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- Start of Business
- PRIVACY AMENDMENT (PRIVATE SECTOR) LEGISLATION
- MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT SERVICES: WITHDRAWAL OF COMMENTS
- MEMBER FOR DICKSON
- DISSENT FROM RULING
- MR SPEAKER
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- PIG INDUSTRY BILL 2000
- COMMUNICATIONS AND THE ARTS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2000
- VETERANS' AFFAIRS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (APPLICATION OF CRIMINAL CODE) BILL 2000
- ROADS TO RECOVERY BILL 2000
- STATEMENT BY MR SPEAKER
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
Centrelink: Job Seekers
(Kernot, Cheryl, MP, Abbott, Tony, MP)
Illegal Drug Use: Diversion Program
(Cadman, Alan, MP, Howard, John, MP)
Centrelink: Job Seekers
(Kernot, Cheryl, MP, Abbott, Tony, MP)
Economy: Current Account Deficit
(Cameron, Ross, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
Economy: Foreign Debt
(Crean, Simon, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
(Bartlett, Kerry, MP, Anderson, John, MP)
Illegal Immigration: Woomera Detention Centre
(Sciacca, Con, MP, Ruddock, Philip, MP)
(Nehl, Garry, MP, Anderson, John, MP)
Goods and Services Tax: Draught Beer
(Crean, Simon, MP, Howard, John, MP)
Education: Schools Funding
(Georgiou, Petro, MP, Kemp, Dr David, MP)
(Horne, Bob, MP, Howard, John, MP)
Companies: Employee Entitlements
(Barresi, Phillip, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
(Ferguson, Martin, MP, Anderson, John, MP)
Private Health Insurance: Gap Payments
(Southcott, Dr Andrew, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
(Ferguson, Martin, MP, Anderson, John, MP)
Work for the Dole: Program
(Hawker, David, MP, Abbott, Tony, MP)
(Beazley, Kim, MP, Anderson, John, MP)
Corporations Law: Commonwealth Responsibility
(Andrews, Kevin, MP, Hockey, Joe, MP)
(Beazley, Kim, MP, Anderson, John, MP)
Renewable Energy Legislation
(Causley, Ian, MP, Truss, Warren, MP)
- Centrelink: Job Seekers
- ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- QUESTIONS TO MR SPEAKER
- AUDITOR-GENERAL'S REPORTS
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- ROADS TO RECOVERY BILL 2000
- LEAVE OF ABSENCE
- Aboriginals: Stolen Generations
- Work Experience: Dean Little
- Member for Swan: Entitlements
- Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry: Corporate Work and Family Awards
- Capricornia Electorate: Bowen Basin
- Australian Labor Party: Queensland
- Statement by Mr Speaker
- Health: MRI Machines
- Start of Business
STATEMENTS BY MEMBERS
- Hunter Electorate: Allandale Aged Care Facility
- Conference of Members of Parliament of Italian Origin
- Canberra Electorate: Art Exhibition
- Australian Labor Party: Queensland
- Canning Electorate: Adopt a Politician
- McPherson Electorate: Paralympics
QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Marriage Celebrants and Ministers of Religion
(McClelland, Robert, MP, Williams, Daryl, MP)
Goods and Services Tax: Prime Minister's Portfolio
(Hatton, Michael, MP, Howard, John, MP)
ComSuper: Superannuation Entitlements
(McMullan, Bob, MP, Fahey, John, MP)
Waterfront: Robot Operated Container Staddle Carriers
(Murphy, John, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
Botany Bay Foreshores: Restorative Work
(McClelland, Robert, MP, Fahey, John, MP)
Relationship Counselling: Funding
(Livermore, Kirsten, MP, Anthony, Larry, MP)
(McClelland, Robert, MP, Anthony, Larry, MP)
Monash University: Physics Faculty
(Danby, Michael, MP, Kemp, Dr David, MP)
Macedonia: Embassy in Australia
(Jenkins, Harry, MP, Downer, Alexander, MP)
Honours and Awards
(Hollis, Colin, MP, Howard, John, MP)
- Marriage Celebrants and Ministers of Religion
Thursday, 30 November 2000
Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (1:12 PM) —In rising to speak to the Roads to Recovery Bill 2000, I indicate that at the conclusion of my speech today I intend to move an amendment to the motion for the second reading of this bill. That second reading amendment, whilst welcoming the additional road funding, clearly raises one of the most important issues in the Australian community at the moment. That issue goes to the fact that the coalition government broke its election promise going to the impact of GST on petrol prices and that, as a result of that clear promise that has been broken by the Prime Minister and all associated with the coalition government, it is no longer just a question of additional road funding; it is also a question of whether or not ordinary Australians can afford to buy the petrol to enable them to travel those roads around Australia.
