Thursday, 24 November 2011
Gillard Government; Censure
by leave—I move:
That the Senate censure the Government for four years of broken promises, economic mismanagement, wasteful spending, lies, hypocrisy and policy back flips, secret deals, leadership intrigue and incompetence, all of which has eroded the living standards of Australians and their confidence in the Government.
Never before in our nation's history have the Australian people been inflicted with a government that has been so incompetent, so wasteful and so deceptive. The last four years have seen the Australian people suffer a surge in their cost of living at the hands of this incompetent, wasteful and deceptive government. The litany of incompetence, waste and deceit is lengthy. Think Fuelwatch; GROCERYchoice; Senator Carr's classic, cash for clunkers; pink batts; and the Building the Education Revolution. Remember the East Timor solution and the Malaysian solution. Above all, who will ever forget the promise: 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead'? That was the grossest betrayal of a mandate, the grossest betrayal of an election promise and the grossest betrayal of working families—remember that slogan—ever perpetrated on the Australian people. For the coalition, working families are in fact our constituents, the people whom we on this side actually seek to serve, not just a glib slogan cynically developed by a focus group to win an election by the Australian Labor Party.
Working families of Australia were cruelly hoaxed by the Australian Labor Party. Having promised lower petrol prices, they delivered—sorry, they did not; they tried—Fuelwatch and they themselves dumped it, knowing it was a promise that would not deliver lower petrol prices. Having promised lower grocery prices to the Australian people, they developed GROCERYchoice. Remember that wonderful, wonderful scheme whereby Australians could go onto the internet and do a price comparison? In my home state of Tasmania, people were able to compare the prices in a shop in Strahan and one in Swansea. The fact is that Strahan is on the extreme west coast of Tasmania, Swansea on the extreme east coast. Of course, with the failure of Fuelwatch they would never have been able to afford to drive from Strahan to Swansea for cheaper groceries, if they were in fact available there. It was another cruel hoax perpetrated on the people of Australia—promising them lower grocery prices and delivering them nothing in return other than the waste of millions of dollars in developing a scheme that was as good as cash for clunkers. This is a three-part betrayal of our fellow Australians on their cost of living. They receive higher petrol prices instead of the lower petrol prices they were promised. They have been delivered higher grocery prices when they were promised lower grocery prices. They were promised no carbon tax and, as a result, lower electricity prices but they will now be delivered higher power prices.
This is a government that won office on a promise of—remember?—fixing the public hospital system. If they had not signed up by a certain date, Mr Rudd and the Australian Labor Party were going to take them over. Where has that promise gone? Our public hospital system is in greater disarray than ever, waiting lists have ballooned out, all courtesy of this government making huge promises and being unable to deliver on them because they have perpetrated a cruel hoax on the Australian people.
This is a government that won office on a promise of balancing the budget. Remember? They were self-described economic conservatives, and budget surpluses were going to be in their DNA. They have never delivered a budget surplus. All they have delivered is ever-growing and burgeoning debt burdens, ever-growing budget deficits, both of which are impacting on the cost of living. Indeed today, on this day, the Australian people, courtesy of the Greens-Labor alliance, will be accruing another $100 million of government debt because of the government's incompetence and their waste.
This is a government that won in 2007 on a promise of turning back the boats. Remember that—Mr Rudd proudly saying, 'We can turn back the boats and we will because we are a tough government'? As soon as they got into government, to whom did they give the portfolio but the hapless Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Evans. What did we have? Not a single boat turned back; a huge flood of boats into this country, which has seen our border protection policy mocked around the world and a huge blow-out. And when I say 'a huge blow-out', I am not talking thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars; I am talking thousands of millions of dollars being incurred by the Australian taxpayer because of this undeniable policy failure—a policy failure where they promised one thing before the election and then did another.
Of course, that was Mr Rudd's great promise on border protection. Then we had the rock-solid guarantee that the wonderful Ms Gillard with all her foreign affairs finesse had been able to negotiate—I wonder if the Labor Party remember this one?—the East Timor solution. Remember the East Timor solution? Just in time for the 2010 election it was, 'We will protect Australian borders with the East Timor solution,' in circumstances where she knew, where she must have known, that that was not a deal, was not likely to occur and would never occur. But what else could we expect from a Prime Minister who is willing to swear undying loyalty to her predecessor and then stab him in the back, a Prime Minister who is willing to stare down the barrel of a TV camera and promise the Australian people: 'There will be no carbon tax.' There is no sense of boundaries for this Prime Minister. She will say anything and do anything to win power and to stay in power, so it was not too far to go to simply make another false promise that there was an East Timor solution in the wind.
