Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Matters of Public Importance
I inform the Senate that at 8.30 am today Senators Fifield and Siewert each submitted a letter in accordance with standing order 75 proposing a matter of public importance. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the following letter has been received from Senator Fifield:
Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:
The Gillard Government's waste, mismanagement and profligacy which is undermining hope, reward and opportunity for Australians.
Is the proposal supported?
More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
I remember hearing the Prime Minister say this:
We are the people who share and stick together.
You would have to have been living under a rock in the last month to have seen that, because at the moment they might be the people who share and hit people with sticks or hit each other in the head with sticks but they hardly stick together. It has been an absolute debacle as we see one attack the other, as we see deliberations, as we see changes—even today, in the next manifestation of it, over there we have the new Senator Bob Carr. The trouble with Senator Bob Carr is that he has taken Mr Stephen Smith's job, but Mr Stephen Smith is a bit unhappy about that. He thought he was lined up to be the Minister for Defence but it did not actually happen. They talk about mateship and having a fair go. We have never, ever seen that. But the most peculiar thing was this statement made by Prime Minister Julia Gillard:
We follow it simply because we are us.
'We are us.' What on earth does that mean? Who else could you be? 'We are somebody else'? 'Somebody else is us'? It is a very strange thing to say. It is a job for Inspector Clouseau. 'We are us.' What could this possibly mean?
I will tell you one thing for sure: we are not them. We are definitely not them. We are not them, because what they are in the ALP both in Queensland and at a federal level is just a complete and utter fiasco. I should start at the first one. In the last four weeks the Labor Party have borrowed—and you can see this on the AOFM, Australian Office of Financial Management, website under Australian government securities outstanding—an extra $10 billion. That is just in the last four weeks. Let us paint a picture of what that is. Ten billion dollars would buy about 20,000 houses in Brisbane or, if you were out in the country, I suppose you would buy close to 35,000 houses. Each house has about two and a bit people in it, so it is equivalent to about a regional town of 70,000 people, just in the last four weeks. This shows what a disaster they are. In the last four weeks it is like they have bought all the houses in Roma, St George, Goondiwindi, Dalby, Kingaroy, Charters Towers and probably a few others thrown in—just in the last four weeks. But no, it is not a problem; everything is under control. Wayne Swan, the Treasurer, is the Treasurer of the millennium. He is a stroke of genius. We are so lucky to be blessed with him, to be endowed with his presence, even though we are currently about $18 billion away from bouncing our cheques and hitting our next limit of a quarter of a trillion dollars.
It does not matter where you go. Wherever the Labor Party go they have this Midas touch backwards. I do not know—what is a Midas touch backwards? Sadim, I suppose—a very peculiar way of sending the show upside down. In Queensland they have lost their credit rating, even though, when you think about it, that is the state that gave us Joh Bjelke-Petersen, whose government built all the highways and built the dams—which the Labor Party complained about. They said the dams were too big; Wivenhoe was too big; it was profligate. It put aside the country for Wolffdene. It built the universities. It got the universities up and running. It got the international airports up and running. It built the motorways, sealed the roads and electrified Central Queensland before they had even finished electrifying the suburban network in Sydney. And the amazing thing about Joh Bjelke-Petersen is that, when he left, the Treasury was absolutely overflowing with money.
The people are the same. They are the same Queenslanders who were there before. The minerals are still there. They did not disappear. In fact, they went into a minerals boom. The Great Barrier Reef is just basically where we left it, still off the coast of North Queensland. The bauxite is still there. The copper is still there. We have developed the cotton areas—there is actually more of that—but we did that with private money. We could not rely on the government; we did that with private money.
So what changed? How could the government go out the back door? How could they find themselves $62.3 billion in debt, heading towards $85.4 billion in gross debt? What is different between then and now?
It is quite simple: it is them; it is the Australian Labor Party; it is the management of the Labor Party. That is what has taken people out the back door. That is the only thing we have to worry about. The Labor Party says, 'We are us,' whatever that means. Our mantra is simple: 'We are not them'. We are definitely not them.
These are the people who also built the Tugun desalination plant. That is incredible; it is like a work of art. It sits down there at Tugun but it does not work. It is a $1 billion piece of modern art on the Gold Coast. Nothing has ever worked—the seals have never worked; they could never get it up and running. But that is the Labor Party; that is the 'We are us' people. But we are not them. We do not send the place broke. We do not build things that just do not work.
