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Thursday, 29 May 2008
Page: 3768

Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) (10:37 AM) —Today we are seeing an opposition in disarray—hysterical and in disarray. Walking into the parliament and moving a censure motion on the Prime Minister is supposed to be an important thing to do. In terms of the weaponry given to an opposition, censure motions, particularly those on the Prime Minister, are the biggest weapon they have. And here we have an opposition that has walked into the parliament using the biggest weapon at their disposal, and they do not have enough speakers ready to talk to it. They missed the jump. We have been treated to a speech by the member for Cowper, who was clearly unprepared, and none of the senior leadership team, with the exception of the shadow Treasurer, is even in the parliament. These people are asking the Australian people to treat them seriously when they cannot even organise themselves to get an opposition tactic ready on a Thursday morning. This is a laughable display from an opposition that is in disarray.

And why are they in disarray? It is because they have not come to terms with the fact that they lost the last election. Even more than that, they are trying to perpetuate a collective fraud and get the Australian people to believe it. The collective fraud that they are trying to get the Australian people to believe is that somehow they fell out of the sky on 25 November and fell into the seats on the opposition front bench. They want the Australian people to believe that none of them ever had a moment in politics before 25 November—that somehow they were all born new on 25 November and turned up on the opposition front bench.

But of course that is not true, and because it is not true the Australian people can judge them by their record. It is a record that they are desperately trying to twist and turn and get away from, but the Australian people can judge them by their record. All of this emotional, hysterical, feigned concern about working families that they have engaged in since they lost the election stands in stark contrast to their complete indifference to the plight of working families before the election. These are not political novices; these are people who sat around a cabinet table and made decisions to the detriment of working families. There was no feigned concern about the plight of working families then. There was no feigned concern when they were sitting around the cabinet table.

Let’s go directly to the performance of the Leader of the Opposition in this debate. He has been in here in question time highly emotional about people queued in cars at petrol stations with kids in the back and dogs in the back—highly emotional. And let’s reflect: this is the same man who sat around a cabinet table for six years, and during those six years what did he do on petrol? Absolutely nothing. Six years around a cabinet table—apparently highly emotional about the state of working families and petrol prices—and he did absolutely nothing.

Of course, we are going to see more hysteria and more cover-ups by the opposition of their past. They do not want people remembering their past. All those years around the cabinet table: six years for the Leader of the Opposition, two years for the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and around the same time for the shadow Treasurer. They are all interested in petrol prices now, but when they were sitting in the chairs that would have enabled them to do something about it, what did they do? Absolutely nothing.

And at the same time that they were sitting in those chairs with all this feigned concern about working families, what did they do? They brought Work Choices to working Australians. All this feigned concern about working families and what did they do around that cabinet table when the evidence came in that working families were getting ripped off by Work Choices? What did they do—squeal with delight, laugh, backslap each other, do a couple of high fives and say: ‘Exactly what we wanted. We wanted working families to have their penalty rates ripped off. Good on us’? Is that what was happening around the Howard cabinet table? The people who now feign concern for working families delivered that to working people.

So let’s get away from all of this cant, this hypocrisy, this fraud, these feigned emotions and this fake concern. This opposition is so phoney. I have seen knock-off Chinese Rolexes that are more genuine than the members of the opposition. At least you can say that a knock-off Chinese Rolex does the job, which is more than you can say about this lot.

Amongst the things we have seen them emote about and be concerned about was Bonnie Babes. Do we remember that? The Leader of the Opposition was so paralysed with emotion he could hardly move, on Bonnie Babes. He is the same man who sat around a cabinet table for six years and, when it came to deciding what to do with $121 million, did he say, ‘Let’s put that into Bonnie Babes,’ or did he say, ‘Let’s put that into Work Choices propaganda’? We know what he said. He made a choice when sitting around that cabinet table. Fund Bonnie Babes or fund Work Choices propaganda? He chose Work Choices propaganda. That is what these people did when they sat around cabinet tables. That is what they will be judged by.

And of course we have had an insight through this motion into the dying days of the Howard government and how they must have conducted themselves. Gee, it must have been easy to be a Howard government minister in those dying days, because apparently, according to those who sit opposite, the responsibility of a minister is to come in—

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This censure motion is about fuel prices and the inability of the government to deliver on the promise it made to the Australian people. The Deputy Prime Minister should return to the subject of the motion.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr KJ Thomson)—There is no point of order.

Ms GILLARD —That was another of the opposition’s hysterical tactics. They do not like government speakers, so they seek to interrupt them day after day. It truly is pathetic.

