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Monday, 22 November 2010
Page: 3360


Mr ROBERT (6:14 PM) —The end of August 2010 saw a phenomenon that has not been seen for some 71 years—a hung parliament at the federal level. Whilst it is easy to dismiss a hung parliament for a range of reasons and issues, the truth is always compelling and always hard to dodge. The problem is that we have a government, in the form of Labor in the second term, now emasculated, through the deal with the Greens, and, through the hung parliament, relying on Independents. This is simply because the government lost its way and continues to lose its way. It executed one of the nation’s most popular prime ministers because of a series of numbers and polls. We know that the current Prime Minister exhibits worse numbers than Prime Minister Rudd had, for which he paid the price of being axed.

The government lacks a compelling narrative. The government has completely lost its way. During the election the Prime Minister said that she would fix three incessant problems. Firstly, she said she would address the issue of climate change. She vowed, she promised, she stated categorically that there would be no carbon price but that a community gathering, a random choice of one person from each federal electorate, would gather together to solve the greatest moral challenge of our time. I thought we already had one person from every electorate in the nation and I thought they were elected to make decisions. The Prime Minister said she would fix climate change by having no carbon price and by gathering a random selection of individuals. She said that she would fix the issue of irregular maritime arrivals by having a regional processing centre in East Timor. And, of course, she said would fix the mining tax by having a discussion, an agreement, with three out of the 3,000 mining companies.

We now know, a number of months down the track, that the community gathering of individuals is a farcical idea. It was at the time and it is now. The carbon price that the Prime Minister vowed would never come in of course is now coming in. Labor may well be in government, but the unholy alliance with the Greens means that the Greens are in power. A carbon price is now centre stage. A committee now exists where, for the first time in the parliament’s history, to be a member you cannot walk in with an open mind; you must subscribe to an anthropogenic view of climate change and you must agree that a carbon price is the only way. It is an appalling way by which to construct a committee of this parliament.

The mining tax has completely come apart, as the Prime Minister would appear to have gone back on her word again with respect to royalties. The regional processing centre simply goes from farce to farce. The Prime Minister is unable to explain in any detail how it would work. What is the boundary of the region from which people would go into this processing centre? Is the region made up of countries, for example? If people who are seeking refugee status enter Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, East Timor or Indonesia does that mean that they qualify to go to the regional processing centre? If people enter Borneo does it mean that anybody who steps foot across the border into Sabah or Sarawak, into Malaysia, can get transported to the processing centre? The Prime Minister is unable to explain how the boundaries would work. She is unable to explain the funding arrangements. She is unable to explain why she spoke to the President of East Timor rather than the Prime Minister. The East Timorese parliament will have nothing of it. It is an unmitigated and absolute disaster.

Now we have a government that is struggling, in alliance with the Greens, needing Independents to continue to get legislation through and lacking any degree of spine to take reforms. The Prime Minister, at that great ‘Light on the Hill’ lecture, proudly said that she would continue to have a reform agenda, as if she had a sweeping majority in the House. The only reform that the Prime Minister could possibly comment on, when pushed, was a website. May I remind the Prime Minister that a website is not a reform; it is simply a website.

The government it is now struggling across a range of issues—the carbon price that it said it would not have, the mining tax negotiated with three out of 3,000 miners that has now been reneged on, a Murray-Darling scheme that is a disaster to the point where rallies of up to 5,000 people are joining together to denounce what they see as a sell-out by this government. The number of irregular maritime arrivals—people coming on boats—this year has eclipsed 6,000. It is the highest number of people coming by boat, literally, of any government. Over 128 boats have come.

Since Labor watered down the asylum seeking policy in August 2008 it has been a magnet of immense proportions that has been pulling people and drawing people to Australia. The government would have us believe that almighty push factors are continuing to draw those seeking asylum to Australia. Yet every single organisation—the United Nations, the Red Cross and the IOM—state categorically that the push factors have not changed. Only one thing has changed: a Labor government is in power and Australia’s border policies have been watered down.

The government now has no reform agenda moving forward. It has no answers to the issue of skilling Australians. It has watered down the skilled migration program, and of course beefed up the family reunion program, as Labor did last time it was in office in the Hawke-Keating years. It has watered down the 485 visa program to the point where a whole range of students in their tens and tens of thousands have not yet realised that once they finish their courses they are not eligible to claim a 485 visa to stay in the country. I say to Labor: when those students realise what was done on 1 February this year, how many of them do you think will suddenly claim asylum considering the 45-day rule has been withdrawn? We are already seeing riot after riot, and even now there are asylum seekers on Christmas Island who have sewn their lips together because of what this government has done.

The government needs to focus on tax reform including the GST and the range of ineffective taxes that exist across the Commonwealth. It needs to look at the issues of income-tax cuts and address the raft of family tax benefits that have caused a massive money-go-round. It needs to redress the issue of immigration and focus on skilled immigration rather than family reunion immigration, and of course it needs to toughen our borders.

The government needs to address the issue of defence and national security. The Prime Minister issued his national security statement in December 2008 and promised that there would be regular updates of those national security statements. I do not know what the former Prime Minister’s definition of ‘regular’ is, but we have not heard hide nor tail of national security since that statement was delivered. Furthermore, even the wording in the statement is not being followed. It is not hard to see the northern borders and Operation Resolute to quickly realise that our national security statement is being paid lip service.

