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Thursday, 27 June 2002
Page: 4543


Mr CREAN (Leader of the Opposition) (4:20 PM) —I thought we would never get to this this afternoon, but as we are sitting late there is plenty of time to debate this issue.


The SPEAKER —I wondered as well, I might say to the Leader of the Opposition.


Mr CREAN —Before we get to the detail, I want to make a comment about the sanctimony from that side of the House about the need to restore and improve order in this chamber. I have written to the Prime Minister from the beginning of this year proposing changes to standing orders which, together with the election of an independent speaker, would vastly improve the running of this chamber. We have not had a response from the government.


The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition has made his point. I think he understands the obligation he has to come to the matter of public importance. I am happy to accommodate him as a matter of indulgence outside the matter of public importance, but currently he is straining the standing orders just a little.


Mr CREAN —Seven months after the election and re-election of the Howard government, we still have a government with no third-term agenda—a government that plays politics, a government that creates diversions and a government that runs fear over hope. When I was elected leader, I said that I wanted to have the opposition recognised by the initiatives that it proposed. In that seven months, Labor has marked out an agenda that advantages working families, an agenda that brings fairness back into the community and an agenda that shares the benefits of economic growth for the whole of the community, not just for the privileged few.

What we have is a Prime Minister who has been tough on the weak but weak on the strong—a Prime Minister who will not stand up for Australia and its interests overseas, as seen by his recent grovelling, obsequious visit to the United States. There is a recognition on the government's part that the majority of Australian people think that the government is not standing up for Australia, so much so that ministers have had to come into this chamber over the last three or four days to explain what it is they have been doing. They have not been doing anything at all, but the Labor Party will stand up for Australia and for Australia's families. Our goal is simple: the strong economy has to be for the purposes of a fair society.

Australia does deserve better. What we are about is this package of initiatives, announced by the Labor Party. It is a package for working families to ease their financial burdens and to help them manage the balancing act between work and family life. We have proposed a package that involves a tax cut for working families through tax credits. We have proposed a tax cut that will also lift the living wage of ordinary Australian families. We have also proposed measures to protect 100 per cent of workers entitlements for everyone, not just those people that happen to be fortunate enough to be working for the Prime Minister's brother's company. We have also proposed the introduction of paid maternity leave without impost on the small business community. We have also proposed a superannuation tax cut for every Australian, not just the wealthiest three per cent. It was only the Labor Party that introduced superannuation for the whole of the work force; it will be only the Labor Party that improves superannuation for the whole of the work force.

We have also proposed fair dismissal laws—not the government's unfair dismissal laws, but fair dismissal laws. The government wants it to be easier to sack people. You have got to get the balance right by protecting people who have been dismissed in unfair circumstances and by ensuring procedural fairness and expedition for the business community. It is Labor's private member's bill that does that. The government's proposals are unfair, they are one-sided and they will not work, and that is why we continue to oppose them—but we put up positive proposals in their place. This is a government that also is proposing, through its higher education review, to introduce $100,000 fees for degrees. That is going to price young people out of the education that they want and that they deserve. This is a government that has no commitment to distributing the benefits to the whole of the community.

We have also put forward initiatives that get the proper balance between protecting our borders and compassion for the refugees who come here. You do not protect your borders by surrendering them. You should be proud and stand up for Australia and defend Australia, not surrender Australia. The excision across the northern borders surrenders Australia; Labor says, `Defend Australia. Stand up for Australia.' We also want laws that process asylum seekers in the country they first land in, not the country that they choose to head to, and that requires an international framework which this government refuses to engage as it should. It comes in here and tries to tell us about the discussions, but where is the framework it has put in place? It passed up the opportunity at CHOGM, it passed up the opportunity at international fora; it is a government that wants to play fear and politics with the refugee issue and not look for a solution.

We want the people smugglers arrested before they leave Australia; that is the best deterrence of the lot. Don't have them coming down here and trying to pretend that, if they land on an island, they are excised! Arrest the people smugglers in the country that they are leaving from by negotiating agreements with those countries. Impound the boats! Imprison the smugglers! That is the solution of deterrence. We also want a US style coastguard to protect and patrol our borders. We want a cop on the beat that is defending Australia, standing up for Australia—not surrendering Australia. And, on the compassion front, we want the kids taken out from behind the razor wire. We want the kids and their mothers to have a decent opportunity for education.