What about the government that promised they could deliver a national broadband network to the Australian people for $4 billion and cover 90 per cent of the Australian population in doing so? After they won government, all of a sudden the NBN cost increased tenfold to over $40 billion to cover 10 per cent less of the population than they had promised—another broken promise, another falsehood and another cruel hoax perpetrated on the working families of Australia, a slogan that they have now absolutely run away from like they appear to have run away from their former leader Mr Rudd. This is a government that lied by promising 'no carbon tax', a toxic tax which will hurt every Australian. Make no mistake—in hurting every Australian, it will also hurt the environment. The best example of that is Coogee Chemicals, a company which wanted to start up not only in Australia but in the Prime Minister's own electorate. Coogee Chemicals offered the promise of 150 jobs, the promise of $1 billion worth of investment to establish the biggest methanol plant in the Southern Hemisphere. It would have earned Australia $14 billion worth of export income. They have now decided, on the back of the carbon tax, not to establish in Australia—and where are they going? China. In establishing in China, their carbon dioxide emissions will be four times greater than they would have been in a pre-carbon tax Australia. That is why we on this side say the government is incompetent, wasteful and deceitful.
We know that in Coogee Chemicals we have only one of many future examples where investment will not come to Australia and where jobs will be denied to Australians. What is more, the carbon footprint in the world will be made worse, exactly as the European experience has been. You see their aluminium smelters deserting Europe and going to Africa. Does anybody in the Green-Labor alliance honestly believe that environmental standards in Africa are better than they were in Europe before they closed shop? Of course not. That is why we are now getting report after report out of the European Union telling us that the carbon price is a disaster and has made no difference, zero difference, to the carbon dioxide emissions of the European Union.
Countries such as the United States, Canada, France, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand have all come to this conclusion—and what policies are they adopting? They are adopting a better way. They are adopting a direct action plan, a direct action plan such as the one the coalition took to the last election. It is a policy which will deliver what the Australian people want without the need for this toxic tax.
We were also promised that the Labor Party would not engage in the blame game. What did the Leader of the Government in the Senate start his answer off with just a few minutes ago, when Senator Brandis asked the question about increased cost of living for Australians? He immediately blamed the states—in direct conflict with the great promise: 'We will never play the blame game; we will not blame the states.'
What other promises did they take to the election? They promised a government of transparency. Remember Operation Sunlight? 'We will allow the sun to shine in,' they said. I understand sunlight acts as a bit of a disinfectant. I would like to know how much sunlight or indeed disinfectant will be needed to deal with the speakership deal. I think that will play itself out in due course and the Australian Labor Party will be able to justify, one assumes, what they did today with Mr Jenkins. Make no mistake—Mr Jenkins did not fall in love with his constituency all of a sudden. He did not suddenly decide he wanted to go to the backbench so he could go to more school fetes and do a bit more doorknocking before his retirement. He was forced out of that position by a grubby deal, the sort of grubby deal that this government does on a regular basis.
They did another one earlier this week with the Australian Greens, you will recall, and the Independents in the lower house who promised us transparency and were willing to let the mining tax go through not knowing what deal had been struck with the Australian Greens. Talk about lemmings! Is there nobody in the ALP caucus in the House of Representatives who has any sense of self-respect? They were required to vote, like lemmings, for a policy not knowing what they were voting for or why.
The Hansard is littered with all sorts of examples of the Leader of the Australian Greens and the other Greens talking about the issue of time for parliamentary debates. What a great promise that was: transparency—that there would be a parliamentary process, that we would consider things appropriately. As every senator in this place knows, we have now had 13 bills guillotined without one single word of debate spoken on them. This is transparency. This is Operation Sunlight according to the Australian Labor Party. What I have been able to portray is a seamless—
I have been able to portray a seamless transition of incompetence, waste and deceit—from Mr Rudd to Ms Gillard. It begs the question as to why they changed leaders. We were told they changed leaders because the government had lost its way. You betcha they had; they had lost their way. But now, with Ms Gillard, not only have they lost their way, they have thrown away their moral compass and they have thrown away their policy map. In the words of Mr Graham Richardson, 'whatever it takes' is what the Australian Labor Party will do. They will betray the working families, the people they used shamelessly in their slogans.
Government senators interjecting—
This is a government which promised to look after the working families in Australia. They said they would look after the little people, but the mining tax they boast about was a dirty deal struck behind closed doors. Out of the 3,000 mining companies in Australia, with how many did they negotiate? Three—the three biggest. This is big government, big business and big unions and working families and small businesses can go jump.
Senator Sherry foolishly interjects, giving me another opportunity to highlight the deceit of this government. Day after day in this chamber he has been saying in question time that the superannuation to be paid to workers will be coming from the mining tax.
It will not. The employers will be paying the mining tax and, as the Henry tax review has indicated, that will mean lower wages for workers. Senator Sherry has himself followed the example of his leader: set out to deceive, repeat the deception and hope that somehow, miraculously, if you repeat the deception often enough it might become a truth. It will not become a truth. And, what is more, when he says there are going to be benefits for all small businesses, what he fails to tell the Australian people is that only 30 per cent of small businesses have a company structure. The 70 per cent of Australian small businesses which do not have a company structure—that is, one-man bands, partnerships, et cetera—will not be getting the benefit of which he claims and the small businesses of Australia know that. That is why they are not buying the deceit sought to be perpetrated by Senator Sherry.
