Thursday, 3 March 2011
Alp Governments’ Delivery of Commitments
by leave—on behalf of Senator Fifield I move:
- That the Senate notes that after more than 3 years in office and a change in Prime Minister, the Government still has not found its way and continues to fail to deliver on its commitments to the Australian people.
Just over three years ago Australians were promised the world by Labor. What has Labor delivered? They have delivered waste, mismanagement, record deficits, more than $40 billion in new or increased taxes and $94 billion worth of net government debt. Having inherited a very strong financial position when they came into government, they have turned that around in record time. That is from a Prime Minister who promised he would be an economic conservative, a Prime Minister who promised us root-and-branch reform of our tax system and instead delivered multibillion-dollar tax grabs one after the other in an ad hoc fashion, a Prime Minister who promised us fairer and simpler taxes and came up with taxes that are now more complex and manifestly less fair.
Of course, all of this was going to change with the overnight change in Prime Minister towards the end of June. Everything was going to be better. The government under Kevin Rudd, the then Prime Minister, had lost its way and Prime Minister Julia Gillard was going to find the way back for them. So what has happened? The first act of Prime Minister Gillard was to sit down in secret, in private, and negotiate with three taxpayers the design of a multibillion dollar new tax—excluding all of their competitors from the process, which has got significant competitive implications for those competitors—and things have got worse from there.
Julia Gillard as Prime Minister, in order to retain minority government, negotiated a deal with the Independents. In a very well-publicised press conference, Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott signed on to support a minority Labor government. One of the big promises made at that time was that there would be a tax summit by 30 June 2011. There seems to be some confusion as to whether that commitment was indeed made. I quote from a letter from the Prime Minister to Mr Windsor in the context of the agreement that was reached:
Thank you for signing an agreement on 7 September for a Government to be formed based on support for confidence and supply.
The letter talks about a whole range of things she promises, including, in point 3:
A minority Labor Government will facilitate discussion of future tax reform as follows:
a) Convene a public forum of experts on taxation and its economic and social effects to discuss the Henry Review, with that meeting to be held before 30 June 2011.
Mr Oakeshott, in his 17-minute speech announcing to the world that he had decided to support a minority Labor government, said:
We’ve grabbed this opportunity … to achieve a couple of cracking outcomes. We have now got a tax summit that this country needs. By June 2011, we’ve got a commitment to have the Henry Tax review thrown into the public domain with full recommendations from government and a fair-dinkum open debate in this country.
That is a good and big outcome from this process, and one that hopefully demonstrates this is not going to be a weak parliament, this is going to be a strong parliament.
We were promised a more strategic approach to taxation reform. Where the Rudd government failed, the Gillard government, with the support of Mr Oakeshott and Mr Windsor, was going to be better. We now know there will not be a tax summit by 30 June 2011.
As I understand it, Dr Ken Henry, Secretary to the Treasury, will have his last day in the office tomorrow; he made his last appearance at Senate estimates last week. Dr Henry let the cat out of the bag at Senate estimates last week. He confirmed that there will not be a tax summit by 30 June 2011. In fact, the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, has told a business lunch in Melbourne: ‘It is unlikely that there will be a tax summit at all this year. If we are lucky we are going to get a tax summit in 2012.’ I well understand why this government does not want to hold a national tax summit: this government does not want to have a strategic discussion about what the appropriate taxation framework is for Australia for the future. This government wants to continue with ad hoc tax grab after ad hoc tax grab after ad hoc tax grab. This government does not want to have to justify why a particular tax is in the national interest. It just wants to go ahead with finding targets and finding political strategies on how it likes to think it can get away with yet another multibillion dollar tax.
We were promised that, under Prime Minister Gillard, things were going to change. We were told that she was going to keep her promises, for starters. One of the very high-profile broken promises in recent days was the promise not to have a carbon tax. ‘There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead,’ is what Prime Minister Gillard said on 16 August. She cannot get away from that. It was a deliberate deception of the Australian people because she knew that she had to adopt coalition policy before the election if she wanted to have a chance of getting re-elected. But she should have told the Australian people that her intention all along was to adopt Greens policy after the election. That is what she should have done.
Let me reflect on this whole carbon tax debate for a moment. This debate was settled in the last parliament. Both major parties committed to no carbon tax, no price on carbon, in this current term of parliament. Why is that? Because the conclusion after three years of debate in the last parliament was that to impose a price on carbon in Australia in the absence of an appropriately comprehensive global framework would not be in our national interest. It would push up the price of everything, it would cost jobs and it would not help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
Today I asked Senator Wong what the net impact on global emissions would be from the Gillard government’s proposed carbon tax. She was not able to answer. Instead what did she do? She fudged. I asked her, ‘What is the net impact of your carbon tax on global emissions?’ She did not want to answer. Instead she started to talk about how the coalition has agreed to the same emissions reduction target of five per cent. Of course we did. But there are different ways to reduce emissions. You can reduce emissions in Australia in a way that does not have flow-on consequences in other parts of the world—through energy efficiency, better land care management practices, planting trees and doing a whole series of other things. Those things will not have any flow-on consequences in terms of increasing emissions in other parts of the world. But if you impose a price on carbon in Australia in a way that makes Australian businesses less competitive than businesses overseas who are more polluting, who end up taking market share away from Australian businesses, then that is reducing emissions in Australia in a way that will potentially increase emissions in other parts of the world.
But there is more, and clearly Senator Wong does not understand this fundamental point: if this debate is all about helping to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, if this debate is about what the best contribution Australia can make in terms of helping to reduce emissions in the world is, then that is the debate we should be having. Of course, one of the things we could be doing is maximising our export of LNG into places such as China and Japan so it can displace coal as an energy source in those countries. Another is maximising our exports of uranium, including into countries such as India, so that nuclear as a low-emissions technology can help reduce emissions in the world. But here is the crux of the matter: if we as a country want to go down this path, it will actually mean an increase in emissions in Australia.
People on the Labor side never understand when I make this point. If we are serious about maximising Australia’s contribution in terms of reducing emissions in the world, it might well be that in Australia we have to increase emissions—
You see: Parliamentary Secretary McLucas laughs, because she does not understand that point either. I dwell on it because it is the crux of the public policy debate when it comes to the so-called objective of this government: to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Senator Penny Wong did not understand it and clearly Senator McLucas does not understand it either. It might well be in the world’s best interests for Australia to increase its emissions if it means that as a result we can reduce emissions by more in the world overall—and that is what the net impact of what we do in Australia is all about. For every tonne of additional emissions increasing LNG production in Australia we can reduce emissions in China by five to nine tonnes if it displaces coal. We can reduce emissions in Japan by about four tonnes if it displaces coal. That is a net beneficial impact for the world.
If you look at the emissions trading scheme model, it was a model that gave some compensation, but not 100 per cent. So there was going to be an additional cost for the LNG industry, an additional cost for the uranium mining industry and an additional cost to other industries that can actually help reduce emissions in the world. This government says, ‘We want to make it harder for you to do that. We want to make it more difficult for you to attract investment, to increase production of energy.’ It says this even though if we increase production of energy in Australia not only will we have reduced emissions in the world so there is an environmental benefit, it will also be good for our economy, good for jobs and good for small business, which can benefit from downstream contracts from these industries.
But what does this government say? It says, ‘No, we want to put on a tax.’ It is so obsessed with reducing emissions in Australia domestically, whether it is five per cent or whatever the target is that the government agrees with that it says, ‘We don’t care what the flow-on consequences are in other parts of the world. We don’t care whether there is a global environmental benefit. We don’t care whether people have to make a sacrifice. We want people to make a sacrifice so that we can say we are reducing emissions in Australia by a certain percentage point, irrespective of what the impact is in terms of global emissions reduction.’ That is the fundamental problem that this government has.
