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Tuesday, 26 October 2010
Page: 782

Senator HUTCHINS (4:21 PM) —Listening to Senator Ryan’s contribution this afternoon, I was amazed. I do not think he missed any of his enemies in his 10-minute contribution—from banks to building societies—and he talked about George Orwell, but one thing that did intrigue me a little was his rant against the Hawke-Keating government and a number of the economic reforms that it conducted—mainly in privatising a number of government sectors. Now, I know that Senator Ryan was an activist in the Victorian university clubs and all those sorts of things but I get an inkling that deep down Senator Ryan is a leftie who was disturbed by what the Hawke-Keating government did. And I will have an opportunity, after my contribution, to talk to one of my Left colleagues, Senator Marshall. I am not sure whether Senator Ryan applied to joint the Socialist Left in Victoria and was rejected. If he was rejected it was a sound decision, Senator Marshall, in hindsight, because we have certainly seen a tirade conducted by him here today.

When an election is called it is usual for the major economic spokesmen of both parties to present themselves before the National Press Club. You may recall that the shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey, walked into the National Press Club and refused to answer questions on the coalition’s policy, how it would be funded and the impact it would have on the economy. You may well recall how embarrassing a day that was for the coalition. Subsequent to that I asked a number of coalition members: ‘Why didn’t Joe Hockey answer those questions? Was he denied the opportunity to answer those questions by a vindictive leader in Tony Abbott?’ And I was told by men and women who should know, ‘No, it was just lazy Joe Hockey.’ He hadn’t done his work.

Senator Marshall —Sloppy Joe!

Senator HUTCHINS —As Senator Marshall interjects, ‘Sloppy Joe.’ But do you remember, even better, the unedifying presence of Mr Robb in this building having to conduct a press conference to at least try to explain the funny money opportunities that were being put forward by the coalition? Who could ever forget Andrew Robb diligently, valiantly, trying to explain the unexplainable? And who could forget that poor staffer down the back of the room, when Andrew Robb continued to soldier on, trying to argue the inarguable? The young staffer was down the back of the room with his finger across his throat, going: ‘Andrew! Andrew! Cut, cut, cut! Do not let them know any more!’ This was the farce of the coalition in that period, and it continued right up to and after the election.

We know now that there was an $11 billion hole in the coalition’s budget plans. This is how good they were, and I would have to say you would have to think they were trying to sabotage their campaign. Mr Hockey said at the National Press Club on 9 August, ‘The Australian economy is the envy of the developed world.’ Mr Robb said: ‘Well, untrue. That’s true, I’m sure. I’m sorry; I agree that it is the rest of the world.’ These men knew, and know now, that our economy is in that state.

I now go to the post-election period. Do you remember the farce of that period where the coalition would not present their budgets to the Treasury so that they could be costed? Do you remember the almost two weeks of farce that this country and its people had to go through because he refused to provide information that could have made sure that the coalition was in government? Do you remember that? I remember it very well, and so do the Australian people. And that is why the coalition is on that side of the chamber and we are on this side—because everybody can see through them.

When the opposition finally came up with their funny figures from Sloppy Joe we found that there was an $11 billion hole in them. That is what tipped the balance and gave us the treasury bench—because people like those opposite were not prepared to be honest with the Australian people, let alone be honest with their parliamentary colleagues. It is an interesting paradox that we have now. I have suggested that Senator Ryan is a disappointed leftie who was denied possible membership of the Socialist Left in Victoria, but now we have a situation where Sloppy Joe, the shadow Treasurer—I probably should not call him ‘Sloppy Joe’—

Senator Boyce —I rise on a point of order. Mr Acting Deputy President, members of the other chamber should be referred to by their proper names.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Mark Bishop)—The point of order is correct. You should refer to Mr Hockey as Mr Hockey.

Senator HUTCHINS —Mr Hockey has now embarked on yet another program that would probably qualify him for the old Socialist Left in Victoria—and that is to re-regulate banks. I wonder when we are going to see from the coalition statements along the lines that we might need to reinstate some labour rights! What about restoring the single desk? I am sure that would be in Senator Williams’s heart! Why don’t we go back to the fifties, where it now looks as if our coalition colleagues are far more comfortable! Let’s see if that single rail gauge is really appropriate when we take a train from Victoria to New South Wales! Was the Snowy Mountains scheme appropriate? Was it necessary? I know that Robert Menzies boycotted the opening of it; was it really necessary?

All these great nation-building programs in the past, now and in the future, have been initiated by Labor governments. We will continue to provide those because they are necessary for the economic wellbeing of our country. My colleague Senator Furner has outlined a number of the social initiatives that have been conducted by this government but we have been receiving from the independent commentators the necessary compliments required for us to proceed with the program we are running. Standard and Poor’s said on 24 September this year:

Australia has one of the strongest fiscal positions globally with a net general government debt burden less than half the level of AAA rated countries.

Moody’s said:

In comparison to most other AAA-rated countries, Australia’s government financial strength is very high, with a very low gross debt—

‘very low gross debt’, senator who will follow me—

that is easily affordable and provides a high degree of fiscal flexibility.

I do not know why the coalition are in the pickle they are in at the moment; they seem to be all at sixes and sevens. But, as I say, we have been delivering for the Australian community and we will continue to do so. As I said earlier, we have a strategy that will get our budget back into surplus in three years, and that will be before any other major advanced economy. That is why it has been endorsed by the IMF and also by the Reserve Bank of Australia—

Senator Boyce interjecting—

Senator HUTCHINS —and international credit-rating agencies, as I just outlined to you, Senator Boyce. As I said, if you want to go back and re-regulate the economy, which seems to be what the shadow Treasurer wants to do—

Senator Boyce interjecting—

Senator HUTCHINS —If you want to go back and do that, if you want to be disappointed lefties like Senator Ryan, you go ahead and argue that at the next Australian election, because if you really look at what you want to do, it is confusing to many people in the street. Even noted economists are disturbed by where you are going, and so they should be, because it could take us back into difficulties.

This government has been one of the few governments in the last decade that has been prepared to put on the table the issues of nation building and, at the same time, fiscal responsibility. In each and every way, we have been opposed by a narrow-minded and biased coalition. It is time that they understood that their duties in this place are to the nation, not to their own party. I hope today we may see some semblance of light from some of the contributors coming after me.