We have example after example—a litany of deceit, waste and incompetence. You can go through virtually everyone on the frontbench. Senator Evans, a great success in the immigration portfolio! Live exports, Senator Ludwig, great! Senator Conroy, who could increase the cost of the NBN tenfold! Senator Wong, who got dumped as climate change minister. I will stop with the cabinet at Senator Carr, 'Cash for Clunkers Carr'. This is a smorgasbord of incompetence.
It shows how desperate the deputy leader has become that he has to try to stop the flow of this debate by making a spurious point of order. This is a government full of incompetence. It is a government which has wasted taxpayers' money—pink batts, BER, the list goes on and on. The greatest problem with this government is its deception of the Australian people at the last election in relation to border protection and in relation to the carbon tax. That is why I have moved that the Senate censure the government for four years of broken promises, economic mismanagement, wasteful spending, lies, hypocrisy and policy backflips, secret deals, leadership intrigue and incompetence. (Time expired)
That's it. That's all they've got. At the end of the year, that's all they've got. Senator Conroy made a very important point, highlighting the fact that at the end of the year, as the parliament comes to its close, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate gets up to explain his alternative vision for Australia, to explain what the alternative government of this country would offer to our people. There was not one policy, not one idea, not one contribution; all there was was abuse and negativity. He followed his leader, 'Dr No,' with 'No, no, no,' and with fear, fear, fear, but had nothing else to say. I suspect there is some anger and frustration behind the petulance we see today.
I suspect the Liberal Party think they have not had a great week. I think they are right. I understand their anger and frustration but, quite frankly, they really ought to try to focus on the things which are important to Australians. To those who do not understand parliamentary process, generally a tactics committee meets and drafts the questions the opposition will use to apply pressure on the government at question time. They got to question No. 2 today. They could find only two questions and when the tactics committee racked their brains—such as they are—they could come up with only two questions. So the solution was: 'Let's move a censure. Let's hide behind abuse, ridicule and negativity, rather than contribute something to the public policy debate in this country.'
I understand that what happened in the House of Representatives earlier today has upset them. They are upset, they are frustrated, and I understand that. What today highlights again is the capacity of this government, despite being a minority in both houses of parliament, to deliver. We continue to deliver. We continue to give good government to the people of Australia. During this parliament we have passed 250 pieces of legislation. We have had to negotiate. We have had to work our way through the processes but we have shown the capacity to do that.
The reason this government was formed was we had the capacity to negotiate, to offer a vision for the future of this country and to govern in a sensible, pragmatic and moderate way to deliver for Australians. We continue to deliver for Australians.
Despite the challenges of being a minority government, this government has delivered some of the most major economic reforms seen in the history of this country. Despite the pressures of numbers the government confronts, we continue to deliver good policy. The best measure of that is that we have created more than 700,000 jobs. More Australians are in work. More Australians are earning a living and are able to afford a decent standard of living not only because they are in work but also because they have an industrial relations system that gives them some protections, that allows them to get a decent wage, that allows them protection from unfair dismissal and that gives them decent industrial conditions. This is not the sort of thing the Liberal Party stands for—it is not the Work Choices regime. We have people in this country who have jobs, who have good conditions at their workplaces and who have security. They are able to plan their lives, to invest in buying their homes and to invest in the future of their children. We continue to deliver security to those families by providing jobs and stable economic conditions.
It is interesting to look at the unemployment figures in this country and compare them with the USA, the UK and Europe. We have half the rate of unemployment those countries have because this government invested during the time of the global financial crisis in a stimulus that saw us through. It saw us emerge as a country that is the envy of most countries of the world. It is because we invested.
Opposition senators interjecting—
The opposition goes on to ridicule that investment, but at every school opening and every BER opening I go to the community, the school community, the churches, the independent schools and the public schools say: 'This is a great investment. This is giving us kids a chance.' The interesting thing is that when I go to BER openings now I find there is a marked difference. When I used to go, in the first six or nine months of openings, there were no opposition people there. The local member who had voted against the stimulus and who had voted against the investment in schools never used to turn up. The Liberal and National parties had a strong position: they opposed that money going to schools. As my colleagues find now when they go to the openings, who do they run into? Local Liberal members proud to be associated with the opening of the buildings and welcoming of the investment in the schools. State Liberal premiers say, 'It's the best thing the federal government's ever done.' Liberal members say, 'Our schools welcome the investment.' So they come in here and they vote politically and then they go out to their electorates where they now like to be associated with our tremendous investment in the education of our country.
Mr President, you go to any primary school in this country and you will see an investment that those schools and those parents appreciate. Go to the science and language labs in high schools and you will see that investment. Go to the TAFEs and universities of this country and you will see that investment. We are investing in the education of our young people, which will give us a dividend for many years to come in their skills and abilities and in our productivity.
They go on about the school halls program, but they turn up to the openings.
Senator Mason interjecting—
Senator, your local members do. Even Mr Pyne, your education spokesman, comes. Mr Randall comes.