The reason that then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd pulled back from the ETS—as we understand it, on advice from the Treasurer and the then Deputy Prime Minister—is that after Copenhagen even the government realised that that was the case. Even the government realised that in the absence of an appropriately comprehensive global framework an emissions trading scheme as it was put forward—a carbon tax—is nothing more than a tax, which does not actually help to address the problem that this is supposed to be all about. Why would we put a tax on business, put a tax on jobs, put a tax on everything and impose sacrifices if it does not actually help to achieve any beneficial outcome?
The reason I asked Senator Wong the question I did today was that I had hoped, given that that was part of the debate two or three years ago, by now she would have had an answer. The broken promise by the Prime Minister last week is not really telling us anything new. They got the photo opportunity: the Prime Minister and Senator Bob Brown. And when you look at him in the chamber here, you can sense the feeling of power; he is getting quite bolshie and is feeling very strong right now because he knows that he has got this government on the run. This government is jumping to the tune of the Greens, irrespective of whether it is good public policy or not.
What was actually announced last week? The only thing we got was a date. We already knew that the Prime Minister wanted to break her emphatic re-election commitment that there would be no carbon tax. We already knew she was going to do that but she gave us a date, 1 July 2012. Did she give us anything else? No, she did not. There was no price, although we can look at what was on the table before, given that this is just a carbon copy of what then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd put forth.
They changed the date. It will probably be a price of around $26 upwards. It will probably be a similar arrangement in terms of compensation. It will be a big money-go-round—for no environmental benefit.
This is, of course, not the only broken promise. Over the last three years we have had a plethora of broken promises. Remember when, in the lead-up to the 2007 election, Kevin Rudd said that he would not change the private health insurance framework? So what did he do? He wanted to—and Labor still want to—do away with the tax rebate for millions of Australians taking additional responsibility for their private health insurance. Labor promised that they would not make any changes to superannuation. What did they do? They proceeded to halve the concessional contribution caps for superannuation, from $100,000 down to $50,000 and from $50,000 down to $25,000 for people older than 50 and younger than 50 respectively.
I finally got an answer back on it from Minister Shorten, having asked a question back in early December. The number of Australians hit with additional tax because they inadvertently breached concessional super contributions has more than doubled in the first year of the broken promise of the Gillard Labor government—more than double. This government is raising $142 million worth of additional taxes that they do not deserve. They are taxing people because they are breaching concessional contribution caps for superannuation that have been halved after they promised that they would not be. There are direct implications for people across Australia from Labor’s broken promise—$142 million in additional taxes for people with superannuation.
The most fundamental broken promise of all from my point of view—looking at our tax system and the economy—is the promise to hold a tax summit. The Henry tax review was supposed to be about root and branch reform of our tax system. It was supposed to be about delivering a fairer and simpler tax system. Of course, the only thing we ended up with is a multibillion dollar new tax which is manifestly less fair and more complex. The Henry review says we should replace state and territory royalties with a national profit based tax. Is that what the government did? No, it is not. It did not because it did not implement a related recommendation by the Henry tax review. It did not implement the related recommendation that the Australian government should negotiate with state and territory governments on how all of that would work.
You would think that if a national government wanted to replace state and territory revenues it would start off by having a conversation with state and territory governments. How can you be serious about simplifying the tax system or about genuine reform when you are looking at replacing state and territory revenues with a national revenue if you do not even talk to them? The government had a problem: it did not have time to talk to state and territory governments because it wanted to put those billions of dollars into the budget papers. It wanted to be able to claim the revenue so it could go to the election claiming the illusion of an early surplus. That is why it did not have the time to talk to state and territory governments. This was never about tax reform. It was only ever about a grab for cash in order to create the illusion of an early surplus.
In comes Prime Minister Gillard, who does a secret deal with the three taxpayers and designs a tax behind closed doors. That should never be allowed to stand as a precedent for how taxes are developed in this country. Then she made a promise to the Independents—another one: ‘We are going to let the sunshine in.’ The sunshine was going to come in; there was going to be a commitment. I watched the Prime Minister as she made her comments looking right down the barrel of the camera. She said, ‘There is going to be a new era of openness and transparency under the government I lead.’ We thought, ‘Oh, that’s great,’ because Kevin Rudd, when he was Prime Minister, was not going to give us any detail about the mining tax. He was not going to give us the commodity price assumptions and the production volume assumptions that were driving the mining tax revenue estimates—mining tax revenue estimates that keep bouncing around from $12 billion to $24 billion to $10½ billion to $7.4 billion to less than $5 billion.
Commodity price and production volume assumptions are critically important for us to be able to scrutinise this tax. The Prime Minister promised to be open and transparent. Have we got access to that information? No, we have not. It is information, incidentally, that the state government in Western Australia—whether it is Liberal or Labor—publishes as a matter of course in its budget papers. But this secretive government, this government which breaks promise after promise and this government which has delivered record deficits and record levels of debt and which has taken us from a strong financial position to a disastrous financial position is not open and transparent. This government is a secretive government, and secretive government makes for bad government.
I rise to make a contribution to this debate on the government’s delivery of commitments. Having listened to that quite extraordinary performance by Senator Cormann, I wonder whether Senator Cormann has a sense of delusion and does not recall that we had 11 years of Liberal government mismanagement around these issues, 11 years of the continual adding of layers and layers of complexity around our taxation system, 11 years of overspending, 11 years of neglecting working families and 11 years of ignoring the issues it was not capable of dealing with. All of the issues that confront us now are supposedly the product of three years of a reforming Labor government. We all know that change comes slowly when you have to deal with complex issues of policy. Eleven years of the complexity of Australia’s taxation system is not something that can be unravelled in just a few years, and certainly cannot be unravelled in the tax summit that Senator Cormann so desperately wants to have before the end of June this year.
Why are we not having a tax summit? Maybe Senator Cormann was somewhere else, but he should know we have just had a major catastrophe in our country. Our efforts are on rebuilding the economy of Queensland and on dealing with the tragedy, distress and destruction that has occurred in New South Wales, Victoria and his own home state of Western Australia. Yet he wants to be caught up in an ideological debate that does not do him or his representation of his state much justice.
Senator Cormann argues that the government has lost its way. Let me tell you that this is not a government that has lost its way, it is not a government that has no direction, it is not a government that does not know what is doing and it is not a government that has no plan or vision for the future. It is a government that has been systematically addressing the neglect and lack of reform that it inherited when it came to government; it is a government that has dealt quite strategically with the impact of the global financial crisis; it is a government that has been delivering crucial services to the people of this country after years of neglect; it is a government that is delivering health and hospital reform and is actually investing in the community services that have been neglected for so long; it is a government that is investing in skills, education and training; it is a government that has invested in our schools, which have been neglected for decades; it is a government that is focused on the future, around the digital education revolution; and it is a government that wants it understood that it is positioning Australia for the future. What do we do? We think about the nation-building agenda of our government and what we have managed to deliver in three years.
Let’s start with the ill-fated Work Choices, that promise that dare not have its name mentioned in this place. Work Choices is dead? I do not think so. We do not have to think about what this opposition would do. If they came back into power, one of the first things that they would do would be to revisit the Fair Work Act and introduce some of the key features of Work Choices. We know that that is on your agenda.
Yes, I do believe it. Let’s think about what else we have done. We have increased our hospital funding by 50 per cent. Senator Cormann from Western Australia is very critical of the government’s social policy agenda. The ideological position of our government is that we are a fairer government. We are investing in services and communities. We are investing for the future. What else have we done for Australia since we came to office? We have tackled the issue of our social support network by increasing the age pension for the first time by more than $100 for singles and $76 for couples. That is nothing to be sneezed at. It is a huge challenge for us to raise the pension for our ageing population and these are big decisions.
