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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 812

Senator MASON ( Queensland ) (16:23): The matter of public importance today is the complete dysfunction of the Labor government. After the brutal battles within the Labor Party in the last week, there is no question they are dysfunctional. It reminded me of when the former United States Secretary of State Dr Henry Kissinger was asked about the very bitter war then being fought between Iran and Iraq. He said that it was a pity that both sides could not lose. I have no doubt that most Australians today, having seen the result of the battle between the Prime Minister and Mr Rudd, wish both of them could lose—because the public has certainly lost.

I am in a somewhat generous mood today, even if the public might not be. I happen to agree with both Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd, and indeed their supporters. I agree with them all. My good friend Senator Conroy—he is one of my favourites, as you know—said:

Kevin Rudd had contempt for the cabinet, contempt for the cabinet members, contempt for the caucus, contempt for the Parliament.

Senator Conroy was right. What a pity he did not make that public 18 months ago or three years ago or four years ago. That is what a senior member of the Labor leadership group says about the alternative Prime Minister and alternative leader of the Australian Labor Party, Mr Rudd.

My fellow Queenslander, Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer, Mr Swan, said:

The Party has given Kevin Rudd all the opportunities in the world and he wasted them with his dysfunctional decision making and his deeply demeaning attitude towards other people including our caucus colleagues.

Again, I agree with Mr Swan. I do not have any doubt that that was Mr Rudd's conduct. But this all came out in a leadership contest—the most bitter I have ever seen; I have never seen a contest as bitter as it—a long time after the event. I only wish my Labor colleagues had had the courage to bring this up when it really mattered: three or four years ago, when a dysfunctional person was running the government.

Tony Burke, the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, said:

… the difference between the Kevin Rudd they saw on their TV screens and how he could actually come to be the micro-manager, the chaotic manager he had become … It became chaotic, the chaos, the undermining, the temperament that started to develop …

That is another senior minister talking about the Labor Party's most popular Prime Minister ever. Only now does the truth seep out from senior members of the Australian Labor Party about the most popular Labor Prime Minister there has ever been.

Ms Gillard the Prime Minister said that Mr Rudd had displayed 'very difficult and very chaotic work patterns as Prime Minister.' She added that he had sabotaged her 2010 election campaign. Yet again, that is correct.

These are the people charged with running our country. They are not talking about the issues that matter. My friend Senator Thistlethwaite spoke about matters that do concern the community; but those things have not been concerning the Labor Party for the last six months. Mr Rudd has been running around, as Ms Gillard says, undermining her and the government. Their focus has been on each other and on their own jobs, not on the concerns of the community.

As you know, I like to be catholic in my approach—somewhat eclectic. So let us look at the other side. One of the senior ministers voting for Mr Rudd today was the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Mr Bowen. He said, 'I do believe Kevin Rudd has a lot to continue to offer.' He might continue to have a lot to offer to the opposition—we do not complain about the political effect of Mr Rudd—but he has a devastating effect on Australia, its government and its people. That is the problem. So I agree with them all; but what a shambles. These are the people who are supposedly administering this nation.

We have one of the largest economies on earth. All of us know that this is a time of increasing pressure on families. The cost of living is going up because of the carbon tax, which is one of the great disasters in Australia's history. It will go down as an absolute and utter debacle. Job security, particularly in manufacturing, is becoming increasingly difficult. The boats keep coming; border security remains a huge issue; that has not changed. The mining tax will be debated, as Senator Evans said today during question time. 'If it moves, tax it,' says the Labor Party. The mining tax will not solve Australia's problems. Taxing does not solve a nation's issues.

So what has changed? Nothing has changed. The problem with the Labor Party ever since Mr Rudd won the election in 2007 is very simple: they cannot implement anything. The implementation of their policies has been a shambles. The pink batts program was perhaps the classic. It cost $1 billion to implement and $1 billion to fix. The NBN has to be a shambles. I will put a bet on the public record that that will be a shambles—and it will not be worth it. In my own area, in the Building the Education Revolution, I heard what Senator Thistlethwaite said. This is the problem: everyone knows that those school halls cost too much. The government's own adviser said that they cost too much. Do you know what is even worse? It was in state schools where the money did not go very far at all. The government secured much better value when it was dealing with Catholic schools and independent schools. Why is it that government schools cost up to 60 per cent more per square metre than Catholic or independent schools? What is even worse is that the Auditor-General's office said that there were not sufficient oversight mechanisms within the Commonwealth department of education to ensure that the Commonwealth got good value for money. That is the greatest indictment of this government in four years: after spending $16 billion, the Auditor-General said there were not sufficient oversight mechanisms to ensure the Commonwealth government secured good value for money in government schools, because the state governments could not administer the money well. That was the problem. But don't believe me; look at what Mr Orgill said. It is all very well to say, 'People thought it was a great idea but we spent all this money.' The trick in government is not to spend money. That is easy. I actually find spending money pretty easy myself. The trick is to spend it well, because for every dollar a government spends, taxpayers deserve a dollar in value at least. And they did not get it out of the BER. That is the problem. It is true.

Senator McLucas interjecting

Senator MASON: Senator McLucas said that some states did better than others. I would accept that. Some states did do better than others. But overall it was a woeful performance.

Senator McLucas interjecting

Senator MASON: Read Brad Orgill's report, Senator McLucas. In Victoria alone, state government schools cost 40 per cent more than Catholic ones. It is absolutely outrageous.

Finally, the cancer within the Labor Party, the cancer within social democracy—right across Western Europe and throughout the world—is one four-letter word: debt The Labor Party, since Federation, has never left government with more money in the bank. They always have more debt upon leaving government. That has happened every single time since 1901. They always leave Australia with more debt. That is the great failing of the Labor Party and social democratic parties in Europe. And aren't we paying for that now?

This morning's contest clearly was between Australia's worst Prime Minister and the second-worst Prime Minister. I am not sure who is who, but we do know this: it was a pretty decisive vote in caucus but history will judge both those people as very poor prime ministers. We should go to an election as soon as possible.