I must say that that is an exceptionally important issue when you consider that next year is the International Year of the Volunteer. When I look around Australia on a regular basis, a lot of people in semiretirement or retirement who live from week to week actually put their hands in their pocket to purchase petrol to enable them to carry out community services such as Meals on Wheels or, alternatively, to pick up some of our elderly citizens on a voluntary basis to take them to community events. For those people—and a lot of other people who live from week to week—who, unlike the Prime Minister, actually put their hands in their pockets each week to purchase petrol, there is really a requirement for reasonable roads in Australia but, more importantly, as the member for McEwen knows, there is now a real debate about whether or not they can actually purchase petrol.
On that very basis, in discussing this bill I am about ensuring that the member for McEwen and others on the coalition side actually have an opportunity, in accord with what they are saying in their electorates at the moment, to vote for relief with respect to petrol prices and the impact of the GST on petrol prices.
Mr MARTIN FERGUSON —It is no longer acceptable to say one thing in your electorate and then do something entirely different when you get in the white car and catch the plane to Canberra.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Andrews)—Order! The member for McEwen!
Mr MARTIN FERGUSON —That is what it is really about. It is not just a debate about Roads to Recovery; it is also a vote about integrity and honesty in government.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The member for McEwen, I note, is speaking next in this debate. I suggest she holds her remarks until then.
Mr MARTIN FERGUSON —I understand why members such as the member for McEwen are rather tense and, I suppose, a bit sensitive about this issue. This debate really brings to a head the debate not only about roads but about whether or not coalition numbers are going to be honest in their electorates and actually, when they come to Canberra, vote with their feet and put up their hands in support of a proposal which is about giving genuine relief to ordinary Australians in electorates such as McEwen through a reduction in the price of petrol by taking the GST spike out of the potential increase in petrol from 1 February next year due to the application of the GST. It is for that very reason that Labor has many concerns about what many in the Australian community regard as an unfair, shabby legislative effort intended to meet those needs. The opposition shares with all taxpayers a contempt for seeing politicians bestow taxpayers' money like it was their own to give.
The amendment that I will move today condemns the government for that very approacha lack of honesty and integrity in government. It is condemned for failing to compensate motorists for higher fuel prices as a result of the GST in spite of its promises, something that the member for McEwen actually speaks about in her electorate but when she comes to Canberra fails to put her hand up for in this House. She says one thing in her electorate and does another thing in Canberra.
The government are condemned for having no national strategy for infrastructure development, leaving major transport and infrastructure projects and opportunities untapped or not determined in a fair and transparent way. They are condemned for a program that does not respect the infrastructure priorities of local councils and communities. They have pushed the money out into one transport mode, one infrastructure type, in a one-size-fits-all approach to fixing infrastructure needs. They are condemned for five years of neglect of regional infrastructure and development. And they stand condemned for a lack of transparency in the identification of road funding priorities under this bill. That is the nature of the second reading amendment.
I also challenge what the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services said today, that decisions on road funding should be left to local councils. We have evidence of members on the other side already ringing local councils and seeking to intimidate and direct them about what their local road funding priorities should be. The truth of the matter is that local councils have a capacity, free of political interference from Canberra, to determine their local government priorities.