Honourable senators interjecting—
I enjoy meeting them when they get to learn about the tremendous value of the investment we made not only in protecting jobs but in improving the schools of our country. I have not heard one of them get up at those assemblies and say, 'We oppose this investment.' They are silent. I wait for it. I wait for them to say, 'Oh no, we think this is a waste of money.' They do not say that. I have my photo taken now with local members pleased to be associated: 'Here I am cuddling up to the minister and the principal so I can be in the local paper!' But they come in here and say, 'What a terrible waste.' What hypocrites.
It is a great Labor program that has delivered for every primary school in this country. But the government's program of reform continues with the introduction of the NBN. Australians know that we are investing in their future. We are giving them one of the best information technology systems that they can get and that will allow them to run businesses and to be educated and health services that are some of the best in the world. People tell me, 'This is the best thing since the Snowy Mountains scheme.' They understand that investment in the infrastructure in Australia is vital to their future.
Opposition senators interjecting—
Again, the Liberal Party mock. They say no—they oppose everything. But they have nothing to offer. They opposed the investment in our schools, they opposed the NBN, which is going to deliver a fantastic information technology workforce for us, and they opposed the price on carbon.
The former Prime Minister John Howard was in here yesterday to see his boy, Senator Sinodinos, give his first speech. It was great to see—
Sorry, I mean 'his close friend'. I do not mean any disrespect. I withdraw. But, although the senator's references to Work Choices made Mr Howard squirm in his seat a little bit, we know that Mr Howard provided strong leadership in arguing for putting a price on carbon. He argued at the 2007 election that we ought to put a price on carbon. What is more, he said, 'We should not wait for the rest of the world; we should show leadership.' Mr Howard provided that leadership in 2007, but the conservatives in the Senate, the real hardline right-wingers, ganged up to execute Mr Turnbull because he was far too progressive.
This government thinks this is a very important economic reform. It is an environmental reform and an economic reform that will serve Australia well. We have made the tough decision to transform our economy. What have the opposition contributed? They said no. That was their contribution to that debate. For months in the parliament they had nothing to contribute.
We now have the MRRT, a tax on the superprofits of mining companies. At a time when mining companies are making the largest profits in the history of mining companies in this country—they are making huge returns—this government said, 'We think it is a reasonable proposition that all Australians get some return for the use of their resources. After all, they are the resources of the Australian people.' We sought to put a tax on those superprofits. Some of the leading mining companies came to agree that that was a fair thing. They recognise that they are the Australian people's resources. Those resources can be used only once, so the Australian people have the right to ensure that they get benefit from those resources. We get the benefit of jobs and investments, but it is a perfectly reasonable proposition for all Australians to benefit from the use of their resources.
So we introduced the minerals resource rent tax into the House of Representatives, a major economic reform that will deliver $11 billion in revenue to the Australian people, and what did the opposition say? No. Not only did they say no but they now want rollback. What we are doing with the profits from the MRRT is investing in the superannuation of 8½ million Australians, particularly low-income Australians. Those earning less than $37,000 a year are getting concessional treatment. We are looking to give extra help to those people who most need to invest in their super to provide for a comfortable retirement. Two-thirds of those who will benefit are women because they have traditionally not done as well under the superannuation system. It is a major reform, benefiting the low paid and particularly women. That is what we are doing—taking the profits from the mining tax and giving it to low-income workers and female workers to ensure they have a better retirement, investing in their retirement and in their future.
We are also giving a tax cut to small business, allowing them to keep more of the money they earn to invest in their business and to employ people. We are also investing those profits in infrastructure to provide the roads and bridges that support the growth of our economy—things like the gateway in Western Australia, where we have invested around $480 million to support the developments around the airport area.
The Liberal Party are in such a mess. They have talked themselves into this position. They say, 'If we are elected to government at the next election we will take the tax cuts back out of the pockets of small business owners. We will take the superannuation benefits away from the low-income earners and female workers of Australia. We will take the money out of their pockets and—you know what?—we will give it to BHP and Rio Tinto.' That is where they have got to. They are going to say, 'You may be a struggling small business or a low-income earner but the money the Labor government gave you and invested in your future we are going to take back out of your pockets and we are going to give it to Rio Tinto and BHP because they are doing it really tough mining your resources.' What nonsense! They are making record profits. But the Liberal Party have got themselves into that position. I bet they are looking very hard for a way out of that. I look forward to that debate. The Liberal Party will argue that the mining companies are doing it tough and that they ought not pay fair taxation and that we ought to take the money out of the pockets of low-income workers and small businesses in this country in order to give it to the largest and most profitable miners in the country.
Not only are they saying, 'No,' but they are saying, 'Roll back.' This is where the modern Liberal Party under Tony Abbott are finished. This is where they have ended up. After a year or so of negativity and of saying, 'No, no, no,' to everything, they have ended up in this position with nothing to say about policy. In 20 minutes Senator Abetz had nothing to say about the way forward. He had nothing to say about the future.