Let’s think about paid parental leave. How was the opposition going to pay for its alternative paid parental leave scheme? With a tax on business—not one that was welcomed by businesses, not one that was actually going to deliver outcomes for people and not one that was going to be fair or straightforward. Let’s think about that. We now have a government that, having come through the global recession stronger than any other advanced economy in the world, has managed to create opportunities for another 350,000 jobs in the last year. That translates into almost half a million more people working than when Labor took office in 2007. We have the lowest debt and deficit. That is not to be sneezed at in this time. When you think about what is happening in countries like Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Italy, when you look at their outcomes and their financial outlooks and you compare that with the stability and strength of the Australian economy, it is not to be sneezed at. Yet it is dismissed out of hand by the opposition. They refuse to recognise just that. We are going to bring the national budget back to surplus ahead of schedule and ahead of any other major advanced economy.
What about interest rates? Interest rates now are lower than they were before the Liberal government left office, and that is a powerful signal of the extent to which we are supporting our communities, our small businesses, enterprises everywhere and our families. We boosted the first home owners grant so that another 250,000 people were able to purchase a new home. We are strengthening the economy in every way that we can. We are funding services in every way that we can. We are driving our reform agenda around education and training. That is about skilling our nation for the future. These are very important things and we have done it despite the setback of the global financial crisis and despite the huge impact that the natural disasters have created for us all.
We have cut personal tax in the last three budgets. Let’s not forget that. We have made record investments in infrastructure—highways, rail and ports. We are embarking on the National Broadband Network. It has already been rolled out in Tasmania very successfully. We are creating 130,000 new education and training places and 50,000 university places. So we have a record of continuous reform and continuous investment that is about setting Australia up for the future. It is about capturing the strength of the boom, not squandering the benefits and products of the mining boom, which continues in Australia. We understand that but, unlike the previous government, we are not squandering that opportunity and that wealth. We are looking at how we can invest in and improve the situation for all Australians.
We are investing in closing the gap—that important issue of addressing Indigenous disadvantage. Let’s think about that and the dismal performance of the previous government, the desperate gap that has existed in life expectancy and health outcomes for our Indigenous brothers and sisters. We are determined to close that gap, to create opportunities for them in education, health and employment so that these people have a sense of their own place in our society, so they are not living on the margins and always living in the shadows. We have extraordinary wealth in our country in our mining boom. We have extraordinary wealth in our country in a highly skilled, clean energy economy that is self-sustaining and beyond our reliance on mineral exports. This is very important for us, so investment in a clean energy future is a critical part of that.
We are singularly working to ensure greater transparency, greater investment, greater certainty and improved services for our ageing population. We are trying to address the issues of the future. An ageing population brings with it stresses on our health system and our community service systems, and we are addressing the challenges of the future. We have not been complacent and we do not intend to be complacent. The concern that people might have about funding the retirement of our ageing population is being addressed by our commitment to increasing superannuation contributions to 12 per cent so that people have sufficient savings for their retirement. People may sniff at that, but it is actually going to make an important difference. Treasury modelling indicates that for a 30-year-old today it will represent another $108,000 for them in their retirement.
We had a previous government that ignored regional Australia at its peril. Our government has put regions front and centre. We are investing in regional infrastructure. We are investing in regional housing. We are trying to take the pressure off metropolitan areas by encouraging investment in the country. We have a new focus on Regional Development Australia. We have a new department for regional Australia—the Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government. In fact, we have the chairs and the executive officers of the Regional Development Australia committees here in Canberra right now considering what should be the strategic approach to investing in regions for the next five years. We are moving to invest in regional health services to ensure that people, regardless of where they live, will be able to have access to the health services they need. That is something which has been remiss for a very long time. Now 7½ thousand rural nurses and 1,000 rural allied health professionals will be able to access professional development through a $34 million commitment, and there is $6½ million dollars for 100 clinical placement scholarships. That is about our regional communities getting the skills they need.
It seems to me that this motion that says that we are a government that has no direction and cannot find its way is far removed from reality. We are a government that are getting on with the job. We are a government that are about informing. We are informing in the regulatory space and looking to the issues. I will go to the issue I know so much about, and that is the abject neglect of the not-for-profit sector in the regulatory environment of not-for-profits in Australia. The fact is that for 20 years investments in not-for-profit organisations in transparency and in governance has really languished. There has just been no investment in understanding either how not-for-profit organisations in Australia work or their contribution to the economy and our society. The regulatory burden has got out of control. So what are we as a government doing? We have created the not-for-profit council. We have created a not-for-profit office. We are actually tackling the issue of a regulator for the first time. There are five different national inquiries into this. The previous Liberal government just would not step up to the plate and deal with the issue of a national charities regulator. Finally, we have a government that are committed to doing something about that.
These are very important reforming agendas that are going to make such a difference in our community. They are going to build productivity. They are going to build capacity in our communities. They are going to build a clean, vibrant economy and a healthy society. We are a government that has a social inclusion agenda. What have we had for those who have been parked on disability pensions as a way in which we can deal with people who live in those kinds of circumstances or for those who care for someone with a disability? This week the Productivity Commission has released its draft report talking about the issue of a disability insurance scheme, canvassing the options so that people who live with disability can actually have a life of dignity and so those who live with disability as a result of a catastrophic accident or injury are not going to be burdens for the rest of their lives and their families and carers are not going to be burdened for the rest of their lives, living a life of indignity and poverty. That is the circumstance for so many, hundreds of thousands of people in Australia, because we have not done anything about it. Previous governments did not do anything about it except to take the soft option of parking them on a disability pension, which is in fact a poverty trap.
It is not a reforming agenda unless you are prepared to take hard decisions, unless you are actually prepared to ask hard questions and unless you are prepared to listen to the answers that maybe you do not want to hear. There are opportunities in engaging in a very constructive debate. That is how we find a way through. I am just befuddled, I suppose, by the nonsense that we have heard in this debate in terms of all of the things that are happening across every portfolio.
I suppose the real issue we have is how we as international citizens here in Australia behave. Senator Cormann talked about how perhaps we should increase our production of greenhouse gas emissions here so we can get a global effect. But let us think about what the implications of that could be. We as global citizens and signatories to global conventions have a responsibility to lead by example, just as we are doing with the Millennium Development Goals. How long did it take for a commitment? It was certainly not given by the previous Liberal government. Only on Labor coming to power did we increase our overseas development assistance commitments to match the targets that have been called upon by the United Nations. A massive investment by us as global citizens in our international aid and development budget means we are helping developing countries to meet their commitments under the reduction targets.
None of this is ever simple. We have the challenge of a complex policy environment but, as a reforming government, we are prepared to step up to the plate. We are prepared to do what it takes. We are prepared to introduce a carbon price as part of a global initiative that is around addressing an inevitable and complex problem. We must play our part in doing this. We must do what we said we would do. We must face the tough decisions. We must have some targets. We must have strategies. We must ensure that the things that we are doing are about a reforming, vibrant, focused, highly skilled and knowledge based economy. Everything we are doing is about working to that ideal.
So we have to think more about our expansion. As a nation we are going to have an increasing population. There are displaced people across the world, a situation exacerbated by what is happening in the Middle East. We have to think about how we deal with those issues—and we are, as a government, confronting those issues. We have to think more than just fiscal and monetary policy. We have to think about how we have a place in helping develop economic stability in the region. What we are doing here, including maintaining low and stable inflation, and ensuring the stability of our financial system, will ensure that we have a strong economy in the future.
Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I am, of course, speaking now to take your slot in the debate, as you are in the chair. I am pleased to facilitate that so you do not miss out on an opportunity to speak in this debate. For those who may be listening and wondering what this debate is about, the coalition have moved:
That the Senate notes that after more than 3 years in office and a change in Prime Minister, the Government still has not found its way and continues to fail to deliver on its commitments to the Australian people—
which of course is arrant nonsense. We have heard from Senator Stephens the long lists of achievements of this government since Labor was elected in 2007. I intend to go over those subjects again, because it is a tremendous opportunity for a government senator to talk about our achievements.