Then we had the Mary River dam. It was going to cost about $1.7 billion in construction costs, and then they had to move all the people, and then move the highway, and then move the railway line. The trouble was that the dam was going to be less than five metres deep at its maximum, with a yield of around 150,000 megalitres. The all-up cost was around $4 billion—the most expensive swamp on the planet. Maybe they were creating a Ramsar site. How could it be such a fiasco? It is their mantra—'We are us'. But we, on this side, are not them. The LNP is not them.
Then we had the Tahitian prince. Where would a health department be without a Tahitian prince? Where did the Tahitian prince come from? A man strolls into the health building and says, 'Aloha'—or whatever they say in Tahiti—'here I am, I am a Tahitian prince.' The health department was so fortunate to have a Tahitian prince working for it. Anyway, he managed to walk out the door with the princely sum of $15 million. That is what happens under Labor. What is a department without a little Tahitian prince in it? Of course that is believable, of course Wayne Swan is on top of the books and of course there are no fractious relationships in the Labor Party. It is all so believable. Why is it believable? Because, they say, 'We are us.' They are obviously Tahitian princes.
The thing for people to remember is that we are not them. When they go to this election they will be asking themselves what it is all about. As they walk up the path and into the ballot box, they will be thinking about the Labor Party saying, 'We are us,' and they will be thinking about the Labor Party saying, 'We are broke,' and they will be thinking about the Labor Party saying, 'We believe in Tahitian princes,' and they will be thinking about the Labor Party saying, 'We believe in the Tugun desalination plant'—a new piece of modern art on the Gold Coast. They will be thinking about, 'We believe in the Mary River dam,' and they will be thinking about, 'We believe in tree-clearing guidelines'—the guidelines that took away the property rights of so many Queenslanders—and they will be thinking about, 'We believe in coal seam gas licences,' when the Labor Party ran out of money and so sold the licences for everything they could possibly conjure up out from underneath the rights of so many farmers. The people will be thinking about those things as they walk up the path, and will be saying, 'That's right, they are them—they are a complete and utter disaster.' The Labor Party up there at the moment are trying to dive away from their policies, because now it is not about the Labor Party; it is about keeping Kate and keeping Bill and keeping Pam—about keeping everything, but do not say anything about the Labor Party because if you mention the fact that they are actually in the Australian Labor Party people will not vote for them. People just think they are completely shoddy.
We have to think about a party that has taken a powerhouse state to the point where it has one of the highest unemployment rates—5.7 per cent is the unemployment rate in Queensland today. How do they manage to go broke and put everybody out of a job with all that was left to them at the start? It is simple. Whenever you want to know the answer, you just have to listen to Julia Gillard's speech and hear her say, 'We are us'—whatever that means. It is a fantastic statement. This is going to be an interesting election in a couple of weeks time. The people of Queensland are not fools. They understand that, if they keep Kate, they keep the Labor government. If they keep Kerry Shine, they keep the Labor government. If they keep Mr Fraser—they would almost have to be committed for that—they keep the Labor government. We cannot keep the people who have caused the problems. We have to get rid of those people to get Queensland back on the rails and doing what it did before, which was being the powerhouse of our nation.
I walked late into this matter of public importance debate. I thought I had come in for the wrong debate because I heard very little from Senator Joyce about the subject of the matter of public importance or about issues associated with the federal government or the federal economy. I heard a lot about Queensland but very little about our nation and our government. This matter of public importance really is one of the greatest ironies I have ever witnessed in my very brief time in this very esteemed chamber. If one wants to talk about waste, mismanagement and profligacy undermining hope, reward and opportunity for Australians, one need look no further than those opposite.
One should be suspicious of a motion that includes the word 'profligacy'. One can only imagine where this particular topic we are debating today—supposedly a matter of public importance—would have been dreamed up by those opposite. Perhaps it came from the offices of Senator Brandis. One can only imagine Senator Brandis and his mates—some of his barrister mates or his Senior Counsel or Queen's Counsel mates; whatever they call themselves these days—sitting around in their wigs and gowns, chewing on their cigars and sipping their cognac, trying to work out how they could get the word 'profligacy' into a motion in the Senate. And here is Senator Brandis—great timing. Perhaps he can explain how the word 'profligacy' got into this matter of public importance today. I would suggest that it is designed to bamboozle and to pull the wool over the eyes of the Australia public about the fact that those opposite are not willing to debate issues of policy in this chamber—and for good reason. When we do talk about issues of policy, when we do talk about real matters of public importance, those opposite come up woefully short.
