Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Matters of Public Interest

Western Australia: Senate Election

12:45 pm

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on a number of issues currently prominent in public discussions surrounding the upcoming re-run of the Western Australian Senate election on 5 April. Of course, I am not the first senator to do so, either from my own side or from other parties contesting the election in a few weeks time. I am sure all senators are aware—and I am sure those listening to or watching my contribution are aware—that, during the last sitting period, Senator Ludlam made a contribution to the adjournment debate on the subject of the WA Senate election. We have heard frequently during the past couple of weeks about Senator Ludlam's speech. In particular, we have heard about it because, in current parlance, it has 'gone viral'.

Apparently, there is no greater achievement in contemporary politics than to 'go viral', if you believe some of the commentary that has surrounded what Senator Ludlam said. It is perhaps testament to the transformative impact that the internet has had on modern society that to be described as 'viral' is now considered a positive attribute. It used to be that people avoided things that were viral. Sadly, I fear I am unlikely to scale the Olympian heights of Senator Ludlam's rhetorical achievements with my modest contribution to today's discussion. I do not make these comments, however, in the hope or expectation that they will go viral.

However, when you think about it, 'viral' is not a wholly inappropriate way of describing or characterising the influence of the Greens, over recent times. The 'virus' first infected the Australian Labor Party in the wake of the 2010 federal election, with the Greens using that once great party's weakened condition to attack those things that have been so essential to the success of Labor governments past: a commitment to free markets, an appetite for genuine economic reform and an ability to withstand the demands of the more extreme elements in the body politic. Having infected the Labor Party, the virus spread. It next infected Australia's economy, with the Greens' strident insistence on a return to the high-taxing, high-spending policies of an era that many of us had prematurely hoped had been banished forever by the success of the Hawke and Keating Labor governments.

The virus had by now rendered the Australian Labor Party delirious and clearly impacted on the function of its long-term memory. In their delusion, Labor had forgotten the lessons of the Hawke-Keating era and were instead persuaded by the Greens to employ a homoeopathic version of an economic remedy that was mainly Whitlam with a pinch of Calwell. Thus we began hearing senior Labor figures talking about rich miners and foreigners needing to pay their fair share. The only way to make this happen, we were told, was through the introduction of a huge new tax that would have an enormous impact on confidence in our mining and resources sector, which, as we know, has particularly significance in my home state of Western Australia.

But the virus worsened. The enfeebled patient's symptoms now extended to a loss of short-term memory to such an extent that the Labor Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was seemingly unable to remember, in February 2011, that just six months earlier she had promised the Australian people that there would be 'no carbon tax under a government I lead.' Recall the scene in the Prime Minister's courtyard on that day in February 2011, with then Senator Bob Brown standing side-by-side with Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the podium, smiling for the cameras, delighted that the Greens' long-held dream of increasing taxes for all Australians was at last being realised, thanks to a Labor government that had first lost its majority and had now seemingly lost its collective mind.

All the while, the virus kept doing what a virus does if left untreated—it progressed. The symptoms worsened. Under its influence, the Australian Labor Party began exhibiting patterns of increasingly odd and irrational behaviour. There were elevated levels of paranoia, with members of the then government seeing enemies both within and without. By the start of 2013, this paranoia had become all-consuming, the result being that the Labor Party began to focus on its own affairs to the exclusion of everything else, such as its responsibility to deliver good government and keep its promises to the electorate.

Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why one-third of the GP superclinics that Labor promised are still not built or not operating. This includes GP superclinics promised to the people of Northam, Wanneroo, Cockburn, Rockingham and Karratha in my home state of Western Australia. In fact, of the six GP superclinics promised by the former Labor government to the people of Western Australia, just one is operational as of today, according to the Department of Health. This is truly remarkable when you consider that GP superclinics were a cornerstone of Kevin Rudd's election campaign in 2007. So, after six years in office and having burned through two prime ministers, this is Labor's legacy in health to the people of Western Australia: a network of GP superclinics, 83 per cent of which at this very moment are still not operational.

Yet Labor and the Greens have had the hide to come into this chamber and question this government's efforts to fix the mess left to us by their inept attempt at governing. Perhaps if Labor and the Greens had spent more time focusing on project delivery, instead of attempting an unprecedented degree of media regulation last year, there might be a few more Western Australians enjoying access to the fast broadband Labor first promised them back in 2007. When the coalition took office last year and looked at what was actually happening in relation to the national broadband network, it was revealing. As opposed to the Walter Mitty-like imaginings that seemed to emanate from Senator Conroy's office during his time as minister, the news in Western Australia was particularly bleak. At the time that the strategic review into the NBN was published at the end of last year, 335,978 premises had been passed nationally. Only 16,891 were in WA. This compares with 15,492 in the ACT and 40,852 in Tasmania, both of which jurisdictions, significantly, have smaller populations than WA.