In addressing these issues, I say at the outset that this bill smells like pork. If this package is as fair, equitable, generous and flawless as inferred by the minister, why has its presentation and its preparation to this House and the community been so sloppy, slapdash and deceptive? I will tell you why, Mr Deputy Speaker. Because that is part and parcel of the hallmark of the operations of this government, as evidenced by the unfortunate debate in this House today and the unfortunate attack by the government on the integrity and the honesty of the Speaker during this morning's proceedings.
I inform the House that this bill had its first public viewing less than 24 hours ago. It was only late yesterdayas a result of an approach by me as the shadow minister the previous day in a letter to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services to try to expedite proper public consideration of these mattersthat the minister's office actually granted my office an opportunity for a briefing on the bill. The problem was it was only late yesterday, despite my request and the so-called urgency with respect to this bill, that the department and the minister were able to provide a copy of the bill to the opposition and a briefing. The truth is that the substance of the bill was still being scribbled out less than 24 hours ago.
At the same meeting, we were told today's timetable and soon found out that much of the detail was being held back or not revealed. The government also revealed at the last minute that every single council in Western Australia and South Australiadespite what it trumpeted earlier this weekwas now receiving less funding than announced by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister on Monday of this week. It was only after 10 o'clock last night that we received the explanatory memorandum from the minister for an important bill that is supposed to distribute $1.6 billion not of the government's money but of taxpayers' money in a transparent way. What sort of shambles is operating on the other side of the House at this very point in time?
We are told that councils will receive funding quarterly in advance but that the minister will have absolute discretion over when in the four years the funding is allocated. We know what that smacks of: `You do what you are told and promote us and we will bring forward your funding in a highly political way.' Talk about pork-barrelling. It is basically a threat: `If you do what you are told we will bring your funding forward.' That is also reflected in the fact that the very letter advising members of parliament and local councils of the proposed road funding demanded that local council funding actually be diminishedreduced by a requirement that local councils pay for elaborate signs to promote the government. I would have thought that every available dollar and cent should be spent on infrastructure around Australia, if roads are so important, rather than this government wasting taxpayers' money by demanding, in their letter advising members of parliament and local councils, that they had to promote the government. Where are their priorities? Where are their priorities on roads? Where are their priorities on railways and bridges and port developments? Where are their priorities when it comes to fulfilling a very deliberate election promise that the price of petrol would not increase as a result of the application of the GST? That is also central to the debate this morningnot just road funding but whether or not ordinary Australians beyond Kirribilli House, where the occupant never puts his hand in his pocket for petrol, are required to actually pay for petrol on a regular basis.
When I refer to the nature of quarterly payments being made in advance, I suggest that the minister is about timing his announcements to suit the political preferences of the government, using taxpayers' money in a political way. You and I, Mr Deputy Speaker, know that this government are known for ensuring total political discretion on major infrastructure projects—a bit like, for example, their timing for the Sydney Orbital, and the Speedrail maybe. The government say that we cannot complain about how funding has been allocated between electorates because it is Labor's formula. That was another blatant lie from this government. Without this bill and the departmental briefing, it was impossible to determine how they applied the old formula to get the result they did. At the briefing last night in my office they confirmed that the formula had changed. The allocation of money between the states is a totally new formula designed in the minister's office. They could not tell us at the briefing last night how that new formula was designed or modelled, other than to say that it is something to do with historical precedent, population and road lengths. I suggest those factors had nothing to do with it. It was designed to rort the Australian political system to suit the political expediency of the coalition government, especially the National Party. There was no information on how these factors were considered, rated, scaled or measured. So much for transparency, honesty and integrity in government.
