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Thursday, 28 October 2010
Page: 2057

Ms BIRD (2:11 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister explain to the House the importance of economic reform and the threat posed to the bipartisan consensus for reform?

Ms GILLARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Cunningham for her question. She represents in this place a region that has gone through a fundamental economic transformation and she knows that, as hard as it is, economic reform needs to be dealt with if people are going to have a prosperous future. As I have already said to the parliament during this question time, the debate of the last week has been a debate about who has the courage and conviction to deliver economic reform and who will shirk that task even though it is so important for the nation’s future. It is apparent that the government’s economic reform agenda will be resisted at all costs by the opposition, and that is to be deeply regretted because our nation needs to keep reforming if it is to be prosperous for the future. We need to keep reforming if we are going to give Australians the benefit of opportunity. We need to keep reforming if we are going to ensure that our nation can hold its competitive place in the world.

Central to that reform is ensuring that we have the infrastructure of the future—roads, rail and ports, as well as the National Broadband Network. Central to that reform is our human capital agenda to make sure that Australians have the skills and capacities they need to compete in the world. Central to that reform are participation reforms to ensure that we have Australians of working age with the capacity to be in the labour market and assisting us, particularly as our society is ageing and we will see an increase in the dependency ratio. Stumping up to reform in health care is also pivotal to the future of Australians and making sure that they will have the healthcare system they need there sustainably for the long term. Of course, for our environment and our economic future we need to address the difficult reforms of pricing carbon and dealing with water.

I am not someone who has over the course of my political life much agreed with John Howard, but I did agree with him yesterday when he told an anecdote that stood out for me. He said:

… in 1995 when the last Budget of the Keating Government was brought down on the afternoon of Budget day, Kim Beazley rang me, he was Finance Minister. He rang me and said “John, you still in favour of the privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank?” Because that had been our policy for years I said “Yes”. “We’re going to propose it in the Budget” and I said “We’ll vote for it”. We’d have been total hypocrites to have voted against that …

Those words are, I think, wise words, because in the parliament this week it has become apparent that the Leader of the Opposition is shaping up to vote against healthcare reform that when he was health minister he would have advocated. So I would refer him to the words of John Howard and to, most particularly, that last sentence referring to ‘total hypocrites’.

But there does seem to be a bit of a fightback on in the opposition against things like the shadow Treasurer’s plan to reregulate interest rates. I note that the members for Wentworth and Goldstein, amongst others, are being painted as the ones responsible for the leak, part of their fightback presumably against this economic Hansonism. I also note today’s newspapers say the shadow cabinet has concluded, as has also been suggested, that policy approaches be fully thought out next time before they are flagged. We can have bipartisanship on that.