It is important to make a further distinction: premises 'passed' does not necessarily mean 'connected to the National Broadband Network'. To get that you need to look at the number of premises activated, and this is where the real story lies. Of the 16,891 premises passed in Western Australia, just 2,086—that is just over 12 per cent—were actually activated or connected to the NBN; 1,858 of these were new homes in new housing estates and only 157 were in existing premises or brownfields. The remaining 71 were fixed wireless connections. In Western Australia at present the NBN stands as another monument to the incompetence of the Rudd and Gillard governments supported by their allies, Senator Ludlam and the Greens, in this Senate chamber.

Then we have the former Labor government's cynical treatment of regional communities across Western Australia through the Regional Development Australia Fund and the Regional Infrastructure Fund. Well before last September's federal election, the former Labor government knew full well that its mining tax was falling well short of its projections. This meant, self-evidently, that the revenue projected to flow from that tax into the Regional Development Australia Fund was simply not going to be there.

Having that knowledge, surely any responsible government would have refrained from making extravagant promises to regional communities about funding their regional development and infrastructure priorities. Sadly, the former Labor government did not see fit to act responsibly. Instead, Labor ministers ran around Australia, including to communities across regional Western Australia, and cynically told local people that their priorities would be funded—in the full knowledge that there was simply no money available to fund these projects.

In fairness, I do not accuse Senator Ludlam and the Australian Greens of complicity in the act. Indeed, the Greens did manage to correctly point out to the former Labor government that its flawed mining tax would not raise the revenue projected. The problem that arises is that the Australian Greens' solution is not to scrap the tax which bogs down Western Australian businesses in red tape and foists compliance costs upon them; the Greens' solution is instead to expand the tax. Likewise with the carbon tax: the Greens fully recognise that this tax is not producing any environmental benefit, but again their solution is not to abandon something that clearly does not work; it is to compound the error by expanding the tax.

The Greens have an unerring ability to see a problem and come up with the wrong solution every single time—which brings me back to Senator Ludlam's recent viral video hit. I know Senator Ludlam has professed himself 'gobsmacked' by the reaction to his speech on various social media sites—a speech which, as he told The Sydney Morning Herald, he composed with a glass of red by his side as he made that long flight from Perth to Canberra.

Just in case Senator Ludlam is thinking of switching to champagne any time soon, I would caution him that there are other views in the community about some of the things he said in this chamber on that evening. True, there were some on Twitter and the like who rushed to laud Senator Ludlam's speech, as is their right in our free country. Many seemed to be at pains to stress the 'bravery' Senator Ludlam had displayed in making his speech. Again, everyone is entitled to their own view. But I would point out that there are a good many Western Australians who will participate in the Senate election on 5 April who did not find Senator Ludlam's speech in the least bit brave. There is no bravery in playing the prejudices of those who already agree with you. There is nothing brave about marching into this chamber and using the protection of parliamentary privilege it affords to make a series of outrageous, unsubstantiated and deeply offensive allegations about the Prime Minister, whatever your political disagreements might be.

It is a measure of the new Prime Minister's character that he has not chosen to respond to Senator Ludlam's undergraduate-style rant. That makes for a welcome contrast with the approach of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her supporters, who never missed and still never do miss an opportunity to exploit the cult of victimhood to suit their own political ends.

It is cheap and easy, not brave, to come into this Senate chamber and prate about compassion in relation to asylum seekers—especially when you adamantly refuse to acknowledge the role your own policy approach played in the senseless loss of more than a thousand lives at sea over the last six years. Outdated, windy Marxist rhetoric about 'predator capitalism' may well find an audience in the echo-chamber of the Twitterverse but does not do an awful lot to enhance the credibility of the Greens in a modern, open, market based economy like Australia's.

If Senator Ludlam and the Greens truly wish to do something brave, they could try going to visit families across regional Western Australia struggling with high electricity bills. They could explain to them why they think we should keep the carbon tax, which is needlessly adding pressure to household budgets, and why they are working with the Labor Party in this place to prevent its repeal. Maybe they could try explaining to the many companies and businesses across Western Australia why it is better that $626 million be spent on a tax that is having no environmental impact whatsoever rather than be invested in a manner that actually creates jobs for Western Australians and their families. Or perhaps they could try visiting the tens of thousands of refugees languishing in United Nations camps around the world and explaining to them why they should continue to languish there while Labor and the Greens pursue allegedly compassionate politics and policies that encouraged illegal boat arrivals, the loss of more than 1,100 lives at sea and denied a place in Australia's humanitarian refugee program to those who tried to do the right thing.

Governing is about making difficult choices and decisions. The Abbott coalition government has demonstrated that it is prepared to get on with the job of fixing the damage done to Australia by six years of misrule by Labor and the Australian Greens. The fact that Senator Ludlam and his supporters can offer little but Senate obstructionism and sneering contempt for anyone who dares to disagree with them says much about the Greens and what they really think about Western Australia and the priorities of Western Australians and their families and businesses.