One need only look at the coalition's record on economic management, particularly their attempts at the last election to justify their election costings. When their costings were submitted, they came up $11 billion short—an $11 billion black hole in their election costings. Yet they come in here and criticise this government about its record on economic management.
The MPI seeks to criticise the government for undermining hope and reward. I wonder how the coalition's accountants are feeling and what they are thinking in the wake of their performance in 2010. What sorts of rewards did they get out of teaming up with the Liberal Party and analysing their election costings? What sorts of rewards did the firm of accountants in Perth get for analysing the coalition's election costings? They got a wonderful reward. It came in the form of a $5,000 fine for breaches of professional standards—simply for teaming up with the coalition and providing analysis of their election costings. One cannot blame the firm of accountants; they were being asked to do things that were simply not possible. The money was just not there. That came out in the audit by the professional standards body.
The MPI from those opposite talks about the government's waste and mismanagement and how this is a destroyer of hope and opportunity. There is no greater destroyer of hope and opportunity than the Liberal Party. If you look at the budget cuts they are intending to make when they come to government, you get a pretty good indicator of future destruction of hope and reward by the coalition. They are planning to cut $70 billion from the budget. What will that mean for working Australians and their families? It will mean that important government programs, such as the childcare rebate—support which is critical for helping people with young children to survive, to get by from week to week—are on the chopping block. For senior Australians, there is no greater reward for the efforts they have put in over their working lives than an adequate pension. Yet who opposed the increase in the pension when it was put forward by the Labor Party? Those opposite.
There are Australians who are single parents, there are families who require support and there are Australians who are trying to get back on their feet after facing difficult circumstances. Instead of hope and opportunity, they face, from the coalition, the prospect of $70 billion worth of cuts to the services they rely on every day of the week. Yet the coalition seek to criticise us for destroying hope and opportunity.
This comes from the party who take every opportunity they get to talk down the Australian economy. They claim that there are sovereign debt risks in our economy. They claim that our level of net debt is unsustainable when they know very well that our economy has one of the lowest levels of net debt in the OECD. They ignore facts—such as the fact that Australia has a rolled gold AAA credit rating. For the first time, all three ratings agencies have us as AAA; all three have given us the tick of approval.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy President: I am not sure what standing order it is which prohibits senators misleading the chamber, but Senator Thistlethwaite has disregarded the fact that Australia's credit rating was downgraded twice during the Hawke and Keating governments.
The strength of the Australian economy at the moment is directly related to the reforms made by the Hawke and Keating governments. They were the ones who built the bridge over which the train driven by Peter Costello travelled. They were the ones who opened up our economy, floated the dollar, reduced tariffs and opened up our banking sector and our bond market to competition. All of these were reforms introduced by the Labor government.
The great irony is the posturing of the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott. He claims that he can balance the budget; cut income taxes; reduce the company tax rate; increase pensions; spend more on infrastructure; deliver new social programs, such as an unfair and unfunded parental leave scheme, a national disability insurance scheme and a Medicare dental scheme; and restore the private health insurance rebate for high-income earners whilst at the same time cutting carbon emissions in our economy by five per cent by 2020—without a market based mechanism. He claims that he will scrap the minerals resource rent tax and he claims that he will do this while still providing reductions in the company tax rate. He will not say how he will fund any of these promises. And he will not say that he will support an independent process to cost their budget promises through the Parliamentary Budget Office.
This MPI is another admission from those opposite that they are not interested in debating the issues that really affect Australians—keeping our economy strong and providing adequate services that support working families in this country. We are happy to discuss policy on any occasion in this place. We are happy to discuss hope, reward and opportunity for Australians. We talk about hope, opportunity and reward; we delivered that during the global financial crisis. We protected jobs in our economy. When we talk about opportunity, we need look no further than the government's Building the Education Revolution program. It provided $16 billion worth of investment in better education facilities. I have visited some of those facilities, and the greatest irony of all is the coalition MPs turning up at them and sneaking their heads in the photos being taken when the plaques are unveiled. They were not too shy to come along to the openings of those new facilities. (Time expired)
We now know that after 4½ years of Labor government the principal problem for the Australian Labor Party and our country is not that the government breaks its promises but that it tries to keep them. The genesis of Labor's failure is not only the make-up of its policies but that Labor has been totally ineffective in implementing them. You see, what always happens in the Labor Party is that some prepubescent adviser in the Prime Minister's office gets an idea, a brain-snap. Their main consideration is never good public policy, such as: will the idea work; is it in the national interest? No, it is all about: will this be a good six-second grab on Channel 9 or Channel 7, or will it make a good headline? That is what they are about. There is no cost-benefit analysis. There never is. There is no budgeting. And there is never a workable timetable. That has been the story of the Labor Party for 4½ years. Ideas are pushed off to departments and never seen again. Implementation is a shambles. And then the government is onto the next good thing. That has been its story for 4½ years.