In a very short space of time this reformist government, which has been faced with a major international financial crisis, and now is faced with major reconstruction issues arising out of natural disasters, is taking the responsible position of saying: the Commonwealth has to play a role in those matters, the Commonwealth has a responsibility to the Australian people to deliver outcomes that give the best possible circumstances to Australians. In the case of the international financial crisis, this means people keeping their jobs; people keeping their homes; and businesses not going broke, being able to borrow money and being able to continue to operate and not have to dismiss their employees.
One of the key things that Labor did in response, firstly, to the global financial crisis, was to make sure that Australian banks had enough credibility in the international market to be able to borrow internationally and to continue to lend to business. One should not underestimate how important that action was from the Labor government. You only have to talk to businesspeople about that time, when there was a lot of uncertainty in the market about whether business could get loans. In fact, the real uncertainty was whether Australian banks could continue with enough liquidity so that (a) they could continue to lend and, perhaps more importantly, (b) they did not need to call in loans to repay those that were coming up for renewal. Think about the consequences of Australian banks at that time saying to their business customers, ‘You know those loans that we gave you? You have to pay them back’, with no-one else lending the money to allow the liquidity for those businesses to do that. That would have meant businesses closing. It would have meant businesses laying off employees. It would have meant bankruptcies. It would in fact have meant businesspeople losing all of their assets, because banks would have then had to foreclose on them and try and sell them up in the worst possible circumstances. That was one of the first actions that this government took in response to the global financial crisis.
In an important step, and a step which underlines the economic credibility of this government, the next thing this government did was to ensure that there was enough money in the economy to keep businesses afloat—and that meant spending. This government’s initiatives in that regard seemed initially to receive support from the coalition, but then that support was withdrawn. It appears that the philosophy of the coalition was: let the market decide who survives; let the market decide who keeps their job; let the market decide, of those who lose their job, who loses their house. The reality was that, without Labor’s stimulus, it is widely accepted that there would have been more than 200,000 extra people added to the unemployment list. That is two MCGs full of people added to the unemployment list. That is what the coalition’s position on the stimulus would have meant. The reality is that that probably would have meant 100,000-plus people being in the position of losing their homes or being out on the street, not being able to afford their health insurance or not being able to pay their bills. There would have been a massive increase in the Commonwealth’s responsibility for unemployment payments, so we would have had to pay money out anyway. With businesses closing, there would have been a massive reduction in taxation receipts from the business sector, and a flow-on of consequences that would have meant parlous circumstances for many in the Australian economy—and, inevitably, a government deficit, despite not spending money on stimulus. So, spending on the stimulus meant an initial deficit, but it meant that a lot of people did not go into deficit and families did not lose their jobs and their homes, businesses did not close—and the Australian economy now is the envy of the world.
I was in New York at the end of last year and when talking to diplomats from the European Union, the United States or from many other parts of the world, there was a lot of envy about the position of the Australian economy. Australian government debt is very small by world standards and very manageable. Indeed, this government has given a commitment that the budget will be back in surplus. We will pay the debt off, and we will not have put the Australian people through the sorts of calamities that were the inevitable consequence of the proposal of the coalition that we just let the market provide. That policy was comparable to the approach of the Bush administration to the Lehman Brothers situation. The Bush administration and their officials decided that Lehman Brothers could go to the wall, sink or swim, and that the market should decide. That led to the global financial crisis.
The short documentary that won the Academy Award recently talks about the circumstances of the Bush administration’s response to the crisis. It talks about a lot of corruption in the American financial system as well. It talks about the response of the Bush administration officials to the Lehman Brothers circumstances and then the about face that they took when it became apparent that allowing Lehman Brothers to fail was going to cause a domino effect and force many other financial institutions in the United States to fall over and indeed force consequences on the rest of the world.
Australia has a government that has achieved economic certainty and positive economic outcomes for its people. We supported jobs. On top of all of that, we have cut taxes. Someone earning $50,000 today is paying $1,750 less in tax per year than they were in 2007. With all of that, we have cut tax for people at that level and throughout the economy. We have also provided a significant increase in pensions, particularly for single pensioners—an increase of more than $100 for single pensioners and $76 for couples. That was long overdue. It has made the life of many pensioners better. I am not saying that pensioners do not deserve more—they do. It has always been a case of the government paying what it felt that it could afford to. This government felt that they deserve more and we could afford to pay more, so we did.
We also boosted the First Homeowners Grant, which has helped an additional 250,000 people to buy their first home. If you remember, we also inherited extraordinarily high interest rates that were having deleterious effects on some markets in our economy. They have fallen and they are nowhere near the levels that we inherited from the Howard government. We have increased the childcare rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent and from a maximum of $4,350 a year to $7,500 a year. So to say that we have not been delivering for the Australian people, as is suggested in this resolution, is nonsense.
Who is introducing for the first time ever paid parental leave? This government. The previous government had 12 years. The position of current Leader of the Opposition during the time he was a minister in the Howard government was that paid parental leave would be introduced over his dead body. His position has changed since, but the reality was that it took a Labor government to take the steps to introduce paid parental leave for the first time in this country. It was long overdue. We have now caught up with many parts of the rest of the world. No doubt, over the years that policy position will see improvements in benefits as the country can afford them.
We provided for additional tax deductible for small business during the global financial crisis—another important economic move—for investment in new productive assets, such as new machinery. This was part of the stimulus process but also very important for the continued viability of small businesses, such as trades and farmers. Many in the community have benefited from that. We also made some key improvements in education, in health and in developing our infrastructure.
I want to go back to the question of our nation building stimulus program, because we could probably consider that further in this debate. When I said that not providing the stimulus that Labor provided would have meant that 200,000 additional people would have been out of work, I should have also said that instead of that circumstance there are 715,000 more Australians in jobs today than when this government took office. So instead of there being 200,000 fewer people in jobs, there are 715,000 more people in jobs than when we took office. The economy has grown by more than $167 billion and we are now the second richest economy in the G20—that is the top 20 economies—in per capita terms. While we understand that there are significant cost-of-living pressures on families, underlying inflation in this country is at its lowest level in five years. These are the economic indicators that I say totally refute the proposition contained in the motion moved in the name of Senator Fifield and to which Senator Cormann spoke at the beginning of this debate.
Sometimes the employment figures and the unemployment figures can be affected by the participation rate. If you have a low participation rate, which probably indicates that some people have given up looking for work, you sometimes also get a lower unemployment rate. But in this case our reforms have seen record numbers of people enter the workforce, with participation rates at a record high of 65.9 per cent in October last year. Reaching a record high in a period of low unemployment is an indicator that there is no falsity in the figure as a representation of the unemployment circumstances.
The other issue I think we need to touch upon is that in addition to the pension improvements since September 2009 that I spoke about—$115 a fortnight for single pensioners and around $97 a fortnight for pensioner couples—we provided economic stimulus payments to more than three million pensioners and self-funded retirees to fend off the impact of the global financial crisis. We also increased the amount of the pension that can be advanced to $1,005.75 for singles and $758.10 for each member of a couple in a six-month period, which can be important. We provided a new $785 seniors supplement for self-funded retirees. We increased the utilities allowance by $400, and we are letting single, older Australians earn up to $30,685 in this financial year without paying income tax or the Medicare levy through the senior Australians tax offset and three rounds of tax cuts.
We have also provided national transport concessions so that state seniors card holders get concessions when they travel interstate. We have provided eligibility to the Commonwealth seniors health card and the $785 seniors supplement for up to 8,400 more self-funded retirees through a new standard $500 tax deduction that reduces taxable incomes. We have provided a 50 per cent tax discount on up to $1,000 of interest income earned on savings products, including bank accounts—a 50 per cent tax break for the first $500 of interest on savings from 1 July 2010, increasing on 1 July the following year to 50 per cent on the first $1,000 of interest. This is quite an impressive record in three years of government. I have no hesitation in saying that after 12 years in government the coalition cannot claim anything like that rate of improvement and certainly, in proportionate terms, nowhere near it for retirees, pensioners and self-funded retirees.
