know only too well that this man is a fraud who has delivered a big-taxing, big-spending budget which is not only fiscally inept and unmanageable but also totally unrealistic. He wishes he could turn the clock back to his schmoozing days on the Sunrise breakfast program.
Last night he lost the plot, and with it he lost the support of the electorate. After taking a sharp dive in the polls following the shelving of his ETS legislation, not only Kerry O’Brien but also Mr Rudd’s party and his staunch followers are starting to question the Prime Minister’s leadership qualities. Even Dean Mighell recently said on Melbourne radio that he hoped Julia Gillard would be more of a Labor Prime Minister than Kevin Rudd. Her coy, smiling responses to that, though, do not cut the mustard. At last, we hear an honest word from a well-known comrade in the ALP ranks.
The Australian public are now evaluating the so-called achievements of this government, and with good reason. At last they are realising that it has nothing to show but a huge debt. Mr Rudd has failed the Australian people like no other Prime Minister before, and this government is arguably the most appalling and inept in Australian history. Even the supporters of Gough Whitlam now have a smile on their faces. There is nothing left of the last election promises of this government. They either have simply failed to get off the ground or have amounted to little more than unprecedented mismanagement, bungling and outright failure.
Let us go through just a few of them. We are only months from the next federal election and what do we have? There is no ETS. There is no human rights bill, which was pledged. We do not see the 266 childcare centres that were pledged. We do not see all the GP super clinics that were pledged—or the extra aged-care beds or all those trades training centres. What about Fuelwatch and GroceryWatch? What a catastrophic disaster they were. What we have instead is one illegal boat after another arriving and a massive black hole in the budget which, as we all know, will not return to surplus in 2012-13. Speaking of the boat arrivals, that inept social public policy position on border protection has seen a blow-out of a billion dollars and we are now up to a record 125 boats. This government is on the skids and this budget is built on a house of cards.
Mr Rudd’s economic outlook depends entirely on a new tax grab which he will not be able to put into action. The coalition will not support what is nothing but a 40 per cent slug on the profits of resource mining, and he very well knows this. He also knows that Senator Fielding is opposed to this irresponsible and knee-jerk measure. So there is $12 billion of revenue gone that is necessary to return the budget to surplus in the next two years. No wonder the Prime Minister is losing it on public television, and I doubt very much if he is sleeping very well of a night.
The budget deficit this coming year is a massive $40.8 billion. This is the second-biggest deficit since World War II. Labor will have to borrow more than $700 million a week to cover its net debt, the interest payments and to keep the cash flow going. Let us just put that into language that we all understand because I cannot, for the life of me, think how any government could borrow that amount of money. That is over $30 that the government is borrowing for every man, woman and child in this country each week to cover net debt interest payments and to keep the cash flow going. Government debt will be a massive $94 billion in 2012-13, requiring $6.5 billion a year in interest payments; and, with his philosophy to spend billions while saving millions, this will not change. Instead of being economically prudent, as stated so many times, Mr Rudd again flushes Australian taxpayers’ money down the toilet.
But the biggest broken promise of all is the one where the Prime Minister declared himself to be an economic conservative who would keep the budget in surplus. I stand in this chamber today with the message for Mr Rudd: you cannot achieve this goal if you blow a billion dollars on the computers in schools program because you forgot to calculate funding for software, for the training, for the teachers and for the lockers that the kids need to secure the computers in. It is inconceivable that anybody would put together a program like that without appreciating what the add-on needs were.
You cannot return the budget to surplus if you blow out another half a billion dollars for cleaning up the mess you have caused by not administering the catastrophic pink batts bungle, ignoring warnings and risks. When we are talking financially about the fiasco of the insulation program, we must not forget those families who are still traumatised by the loss of loved ones sadly lost in fires. It is just an appalling failure of public policy. You cannot return the budget to surplus if you blow another $1 billion on your failed border management policy, inviting boat people to this country, promising VIP flights and four-star hotel accommodation. You cannot return the budget to surplus by blowing money on the ill-conceived Building the Education Revolution program, which, in my opinion, should be renamed the ‘Building Expensive Restrooms program’.