Of course, just like prepubescent children, the government does not know and, indeed, does not care where the money comes from. Daddy will pay. In this case the 'daddy' is the taxpayer. Senator Thistlethwaite mentioned something very interesting before. He used the phrase 'the great daddy of them all'. The greatest shambles this government has been responsible for thus far—I think there are more coming—is the Building the Education Revolution program, the school halls debacle. It is one of the greatest public policy failures in Australian federal history. It is certainly one of the most expensive failures. I well remember the Labor Party handing over the task of analysing the success of the program to poor old Mr Brad Orgill. When he finally reported back he found that government schools, state schools, cost nearly twice as much per square metre as independent and Catholic schools did. That is a disgrace. It meant that kids attending state schools received half as much as kids attending non-government schools. I was once one of those kids and I would not have been terribly impressed. Why? Because the state schools missed out.
The government's greatest failure did not receive a lot of publicity, and it is this: the Auditor-General's office said that the Commonwealth department of education was culpable for this failure because it did not have in place the oversight mechanisms to determine whether in fact state governments were securing value for money for state government school halls. That is the greatest failure of this government thus far. Can you imagine spending $14 billion—$14 thousand million—and not having a Commonwealth department sufficiently up to speed, with sufficient oversight mechanisms, so that it could be sure that state governments were getting value for money? That is the greatest failure of this government's 4½ year tenure. It got the Public Service to do something it did not even know how to do. How much money was it? It was $14 thousand million. That is what the Auditor-General's office found. The government has spent all that money—$14 billion.
You might think with the government spending $14 billion on this program that somehow our school children would be getting better test results. You would think that, after the government has spent $14 billion on this program, comparative school testing across the world would show Australian schoolchildren going forward. What in fact have the international test results showed? They have shown Australia going backwards not only relatively but absolutely in this area. That is an absolute indictment. We are moving backwards absolutely and relatively against all our major competitors. You spend $14 billion and what is the outcome? Kids do less well in international comparative examinations. It is nearly unbelievable but that is a fact. This government can spend $14 billion and our schoolkids are actually worse off. It is nearly unbelievable but that is the outcome of its policies. And it does not stop there.
It is nearly a debacle a day with this lot. There is the great new carbon tax, the centrepiece of their economic reform. I read today that Australia faces a $30 billion hit to growth by 2018. Why? Because the price of carbon is too high? We learnt that today. And this lot is the only political party—sorry, not the only political party, there is that lot too: the Australian Greens and the Australian Labor Party are the only political parties on earth that believe that in an energy-rich, trade-exposed nation it is a good idea to act unilaterally; that irrespective of whether any other nation does anything, they believe that we should have a carbon tax.
Let me say that again, slowly, because it is nearly unbelievable. They believe—the government of this country believe—that even if no other nation on earth has a carbon tax we should have one. It is nearly unbelievable. We are in an energy-rich, trade-exposed nation. Do you think that comparable countries will do anything like that? Do you think that the Canadians are about to do that? Or the Brazilians? Or the Russians? No. This lot believe that. When you compare us with similar nations—not countries like Luxembourg that do not export energy but energy-rich, trade-exposed nations like Australia—we are the only one. And, even worse, they believe we should do it even if no nation on earth does it as well. It is nearly unbelievable!
But what do we know now about the Australian Labor Party? We know this: every time the Labor Party are forced from office they always leave Australia further in debt. I have mentioned this many times before in this place: every time since 1901 when the Labor Party are forced from office the nation is further in debt. It has been so since 1901. The Labor Party always talk about social justice—they always do. Is it socially equitable to leave a nation further in debt on every occasion since 1901 that they have lost office? Is it socially just to make intergenerational debt—to lump our kids and our grandkids with debt? Because that is what they have done whenever in government since 1901.