It is not just the present and the past that Labor has a plan for and we have made decisions not only for the future structure of the economy. The National Broadband Network is a visionary program. The National Broadband Network will see developments through the distribution of access to high-speed internet broadband services for health, education, business, entertainment, pure communication and probably a lot of things that we have not even thought of throughout this country. Some people have sought to compare our level of development and internet speeds with those of countries like South Korea. In terms of geography and population dispersion, there is no comparison, of course. South Korean population centres would fit well into the state of Victoria, whereas Australia has one of the larger land masses in the world for a single country. In those terms, to be able to get high-speed fibre cable servicing 93 per cent of the population at the end of this project will be compared properly with the development of the railways in this country at the end of the 19th century and with the development of the telephone service after the Second World War.
This will be a major economic benefit. We do not yet fully understand the services we will derive from it, but we do know enough about it to know that there will be major benefits in the areas of health, education, entertainment and communications. At the end of the day, according to the business case, this will return a dividend to government. I do not think you can make a case to oppose it, yet we hear those opposite attempting to do that at every turn, at every excuse. I think that is a great shame. (Time expired)
I join my colleague Senator Cormann, to be followed by Senator Macdonald and the flamboyant Senator Fisher, in this debate on the Labor government’s delivery of commitments. The motion reads—and we ought to read it again:
That the Senate notes that after more than 3 years in office and a change in Prime Minister, the Government still has not found its way and continues to fail to deliver on its commitments to the Australian people.
Before Senator O’Brien leaves the chamber, I thank him for slipping into my position on the speakers list. It certainly shows that, however minute it is, there is some cooperation between the Liberal Party and the Labor Party. But something has been missing in this debate up to this point, even from the contribution of Senator Stephens. I have listened closely. I was in the chair. I do not want to abuse the chair because Senator Forshaw has also cooperated by coming in five minutes early so I could get up and speak. I do not want to be ungracious to either of you.
What was missing out of this whole debate to this point—and those listening on broadcast ought to take note of this—is that all week in parliament a raging debate has been taking place in regard to the carbon tax. I think Senator Stephens spent about one minute on the issue and then wandered off into a whole lot of other stratospheres. In fact, I think she would have finished up earlier but I saw the whip put a note under her nose to say, ‘Stretch it.’ We all get those notes, and I saw the horror on Senator Stephens’s face when she had to stretch it, and it sure seemed like it in the last eight minutes. She spent about a minute on the carbon tax. I will consult with my colleagues, and Senator Macdonald comes in: did Senator O’Brien touch on the issue at all? The issue of the day that goes to the heart of the credibility of the Prime Minister and the very point of this general business notice of motion, and he did not even touch on it. I think that is telling in itself, that they will not come to the defence of their Prime Minister’s credibility at all.
The Prime Minister has laid down her own principles. If those opposite are not going to defend her, let us go to the Prime Minister’s own base principle of credibility—what this debate is all about, the Prime Minister’s credibility. As early as 20 March 2009 this was the foundation stone on which she based her credibility, that we can judge her on, and we do judge her on it. She said:
I think when you go to an election and you give a promise to the Australian people, you should do everything in your power to honour that promise. We are determined to do that. We gave our word to the Australian people in the election and this is a government that will pride itself on delivering election promises. We want Australians to be able to say, ‘Well, they’ve said this and they did this.’
So this is her number one criterion to be judged upon. But what could be a more stark display than last Thursday’s press conference of how willing she is to abandon that principle, how expendable is that principle she put out on the airwaves, than her backflip with regard to carbon tax. What could be more stark than that. What could be more clear than her comments, which have been quoted all week. You would think someone from the other side would come in to defend Prime Minister Gillard. On the Friday before the election, on 20 August 2010, Gillard stated categorically, post that foundation stone of principle that she laid down herself, ‘I rule out a carbon tax.’ That is black-and-white, that is pretty clear: ‘I rule out a carbon tax.’
I was going to make the point about a point of law, which Senator Cash is an expert in. If you made a statement like that, that is a verbal contract in the private sector. If you say that in business, that is a legal point of law. Prior to that, four days before that, she said on Channel 10, ‘There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.’ It could not be clearer than that. You cannot read anything in or out of that.
I happen to have been in the Senate at the time that Paul Keating was Prime Minister, and that Prime Minister wore the backdown on his tax cuts after the 1993 election, tax cuts he promised during the 1993 election, advertised tax cuts, promised tax cuts; he boasted about those tax cuts. So when he backed down, that was the end of his prime ministership. I am sure, Mr Acting Deputy President Forshaw, you would agree with me. You were around at that time, if I remember rightly. When there is a lie or a backflip and when it is big enough and when it is said often enough, the Australian people will not forget. They never forgot Paul Keating and they will not forget this Prime Minister. In the words of Wayne Goss—
The Acting Deputy President:
I felt like I was in stereo, I had sound from both sides. You have the call, Senator McGauran.
I was attempting to quote the former Queensland Premier Wayne Goss, referring to Paul Keating but it is in fact a political dictum. Whatever Wayne Goss left behind, which was mainly wreckage, he left behind one of the great political dictums, that if your lie is big enough, your backflip is big enough, the Australian people will not forget and they will wait on their porches with baseball bats. How true that is today. That is now set in stone as a political dictum.
I know those on the other side will be hoping this uproar all week will simply fade away given that there is not much sitting time. They will hope it is all contained within the Beltway. But it is not. This will not fade away, it will not settle down. The Prime Minister thinks she is going to win the debate. That is what she told the caucus. It is delusional. By the way, it was nice of her to turn up and inform the caucus, considering she did not tell it anything about the decision she was making. It was nice of her to come in and tell you, ‘Hey, I can win this debate,’ when no-one else has. I wonder if she choked up during the whole thing when she was telling it, put on a nice performance for you all. She has done that before. I am sure some of them have fallen for this within the caucus. I am sure some of them are going to take the wait-and-see approach, but it is too late. I am sure some of you believe—at least two of you in this room, I would say—that she just wrote your political death warrant.
I am trying to be helpful, Senators on the other side. I am not just saying this as some sort of biased, unstudied political rant against you on a Thursday afternoon. No. I have actually studied this issue. I have studied the politics of it. I have studied the issue in depth. In fact, I have—and we all have—been through this very debate before. It is deja vu again—which I say with tongue in cheek, for the Hansard. It was called the emissions trading scheme—the great big new tax, the one that Julia Gillard convinced Kevin Rudd to abandon, then dumped him for doing so, then promised not to introduce it but announced its return. How byzantine! Is that byzantine politics, Mr Acting Deputy President Forshaw? You are a scholar of history. That is byzantine. You know what I mean—layer on layer of politics, complex, unreadable. It is byzantine.
All the senators here would remember this, but I am compelled to walk those from the other side through a bit of political history, in the hope that I might jolt you from your current stance and that you might have the fortitude to stand up to the Prime Minister. I do not want to leave this place cynical. I want to think that, if I put up a rational debate to you, if I make my point quietly and with some intelligence, my argument will not fall flat. But look at the both of you. What, am I kidding myself? But I will attempt it. Mr Acting Deputy President, I can appeal to you. Six months into Kevin Rudd’s prime ministership, it was all Rudd love. He was riding high. The Labor Party were riding high. What is more, the whole issue of climate change was quite popular on the scene. Do you remember that? Some six months into your first term, under Rudd, there was then a by-election in Gippsland. It is worth noting what happened in that by-election, in all that swirl. The Latrobe Valley region is full of rusted-on Labor voters—coal workers, power station workers. In the Latrobe Valley region, there was an issue—it was not the major issue but it was an underlying issue—in regard to taxing power stations and the loss of jobs. You can guess who was running that issue. Little was understood—remember the context of the history of this—by those workers and those voters about this new tax, but they had fair whiff that their jobs were under threat, that living standards would decrease. And what did you get? You got historic swings of more than 12 per cent in every single booth of the Latrobe Valley.
