Thursday, 26 June 2008
Questions without Notice
Council of Australian Governments
I thank the honourable member for his question. The government is committed to a program of long-term reform for the nation. Part of that reform program is what we do in partnership with the states and territories. Of course, the government in its first six months in office has been focused on honouring its pre-election commitments. The government has been focusing on the delivery of a sound and responsible budget.
Prior to the election we said to the Australian people that we would bring forward a $44 billion tax package for Australians. As a result of the election we have honoured that commitment. Prior to the election we said that we would increase the childcare tax rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent. Since the election we have honoured that commitment. Prior to the election we said we would introduce an education tax refund. Subsequent to the election, through the budget we have honoured that commitment. We said prior to the election that, when it comes to the future of the hospital system, we would assist by investing funds to deal with elective surgery waiting lists for the public hospital system of Australia. Subsequent to the election we have honoured that commitment by investing $300 million to try to reduce those elective surgery waiting lists.
Prior to the election we said that we would embark upon an education revolution by investing in computers and schools and, since the election, we have provided the first tranche of grants to more than 800 schools across the nation. Prior to the election we said that we would begin work on a rollout of trades training centres for Australian secondary schools across the nation and, subsequent to the election, we are honouring that commitment. Prior to the election we said that we would invest in the capital needs of Australia’s universities and, in our first budget, we have honoured that commitment by delivering a half billion dollar additional allocation to Australia’s 30-plus universities.
Prior to the election we said that we would invest in the nation’s infrastructure. Since the election we have established Infrastructure Australia. We have established the Building Australia Fund and we have allocated $20 billion to that fund. Prior to the election we said that we would invest in the nation’s long-term education future and, since the budget and since the election, we have established an $11 billion Education Investment Fund. We said prior to the election that we would not pass the buck on the future of the public hospitals system, that we would invest in their capital needs in the future. Since the election we have, through the budget, established a $10 billion hospital investment fund for the future. Prior to the election we said that we would make it impossible for people like the member for Menzies to prosecute—
Each of these measures, at least in large part, deals with cooperation with the states and territories invariably through the COAG process, and I can understand why members opposite could not understand what cooperation meant, because their preferred default position in politics is always the blame game. Prior to the election—and I am glad the member for Menzies has taken an intervention—we committed to making it impossible to make AWAs in the future and, since the election, we have honoured that commitment. Prior to the election we said that we would introduce national employment standards and, since the election, we have honoured that commitment. Prior to the election we said that we would ratify—
Prior to the election we also, as a responsible party in government, said that we would not engage in conduct of the type that we saw from the member for Menzies during the election campaign in relation to certain groups within this country. Any civilised country would not do that.
The other thing we said prior to the election was that we would withdraw our combat forces from Iraq. We have honoured that commitment. Prior to the election we said in relation to the states and territories that a framework for responsible economic management—
It seems to be difficult for those opposite to contemplate a list of positive achievements that deal with the future of the nation. A permanent psychology of negativity permeates those opposite. We said prior to the election that we were engaged—
Opposition members interjecting—
When the Prime Minister withdrew the remarks against the member for Menzies, his microphone was off. You subsequently clarified it but that, of course, will not be in Hansard. Could I ask you to ask the Prime Minister to say it.
The fundamentals for the future of the Federation consist in the sound management of the national finances of Australia. Prior to the election we committed to govern on the question of public finance as economic and fiscal conservatives. Since the election, to the chagrin of those opposite, we have honoured that commitment with a $22 billion surplus in contrast to a proposed $22 billion raid on that surplus by those opposite. We are implementing our pre-election commitments. We have brought down a responsible budget, and we are engaged in a big policy agenda for the future.
Order! The member for Hume and the member for Tangney will leave the chamber for one hour under standing order 94(a). I indicate to the member for Tangney that that is a very generous, low-level punishment.
The member for Hume and the member for Tangney then left the chamber.
In building on these foundations of a sound budget, a responsible budget, and looking to the future reform agenda for the period ahead: firstly, there is the tax reform agenda, through the Henry commission; secondly, there are the emissions trading reforms, which we have been debating in part in this chamber during the course of this day and which are of great consequence to the country’s future economic direction; and, thirdly, there is the bold program of microeconomic reform that will be advanced through the Council of Australian Governments. COAG is designed to be a workforce for the nation and should be used as such. That is why, when this government came in, we planned ahead and commissioned five meetings of the Council of Australian Governments, starting from the end of last year. Working groups on health and ageing, the productivity agenda, climate change and water, infrastructure, business regulation and competition, housing and Indigenous reform—
Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I draw your attention to the practice where previous Speakers have ruled that, where an answer is overly long and strays continually, the Speaker will wind up the speaker. I ask you to follow the ruling.
That is why when we met as COAG we agreed to establish those seven working groups—positive programs of long-term economic and social reform of a type which those opposite could not spell, let alone execute. And building on that, as of the March 2008 COAG, the Commonwealth provided a meaty allocation of $1 billion to relieve pressure on public hospitals, reversing the national trend of Commonwealth cutbacks to public hospitals—something which those opposite would prefer not to hear about. Secondly, despite the fact that they made great fanfare last year about the establishment of a Murray-Darling reform commission and a single entity for the governance of the basin, it took this government at the March 2008 COAG to establish that single entity. On top of that, COAG agreed on a national registration and accreditation system for health professionals as a major step in health workforce reform. Furthermore, on the business deregulation front, 27 areas of work were commissioned. And furthermore again, COAG agreed to the distribution of $150 million to build homes for homeless people.
This is a solid policy program of reform. It is about the nation’s future. It is about governments working with each other rather than just blaming each other. It is about where Australia wants to be in three years time, in five years time and in 10 years time. It responds to a deep mood in the country where people are fed up to the back teeth of governments simply blaming each other for everything that goes wrong. Instead, they have an expectation that people will behave maturely and responsibly in cooperation to provide answers, not excuses, to the long-term, intractable problems which our nation faces.
As we approach the 3 July meeting of COAG, again this program of reform faces the nation and we will be embracing it once again across the policy agenda. We will be dealing with early childhood education but also with the future of the skills agenda and the deregulation agenda. Those opposite prefer instead the politics of smear and fear. I recall those opposite saying that they were united by one thing—hatred, hatred of the Labor Party. What unites this side of politics is a positive vision for the nation’s future. We are committed to it and we will implement it. Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.