The heads always go down now, and do you know why? Because it is true. Every time they leave office Australia is further in debt. It has been so since 1901—through wars, through peace, through good times and bad times—always further in debt every time the Labor Party lose office. Every single time! There has never, ever been, I might add, an exception. Most Australians believe they want to build wealth for their kids and leave a bequest, don't they? They want to build up property and leave a bequest to their children. What does Labor leave Australia's children? Debt. They leave our children debt. That is Labor's family values.
They talk about working families. What does Labor leave working families? Debt. It always has been and it always will be. The Labor Party will never change their spots and they never have since 1901. The one thing that runs through Labor DNA is that four-letter word: debt. Always has been, always will be.
Mr Deputy President, I can tell you where I think the profligacy in this chamber is coming from: it is coming from the coalition and from wordy and meaningless motions like this—motions that offer no substantive policy critique whatsoever but, rather, just throw words around. We also see it in question time here in this chamber day after day.
Senator Boyce interjecting—
There is nothing substantive in your arguments whatsoever. You want to talk about waste, mismanagement and profligacy? You need look no further than the coalition's policies, or their lack of policies and the lack of fiscal discipline. We know, for example, that Mr Tony Abbott has confirmed that the opposition will keep secret their planned $70 billion in cuts to services. They will keep their cuts secret until after the next election. In his 30-minute speech to the Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr Abbott—
Mr Deputy President, I heard Senator Pratt say that Mr Abbott had said that the coalition's economic plan would be kept secret until after the election. I called it a lie; I withdraw that. But it is not the truth.
Mr Abbott, in his speech to the Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry, offered no policies, no costings to fund his pledges and gave no explanation of how he would manage our nation's economy. All he offered Australians were an audit, more slogans and the same old negativity.
On the one hand, shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey promised us two days ago that the opposition's $70 billion worth of cuts would be made public before the next election, whereas Mr Abbott told the Australian people just a few days ago that they will have to elect him into office first. Clearly, the coalition is in disarray on this question.
We know that shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey has recently said that the opposition has in fact finalised its policies and costings, including its $70 billion planned cut in services, but refuses to tell Australians what and where they are. A journalist asked Mr Hockey: 'As recently as last Tuesday Tony Abbott said Australia needs an election and that he called on Julia Gillard to have one as soon as possible. Does that mean that your policies that you would take to this election that could be held in 33 days are done, costed and ready to roll out?' Mr Hockey said:
Based on what we know now we are doing all the costings. All our policies are costed …
The journalist asked, 'So you have found those savings you are looking for?' and Mr Hockey said:
Yes, we have found the savings we were looking for.
I say to you that if the opposition have truly finalised its costings then they need to come clean with the Australian people. They cannot just think they will coast into government on slogans and negativity: they need to come clean now. They need to reveal what they want to cut and how; how much their policies cost; and where they plan to get the money to fund their undeliverable promises.
Mr Hockey has in fact contradicted his own shadow finance spokesperson, Andrew Robb, who said less than 10 days ago that the opposition had not finalised any of their major policies. So, if the opposition cannot even agree between their Treasury and finance spokespersons which of their policies are ready to go, how is it that they will be able to come clean with the Australian people? Tell me how it is that they will have a plan for our future. Does Mr Abbott truly think he can slide into government without telling people how he will manage our budget, where $70 billion will come from? From health? From education? From skills? Perhaps from the national disability support scheme? Where are his policies?
Let's talk about hope, opportunity and reward, shall we? It is what the coalition has sought to put forward today. I can tell you there is a great deal of hope, opportunity and reward in the more than 700,000 jobs that Labor have created since we were first elected, in the fact that we have bulletproofed our Australian economy and kept it out of recession in the worst economic downturn in three-quarters of a century. Our economy's fundamentals have remained strong—
I do not have to take your interjection. Our economy's fundamentals have remained strong, with outstanding employment growth, a record investment pipeline and a budget position the envy of our peers.
Where is the hope and reward for Australian families? It is right here in Australia's first national paid parental leave scheme, with 18 weeks pay at the minimum wage. More than 130,000 working parents have already benefited, and I think that is fantastic.
What I also think is fantastic—and there is a great deal of hope, reward and opportunity in this one—are the increased payments of up to $4,200 a year from 1 January this year to help with the costs of raising teenage children. I know, like everyone in this chamber would know, that raising teenagers costs a lot of money. Indeed, for too long we have punished families at the tail end of those child-rearing years just as children get more expensive. So there is a great deal of hope, opportunity and reward in that.