I ask the government right now to put up or shut up on the question of the formula. They should release the formula today and tell the House and the Australian people the truth about the development and application of the formula. I asked them for that last night when they sought to ram this bill through the House, and they could not answer that question. They now have further time to consider that fundamental question, to come into the House this afternoon and answer it—to remove any doubt in Australian electors' minds that this is not only a political fix but also potentially a political rort to suit the needs of the coalition backbench. That is what it is aboutintegrity in government. And they could not tell us the answer to the question. What have they got to hide? If it is not pork I can smell, then frankly it is a rat.
The minister says that any accusation that this package favours coalition members and seats is outrageous, but let us look at the facts. Every one of the 17 seats that received $25 million or more belongs to a coalition member. We already have the `Roads of National Party Importance Program'—a program that is not known for its transparency—but now we have also the `Roads for National Party Recovery'. The Howard government cries foul when people question the word of the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, but now everyone will be questioning the honesty of the Howard government because the 17 top electorates under this package are all government electorates. No wonder the Howard government refuses to publicly release the formula for public scrutiny. How quick was the Prime Minister to come out and say, `This is not a pork-barrelling exercise'? In fact, the Deputy Prime Minister came out and said, `This will not favour coalition seats.' That is a quote. This desperate Howard-Anderson government, as the Minister for Community Services likes to describe it, has been exposed for what it isa government that is simply not trusted by people in regional Australia. The truth is that the government stubbornly claims to have no money to provide relief for the motorists at the petrol pump, and then announces a local roads program. It has continued to bag the money from the higher fuel prices and the GST—ordinary Australians' hard earned dollars. Now it is selectively sending some of the money back. But as our leader, Kim Beazley, has said on a number of occasions of lateand maybe the member for McEwen ought to explain this to her electoratewhat is the point of having good roads if you cannot afford to drive on them?
I refer to a cartoon in the Northern Territory News, a newspaper I do not often get the chance to quote in this House. I believe the Northern Territory News had a great cartoon on Tuesday that showed two people driving along a road—I know the Northern Territory roads because I have worked in the Northern Territory extensively over a long period—and one says to the other, `It's great! Now we can get to places where petrol is really expensive.' That is what it is really about in some of those rural remote areas of Australia. Now we can get to places where petrol is really expensive—not Kirribilli but places like Katherine, Borroloola, Gove, Groote Eylandt and Rabbit Flat where it is really expensive. Those drivers were probably a bit too hopeful about how much further they could get because of the road package.
The Northern Territory, as the member for the Northern Territory will explain later today, gets a raw deal when it comes to the application of this so-called formula developed in the minister's office. I think the drivers might have heard the rhetoric about the package and not seen the detail, as we have. The contempt this government have for the electorate is showing through. They thought they could stare down people's demands for petrol relief. They thought they could stare down, for example, the National Farmers Federation. But the president of the National Farmers Federation clearly said this week:
The road package doesn't settle the problem with respect to the broken promise and the application of the GST to petrol prices.
They obviously have not heard the concerns expressed all around Australia, including in the electorate of Menzies and not just in the member for McEwen's electorate. They thought they knew best. They could only see the solutions as an either/or situation, but it is now clear they have made the wrong call. The West Australian summed it up on Tuesday when it said:
... if Mr Howard hopes that Australians will accept this program as a political trade-off for cheaper fuel, he has underestimated the level of anger about fuel prices.
I have seen the reaction of the Bundaberg president of Queensland Cane Harvest. Quoted in the News Mail of Bundaberg yesterday was Mrs Sandra Waulk, who said:
... harvesters would not accept the funding as a trade-off for rising fuel prices. We can survive on bad roads but we are not going to survive on the current fuel prices.
Motoring and farming groups are not giving up either. The national president of the Farmers Federation, Ian Donges, has already said in Canberra in welcoming the road package that it was `not going to change their views on petrol prices. That is a separate issue and we will continue to talk about it.'