So, when the debate came on full-blown a year later, in 2009, and all the consequences were understood—that workers would lose their jobs—there was a workers’ revolt. The polls plummeted. The Prime Minister lost his job. The policy was pulled and an election was all but lost, but for one seat. Yet on Thursday here we are again. The Prime Minister, having learnt nothing from history, has announced a carbon tax. We are back to square one. The reason you got rid of Kevin Rudd is historical, but it will come back to haunt Ms Gillard—the very same reason. Where are the senators, the plotters, that got rid of Kevin Rudd for this very reason? We are back to square one. We are back to arguing the ideology of the tax. You certainly are. But most of your party really do not agree with it. I am pretty sure the chair does not—
No. Can I then turn to the New South Wales right wing, which is still not a reflection on you, I hope, Mr Acting Deputy President! But they are against this tax. I know they are. They know the consequences of it. They are a bit distracted at the moment with the New South Wales election, in which they are about to get a whupping, but the New South Wales right are definitely against this tax. That is pretty much half of the party—the right of the party. They know this is a tax born of the green movement. We are back arguing about how unpopular this tax is in the public eye. Have you already forgotten that? The polls plummeted the last time you tried to introduce the emissions trading scheme/carbon tax—it is all one and the same. We are back arguing about how it will wreck the economy, put pressure on budgets and working families, cost jobs, ruin businesses, send businesses overseas and make exports uncompetitive. We are back arguing that the tax will have zero effect on carbon emissions. We are back arguing that this is a tax that the world has rejected. Copenhagen was a flop. The United States has moved away from an emissions trading scheme or a carbon tax or anything of the sort. India will not introduce it and neither will China.
To add to your nightmare, the old characters are back arguing the point. They have reappeared. Senator Wong is telling us we have to get ahead of the world, the icecaps are melting and the polar bears are falling off the edge. And Senator Evans is still leaning across the table—we are back to that—saying, ‘You’ve played yourself out of the game.’ He said that last time. We were right in the game last time. And it is not a game, but we are right in this, right up to the election. Professor Garnaut is back. Remember him? He wanted all the farmers—this is the idiocy of the man—to switch from cattle and sheep farming—
to kangaroo farming. I have not got time to dismantle that. I will leave that to Senator Williams. But it is madness. And the other flake, Tim Flannery, is back. I had a chance to debate him last year on this very issue. He was spruiking the government’s propaganda. Remember he was the one who said Adelaide would run out of drinking water in 2008! This is a shambles of a government. The Prime Minister is so incompetent and desperate. You have all been stitched up. It is too late now. You have all been stitched up, as you sit there mutely.
Very good interjections! If you really thought the government was adrift, and no doubt the Prime Minister did—I sense a desperate Prime Minister. The sharks might have been circling; I cannot be sure of that, but there was something very senseless about that press conference. If you really thought that, go back to your roots. Remember, it is the workers. Remember, Mark Latham made the same mistake in 2004. He thought he had to grab the green votes too, and he sold out the timber workers. We all know what the result of all that was.
Could anything be more bizarre than that press conference? I did touch on that press conference in the prime ministerial courtyard. Besides the press conference being mired in treachery—as I have quoted—and being flanked by Bob Brown, where was the Treasurer? Who has ever announced a major tax reform, greater than the GST, permeating every part of our lives, of $13 billion plus, without a Treasurer? It is not as if he was overseas. He was certainly in the building; there is no doubt about that. Maybe he was not told about it either. Or maybe he was just shamefaced about his own quotes, which I cannot believe. I was cherishing them to read out, and here they are. To give him the benefit of the doubt, he probably had too much pride to go, because this is what he said. On 15 August, Wayne Swan said:
… what we rejected is this hysterical allegation that somehow we are moving towards a carbon tax …
And on 12 August, a few days before that, he said:
We have made our position very clear. We have ruled it out.
So maybe, to give him the benefit of the doubt, he just was not going to turn up. After all, the cabinet had no idea about it. I know Senator Evans has answered this question in question time.
Caucus had no idea, no. During the last 3½ or four years they have had no idea. Sorry, Senator Evans, I do not accept your limp answer to that question earlier in the week. Sure, you discussed it when it was a fait accompli in cabinet, and that is about the extent of it that I will accept. Poor old caucus, as my colleague interjects, had no idea it was coming. Yet again they have been let down and stitched up by another leader. They have no input. They have had very little input during this whole government. What a miserable time they have had in government. They have had no time to enjoy it, let down by every single leader—let alone that the Australian people have been betrayed.
But history will catch up with this broken commitment and promise. I know we are not to use the words ‘untruth’ or ‘lie’, but it will not be lost on the Australian people. This is not a beltway issue. You hear on the radio the Prime Minister defending her backflip. It is excruciating. It is delusional. It is embarrassing. It is humiliating. It is just plain fake, and it is not working. I know there is much conjecture about whether we are listening to the real Julia or the fake Julia. I say they are one and the same: the real Julia is a fake. The truth is that this tax will have a cascading effect through the economy, hitting working families, business and the rural sector. The Greens want the rural sector in eventually, and it will come in.
They want petrol in. This is their policy. They want petrol in, and petrol will come in. They want the rural sector in, and the rural sector will be in. Who would believe otherwise? Do not even attempt to delude yourself over there that that is not what is coming into the carbon tax.
It is indeed a real pleasure to follow my colleague Senator McGauran, who has just delivered a very clear exposition of the subject that we are debating today: after more than three years in office and a change of Prime Minister, the government still has not found its way and continues to fail to deliver on its commitments to the Australian people. Senator McGauran has clearly pointed that out.
I start my contribution to the debate by reporting a crime. The crime is that the Canberra pickpockets are at it again. The Gillard government, based here in Canberra, with a regional development minister based in Melbourne, has today announced a magnificent program for rural and regional Australia. It follows on the announcements that Ms Gillard made with the two rural Independents to cling to power after the last election. But the announcement today shows that the Independents wasted their time by holding out for those tortuous 17 days after last year’s hung parliament to get a better deal for regional Australia from Ms Gillard. Today’s announcement shows that, with great gusto, the Canberra based Gillard government has provided a billion dollars for rural and regional Australia, replacing the Regional Development Australia fund which they announced last year, which was for $1.2 billion. So somewhere along the line the pickpockets in Canberra have stolen $0.2 billion from this program.
The documents released by Mr Crean today clearly show that regional Australia has again been done over, contrary to the promises made by this government. What is worse, this fund set up for rural and regional Australia can now be accessed by, wait for it, capital cities. How can a fund for rural and regional Australia be accessed by capital cities? My colleague Senator Cormann, coming from Perth, is very pleased about that, and so he should be. For him and the people of Perth I am delighted about it too, but it is a direct theft from the people of rural and regional Australia. The only announcement that has been made about those funds so far is the announcement of some $480 million for Perth. I am delighted for Perth, but I wish they could get money from this government somewhere else besides pinching it, pick pocketing it, from rural and regional Australia.
My colleagues have paid a lot of attention, as they should have, to the carbon tax that is about to be inflicted upon Australia. I take the Senate back to Ms Gillard’s words. We have heard over the last week the Labor Party saying that everybody knew their policy and knew that the Labor Party were in favour of an ETS or some sort of tax on carbon. But look at Ms Gillard’s words. Ms Gillard did not say ‘if the Labor Party wins we won’t have a carbon tax.’ If she had said that, perhaps we could say that they did not really win so the Greens have come along and put their proposal. But she deliberately said:
There will be no carbon tax under any government I lead.
