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Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Page: 2647


Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (16:19): In assessing any action proposed in this place, I start from the premise that while government has an obvious responsibility to regulate the affairs of its citizens it should only do so to the extent reasonably necessary. Indeed, in this place we should be mindful of the need for ongoing oversight to avoid excessive intrusion into the lives of citizens and business. No doubt there are those on the other side who would agree with that fundamental approach. Where we disagree is that I, along with my colleagues on this side of the chamber, am very seriously concerned at the dead arm of overregulation. I am genuinely concerned when the government thinks that it can run businesses better than private enterprise. I am genuinely concerned that the track record of this government is ringing all the alarm bells of a runaway train.

This government is reaching back into its sad and sorry socialist past, absolutely committed to greater regulation, more bureaucracy and increasing intrusion into business and the marketplace. If you look at their track record, you will see the clear and present danger that this government poses to business and to the wellbeing of all Australians. The people of Australia should be alarmed, not just alert.

There is an urgent need for market based reforms and strict and transparent budgeting, because this Labor government has abandoned the principles of good governance. On both counts of today's matter of public importance, this government does not understand what a market based reform is, and the Treasurer and this government do not understand what strict and transparent budgeting means. Since 2007, we have seen many instances of this government introducing legislation and reform packages that fail to comply with good governance. We urgently need market based reforms precisely because the Labor Party no longer understands what these words mean.

This has not always been the case. I urge the government revisit the history of their own party. At the turn of the century, in 1901, the new Federation of Australia was the richest country in the world and by a considerable margin at that. We truly were the lucky country. Several decades later came Gough Whitlam. In 1972, unemployment stood at 2.6 per cent. Three years later, in 1975, it had risen to 4.9 per cent. Between 1972 and 1975, on almost every measure, the Australian economy was in sharp decline because we had a Labor Prime Minister who unwound any of the market based reforms that this country had implemented and set about re-regulating industry and controlling more and more aspects of economic activity. We had a Labor Prime Minister who believed that racking up massive debt and rapidly expanding the public sector borrowing requirement would somehow be beneficial to future generations of this nation. There is an urgent need today for market based reforms, because the situation I have just described sounds very familiar. We have had exactly the same kind of government since 2007. Many commentators have stopped calling Gough Whitlam the worst Prime Minister this country has ever had, because the two prime ministers since 2007 have been far, far worse.

Prime Minister Gillard should learn from her own party's history. After Malcolm Fraser and the Campbell committee began the process of economic liberalisation in 1979, the two subsequent Labor prime ministers continued that trend. Some of the true great market reforms that were so desperately needed occurred under their watch, with the full support of the Liberal Party. This country was finally back on track. We had the deregulation of the airline industry, the floating of the dollar, the giving of independence to the RBA and significant tariff reductions. Bob Hawke recognised that something needed to change and, unlike Prime Minister Gillard, he stood up to the fundamentally antimarket unions and this led to the introduction of enterprise bargaining agreements, ending more than a century of centralised wage fixing. These were all important reforms, and the Howard government continued implementing significant market based reforms, including privatising Telstra and introducing the goods and services tax, and reducing income taxes.

After Prime Ministers Rudd and Gillard's appalling mismanagement, there is now a desperate and urgent need for the reintroduction of sound market based reforms. This Labor government has lost its way, and no actions by Prime Minister Gillard since 2010 have reversed the sclerotic direction of this country. Instead, the government thinks that market based reform amounts to putting a price on something. The concept of a market based reform is such an anathema to this government that it thinks more regulation equals less regulation! A pricing mechanism set up by government fiat, that exists only by government legislation and that is set up simply to take money from some to give to others is not a market based reform. If the Prime Minister were truly honest with the Australian people, she would at least admit that all she means by a pricing mechanism is an artificial increase in price—an increase designed to hurt Australian families and to take even more of their hard-earned money from them.

We should also consider this government's record on the market based approaches of privatisation, liberalisation and deregulation. On the first count, privatisation, as the member for Moncrieff commented, this government is going to waste $50 billion plus on renationalising the telecommunications and broadband sector with the National Broadband Network Company. No other country in the world has suggested such an antimarket approach to the future of broadband, which is why this government has failed to even do a cost-benefit analysis on this policy, to say nothing of last century's outmoded monopolistic system.

On liberalisation, this Labor government has continued to bow to vested interests and has effectively abandoned further negotiations with the World Trade Organisation or negotiations with other countries for free trade agreements. This government continues to prop up failing industries like the car industry. The coalition supports the manufacturing industry but, unlike this Labor government, we do not do so to the detriment of the future of this country.

On deregulation, Australians know who controls the Labor Party—and that is the unions. Deregulation of any part of the economy is on not the ALP's agenda, because the faceless men of the ALP are constantly drawn back to the days of government control. They do not understand the market and they do not trust what they do not understand. The House is scheduled later today to resume debate on the Road Safety Remuneration Bill, a bill that will set up a new tribunal and a new layer of regulation for road transport workers—an unsurprising piece of legislation from this government—which expressly aims to increase regulation and government control of the economy. This government has form when it comes to economic mismanagement and crazy interventions in the marketplace. One just has to look at pink batts, the widespread mismanagement of BER funds, NBN Co., solar rebates and of course the outlaying of $900 to people who were in fact dead.

This government's inability to introduce market based reforms, combined with its demonstrable incompetence, make it absolutely mandatory that there be a return to strict and transparent budgeting. This is a government that, as a direct result of its incompetence, has had to introduce 19 new or increased taxes. This is a government that has turned $70 billion of net worth into accumulated deficits of $167 billion and $136 billion of net debt. Under no sane person's definition is this strict budgeting.

The member for Fraser mentioned many times the words 'budget black hole'. Well, when election time arrives, the Australian people need not be worried about who will be the better economic managers and who will put this country back on track. The member for Fraser declined to mention the many black holes that this government has. Despite the government having the resources of Treasury behind it, we learned in December that, instead of the $22 billion debt forecast by Treasury for this year, the debt would in fact amount to more than $37 billion.

Moreover, this government is also a very avid fan of creative accounting—of using tricks in the budget so that Australians do not know the full fiscal picture. This is why in the underlying cash balance and over the forward estimates the true cost of what this government plans to do is not revealed—like the $50 billion-plus cost of NBN Co., the $10 billion that the government plans to spend on the Clean Energy Fund, the $36 billion on 12 new submarines, the Commonwealth share of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the dental program commitment to the Greens. All Australians have a fundamental right to know how their hard-earned taxpayers' money is being spent, which is why the coalition strongly supports the introduction of a truly independent Parliamentary Budget Office. The government allowed it to pass but in a weakened form that will not allow it to truly serve as an independent judge of spending estimates. This is true Labor style: tax, tax, tax; spend, spend, spend—and try to hide the true cost of what they are doing while they are at it.

On the management of the economy, the Australian people know that the coalition will leave them in a better position. They know which party will leave families better off. The coalition is committed to appropriate, sound market based reforms. When it comes to sensible economic management and market reform the coalition has a track record of achievement—a track record built upon by the shadow Treasurer, a track record which gives hope, reward and opportunity to the Australian people, who have been so badly let down by this sad and tired Labor government.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): Order! The discussion is concluded.