The government must realise therefore that these concerns are not coming from inner city or outer metropolitan areas. These serious reservations and riders about the scope of this major government announcementremember we are talking about $1.6 billion of taxpayers' money announced in one hitdo not come from the inner city or outer metro areas. They have come from the rural and regional heartland. The biggest beneficiaries of the program are the ones still not happy. I suppose they are the ones described as whingers by a member of the coalition government only a matter of a week and a half agofarmers in regional Australia described as whingers by a frontbench member of the coalition government. I am waiting for the member for McEwen to attack that person. The member unnecessarily and without any proper right attacked our hardworking farming community and described them as whingers. Yes, they are from the rural and regional heartland and the problem is that the Minister for Transport does not even listen to people in the country areas whom he tries to claim as his own. The reaction to this package has shown just how out of touch he is. Perhaps that comes from living in upper Deakin or Red Hill for too long, whichever yuppie inner city suburb he resides in. I suggest he has been living there for too long and I now understand, because of the pressure on his own electorate, why he is actually moving back to his electorate. It is because he fears the electoral backlash at the forthcoming federal election. He has neglected living standards, infrastructure and services in regional Australia for the last five years and people will not be conned.
The slapdash way this bill has been presented is further evidence that the minister did not take care with the decision. The first copy of the bill surfaced only last nightnot the real detail and not the answers to obvious questionsand now he wants to bung it through, if not today then on Monday, the first sitting day of next week. This is indicative of how the minister responded to community calls for some leadership and for transport infrastructure strategies, and also how he responded to the call for some backbone on fixing the Prime Minister's broken promise on petrol. He has panicked, gone weak at the knees and rushed and offered a knee-jerk response to only part of the problem.
Let us go to the issue of the infrastructure strategy. Everyone recognises that our local roads need attention. Nobody on either side of the House disputes that. Local road funding, as we all know, has been a key issue for a long time. People, I suppose, are entitled to ask this afternoon why it has taken until a year before the next election for the Howard government to act. People are entitled to be a little bit suspicious. After all, for the last five years the Howard government has told local councils that local roads are not the Commonwealth's responsibility.
This is a project that falls well short of a long-term infrastructure plan that regional Australia has been crying out for. Our nation has serious infrastructure needs. These are hard issues that we must sort through, such as how we work in partnership with the private sector and how we work with the local communities to give them a greater voice in their future. We know that that takes leadership, commitment and strength. It takes a fresh approach to how we plan for and develop our infrastructure.
In the same way we need to plan and develop our transport in this country. It is time that the minister did more than talk about national integrated transport planning. He has had long enough to deliver. We have heard nothing on how our railways can maximise the potential to ease the burden on the roadsprojects like the dedicated freight line through Sydney. That is a project that has money allocated to it, but where is it? The minister will again try to blame the New South Wales government for that, I suppose.
It is the responsibility of government, through strong, thoughtful leadership, to bring these projects forward and to get them under way now, not to just sit back and wait for the right political opportunity. This government has to face up to leadership questions and the challenge of leadership to bring the respective parties together in partnerships, drawing on the expertise of government, industry and communities.
Therefore, Labor announced last Friday a national infrastructure advisory council, an obvious and achievable structure to share that leadership. Labor's infrastructure council will advise a Labor government on strategic planning needs, data deficiencies, strategies for coordination within and between governments and how we move forward on public-private partnerships. Unfortunately, the Deputy Prime Minister has rejected it. He says the parties will not be able to reach agreement. Frankly, the role of leadership is to bring people together. It is not good enough to say we cannot handle the tough issues of infrastructure planning coordination. We have avoided them for too long. Everyone in the infrastructure community, local government and regional backbenchers agrees with Labor on the infrastructure council. The Deputy Prime Minister is on his own.
There are a number of elements to an infrastructure policy—as opposed to an election policy. That is the distinction the Howard government is yet to learn. One of these must be increased government investment. The only thing we can welcome about this package is the recognition of that. It has been totally neglected for five years. Everyone in this place knows that the infrastructure challenge is about more than investment. There is little dispute that infrastructure is critical to the development of our cities and regions and we know that many of our regions are lacking significantly. Infrastructure creates jobs and enhances business competitiveness and directly contributes to our quality of life as we access new opportunities, services and markets more rapidly than before.
