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Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Page: 3644


Mr TRUSS (Leader of the Nationals) (4:01 PM) —When judging incompetence in government, most people regard the Whitlam government as the benchmark. ‘Worse than Whitlam’ has become a sort of mantra that we are hearing quite a bit around this place lately. The Whitlam government is the illustration of shoddiness in government. It is interesting to note that the Whitlam government lasted three weeks short of three years. They were considered to be an abject failure when it came to fundamental areas like economic policy and competent management. Today on the third anniversary of the Rudd-Gillard Labor government, perhaps we should compare their performances. This government has had three years—three weeks more than the Whitlam team did. For all its chaos and its scandal and the rampant debt and unemployment and economic misery and raging political incompetence, at least the Whitlam government did something. At least Gough Whitlam tried. At least the Labor Party of the 1970s had a core and a heart and some mojo. Just compare it with this soulless and short-sighted and inept mob, paralysed by focus groups and liaison with the Greens, with a stunning lack of imagination and poise and focus—a government by zombies, as one of their own numbers has suggested.

In the first 14 days of the Whitlam government there was just a two-man band running the country, a gang of two. Yet this gang of two made 40 far-reaching decisions, largely in the areas of social reform. Some of them were good and most of them were bad, but at least they made some decisions according to the Whitlam government’s own plan for Australia’s future. If we compare what the gang of two did in their first two weeks, now we have got over three years a gang of four, although we have now learned that no decisions were made when one of the gang was present. They had to wait for the former Minister for Finance to leave before they could actually tell the truth about what they wanted to do. So we have got double the number of people but none of the calibre and none of the firepower—twice as many suits in the room but they are all empty. When decisions were made they were all about overblown rhetoric and promises about the greatest reform of all time, the biggest projects imaginable. Insulation, school halls, green loans, CPRS—all of them were going to save the world or save the economy, save the nation. All empty rhetoric, although in some cases they have had appalling consequences. They were going to turn around the boats, they were going to deliver all sorts of change that simply has not happened.

Most of the programs that they have put their effort into have proved to be such an appalling disaster. There was the insulation program—a program that goes on killing. How much longer can this government stand aside and refuse to level with the Australian people about the horrors of this program and what is actually going to be done to fix it? What about the billions lost in school halls, the green loans program which has left hundreds of thousands of Australians short, the assessors who paid for training and now are getting nothing in return? This is the example of this government. In the words of Dougie Cameron, the zombies who underwent a political lobotomy are not consulted at all. The remainder of the cabinet ministers are left in the dark. I am not saying they would have read the report or the cabinet documents even if they had got them. It seems no minister has bothered to read the plan for a $43 billion program. If they are not going to read about what it is proposed to spend $43 billion on, how can we rely on them to deal with programs which have significance but do not involve such high-profile activity?

Now we are told there is going to be a change. Now we are going to have caucus have a brainstorming program. After three years, nothing to do, bereft of ideas, finally the zombies are going to be allowed to have a say. They can at least put in their ideas. I guess they will be ignored and disregarded from then on, but at last, after three years, caucus is going to be allowed to have some brainstorming.

Let us be aware that Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister tried to undertake some significant initiatives. He regards his greatest achievement as saying sorry for the injustices to Aboriginal people, but there has been no plan to address the chronic Indigenous disadvantage. The report has shown no progress. If this was the most important issue for his government to address, you would think he would have achieved something. There was $45 million spent before the first house was built, and even now only a handful of houses have been completed. We have been bombarded by all sorts of words and reviews and promises, reports by the dozen, but nothing actually happens.

Now we have a new Prime Minister—five months in office today—but nothing has changed. The front page headline of today’s Australian Financial Review describes the forlorn way in which this government approaches decision making. The headline is ‘Gillard’s way: a more inclusive form of indecision’. There will still be indecision but it will be more inclusive than it was previously, so all the zombies can be a part of the indecision. They can all play a role in the future. And—oh dear!—isn’t that headline so apt? We are told that cabinet is going to meet early tomorrow morning because it needs to make a decision about anti-siphoning. This issue has been around for a year. The people of Australia, and particularly those in regional Australia, want to know whether they are going to be able to watch the football in the months ahead. The decision has become desperately urgent because the current rules expire in a few days. Finally, the cabinet has to make a decision. What a terrifying prospect—the whole cabinet in the room having to make a decision on who can watch the football and who is going to miss out. To do this, they have to start at seven o’clock in the morning, it seems. They have to get up really early to make this decision that they needed to make 12 months ago.

Is it any better with the National Broadband Network—a really big decision? We are told it is the most important piece of social infrastructure our country has ever seen, but it is $43 billion with a secret business plan that no-one is able to see. Those who are able to see it have not even read it, yet they are asking the Australian parliament to vote on accepting a scheme where they do not even think the review and the business case is worth reading.

Kevin Rudd, from the caucus minutes of five months ago, said there were three great failures in the government. He named them as the mining tax, the BER and the emissions trading scheme. But what he made absolutely clear was that these were not his decisions alone; the decisions were actually made by people like his deputy and the Treasurer. They were urging him to make the decisions that have proved so disastrous for the Labor Party and for the Australian people. So they were a part of the decisions but now they have been rewarded. The people who made the bad decisions in company with the former Prime Minister are now filling those high offices.

Of course, Treasurer Swan has been a real part of the failure of this government—Australia’s weakest Treasurer. He talked up inflation, he blew the surplus, he plunged the budget into deficit and drove the nation into debt. It is no wonder that not even the banks will listen to him any more. He has become a laughing stock and now he makes promises about balancing budgets—something Labor never does. Something Labor never does is repay debt. In reality, this government will be no better.

As we look at the progress of this government, there is no doubt that Julia Gillard got it right when she said—also five months ago today—that Labor have lost their way. It was her job to try and find the map and to get Labor going again in the right direction. But the party have been absolutely clueless. They know deep down that they have nobody else to blame for this than themselves. Launching a book today, the Treasurer was trying to blame the coalition for all Labor’s failures. It is our fault that all their programs have turned into lemons, that they have been a failure in what they wanted to do.

The reality is that this government have no idea where they should be going. It has been a government that has delivered a crisis in confidence. They lack the quality to be able to make the decisions that matter for Australian people and, even worse, once the decisions are made for good or for bad, they do not have the capability to implement them in an efficient and reliable way to deliver results for ordinary Australians. The Australian people know that government is for grown-ups, for people who will make decisions and get on with the job, not factional machine men who care only about their own jobs. This government cannot govern. They have failed and it is time they handed over to somebody who can do the job. (Time expired)