Remember—and they went very quiet on this—they opposed the funding for flood relief in Queensland and Victoria. They opposed supporting the families of Queensland and Victoria to recover from the floods. That is where they have got to. They do not want to support flood victims but they do want to give the money back to BHP and Rio Tinto. This is what the Liberal Party have come to. They are so focused on negativity, opposing everything the government proposes, that they oppose flood relief to Queensland and Victoria. I have not heard much from them about that lately. That was another one of those 'die in a ditch until the last drop of blood' sort of promises that seem to have disappeared. The blood oath—
Honourable senators interjecting—
I welcome another interruption by Senator Macdonald, who has contributed so much to debate in this chamber in the last few weeks and has revealed the abject lack of leadership of Senator Abetz and Senator Brandis. Senator Macdonald has been providing the leadership for the Liberal Party. He represents where they have got to as well—the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate has no control over them; they have nothing to contribute other than to make spurious points of order. This is the discipline of the coalition; this is the leadership provided in this chamber. It is embarrassing to see Senator Abetz so badly undermined.
As I say, the coalition oppose flood relief for the victims of the floods in Queensland and Victoria, they oppose tax cuts to small business, they oppose superannuation concessions for low-income and women workers, they oppose putting a price on carbon and they oppose taxing the superprofits of mining companies. They have worked themselves into a position of total negativity, of opposing everything that is good for Australia, and they have nothing to contribute to the policies of this country. This government is absolutely focused on the future of Australia, be it through investing in education or health or through the reforms I have talked about. We are absolutely focused on growing this country and growing opportunities for Australians.
In my own portfolio we are seeing record investment in tertiary education and in trade training education. We have 100,000 more young Australians going to university than when we came to office—people who had been denied access. Lots of them are from the bush and, under years of the National Party, they never got a chance to go to university. They are now going to university. Families who never had the opportunity can now send their kids to university. These students will take the high-pay, high-skill jobs in the future. We are investing in the future of this country. We are investing in child care and preschools, in primary schools and secondary schools, and in TAFES and universities. We know the value of education to this country, not only for the development of the individual people concerned but also for the development of our economy. We are investing in the health of Australians by putting record amounts of money into health, by trying to streamline the health system and opening up more GP clinics to provide better access.
This government has a vision for Australia's future. This government knows where it is headed. This government is positive and optimistic about Australia's future. We are going to provide the economic leadership that will allow Australia to continue to grow and prosper; the economic leadership that will provide opportunities for Australians in education and employment. That is what this government is focused on, and that is in stark contrast to the sort of thing we see from the opposition. I encourage people to read Senator Abetz's speech today. That tells you just what they have to offer—not one idea, not one policy, not one positive, not one optimistic view of Australia. They are just talking Australia down—talking the Australian economy down and talking Australians' contribution down. They are full of negativity. They are led by Dr No, and that has infected the whole Liberal-National Party organisation. They have made themselves irrelevant. Not only do they oppose everything now but they have got themselves in the ludicrous position of taking money off small businesses and low-paid Australians to give it back to the BHPs and Rios of this country.
I will keep saying it—we will say it all the way up to the next election. At some stage we know Senator Abetz will walk away, and I look forward to the day when he comes in here and has to admit what a terrible mistake he has made. This government will stay focused on the future of Australia, stay optimistic about the future of Australia and keep delivering good policy to assist Australia to grow.
The right approach for an opposition in the face of a bad government introducing bad policies is to oppose it, to defend the Australian people from those bad policies. As a matter of fact, most of the measures that this government has introduced the opposition has supported, but Senator Evans is quite right when he says that on many occasions we have said no. We have said no because the Australian people want us to say no.
Senator Crossin interjecting—
Senator Crossin, if you want us to stop saying no, stop introducing bad policies, because we will always say no to bad policy. If you want us to stop saying no, stop increasing taxes, because your government in the last four years has increased or introduced 19 new taxes. So stop introducing new taxes and stop casting new burdens on the shoulders of the Australian people, and we will not say no to it. If you want us to stop saying no then stop wasting money. Tens of billions of Australian taxpayers' dollars were wasted on programs like pink batts, school halls and cash for clunkers, and the list goes on.
If you want us to stop saying no, stop blowing out the national debt. It should never be forgotten that when this government came into power Australia had no public debt. That was the first time, in the memory of anyone in this chamber, that Australia had no public debt and it was a result of the prudence and the competent economic management of John Howard and Peter Costello. In less than four years, Australia now has the highest level of public debt in our peacetime history. That is your legacy to the public finances of Australia. So if you want us to stop saying no, then you stop placing the burden of debt on the shoulders of the next generation and the generation after that. To this day, this government is borrowing $100 million a day to service its debt. Our net public debt today stands at $110 billion as a result of you. You inherited from John Howard and Peter Costello the most favourable set of public finances of any country in the OECD, and within four years you have wasted that decade of saving for which your predecessors were responsible. So if you want us to stop saying no, you stop imposing that burden on our children's shoulders. If you want us to stop saying no, introduce some policies you can be proud of. If you want us to stop saying no then stop telling lies and stop breaking your promises.