We are also proposing that we invest in the future of this country. We have just heard the announcement of the sale of the Kingsford Smith Airport, yielding something like $5.6 billion. The government says, `All of that money goes to retiring debt.' Yet Treasury says, `The government needs to be looking at issuing paper to secure the bond market.' What Labor says, and what Labor would have done, is to spend part of the proceeds of the sale of Sydney airport on renewing our national infrastructure. This proposition is quite simple. Why shouldn't the nation that gets a return on what it has invested in in the past be prepared to use those proceeds and invest in our future? That is the simple proposition, and that is what Labor is proposing—but not this government. The infrastructure that this nation enjoys was created by our parents and grandparents. Every generation has a responsibility to invest in the future. We have had the government talking about an intergene-rational report, but it wants this generation to stop investing in its future. Labor disagrees, and we say that part of the proceeds of that sale should go to reinvesting in our future.

We also as a nation need to understand what has made us strong, and that has been strength and commitment to a population policy through a sensible balance between sustainable immigration in this country and natural birthrates. We need a comprehensive population policy—one that will build the regions and help us plan for future health and education needs, one that will enable us to protect our environment and one that is sustainable. Immigration has been unequivocally good for this country. It has made us strong economically, strong culturally and strong socially. We should learn from those strengths. We should build upon them—not cringe on them or raise fear campaigns about them, but stand proud of them. We should understand the inclusiveness that this nation has developed and build upon it.

We also want to make our communities safer by working with the states to provide more resources to tackle crime in communities with high crime rates. Our proposal for community safety zones goes down this path. It is time someone in Canberra stood up for the victims of crime and did something to protect our communities from the drugs, violence and guns and did not just wash their hands of the problems by saying, `This is a matter for the states.' It is a matter for all of us, because all governments have a responsibility to address this issue, and that is why Labor is proposing that, at the national level, we get in with state and local governments to build protection into communities.

In the wake of the child sex abuse controversy surrounding the Governor-General, I have called for a new national commissioner to protect children and for checks on people who work with kids. I have also made mention of the need to improve parliamentary standards through correspondence—now six months old—to the Prime Minister. We have not even had the decency of a response, and we get the sanctimony of the Leader of the House here today. I tell you what, Mr Deputy Speaker, he may want to try and include the interjections from our side, but we do not need his interjections to be recorded to determine his character and his approach in this place, with the abuse that he hurls and the misuse that he allows this chamber to fall into.

Also, in terms of the budget speech-in-reply, I challenged the government's prescription proposals hiking up the price of pharmaceuticals by 30 per cent and knocking people off disability support pensions. I proposed alternatives to funding the budget without those measures. More than five weeks ago, I challenged the government to have our proposals costed, to release the details of those costings and to come back and have a discussion with us. They have not done so. The only costings they released were in relation to our superannuation initiatives—wrong costings, as it turns out, which were released by the Treasurer, as confirmed by evidence in the Senate estimates. The real costings, which were released to the Treasurer, have not been released. What have the government got to hide? They go around talking about the need to address this problem for the future, Labor puts up a constructive alternative and the government hide and are unprepared to act in relation to it.

Labor has put in place a suite of measures over the last seven months—some through private members' bills and many through statements and commitments made in public. These are important initiatives because they are about fairness in the community. They are about securing our community. They are about addressing the concerns and fears that people legitimately have in the communities in which they live. That is the Labor approach, but we do not see any of it from the other side. All we have seen from the government are the fear campaign and diversions—and, of course, the preening of the would-bes on the front bench as to who will take over when the Prime Minister finally decides to retire.

It reminds me of those all-breed best-in-show dogs: the Minister for Foreign Affairs reminds me of the prize poodle with three generations of breeding; the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, the rottweiler with the studded dog-collar; and Brendan Nelson, the Minister for Education, Science and Training, Scooby-Doo—afraid of his own shadow, this guy! Then there is Mal Brough, the Minister for Employment Services, the trained seal who entered the wrong show; and the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, the dog that changed his breed. Everyone thought he was the old english sheepdog—nice and cuddly—but he is now trying to convince the judges that he is the pit bull. We have, of course, the Treasurer, whom prominent Victorian judges think just does not deserve to be classified by a breed at all—he just has the generic name `dog'. We saw him today trying to pretend that he is a Keating-ite in terms of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. He is not a Keating-ite; he is a Keating-light—a Kmart Keating and a person who does not deserve the leadership of this country. (Time expired)