And what about the future opportunity that will come with our National Broadband Network? It is affordable high-speed broadband to all Australians and Australian businesses no matter where they live. It will mean better education, better health care and better access for Australian businesses to the biggest marketplace in Australian human history. That is the kind of infrastructure opportunity and reward that our nation should be aspiring to.
And what about hope? What about the hope that comes with getting the health care that you need? A healthcare agreement between the states and the Commonwealth delivers more doctors, more nurses and more beds with less waste and waiting time.
What about the importance of the agreement on carbon price when it comes to hope for the future? There is a plan to cut pollution, cut taxes, increase the pension and create clean energy jobs. Most importantly from a hope point of view, I think, is hope that we can move from being part of the problem in climate change to being part of the solution. That is my great hope.
What about the minerals resource rent tax? What about the hope and opportunity that comes from giving Australians a fair share of the mining boom, a boost to retirement savings, tax breaks for small business and a company tax cut? There is a great deal of reward, opportunity and hope in that. It frees up money to invest in states like WA so that we can keep our economy moving and invest in the generation of future wealth for our nation.
What about the hope and opportunity that comes with doubled investment in school education, upgraded facilities at every school and the provision of more information to parents than ever before? I think that is fantastic. We have also created 130,000 new training places. What do we speak to when we speak of hope, opportunity and reward for Australians? It gives them the opportunity to make the most of the opportunities that are in our growing economy today in states like Western Australia that have a huge demand for skilled people. We must invest in these skilled training places to make the most of the opportunities that are before us as a nation. That is why we created these 130,000 new training places. It was exactly so we could deliver hope, opportunity and reward to Australians.
What about hope, opportunity and reward for seniors? What about the historic increase to the Australian pension? What about the fact that we are now looking at improving aged care to give older people more choice and more control? What about the record investment of more than $36 billion in projects around the country? What about the flood levy—the fact that we needed to deliver tough savings to provide the $5.8 billion to flood affected regions in Queensland, Victoria and my home state of Western Australia? What about the hope that comes for those families that are really looking forward to Australia's first national disability insurance scheme?
More than 280 bills have passed through the House of Representatives and more than 230 through— (Time expired)
I hate to disappoint Senator Pratt, but I would like to point out that, in fact, our policies and costings are not going to be released so that they can be a template for this government to try to worm its way out of the image it has as being wasteful, mismanaging and profligate. I am afraid there is no opportunity for you to fix your terrible mismanagement reputation on the back of our policies. It was late last year when the current Prime Minister caused a great deal of derision amongst the Australian public by her wonderful line to the Labor Party conference saying, 'We are us.' The general reaction I have had is that she actually meant to say, 'We are useless.' That would have been quite true. They are useless, they are wasteful, they mismanage, they are profligate.
If you look at Labor's record to date—and I would like to thank Senator Mason and others for the information he has given us—not only have they never, ever left a surplus in the bank when they have been thrown out of office but also they have not handed down a surplus since they won office in 2007. They have accumulated $167 billion of budget deficits in less than five years. It will take the coalition government, when we are re-elected, up to a decade once again to pay off their debt.
Let us look, though, at what this wasteful and mismanaging profligate government actually means for people in the streets. When it undertook the review of the Fair Work Act, it forgot to include productivity in the terms of reference. It is no wonder it forgot. Every retail outlet and manufacturer in Australia could tell the government that productivity was the way forward. It was interesting that Senator Pratt used a number of social welfare policies as examples of what the government has done. Yes, social welfare policies are necessary and good, but hope, reward and opportunity do not come out of government handouts; they come out of government policies that give people in manufacturing, industry and small business the chance to develop their own businesses. That is where you get genuine hope, reward and opportunity—from the innovation, the entrepreneurialism of Australians—and not from government handouts.
Of course, the troglodytes on the other side did not include productivity in their terms of reference for the Fair Work review. We discovered one of the reasons in an academic survey that has recently been released that shows that the success rate for employees undertaking unfair dismissal claims against Labor's Fair Work Act is running at 51 per cent. More than half of the unfair dismissal cases succeed. That is more than 17,000 a year. The troglodytes on the other side of the house would perhaps like to suggest that this means that small business have been lousy employers.