The government is involved in a strategic reform program to seek $20 billion of savings to the Defence Force over 10 years, ostensibly $2 billion a year, although of course it ramps up. A lot of this has been achieved by $8 billion of projects being pushed in the out years to the point where the government has stated that they will continue for the next 10 years at least to have a real increase per annum of three per cent for the defence budget. But because the massive projects have been pushed out, because contingency funds have been pulled out, in reality for the government to continue to realise that three per cent growth in real terms each year, they will need to go to six per cent real growth because of the funds they have stripped out.

The government trumpeted an Australian Army Future Force including a Reserve Future Force, but now appears to be walking away from that. The 2009 white paper had a range of issues in there, everything from massive capability improvement through to 2030 to simple things such as a range of capability to be transferred from the Reserves across to the Regular Army. We are yet to see hide or tail of those capabilities that will be transferred to the Regulars, and of course there is only a page and a half on funding for this massive capability up to 2030. The government needs to get a reform agenda and a focus to where it is going. At present the Gillard government is simply serving up the scraps from former prime minister Mr Rudd’s table. It does not serve the nation well. It does not serve our future well. That is the legacy of a campaign that came so perilously close.

In Queensland nine seats changed from Labor to the coalition, thanks in many ways to the Queensland Liberal-National Party and the merging of the two parties. In Fadden, thanks to the help from a large number of volunteers and a great campaign committee, we achieved a swing of 3.8 per cent and increased, more importantly, the primary vote by 10 per cent. We saw these swings right across Queensland as people realised that what they had hoped for and what they had voted for in Kevin Rudd in 2007, what they thought was simply ‘John Howard lite’ turned out not to be at all. There was that great Liberal ad just before the ‘night of the long knives’ which talked about a lemon and showed the former Prime Minister’s face on the lemon. It talked about how terrible it is when what you hoped for and dreamed of turns out to be a lemon. I think Queenslanders realised that to be only too true. Queensland is a canny state. It can see through charlatans at a hundred feet. Queensland did exceptionally well. I welcome the new members from Queensland into the parliament.

I wish to put on the record my thanks to the great campaign committee and the people that worked so tirelessly to record a tremendous result in the electorate of Fadden. To campaign director Steve Houlihan and the great campaign committee of Robert Knight and Kerry Knight, Phil Hunniford and the many others, I say a huge thank you. Thanks to my own staff: Felicity, Margaret, Glenn, Kristyn and Mary, who worked tirelessly to ensure we got a great result. Thanks to those who spent days and days on street stalls ensuring the public had access to all the information they needed. Thanks also to Daniel and his wife Lisa, David Callard and many others. Thanks to those who manned over 300 booths to ensure people had a choice—noting of course that half the booths were not even manned by Labor, which was a bit of an anti-climax really. To those who worked so hard, I say a great thank you. I give thanks for the great support of Simone Holzapfel and Darren Sly, Kenton and Rachel Campbell, Bruce Mitchell, John Chardon, Philip Charlton, Susie Wright and many others. Their support was completely and utterly invaluable. I give thanks to the former Prime Minister, the Honourable John Howard AC, who came up and ran an incredibly successful dinner and delivered a speech of 40 minutes—off-the-cuff with no notes—that encapsulated the situation beautifully and foretold what would happen as the campaign rolled out.

I say thank you also to the Fadden community, where so many things were promised should a Liberal-National government be elected. They were simple things that the community could understand: fences for the Labrador cricket club; a new roof for the Riding for the Disabled club, where horses are used to help critically disabled children come to grasp a whole new meaning of life; and the great Green Army projects we are rolling out across community gardens. I made a public deal with the mayor of the Gold Coast that if we were elected then I would put in four community gardens and he would stump up with four men’s sheds. In front of a 100 blokes from Mensheds Australia, we shook hands and agreed on it. Next time, Mayor, that deal will come through. There is also a great CCTV program for Neighbourhood Watch.

We had a tremendous raft of policy there that the community could believe in. There were simple tangible things the community needed to get on with. In many ways that is what the community needs. Whilst roads, bridges, ports and great infrastructure are important, at the end of the day community groups want to get on doing what they have always done. They want government to get out of the way and realise that Canberra does not know best.

Canberra does not know what my schools need in infrastructure; my schools do. That is why we made it very clear that if a coalition government was to win then we would honour the BER funding but we would give it to the schools. We would give it to the school principals and the P&Cs because they have a better idea of what they need than Canberra based bureaucrats. I stand by that. It was a great decision. It is highlighted by the fact that the private schools in my electorate have done so exceptionally well because they got the funding whereas the state schools in my electorate have suffered because the funding has been hijacked by, what the polling shows to be, the most dreadful, awful state government in history—the Bligh government—which squeezed 20 to 25 per cent off the top for ‘management fees’ and then decided what the school could use after that. If that is what government will deliver then I want none of it.

I want the government to be small. I want the public service reduced, if that is what it is going to deliver. What the community wants is a say. What the community wants is to have ownership over its own affairs. What the community wants is government to get out of the way so that the community can get on with doing what it does best—which is delivering great things within the community.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DGH Adams)—Order! It being 6.30 pm, in accordance with standing order 192 the debate is interrupted. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting. The member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.