We all remember four years ago to this day when there was a change of government, and at the start of any new government there is a sense of hope. The people who decide to throw out an old government and install a new government do so with a sense of hope. Mr Kevin Rudd, who was stabbed in the back last year by Prime Minister Gillard—just as your friend and colleague Harry Jenkins was stabbed through the heart by Prime Minister Gillard this morning—in 2007 instilled in the Australian people a sense of hope. In particular, he made a pitch to Australian working families. He said to the Australian people, but in particular to Australian working families—people who had previously been called the Howard battlers or the forgotten people in a generation before that—'The Howard government is neglecting you, but we will make your lives better.' The Rudd government was elected, four years ago today, for this reason more than any other, because it won the confidence of the great Australian middle class. It made them believe and made them hope that it would make their lives better. What has it done? It has made their lives worse.
Senator Conroy interjecting—
It is all very well for Senator Evans to entertain a backbench of superannuated trade union hacks on the Labor side with the speech that he just gave, but if you go out into the real world, Senator Conroy—somewhere I know you have never stepped—and you ask ordinary, everyday Australian families whether their lives are better today or worse today than they were under the Howard government, you will find nary a one who will tell you their lives are better. If you go to the supermarkets of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or any other Australian capital city or any regional centre and you ask a sample of the Australian people, 'Are you doing better today than you were under John Howard?' I bet you that you will scarcely find one of them who will say, 'Well ,you know, Senator, things are a lot better today than they used to be four years ago.' You will not find one.
Senator Crossin interjecting—
I know you do not mix with ordinary Australians, Senator Crossin. You only mix with superannuated trade unionists and party hacks. But if you spoke to real people you would not find one who would say that their life is better today because of your government, because they know the truth—that is, their life is harder because of your government's waste and incompetence and addiction to spending and taxing.
In my question to Senator Evans today, in which he sought to pass off the responsibility to state governments, I reminded him, and let me remind the chamber again, that since his government came into office electricity prices have increased by 60 per cent. People are suffering and working families are suffering because of you, and it did not have to be this way. You did not have to blow the budget. You did not have to take the country into an unprecedented level of peacetime debt. You did not have to waste those tens and tens of billions of dollars that have forced up costs, but you did because you are hopeless and because every Labor government, when it comes to managing public spending, is hopeless. As a Senator Mason is fond of pointing out, every Labor government leaves the country deeper in debt when it goes out of office than when it came into office. Every single Labor government in the history of Australia has left the country in more debt when it went out of office than it had when it came to office. In this case, you came into office inheriting a surplus and you will go out of office, next year or the year after that, with the biggest peacetime debt that any Australian government has ever clocked up.
In any event, on your watch and because of your policies, after only four short years Australians are paying 60 per cent more for their electricity. To make matters worse, you have just forced through this parliament, against a solemn pledge not to do so, a great big new carbon tax which is designed to force electricity prices up yet further. Because of you, because of your policies, Australians pay 36 per cent more today for their gas bills than they did when you came into office. Whatever Senator Evans might say, it is your responsibility. It happened on your watch, because of your policies. You face the people next year or in 2013 and tell them that it was on your watch that electricity prices went up by 60 per cent, that gas prices went up by 36 per cent.
You face the Australian people whenever you have the courage to do so, Senator Conroy, and explain why on your watch water and sewerage rates have gone up by 58 per cent. You face the Australian people next year or the year after and explain to them why on your watch education costs have gone up by 24 per cent. You face the Australian people and tell them why on your watch fruit and vegetable prices have gone up by 33 per cent and grocery prices overall have gone up by 15 per cent.
Senator Wong interjecting—
And what are you doing about it, Senator Wong? I will tell you what you are doing about it. Rather than trying to ameliorate the problem, rather than dealing with the cost-of-living pressures on ordinary families, the kitchen table pressures, what you are doing is introducing a tax to make a bad situation worse.
Senator Conroy, we say no to that. We are saying no to your policies that force up the cost of living of ordinary families. Senator Conroy, we also say no to your litany of broken promises. Cost-of-living pressures were one of the great issues four years ago. The appeal to working families was one of the great issues of four years ago, but there were other issues as well.
Senator Abetz interjecting—
As my leader, Senator Abetz, says, whatever happened to Fuelwatch? It was an incompetent policy which was abandoned. Whatever happened to GroceryWatch? It was an incompetent policy that was abandoned.
But one of the other great issues four years ago, at the 2007 election, was the issue of border protection. You went to the 2007 election with Mr Kevin Rudd saying: 'There's one thing we stand against; we stand against offshore processing.' And this is a promise, as a matter of fact, that you did not break—one of the few—because less than a year later, in 2008, you abandoned offshore processing, and as a result you let the people smugglers back into business. Mr Deputy President, do you know the rate of unlawful arrivals in the last six years of the Howard government, before Labor abandoned John Howard's policies? There were an average of three boats a year.
Three boats a year, Senator Abetz—a year. In the period since Labor abandoned John Howard's policies, do you know what the average number of unauthorised arrivals has been? Sixty-four a year, an increase of more than 20-fold. So you went to the 2010 election under Julia Gillard, having stabbed Kevin Rudd in the back, and Julia Gillard said: 'The one thing we stand for is offshore processing.' 'In 2007 the one thing we stand for,' you said, 'is offshore processing.'