Madam Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order in that Senator Boyce did reflect upon members in the other chamber quite adversely. I am not going to use the phrase that she did, but I ask you to look at the word and ask for it to be withdrawn.
Madam Acting Deputy President, on the point of order: with respect, you should rule against that point of order for this reason: it appears to be an attempt to invoke standing order 193. Subrule (3) says:
A senator shall not use offensive words against either House of Parliament—
the senator was not using offensive words against the House of Representatives—
or of a House of a state or territory parliament—
which obviously is inapplicable here—
or any member of such House …
Then it goes on to refer to other things as well. That standing order, as I am sure the Clerk will advise you, has always been understood to prohibit reflections on individual named or identifiable members of the House of Representatives or of other parliaments. If, for example, I were to say the Australian Labor Party is full of scoundrels that would not be unparliamentary, but if I were to say a particular Labor member of the House of Representatives was a scoundrel that would be. Senator Boyce was referring in general categories to members of the House of Representatives in aggregate, not identifiable members of the House of Representatives. Therefore, the standing order does not apply to her.
Thank you, Senator Brandis. I am advised by the Clerk that the standing order is not as clear as Senator Brandis would have it be. That said, it is able to be interpreted as explained by Senator Brandis. Senator Boyce, perhaps you would care to reflect on your language and continue.
I will not use that particular term again, although it does not change my view that members on the other side in both houses of the parliament do not have a clear view of how to build a proper and productive economy. I will continue to suggest that they certainly are not living in the real world or in the real commercial world, that they are behind the times in understanding what drivers are needed to make the Australian economy strong and to make Australian businesses, services and industry strong. They just do not get it.
I was talking about the lack of concern by this government to productivity and the massive increase in the number of successful unfair dismissal claims by employees since this government put its Fair Work Act through. As I said, some of the less sophisticated people on the other side of the House might want to suggest that this is simply because small business unfairly dismisses staff at a great rate of knots. I am sorry, but Senator Pratt cannot have it both ways. She cannot have a wonderful employment rate and suggest that people are being unfairly dismissed all the time by their employers. What is happening is that a minority of employees are finding a little treasure trove that takes us back to the sorts of institutionalised misbehaviours that went on before the Howard-Costello government came to office, when employers often paid do-not-come-back money to employees simply to save themselves the cost and the time involved in going to court. There is an example in today's Financial Review of a Wagga Wagga businessman, Martyn Tapfield, who has had two cases taken out by employees against him—both of which he has won. But he points out that, with the time and the stress involved, if it happens again he is likely to close his business. How productive is that for Australia! How much would anyone on the other side of the house know or care about that sort of waste, mismanagement and profligacy?
I would like to turn to one of the most unproductive aspects of this government's behaviour over the last 4½ years—in tandem with that of the Bligh Labor government in Queensland, which has managed to end up with a downgrade on its credit rating despite record earnings from royalties from the mining industry. In terms of waste, mismanagement and profligacy the two of them deserve to be in the same bucket. Let us look at the Bruce Highway, which is the main highway running through Queensland—the main source of productive distribution of products within Queensland—and what has happened to it as a result of the many floods and cyclones we have had recently. If it were a one-in-100-year flood or cyclone, fine; you would expect problems with the highway. But that is not how it is in Queensland with the Bruce Highway. Earlier this month, the Bruce Highway was cut in three places south of Gympie. For those who do not understand Queensland geography, this is close to the major heartland of distribution throughout Queensland. From south-east Queensland to Townsville and through Gympie is one of the major traffic areas in Queensland for distributing items of transport.
I was driving from Cairns to Innisfail earlier this year. It had not rained. In fact, people were pleased that it had not rained and that a cyclone was not on the cards. But there were the flashing signs on the Bruce Highway telling you where the closures were going to be—where the road, the national highway between Brisbane and Cairns, was going to be down to a single lane. If you travelled it three or four months after the cyclones—
I will take that interjection. An 18-kilometre traffic jam might be preferable to 20 or 30 road closures with the highway being reduced to a single lane, which increased the time for a truck to travel from Brisbane to Cairns by more than 30 per cent. This is not just a one-off problem; this is an ongoing problem. Once again, this government just does not get what it is that will create hope, reward and opportunity.