That, we know, was a direct mistruth. That commitment was clearly given a couple of days before the election, when the spin masters and the focus groups of the Labor Party had told Ms Gillard there was no chance of her being elected if she did not rule out a carbon tax. So, a couple of days before the election, she deliberately told the voters of Australia that there would be no carbon tax.
I know that many voters in Australia would have asked themselves who to vote for, would have been not real keen on Labor’s tax and spend policies but who could vote for Labor rest assured that there would be no carbon tax. She said it not once but I think three times in that last week: ‘There will be no carbon tax under any government I lead.’ She did not say if the Labor Party won the election; she said ‘under any government I lead’. That was a deliberate misstatement, one which I do not think at the time Ms Gillard had any faith in keeping. Because of that claim, a lot of people voted for Labor candidates when they would not otherwise have voted for them. She will stand condemned by the Australian electorate for that breach of faith and the breach of her word.
I can only say to Ms Gillard and my friends across the chamber, if you believe Australians would have voted for a carbon tax, put your money where your mouth is, have the courage of your convictions and say, similar to what John Howard said, ‘We will go to an election on this in a couple of months and the main item of contention will be whether we should have a carbon tax in Australia.’ If the Labor Party are so certain it is good policy, they will win the election in a canter. But they know, as well as we know, that they will not win an election based on carbon tax.
I have heard Labor speakers all week saying that John Howard said ‘never, ever’ to a GST. Well yes, he did, but then he changed his mind. But he did not bring it in in the still of the night; he said he would have an election on it. He went to an election, we had to explain it all, and we were the target of the most negative, whinging campaign anyone has ever heard in this country from the Labor Party, who were totally opposed to it. Of course they have changed their mind now, just as an aside. John Howard had the courage of his convictions and put forward a very difficult to explain tax but one that has transformed Australia. It was the sort of taxation reform that Australia had desperately needed for decades but no-one had the courage to do it. John Howard put it forward, fought an election on it and won.
Julia Gillard, by contrast, is bringing in a tax on every element of Australian life. At the minimum, it has been calculated that the cost of living will rise by $300 a year. I think it will be well in excess of that. We know that fuel is going to go up by 6c a litre at least. While that will be difficult for all Australians, can I tell you that there will be a much greater impact on those of us who live in regional and remote Australia who have to use our cars because, sorry, we do not have public transport, we do not have hospitals down the end of the street, we do not have a school in the next block and we have to drive kilometres and kilometres to get to anywhere even to see a doctor. We will pay more with this 6c a litre increase that Labor’s carbon tax will bring about.
If the carbon tax were going to do any good, I suppose we could grin and bear it. We could say that if it is going to save the world, we have to do it. But, to use the famous words of a failed climate change minister, nothing we do in Australia is going to make one iota of difference to climate change. I always say that of course the climate is changing. There was a time when the globe was covered in ice, and it has clearly changed and will continue to change. Is it man-made carbon emissions that are causing it? Thousands of scientists say it is, but equally thousands of scientists say it is not. I do not know; I am not a scientist. I simply say that if the rest of the world is doing it and it is going to have some impact, yep, let’s go along with it. But nobody else in the world is going to do this, yet we are going to do it in Australia.
Mr Acting Deputy President Forshaw, you well know and some of your colleagues well know that Australia emits less than 1.2 per cent of the total greenhouse gas output in the world, so with all these measures from Ms Gillard and her government, the Greens-Labor coalition, what are we going to reduce our emissions by? Five per cent, is it? Ten per cent? Twenty per cent? Thirty per cent? Do the arithmetic: 30 per cent of 1.2 per cent is what? Practically nothing. It is not going to make one iota of difference. In fact, it is going to make matters worse because companies currently manufacturing in Australia, under a fairly strict regime introduced by the coalition government over many years, emit a reduced amount of carbon. Those companies will, with this new carbon tax, move offshore; they will be forced offshore.
I was talking to some miners from Western Australia in the magnetite industry. They were showing me that magnetite really is better than the other form of iron ore because you actually process the end result downstream at your mine. It is a sort of manufacturing in Australia, and that brings jobs to Australia. What this tax will mean, however, is that rather than doing that downstream processing of iron ore onshore in Australia companies will do what currently happens to Australian iron ore, which is send it off to China to be processed and converted into goods.
This tax is having the exact opposite effect and nobody but nobody on the government side, not even the failed climate change minister—principally the failed climate change minister—can ever explain that. How is Australia reducing its very small emissions by a very small amount going to save the world? It needs concerted global action, which the failed climate change minister said was going to happen at Copenhagen. We all had a good laugh at that. We knew it would not happen and of course it did not happen. There are ways, of course, in which the world can help with reduction of carbon emissions, if that is as important as is said. More uranium plants—the cleanest form of power that you can get—would help reduce them. But, no, this government simply cannot make up its mind on that either.
The case against a carbon tax has been clearly made by my colleagues before me in this debate, by other coalition speakers all week and, I might say, by the public of Australia. Take any opinion poll, radio talkback call or letter to the editor in the days since this new tax was announced and see what the response has been to that proposal. Nobody wants it because it will do no good. It is simply a churn of money. As my colleagues have pointed out, the government claim they are going to compensate everyone. If you compensate everybody you are not going to change habits or behaviour. You are not even going to reduce the reliance on carbon. It is a stupid policy, but if those in the Labor Party think it is good I say: have the courage of your convictions. Do what John Howard did and go to an election on it. Do it next month and we will see who is right.
I want to move on to some other of the promises made by the Labor Party that have been broken with the same sort of disregard for honesty that happened with the carbon tax. You might remember the Labor Party promised they would give us a national broadband network for $4.7 billion. Remember that? The amount they were going to spend was roughly equal to the amount the coalition had said it would spend to have a national broadband network in Australia—a commitment that was actually converted to a legal contract. Had the Labor Party not won the 2007 election, we would have a high-speed national broadband network up and running today for a cost of about $5 billion.
Instead of that we have paid $20 million for one assessment, we paid some other consultants $25 million for another assessment, we have had Senator Conroy struggling and running around all over the place trying to find a policy on broadband, and what have we come up with? A $55 billion slug on the Australian public to produce a broadband network that private industry and government support could have done for about $5 billion.
Go anywhere around the world and you will find people are saying that Australians are paying far too much for a network that, for example, Korea is getting for a much lower price—and it is an equally good network. In Korea they are taking advantage of existing private networks, putting in government subsidies and getting what Australia should be getting.
Go to any aspect of Labor Party promises in recent times and you will find that the Gillard government, and before that the Rudd government, believe their promises should be treated with impunity. They mean nothing. I know a lot of people say, ‘Most politicians lie,’ but when it comes to Ms Gillard’s commitment on the carbon tax people are taking a stand. They are saying, ‘How can you, one or two days before an election, an election which was clearly going to be close, hand on heart make the solemn promise that there will be no carbon tax, to stay in power, and then a few months after that come up with a carbon tax?’ People thought they were voting for either Tony Abbott or Julia Gillard. They did not realise that they would, by voting for Ms Gillard, actually be voting for Senator Dr Bob Brown as the new Prime Minister of Australia, and that is a great shame for Australia.
I know Senator Bob Brown is not in the Senate for this debate. He rarely is on a Thursday afternoon. He has usually slipped off somewhere. If he were here, perhaps I would not be able to talk about him because you saw the kerfuffle he went into the other day when I interjected on him and said, ‘Who?’ and he then demanded that the President protect him from vicious interjections. ‘Who?’ is the sort of interjection that Senator Brown could not handle. What a sook! He is the bloke who is now the effective Prime Minister of Australia and what a calamity that is for our country. We are going to get all the crazy left-wing ideas coming through not as Greens policy but as Labor Party policy. They are the sorts of ideas that went out in Europe with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the old Communist Party philosophies that went out of fashion 20 years ago. The Greens still stick by them and now, in their desperate attempt to stay in power, to retain the ministerial leather and the flash limousines, the Labor Party have done the deal with the devil and Australia will suffer as a result.