Mr Rudd has gone on a reckless spending binge which can only be described as economic vandalism. In less than three short years he has replaced a $20 billion surplus with a deficit nearly three times as large. We have repeatedly said in this chamber that it took the former coalition government 10 long and hard years to pay back the staggering $96 billion dollar debt which was the result of the prior Labor government’s spendathon. The list of Mr Rudd’s waste is indeed very impressive. He created a phantom department where 150 public servants implement and administer the government’s ETS, at a cost of $81.9 million, despite the fact that a scheme currently does not exist and, from what we can gather, probably never will exist.
Solar panels, on the other hand, do exist and are very popular with the electorate. Yet this is the very reason why we do not have a solar power program anymore: it was too effective and too successful. They were not able to predict the high demand for this very program, resulting in an $850 million blow-out. Labor, in their infinite wisdom, intended to spend $150 million over five years on solar rebates but instead splurged $1 billion in just 18 months, so the program was abolished. Yes, the bill for fighting the ‘greatest moral challenge of our time’ has been a very costly one. A similar fiasco was Labor’s $175 million Green Loans Program. The audit of the program alone cost taxpayers more than $4 million.
But let us move on, because, as they say, ‘Yes, there is more.’ Labor promised broadband for $4.7 billion but broke that promise, replacing it with a $43 billion plan. Let us not forget that, whilst getting there, they have wasted $20 million on a cancelled tender process and spent $25 million on yet another report. Labor spent over $10 million on legal fees defending the rights of nine Sydney terrorists who were found guilty of terrorism offences. This is more than $1 million for each terrorist. Then taxpayers received the bill for almost $2 million in consultancy fees as Mr Rudd tried to find ways to save money on travel. Just imagine what would happen if all households worked like that! Two separate consultants were hired, one for $1.4 million and the other for almost half a million dollars, to do scoping studies on how to meet the goal of saving $26 million on travel. Every Australian could give him the answer—that is, stay home, fix up your problems here in Australia and look after the interests of all that you are responsible for and accountable to.
The cost of refurbishing Australia’s embassy at the Vatican also cost much more than originally budgeted for. Then we have a bill of $1.3 million to stop accidents that never have happened—this is the amount of money Mr Rudd has spent realigning roads around Parliament House in Canberra. It was something that was raised in the last estimates, and government officials could not remember if a single accident had ever happened on the road around here.
But let us stop looking at the waste from the past; let us have a look at what this budget holds. There is—deeply buried, of course—a $10 million grant to a so-called Trade Union Education Foundation. One could reasonably ask why they are the recipients of a $10 million grant and whether it is to fund union bosses and their efforts to support the Labor government at the forthcoming election. Then we have the proposal of the Rudd government to waste $126 million on taxpayer funded political print, radio and television advertising—government advertising that they pledged they were going to stop at the last election. That $126 million includes $30 million for another climate change advertising campaign, despite the government having no climate change policy.
The same principle applies to paid parental leave. Although the PPL legislation is before parliament, the Rudd government have already committed $12 million to advertise the scheme. We have not even seen the legislation and yet they have allocated $12 million for the scheme. Mr Rudd is also proposing a new $29.5 million advertising campaign to sell his health changes, even though Western Australia has not signed on and all new beds will not even be delivered until 2013-14.
There is only one thing that is consistent about this government and Prime Minister Rudd—that is, their fixation on maxing out on the cash in all programs. I saw today in the Australian in ‘Cut and paste’ his very consistent claims that everything is the biggest ever in the history of Australia. This is an absolute disaster for all Australians.
