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Thursday, 24 November 2011
Page: 9534


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:41): 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

Senator CHRIS EVANS: 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.

Senator Mason: School halls!

Senator CHRIS EVANS: They go on about the school halls program, but they turn up to the openings.

Senator Mason interjecting

Senator CHRIS EVANS: Senator, your local members do. Even Mr Pyne, your education spokesman, comes. Mr Randall comes.

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator CHRIS EVANS: 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.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Evans, you need to withdraw that.

Senator CHRIS EVANS: If it is not parliamentary I will withdraw it, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you.

Senator CHRIS EVANS: 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

Senator CHRIS EVANS: 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—

Senator Brandis: That is a bit disrespectful!

Senator CHRIS EVANS: 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

The PRESIDENT: Senator Evans, resume your seat. A couple of people are just getting a little bit excited.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Mr President, the leader is wrong when he says we voted against—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald, you have no entitlement to speak at this moment. There will be opportunities later in the debate. I am asking people on both sides to respect the practices of the chamber.

Senator CHRIS EVANS: 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.

Senator Abetz: You've said that before.

Senator CHRIS EVANS: 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.

Senator LUDLAM: I move:

That the question be now put.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Mr President, I raise a point of order on why you called someone from the government side next when someone from our side was on their feet.

The PRESIDENT: That is not a point of order.

Senator Ian Macdonald: No, but it is about the procedures of this place. When someone from that side has spoken, you call someone from this side.

The PRESIDENT: It is not a point of order. The question is that the question be now put.

The Senate divided. [15:09]

(The President—Senator Hogg)

Question negatived.