Senator Brandis, before you resume, could I remind senators to address their remarks to the chair, not across the chamber. Interjections are disorderly and I do remind senators to address members of the House of Representatives by their correct titles.
Ms Gillard, the Prime Minister, after she stabbed her predecessor, Mr Kevin Rudd, in the back on 23 June 2010, went to the 2010 election and said: 'There's one thing we stand for, and that is offshore processing'—a complete 180-degree policy turnaround—'but, nevertheless, the one thing we can promise you is we will only ever send refugees to offshore processing in a country which is a party to the UN refugee convention.' So in 2007 it had to be onshore processing, in 2010 it had to be UN refugee convention compliant offshore processing, and now what is the basis of this government's immigration policy? The basis of this government's immigration policy is to say: 'The one thing we stand firmly for is sending refugees to Malaysia,' a country which is not a party to the UN refugee convention. You, Senator Conroy, and your party have had every position under the sun on this issue and you still cannot get it right, because you are hopeless.
But all of this pales into insignificance by comparison with the grossest betrayal of all of the Australian people, and that is the carbon tax. It cannot be said often enough and we will not stop saying it, reminding people that six days before the 2010 election Ms Gillard, the Prime Minister, stared into a television camera and said in a considered, careful, modulated fashion: 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.' It could not have been a more solemn, more deliberate pledge. It was not an off-the-cuff remark. It was not a thought bubble. It was not a piece of flimsy rhetoric. It was a solemn pledge. And everyone in this chamber knows that, if Ms Gillard had not made that solemn undertaking to the Australian people, she would not have won the 2010 election. She did not quite win the 2010 election, of course, as we know, but she put herself in a position to secure the agreement of the Australian Greens to form a devil's alliance in order to maintain her dreadful government in office. If she had not made that statement—
Senator Di Natale interjecting—
Keep doing it, Senator Di Natale. If she had not made that commitment, she would not be in office today.
One of the most unappetising sights I think we have ever seen in Australian politics was the morning in the House of Representatives when the carbon tax went through the chamber. Labor ministers were high-fiving one another, slapping each other on the back, kissing each other and jumping around like kindergarten children in glee because they had succeeded in betraying the people. One does not usually, in a democracy, celebrate betraying the people, but that is what you did. You will never be forgotten for it and you will never be forgiven for it. No matter how far away the next election is, on the slippery slope to the next federal election, you will be reminded every waking hour that your government was elected on a lie and sustained by a betrayal.
The litany goes on. Commonly, in the pubs, clubs and supermarkets of Australia, people shake their heads in bewilderment and say, 'This must be the worst Australian government we have ever seen.' One of the reasons it is such a bad government is that it lacks integrity. It has no vision for the future. It has no policy integrity. It has no policy courage. It is a government based on fixes and the media cycle.
Senator Conroy interjecting—
And you, Senator Conroy, are one of the worst examples of it because, Senator Conroy, you are hopeless. I am sorry to say this. And you are now proudly presiding over the introduction of the greatest white elephant in Australia's public policy, the NBN.
Get out of Canberra, get out of your white cars, get out of your union meetings, get out of the political class and mix with and speak to everyday Australians, and you will see their despair. I really do not think you get it. The Australian public are not just critical of you. They are not just scathing about you. They hang their heads in despair and wonderment and say: 'How can a government make so many wrong calls? How can a government get so many key policy decisions wrong? How can a government be so shameless and flagrant in breaking solemn promises?'
Senator Conroy, keep yelling out 'No!' because we will say no every time you betray the Australian people. We will say, 'No way will you get away with it,' every time you lie to the Australian people. We will say, 'No, we're going to stop you,' every time you waste another $10 billion here and another $10 billion there. We will say no every time you try to put more burdens of public debt on the shoulders of our children and our grandchildren.
It is not our fault, Senator Conroy, that you are hopeless; it is your fault. It is not our fault that you give us so little to pat you on the back about. It is not our fault that you give us so little to agree with. If you are a hopeless government with bad policies and an addiction to taxation and waste, we will continue saying no, because we will continue defending the Australian people and their interests.
I think that has to be a new record: 40 minutes. The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate spoke for 40 minutes and did not mention one single policy of their own—in 40 minutes. I am not surprised that they did not, because if they were going to mention a policy they might have to talk about their new NBN policy. Apart from it being 'demolish', apart from it being 'no', recently Mr Turnbull has given a number of speeches.
We have now seen Citigroup give us a report on exactly what they find the costings to be of Mr Turnbull and the opposition's plan. Let me take you to the Citigroup report on the opposition's policy that they will take to the next election. The Citigroup report called the opposition's plan 'quick and dirty'.
Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order under tedious repetition. I am pretty sure the minister is about to repeat an answer he gave in question time earlier this week in regard to this report, and if the minister—
A discussion on a Liberal Party policy and they want to shut the debate down straightaway. The Citigroup report called the opposition plan 'quick and dirty'. Citigroup estimates the cost of the coalition's—
Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. While the minister is on 'quick and dirty', perhaps he would like to explain why he misled the Senate in his ministerial statement yesterday and correct the record and apologise—
I do not blame him for wanting the public of Australia not to know about the Liberal's policy, because Citigroup says it is $16.7 billion—
Senator Joyce interjecting—
and that is on budget, Barnaby: $16.7 billion. And the report says that regional Australians will be worse off. Here is a direct quote:
By implementing a market-driven approach to Broadband, the Coalition Policy risks the possibility of skewing telecommunications infrastructure investment and competition towards densely populated areas as is the case today.