I welcome the opportunity to speak about the Rudd government’s strong economic record and about the threats posed to our economy by the opposition—threats that make a mockery of this motion’s claim that we have wasted and mismanaged taxpayers’ money. When the Rudd government’s nation-building economic stimulus plan was announced, we were facing the prospect of a recession and a million Australians out of work. We took the view that we should do all that we responsibly could do to cushion the economy from the global downturn and to protect Australian families, Australian jobs and Australian small business. Because 70 per cent of our fiscal stimulus spending was investment in critical economic and social infrastructure—investments in road, rail, social housing and community facilities—we have been able to bolster consumer and business confidence while expanding Australia’s future economic capacity and boosting local community infrastructure.
The Rudd government’s stimulus strategy has been all about protecting jobs now while building a better future. I think that today’s labour force figures are a further tribute to Australian workers and businesses. They have really got behind our stimulus measures. Australia created 225,000 jobs while other countries were shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs. That is 225,000 people who have been able to tell their families, ‘I’ve got a job.’ That is 225,000 people who are still paying tax, still paying their mortgages and keeping our economy going. That is 225,000 people much better placed to pay and provide for themselves and their families. Is that a waste of taxpayers’ money? The results are remarkable given the headwinds generated by the global economic crisis that occurred elsewhere. In the US and Europe, unemployment remains stuck at around 10 per cent while here it is now 5.4 per cent and is expected to keep falling to 4¾ per cent by the June quarter of 2012, we hope. While these figures build confidence in our recovery, they also I think caution against complacency.
Our stimulus program was specifically designed to have its peak effects in the June quarter of 2009 and to phase down gradually after that. I think pulling the plug on stimulus overnight would risk the future of critical nation-building investments and the jobs and small business that depend on them. It would be an act of economic insanity, especially when 600,000 Australians remain unemployed, 60,000 in my home state of Western Australia alone, and when in WA unemployment remains more than two per cent higher than it was in October 2008 when this crisis began and when we recall that after the last recession unemployment took more than a decade to come down to prerecession levels. The fragility of the global recovery has also been underlined in recent weeks by the news from Greece and Spain highlighting the ongoing fragilities in many of the advanced economies of the world.
In this context, the demand from the opposition for the stimulus measures to be wound back is reckless in the extreme. Either the opposition are economically illiterate or they simply do not care about Australia’s unemployed. But Labor does care. We care about those thousands of unemployed Australians, tens of thousands of them in WA alone. Our unemployment data confirms what we on this side of the chamber have been hearing from the community, that times are still tough for many Australians, especially those in small business. Unlike the opposition, who appear to be deaf to these community concerns, we recognise that our stimulus initiatives continue to play a critical role in protecting the living standards of Australians by securing employment and building the productive capacity of the nation.
The Rudd government sees this as the beginning and not the end of the battle—the battle to ensure Australia’s prosperity and to combat the insidious effects of unemployment. Nation building for recovery lies at the heart of the Rudd government’s fiscal stimulus strategy and it also lies at the heart of the budget released by the Treasurer—nation building that will ensure the recovery brings with it new jobs and new investment, greater prosperity and better living standards for all Australians. With the ongoing demand for our commodities from rapidly growing economies in our region, Australia is well placed to benefit from a global recovery. The Rudd government’s policy settings have done much to keep Australians working and to protect Australian living standards.
We must continue to be vigilant. It is about investing in our infrastructure that will support our recovery, unlock our full economic potential and create the jobs of the future, protecting our living standards and ensuring our future prosperity. This government is determined to do the hard yards, the yards required to reform our economy and build a new era of sustainable prosperity. The Rudd government recognises that improving long-term productivity growth will be crucial for Australia’s future productivity and prosperity. It is about sustaining long-term productivity growth in the face of an ageing population. To do this, we must build advanced 21st century infrastructure—things like the NBN. We have to invest in a skilled workforce and we must tackle social exclusion, particularly by removing barriers to work and increasing workforce participation—all things that we have invested in in this budget and all things that will help promote the productivity of this nation. Then there is the $661 million for skills and training, including 70,000 new training places and support for 22,500 apprenticeships over five years. Again, surely this is not a waste of taxpayers’ money.