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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 1042


Senator FEENEY (VictoriaParliamentary Secretary for Defence) (15:58): Needless to say, I rise to reject the terms of this matter of public importance and to reject the remarks that have been made in support of it. It really does take some gall—gall of a very high order indeed—for those opposite to come in here and lecture this government about honesty, transparency and accountability. But then, as was said yesterday in question time, the audacity of the Liberal-National Party coalition is breathtaking. The Liberal and National parties, under the leadership of Mr Abbott, are currently engaged in one of the greatest policy swindles this parliament has ever been witness to. Is it honest, transparent or accountable for Mr Abbott to run around Australia promising a cornucopia of government spending to every interest group in the land? Any interest group that comes onto his radar screen is immediately the recipient of a commitment, a promise. Is it transparent or accountable to say that Mr Abbott's government will repeal the carbon price, the mining tax and the means testing of the private health insurance rebate, increase government spending in various areas and yet somehow bring in a budget surplus?

Not for much longer will this opposition be able to get away with this pea and thimble trick that it is trying to perpetrate in this Senate and across the country. Now that the focus will return to the Abbott-Gillard contest, this is policy nonsense the Liberal Party must start facing up to. Senators opposite cannot go on much longer opposing every revenue measure that this government introduces, opposing every spending reduction that this government implements and pandering to every interest group and lobbyist that offers them a donation, and still hope to retain any credibility as we head towards the next election.

This month we saw an outstanding example of this opposition's idea of honesty, transparency and accountability as we watched Mr Hockey trying to wriggle out of his admission, late last year, that a coalition government would have to find $70 billion in spending cuts over the forward estimates in order to make its budget balance. This is what Mr Hockey had to say:

I will tell you what we are doing. We are going through the budget, line by line and item by item. The government will spend—Liberal or Labor—will spend $1,500 billion over the next four years. It is a massive amount of money. Therefore finding 50, 60 or 70 billion is about identifying waste and identifying areas where you do not need to proceed with programs.

In other words, Mr Hockey said that a coalition government will cut between $50 billion and $70 billion out of the budget over the forward estimates. On 8 February Mr Hockey was interviewed by Linda Mottram on the ABC. This is how he dodged and wriggled from under his own figures:

Mottram: You said the number $70 billion. There is no resiling from that.

Hockey: And 60—or 50. I mean I …

Mottram: Yeah, 50, 60, 70—okay, so which one is real?

Hockey: Okay, I shouldn’t have said any because it was part of a debate and now it’s been taken as a statement of fact.

Mottram: Were you plucking it out of the air though?

Hockey: Well, it was offered to me—I mean, you’ve got to read the full transcript.

There is plenty of honesty, transparency and accountability right there. The brains trust of the economic team hiding inside the Liberal Party, no doubt deep in a bunker somewhere, are avoiding all the scrutiny, accountability and honesty that is required of them.

But wait, because there is more. On 11 February the devious internal workings of the Liberal Party frontbench were revealed by none other than that well-known leftie Mr Andrew Bolt, who wrote the following:

Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey has been whacked around the head this week for denying he ever admitted a Coalition government would have to slash existing programs by $70 billion to meet its own spending commitments …

How the figure got into the public domain and became an albatross around Hockey’s neck is an interesting story …

In August last year, as the Coalition’s expenditure review committee looked for potential savings, there was a leak.

A news report claimed that documents from the so-called 'razor gang' revealed a warning by Hockey that $70 billion needed to be found.

In fact, well-placed sources say, the documents did not contain an overall savings target at all. Hockey provided it to shadow ministers when he spoke to them in person.

And—here’s the devious bit—he gave each of his colleagues a different figure. The reason? So that if there was a leak he would know where it came from.

The $70 billion leak immediately pinged the leaker. But it also left Hockey with the problem that now plagues him.

'I’ve never said $70 billion,' Hockey told a radio interviewer on Wednesday. But he did say it—to one member of the shadow cabinet.

Then we are: the shadow Treasurer, one of the most senior members of the opposition frontbench and, at least on my own account, a constant source of entertainment, has admitted that he set a trap for his frontbench colleagues to find out which one of them was undermining him by leaking to the media. 'A cunning plan, Baldrick,' one might say.

How is it that this performance of a ramshackle opposition goes to notions of transparency, accountability and honesty? Of course, it does not, because this opposition is absolutely resolved to creep into power without any scrutiny. It is creeping into power, having promised everything that it needs to promise to all those whom it runs across in the course of its work, without ever having to be called to account. The shadow budget is a work of fiction. One can only imagine the musings of the opposition razor gang as they sit through their fantasy budget meetings and imagine their fantasy cuts. This is typical of the standard that this irresponsible, reckless and clueless opposition has set. That standard was set by its leader, who has admitted that he only tells the truth when he feels like it. This opposition's senior members cannot even be honest with one another about what their spending plans are—perhaps they do not understand them from one meeting to the next. This opposition simply cannot be trusted to tell the Australian people about its plans to cut spending.

The opposition realistically puts forward the proposition that it will return the proceeds and the revenue streams from the minerals resource rent tax, a truly remarkable proposition. Lindsay Tanner famously dubbed the mining interests' campaign against the tax the 'billionaire liberation front', and I cannot help but imagine the moment when the Liberal Party hands back a cheque to the billionaire liberation front. No doubt, as the opposition wanders back to Canberra and tries to explain this glaring chasm in its budget, it will at least draw some sustenance from the fact that it has returned $11 billion to the people in this country who least need it.

But wait, because there is more. This opposition is positively fascinated by the proposition of returning vast sums of money to those Australians who least need it, and nowhere is that plainer than with its plans for the carbon tax. There we see the opposition's honesty and transparency on full display. This opposition intends, quite literally, to on the one hand say to Australian business: 'Do not buy the permits. Do not invest in the permits,' to promote sovereign risk, to do some of the most destructive things that policymakers can do to business confidence in this country, and on the other hand offer a policy prescription in this country which says that the proceeds of the carbon tax will be returned to the greatest polluters. How is it, one might very well ask, that the Liberal Party is going to meet its targets to abate carbon—targets that are the same as those of the government—yet literally promotes carbon pollution by returning the proceeds of the carbon tax to the big polluters? The Liberal Party says it has the answer to this puzzle, and that answer is Tony Abbott's direct action plan. In the direct action plan we can see the fruit of years and years and decades and decades of Liberal Party thinking. For all the gobbledegook that the Liberal Party likes to speak of—individual choice, individual rights, individual freedoms—we can see that, when the rubber hits the road, Tony Abbott has reached for an eastern bloc soviet style scheme that would have Santamaria himself turning in his grave. It is literally a multibillion-dollar plan to abate carbon emissions in this country by coming up with big government spending programs.

We have the Labor Party on the one hand having a fixed price scheme moving to an open trading system. The Labor Party's proposition to this country is to let us have a carbon market, let the forces of supply and demand drive innovation, let the forces of supply and demand and the marketplace liberate Australian entrepreneurialism so it can help find the solutions that this country so desperately needs. Where does the dead hand against capitalism come from? It comes from where it is perhaps least expected—the Liberal and National parties. Their dead hand is very literally proposing— (Time expired)