I could speak on this for hours and I know colleagues who follow me will do that. Go to any field of policy and you will find that what the Labor Party says before an election is quite different from what they do after an election. People driving home today listening to this debate on the radio will be saying to themselves, ‘We now have a Prime Minister we cannot trust.’ We now have a Prime Minister who, a couple of days before what was going to be a tight election, made a solemn commitment, a promise, and said, ‘Trust me, there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.’ A couple of short months after that promise was made, we are going to have this tax, which will add at least $300 to the cost of living of pensioners, low-income workers and everyone else and all for no environmental gain. This government must be condemned for its failure to commit itself to promises it makes.
I feel proud and privileged to contribute today to the debate on Senator Fifield’s motion, which, in part, talks about the government having lost its way, saying that it has not delivered on its commitments to the Australian people. That is far from the truth. The time I am permitted between now and six o’clock does not provide me with anywhere near the opportunity to go through every example of what we have delivered to our constituency, the Australian people. Forgive me for focusing on only a handful of those matters—they are samples of our great achievements.
I will start with what our party stands for. The Australian Labor Party has always been there looking after working-class people, looking after working families. It is a grassroots party that delivers achievements and outcomes for people who need and deserve them. We ensure that workers’ rights are protected and the people trust in our achievements.
Conversely, if you look at the opposition, they did build up a huge surplus—we grant them that. When the opportunity arose, when we were heading down the path of a global financial crisis, there was a need to use that surplus. Surpluses are about delivering in areas of need—areas of need that were neglected for 11½ years. I am speaking about the health system, about roads, rail and school infrastructure. You may recall that in our first period of government we handed down a stimulus package which had a variety of opportunities to make the economy strong and to keep people employed. Without jobs, where would we be? We were not going to allow Australians to fail, we were not going to allow this government to fail. Nevertheless the opposition over there condemned and did not support our package. They did not want new infrastructure built in Queensland, they did not want school halls, they did not want libraries—
they did not want roads and rail infrastructure; they wanted to sit on their hands and do absolutely nothing. As we know, the program amounted to $42 billion in infrastructure. It went to education, small business, social housing, defence housing, renewable energy and roads. We also gave taxpayers a $900 bonus to stimulate the retail area. People spent that money to keep the retail sector up and running and they demonstrated that they were able to survive.
We will focus on one aspect of the $42 billion stimulus package—that is, the $16.2 billion Building the Education Revolution. I have been fortunate to go to probably 30 schools to officiate at the openings of libraries, language centres, school halls and extensions of classrooms—a great achievement which principals and parents and citizens associations are very proud of. They have said to me on many occasions, ‘Go back to the Prime Minister, go back to Minister Evans and thank them for delivering on these projects,’ projects they thought they would never see in their lifetime, projects which the opposition condemned, projects which they would not have had had it not been for the support of crossbenchers and others.
I will just give some examples of where the money has gone in my area of representation. Dayboro State School received $2.65 million for a new multipurpose hall and resource centre; Lawnton State School received $2.12 million for a new resource centre; Chevallum State School—I spoke about their achievements earlier today and how they are addressing obesity—received $2.65 million for a covered outdoor area, refurbishment of a classroom, accommodation for multi-age learning and a multipurpose hall and resource centre; Living Faith Lutheran Primary School received $2.65 billion for shade areas and a new multipurpose hall; and Pine Community School received $324,500 for refurbishment of a covered outdoor learning area, for a green upgrade and for construction of a new library.
On many occasions, opposition members from the other place have been so keen to come along that in some cases you have had to push them aside to keep them from crowding into photo opportunities at those openings. The member for Longman, the member for Moncrieff, the member for Fisher, the member for Hinkler, the member for Forde and the member for Fairfax have been at those ceremonies, proudly standing there with grins on their faces, knowing that they were being photographed—so proud of this government’s achievements. They were standing there—I have that evidence. They were standing there with big grins from ear to ear, knowing they were part of a project that has delivered for this country.
The Primary Schools for the 21st Century, or P21, element of the BER program provided $14.1 billion for 10,521 projects in 7,942 schools. The money was used to build new libraries, multipurpose halls and classrooms and to refurbish existing facilities. Under the Science and Language Centres for 21st Century Secondary Schools element of the BER program, $821.8 million was allocated to 537 schools to refurbish or construct new science laboratories or language centres. Under the National School Pride element of the BER program, $1.2 billion was allocated for the refurbishment of buildings, for the construction or upgrade of fixed shade structures, covered outdoor learning areas and sporting facilities or for green upgrades. So it is clearly demonstrable that we have delivered on our commitments and our promises under the BER program. That the Labor government has been open and transparent is certainly evident through our establishment of the Building the Education Revolution Implementation Taskforce, which has released its interim report.
But our swift action not only provided state-of-the-art facilities to our schools; it fixed roads and built social housing and defence housing. It has also put us in the forefront of world economic performance. Our economy has been the envy of world leaders. I am fortunate enough to be on the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade and you get to speak to a lot of the ambassadors, as you would know, Mr Deputy President Hutchins, who attend those hearings. One of the first things they do when addressing the committee is give their opinion of our economy and the outcomes our government has delivered—how our government’s action made sure we were saved from the global financial crisis.
It was only by our swift action that we were able to protect jobs and workers. In January, 24,000 jobs were created. That is on the back of last year’s record job creation rate which saw 364,000 jobs created. In the last three years, 740,000 Australian jobs have been created—that is while about 30 million jobs have been lost worldwide. That speaks volumes for how successful our $42 billion stimulus package has been. Treasurer Wayne Swan has indicated that businesses plan to invest $133 billion in 2011-12—a record figure. Mining companies plan to invest $76 billion—higher than the $55.5 billion underway in this financial year. So we took swift action when the global financial crisis hit, thereby preventing the nation from falling into recession. That action left us as one of the best positioned economies in the developed world. We emerged from the global financial crisis as one of the only nations not in recession—allowing us to enjoy the continuation of 20 years of constant economic growth.
On the back of that we delivered some other amazing achievements, such as Australia’s first Paid Parental Leave scheme. I was a proud member of the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs that actively heard evidence and eventually handed down the parameters for the parental leave scheme. The scheme took effect from 1 January this year. It provides primary carers who earn less than $150,000 and who meet eligibility criteria with an entitlement to 18 weeks paid parental leave at the national minimum wage. It is a scheme which has been supported by the union movement, it is a scheme which has been supported by some of the main employers and it is a scheme which will improve the livelihoods of working mums in our society. The idea of the scheme is to give new mothers or, in some cases, fathers the opportunity to maintain ties with their employers. This enables businesses to retain skilled staff while giving parents time to stay at home with the baby, improving child development outcomes. It helps support breastfeeding and it gives mothers a reasonable period to recover from childbirth.
I find it humorous that the opposition claim we have not found our way. This comes from a party which has had three leadership challenges since John Howard lost the election in 2007—and there is still disunity within the opposition. Just recently there was disunity about their position on climate change. The coalition’s position on the government’s temporary flood and cyclone relief levy, which was debated in this House this week, clearly demonstrates their opposition to worthy causes, in this case the cause of assisting, in their time of need, those Queenslanders and Victorians hit by severe natural disasters.
But I do believe there is a breakthrough and I understand, as reported in the news, that it will be passed. It is an achievement that should be championed and held high as an example of how we help people in times of need. The coalition’s opposition to the temporary flood and cyclone levy shows that the Liberal and National parties have no commitment to the Australian public whatsoever. This is no different. Let’s not forget their time in government and their Work Choices policy. They could not wait to have the balance of—