There are important issues before the House. We all know that, but the problem is that the government is selective in working out what it is prepared to attend to. The Australian taxpayer demands that we spend our infrastructure money honestly. That is the message from a range of organisations. Without an overarching policy framework and with ad hoc announcements we will continue to be swamped by the broader effects of the market. I suggest the time has come for the government to make some hard decisions, not just on questions of local road funding and petrol prices but also on such important matters as the Scoresby bypass in Melbourne, where the Victorian government has actually offered to enter into a road of national significance agreement to try to assist its development, and also the development of the Western Sydney Orbital. The Prime Minister seems to claim that he knows all about this. He suggests that he knows the money is in the budget for the Western Sydney Orbitalhe has been telling us allbut he has not told us why construction has not commenced or how long his transport minister has been sitting on the feasibility study. The study is done, the money is in the budget but the first sod has not been turned. The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services should have taken his tie off and turned some dirt on either the Scoresby road or the Western Sydney Orbital rather than engaging in his cheap stunt at Canberra Airport earlier this week in announcing the Roads to Recovery package. Maybe this government is relying too much on its finance minister for strategic infrastructure advice. I would not. He has a record for getting it wrong when it comes to private partnerships. Just go to Sydney at the moment and try to get on the train from Mascot to the CBD and think about the waste of public money because he got it wrong.
At last year's regional summit, the Prime Minister proclaimed his support for nation building by promising the Alice Springs-Darwin railway without any talk of an infrastructure strategy. One thing is clear from all of this: our infrastructure investments are being driven by short-term politics, not by any long-term plan. A renewed commitment to infrastructure is a key priority identified by last year's regional summit. The summit delegates also stressed that it is just not about a few announcements on the Alice-Darwin railway or on local roads; it is about the need for an integrated, developed national strategy. That is important in the infrastructure community and it is important to the public at large. It also requires that we be transparent in setting and meeting our priorities so as to maintain public support for infrastructure investment, because people have had enough of pork-barrelling, political decisions and the waste of taxpayers' money, as happens on all too many government policies at the moment.
It requires stronger planning and coordination and more transparent planning and regulatory processes. Labor's infrastructure agenda will be driven by good economics, effective governments and our belief that all Australians should have the opportunity to participate in the economic and social life of our nation. It is about governing for all Australians, not some Australians based on the Howard government Sydney-centric approach that emanates from Kirribilli.
It is time that we made these hard decisions. Thirteen months ago the government invited people from across regional Australia to Canberra for a regional summit. It was promised that a report would be produced in October 2000, but it has not turned up. The government also promised a whole of government approach. It has not turned up. All we saw was an ad hoc announcement when the political heat was on. With the government having neglected living standards, infrastructure and services in regional Australia for the past five years, I know from the feedback this week that people will not be conned by this package. That does not say that expenditure on local roads is not important, but people have seen through this quick political fix to take pressure off on another front.
Labor will not deny this bill a second reading, because we support money going to rural roads, but there is no way we can point to it as a solution to Australia's infrastructure needs. There is no way it can be seen as a solution to Australia's transport needs and there is no way on earth that we see this as an alternative to petrol excise relief, and neither will the Australian public.
On that note, I wish to move the second reading amendment standing in my name. It is about welcoming the additional road expenditure but calls on this government to front up and take as a fundamental approach action to remove the effect of the GST from the fuel excise indexation adjustment in February 2001. I ask the honourable member for McEwen to put up her hand on this occasion and do what she can for her local electorate. I move:
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
“whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House notes the importance of the additional road funding, calls for the development of a national infrastructure strategy including a national transport plan; andas a fundamental part of this approachcalls on the Government to remove the effect of the GST from the fuel excise indexation adjustment in February 2001.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Is the amendment seconded?
Mr Horne —I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.