In relation to the Howard government cabinet ministers—and one is sitting at the table now, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition—in the government’s dying days there must have been some good times, mustn’t there, just sitting there taking public service advice, driving up in the big white car at 9 o’clock, having a cup of coffee and a little bit of a look at the newspapers, having public servants come in with a brief? Presumably they always accepted public service advice. Presumably the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said: ‘Oh, I do not even need to read that; I’ll just sign it. It’s public service advice; I’ve got to sign that.’ So you would do that until elevenses, presumably, and then a couple more briefs would come in and it would be: ‘Oh, it’s public service advice. I am absolutely going to sign that; I will not even read it.’ Then at about one o’clock you would be looking to have lunch with Alexander Downer. That would have been a day’s work in the Howard government when they were stale, out of touch with working families and making sure that working families were bearing the burden of Work Choices. That is what they were doing.

This is ridiculous behaviour by the opposition. We were elected to govern. We were elected to make decisions in the interests of working families and we are doing it—

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I warn the honourable member for Mackellar!

Ms GILLARD —Their hysteria does not worry me, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is an example of how irrelevant they are. Their points of order, their interjections, have complete irrelevancy.

Let us come to the question of FuelWatch. What we can say about the Howard government is that there was a period when the Australian public believed that the Howard government was competent to manage the economy; I absolutely concede that. There was a period when the Australian people believed that. What has happened since the last election is that the Liberal Party has destroyed any reputation it ever had for economic responsibility. It has completely destroyed it. It destroyed it on budget reply night with its smash-and-grab raid on the surplus of $22 billion, inevitably putting upward pressure on interest rates and inflation—and high interest rates and high inflation are simply enemies of working families, the people they feign concern about now.

In relation to FuelWatch, the opposition also seem to have forgotten even the most basic principles of economics. Let us have a little recap of those basic principles. What economics tells you is that markets are tremendously efficient mechanisms for delivering supply and low prices if participants in the markets have perfect information. That is why, when you are at the open stalls of a fruit and veg market and you have people competing in front of you for your business and all the prices are known then you will get the best price. What was happening in our petrol market and what is still happening today is that the suppliers of petrol and diesel have great information because of a service called Informed Sources, which they subscribe to and which means that they can track petrol prices in their region and indeed across the nation.

Suppliers of petrol and diesel have all of that information at their disposal. But the other participants in this market, the consumers, do not have access to that information. We want to get this market to work properly by ensuring that consumers also have access to that information. And we want to do that through FuelWatch. It is a very simple concept, even though the opposition seems unable to grapple with it—a very simple concept. What I know from my electorate on Melbourne’s urban fringe is that people need to buy petrol and they are highly price sensitive. They understand that petrol prices and diesel prices in this country relate to world factors. They understand that, but what absolutely drives them to distraction is the sense that they are being treated like muppets by the oil companies through price manipulation. That is what they hate. They hate the Friday spike before the long weekend. They hate it, and they feel misused by it.

We are trying to make sure that those price sensitive consumers who need petrol and who need diesel have good information. What FuelWatch would enable them to do is, in the evening, log on—or even do it through their mobile phone—and check what petrol prices are going to be in their locality, at the petrol stations on their drive to work or to school or to the childcare centre the next day. Because all the petrol stations need to file their price at the same time they do not know what others are going to be pricing, so they are putting in their best price to sustain their sales on the next day, and people can then survey across the petrol stations in their locality or along the routes that they commonly drive and assess which one they want to go and get their petrol from.

What FuelWatch in Perth tells us is that variability in prices between petrol stations on a given day can be 10c, 15c or 20c a litre. If you are a highly price sensitive consumer, if you drive perhaps from Werribee to the city every day—a very common journey for people from my electorate; it is more than 30 kilometres—you would be able to identify which petrol station you would want to stop off and buy at. You would, of course, buy from the one that on that day was 10c or 15c cheaper than the other ones. Why would the opposition want to deny consumers access to a system like that? They have not explained it. They have not explained it because they cannot explain it. The amendment moved by the government talks about how the opposition are playing the game of big oil in relation to the stance they are taking. It is certainly not a stance in the interest of working families. It is a stance in which they are being manipulated by big oil.

I want to take members of parliament to a very interesting article by Steve Lewis that was published earlier this year in the Courier Mail. It relates to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who is here in the chamber. It talks about how she made up her mind about Australian workplace agreements. It talks about how she went to an opera, hosted by mining companies, in the Margaret River area. At the opera, she consulted on what to do about industrial relations. Well, I am not opposed to the opera. And I talk to mining companies. But, when you are making a decision, you should also talk to working families. The one thing that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition did not do, that the opposition have never done on industrial relations, is talk to working families. They are not in this parliament today representing the interests of working families with this flawed motion that even they have not taken seriously in their performance.