'Densely populated areas'!
It also says:
We are concerned the need for the private sector to generate commercial returns will continue to limit broadband development in regional areas.
Further, it says:
The rapid speed demand growth observed in the past indicates that demand in Australia is likely to exceed the capabilities of what the coalition plan can deliver sooner rather than later, requiring nationwide upgrades to keep up.
In other words, when you finish the policy in 2018 or 2019 if you are lucky, it will already be obsolete. They did not finish there.
Fibre to the node is—
and I want to make sure we all hear this clearly—
not an upgrade path to fibre to the home. If the Coalition Policy is implemented it could simply delay an eventual national fibre-to-the-home build.
It is not just 'quick and dirty'; it is deceitful to try to pretend that they are building a better network when they know they will have to replace it before they start building it.
Mr Turnbull keeps talking about New Zealand. New Zealand started building a fibre-to-the-node broadband policy. They started to build but do you know what happened? The conservatives were elected in New Zealand and halfway through the build they decided it was not good enough, and that they had to build fibre-to-the-home. So in New Zealand they abandoned fibre-to-the-node and are building a fibre-to-the-home broadband plan. It goes on and on and on.
But people are not fooled by those opposite when it comes to broadband. Let me talk about some of the regional towns that are currently receiving—today—the national broadband network. I will let you know where some of them are because it is obvious from those opposite that they do not talk to people out there in regional Australia, otherwise they would know the people are currently using it. We have, in New South Wales towns like Black Springs, Clarence, Hampton, Rydal, Arkell, Clear Creek, Dark Corner, Fosters Valley, Rockley, Upper Turon, Millthorpe, Neville, Newnes, Glen Davis, Portland, Toobong, Gumble, Baldry, Bogan Gate, Bellbrook, and I could keep going on and on in New South Wales. I have covered only two electorates.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy President, with only five minutes left before the government's guillotine motion starts to apply for the day, the minister has only five minutes to explain why he lied to the Senate in his ministerial statement yesterday and I would urge—
We can keep going. We have got Hay, Maude, Mungo, Euston, East Lynne, Woodstock, Furner, Foxton, Big Hill, on and on and on I can go but I do not want those opposite to think that we are only interested in New South Wales because, unlike the opposition's plan, our plan is a national plan. We can move to Queensland, seeing that Senator Brandis and Senator Mason are in town. We could talk about communities—
Senator Joyce, of course, but he is moving to Armidale so he can get access to the National Broadband Network. He is so desperate to get to the NBN he wants to move states, that is why he is trying to pretend that he wants to challenge Tony Windsor. What he really wants is to get on the NBN straight away. In Queensland, we have communities in Burbank, Wynnum West, Fortitude Valley, Ditmar, Bowen, Rita Island, Samsonvale, Helensvale, Buderim, Glasshouse Mountains, Taroom, Abbeywood, Monto, Bucca, Mount Perry, Boynedale—I could go on.
Senator Mason does not want to hear the truth. He does not want to hear about all the Queensland communities that are today using the National Broadband Network because those opposite are going to turn it off, they are going to stop it, close it down and abolish it. That means to all of these people in all of these communities that they are going to pay higher prices. Every single one of these people is going to—
That is because Brandis is not a serial misleader of the Senate, which is what Senator Conroy is doing again. It is what he is doing again with this. Once again, he is misleading. Nobody is going to shut down those—
Senator Wong interjecting—
Yet again, we can see the glass jaw of those opposite. They do not want the people of Australia to hear about their broadband plan. They do not want people to know that they are going to increase broadband prices and slow the speed down. If you live in regional Australia, you get a choice at the next election. Seventy per cent of homes in regional Australia will get fibre-to-the-home and the other 30 per cent get a satellite service faster than anything you ever gave them, a fixed wireless far superior to anything else. Do you know what those opposite want to give them, out of Mr Turnbull's own mouth? They are going to give them a voucher—a voucher to stimulate demand so that all those private sector companies will come in and start providing broadband in regional Australia.
They are coming to St George, are they not Senator Joyce? When you get your voucher, all those companies are going to come to St George to provide broadband? I do not think so and neither do you. We have those opposite too embarrassed to come into this chamber and say: 'Here is our policy. Let's compare your policy, government. Let's compare them to ours'. Not one word. We had 40 minutes from them and not one word on your policy. You are too embarrassed to debate them and so you should be. Let me give you a couple of examples of communities in Bendigo. The Bendigo Health CEO, John Mulder, said: 'We will require high-speed broadband for new initiatives such as teleradiology, telestroke and remote patient monitoring.' In Geelong: 'Health is going to be practised differently in the future because of this technology. It is going to revolutionise medicine.' And you want to say no. (Time expired)