Today the business of the Senate—in fact, an hour of the Senate's very valuable time—is being used to promote the Liberal Party of Australia's new advertising catchcry and slogan about hope, reward and opportunity. I do predict that this debate will receive precisely no publicity. It will not be reported in tomorrow's newspapers, because, frankly, this is such an amateurish exercise from the opposition. It is just so banal. Just think: some spivvy advertising spin merchant from the Liberal Party of Australia has thumbed their way through Roget's Thesaurus and pulled out three words, I assume at random, and attached them to the Liberal Party to give it this new whiz-bang advertising catchcry: hope, reward and opportunity. How cliched can you get! It is so unimaginative—even for the Liberal Party. Just as easily, the same Liberal spin merchant could probably have taken some time off from trying to sell the Sydney Harbour Bridge to some poor, unsuspecting tourist and might have come up with three better words to encapsulate the contemporary Liberal Party and its approach to politics. We have not had that effort put in by anyone from the Liberal Party, so of course I am here to help.
The antonyms for 'hope', 'reward' and 'opportunity' seem to fit the bill. I think I can sum it up quite easily for the Liberal Party. This is what I think that they stand for: not hope, but hopeless. The dictionary definition is along these lines: providing no hope; desperate; not able to learn or act or perform as desired. That sounds like the Liberal Party to me. Not reward, but punishment; severe handling or treatment; or subject to pain, loss and confinement; and so forth. Again, it sounds like the Liberals to me. Not opportunity, but misfortune. Think about misfortune—adverse fortune, mischance or mishap—does that not also ring true of the opposition?
I think it is worthwhile looking at this new advertising slogan from the Liberals. I do not think there is any doubt that they are hopeless. There was the $70 billion black hole, cooked up by the three stooges of Liberal Party economic policy. Remember all those leaked internal minutes from the shadow ministry that revealed how the opposition planned to make up $70 billion in cuts to vital services over four years to pay for this growing list of promises. That is hopeless. Mr Abbott himself pointed out how abysmal the opposition is at handling the field of foreign affairs, commending Mr Josh Frydenberg of all people as the only Liberal MP who understood foreign policy. That is hopeless. The opposition opposed measures that protected Australia from the worst effects of the global financial crisis and kept over 200,000 Australians in work. They opposed it. That was hopeless on their part. Mr Abbott, of course, is really committed to three-word slogans. We know that he believes a three-word slogan is an effective substitute for policy: 'stop the boats' is yet another example. He thinks that is an effective policy for dealing with the issue of asylum seekers. That is hopeless, too.
You really get to grips with the Liberal Party when you look at punishment, not reward. Punishment, they love it. They love being punishers; they love beating up on people, particularly the defenceless. What would the Liberals do if elected? They would bring back Work Choices; they would strip away basic workplace protections again; cut penalty rates, overtime, holiday, shift allowances and meal breaks. That is not reward; it is punishment. What about the automotive industry? The Liberals would slash vital support there as well, costing 46,000 jobs. That is not reward; it is the sort of punishment that the Liberals like. The Liberals would rip up the National Broadband Network, punishing Australians again with a substandard and costly internet service.
What else would the Liberals do? They would punish struggling borrowers by saying 'no' to the banning of exit fees on home mortgages by banks. The Liberals are determined to punish Australians by saying 'no' to Medicare, 'no' to national health reform, 'no' to public hospital funding. The opposition would also want to punish students, not reward them, by scrapping the Computers for Schools program and trade training centres. They would really enjoy doing that. That is not reward; it is punishment.
Then there is misfortune: the adverse fortune and missed opportunities Australians would face if we ever experienced an Abbott government. It would be 'no' to pricing carbon and missing the opportunity to finally taking action on climate change. In fact, Mr Abbott, as we know, thinks that climate change is 'absolute crap'. He is missing the opportunities of the mining boom by not giving Australians a fair share of our country's mineral wealth. He is missing the opportunity to increase contributions to individual superannuation funds and cutting the company tax rate. And so it goes on.
How trite to use the valuable time of the Senate as a sounding board for the latest Liberal Party slogan. How disrespectful of the Senate that is and how contemptuous of the proper role of the Australian parliament. You can see it now: some snake-oil salesman from the Liberal Party shovelled away in some advertising agency—some slick, trendoid, pinstripe suited, bow-tied individual—coming up with these three words to try to switch the political play from negative, which of course characterises Mr Abbott and the opposition, to a couple of positive words. They were rifling through the dictionary, rifling through the thesaurus, to see what they could come up with. My suggestion to this person is: try to do a bit better than that. It is abysmal.