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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1537

Mr BRIGGS (11:38 AM) —I rise to speak on the member for Fraser’s motion:

That this House:

(1)   reaffirms this Government’s commitment to evidence-based policy making;

(2)   notes that:

(a)   the Productivity Commission has highlighted the importance of rigorous evaluation in assessing the impact of social, educational, employment and economic programs; and

(b)   randomised policy trials are increasingly being used as an evaluation tool in developed and developing nations; and

(3)   supports measures to increase the quality of evaluations, and calls on the Government to consider whether randomised policy trials may be implemented to evaluate future Government policies.

I expect that the member for Fraser did not intend to do so, but, in effect, he has used words that I am sure will be part of the motion of no confidence in the government that will surely ensue this week—because this motion highlights exactly the problem that has existed with the government over the last 3½ years. The policies and programs they have implemented have not only been a trial which has so badly failed; they have cost this country billions and billions of dollars along the way, they have resulted in massive mistakes and errors in public administration and they have resulted in the Australian public losing faith in the ability of this place to deliver reasonable programs for the future of our country. It all comes from the government’s inability to implement policy programs, whether they be via trials or in practice.

We do not need to look far for the list of complete disasters and policy failures that have been implemented by the government since they were elected. We start with the failure to address the serious issue of ensuring our borders are protected. The changes that have been made were driven by ideology. I heard the member for Fraser say at the end of his speech that we do not need more ideologues; we need more policy based on modest reform. On the issue of border protection, the government have for many years alleged that the opposition has been playing so-called dog-whistle politics, when they should realise instead that the changes put in place by the Howard government addressed the issues related to people smuggling in our region. The changes that the current government have made have led to such a massive increase in unauthorised boat arrivals in the northern parts of our country that we see at this time a complete lack of faith by the community in the government’s ability to manage Australia’s borders.

In 2007, the government promised 2,650 trade training centres. Since then, we have seen the delivery of 22. Before the 2007 election, the then Rudd opposition—which has become the Gillard government—promised one million computers in schools. Computers were promised for every student in years 9 to 12 in Australia by December 2011. As at 21 October last year, just over 300,000 new computers were on students’ desks and the program has blown out by $1.2 billion. Of course, $1.2 billion pales into insignificance when you look at the waste and mismanagement in the Building the Education Revolution program.

We have sat in this place during questions without notice time after time and been lectured by the Treasurer about how he knows best. I suspect that the member for Fraser would have a better grasp of how to manage the Australian economy than the Treasurer of the country. I must say, that would not be all that hard, but people I respect in this place do claim that the member for Fraser has a great deal of ability, and I am sure we will see that.

I think this motion is a cry from the back bench of the Labor Party—a desperate plea to the executive of the government—to take seriously the need to implement policy on the basis of evidence, not because of some poll driven party hack that they have brought in from Sussex Street in New South Wales telling them how to manage their government. It did not work all that well in New South Wales and it is not working well at the moment. In New South Wales they are trying to see whether a major party in this country can get itself under 20 per cent of the primary vote at a state election, which is a tough challenge. The New South Wales Labor Party state primary vote is like a limbo competition—they are trying to get as far under the bar as they possibly can compared to what should be expected from a major party. But the same people have been brought here to implement policy in this place. The outcome is billions and billions of dollars of waste—not evidence based policy but policy by Sussex Street in New South Wales.

Last week we saw the worst case of policy by Sussex Street when the Prime Minister broke the most rolled-gold election promise of all time—the ‘I shall not implement a carbon tax’ promise. She said, ‘Under my government there will never be a carbon tax.’ It is interesting. Some research came into my hands this morning in the form of previous speeches that the now Prime Minister made in this place, when she was a mere opposition spokesperson, in relation to truth in government. The reading is not good for the Prime Minister. During the second reading debate on the Health Insurance Amendment (Medicare Safety-nets) Bill 2005, she said:

The question of truth in government is not a game—and it is not my game; it is about the essence of our democratic institutions and it is about what a government should do and say to the Australian people when it is seeking their trust and their mandate at an election. Anybody in the Australian community, if asked, would say without any hesitation that what they want to know before the election is just the simple truth.

Just the simple truth—that is all they want to know. They want to know whether or not you are going to implement a carbon tax. When you say you will not implement a carbon tax and you turn around and do so just after the election, they think that is a breach of trust.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—The member should remember to address his remarks through the chair.

Mr BRIGGS —That will hang over this government for the rest of their term. I know the members of the Labor Party backbench here during this speech are thinking, ‘How am I going to explain that this was evidence based policy?’ The evidence prior to the election was that we would not have a carbon tax, but after the election the evidence is that we will have a carbon tax. No matter what she says, you cannot trust this Prime Minister. You cannot trust this Labor Party; you cannot trust that they will implement policy on the basis of evidence based policy, which of course is what this motion is about.

This is an area of the Labor Party that is purely and utterly ideological driven, because they are driven by funding from the trade union movement and by former bosses of the trade union movement. I see one sitting in front of me at the moment. He may be a good man but that does not negate his past. They are driven wholly and solely, on labour market reform, by their pay masters. No matter what the evidence based policy is in this area, they will refuse point blank to look at it, to address it or to touch it. In fact, they will implement policy which will make the economy harder to manage and put pressure on inflation, which will put pressure on interest rates in the coming months and years ahead.

It interesting that the motion quotes the Productivity Commission—and I will too. Gary Banks from the Productivity Commission just before Christmas said in relation to evidence based policy:

If we are to secure Australia’s productivity potential into the future, the regulation of labour markets cannot remain a no-go area for evidence-based policy making.

I am sure the member for Fraser in his quieter moments, away from some of his colleagues, would agree with that statement. I imagine he would quietly sit and reflect upon the challenges this country will have with inflation and interest rates and he would say, ‘What the chair of the Productivity Commission said is probably true, but just don’t let my mates hear that.’

It is evidence based policy. It is a reform which this government implemented and which will make this economy harder to manage, which will mean fewer people get opportunities at jobs, which will put pressure on ordinary Australians’ interest rates—all because the government is driven by the ideological backgrounds of their backbench, by their frontbench and by those who pay their bills.

This motion is a shot at the executive of the government by those on the backbench who are far more talented than what sits on the front bench at the moment. This government should be condemned for the lack of evidence based policy that it has implemented, and it has been highlighted by the member for Fraser.