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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 1051

Senator FURNER (Queensland) (16:39): It is absolutely easy to stand here this afternoon and refute the claims of those opposite—that our government is unable to run an honest, transparent and accountable administration. You only need to look back on our record since we have been in government, since 2007, and to look at some of our achievements and identify those matters and the transparency with which we have delivered them.

Let us start with Work Choices. We promised to get rid of Work Choices and we did. Everyone should be reminded about that insidious policy that those opposite delivered, which made four million workers lose basic protections and which made more than a million workers suffer real pay cuts of up to $90 a week. This is something that those opposite are proud of and that they want to re-introduce should they ever form government again. Around 2.8 million workers lost legal protection against unfair sackings—sackings that I saw as a union official before I started my career here.

Let us not forget the Australian workplace agreements that cut penalty rates, overtime, public holidays, shift allowances and rest breaks. Women and casuals were the worst-affected by Australian workplace agreements—which Mr Tony Abbott says were 'one of the greatest achievements of the Howard government' and 'not all bad'. They were so bad that, before they came into government, they were not even prepared to have the debate on their grand plan of Work Choices.

During the global financial crisis, the quick thinking of the Labor government saw an investment of $42 billion for our Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan. It created jobs and prevented our nation from going into recession. We should not forget that those opposite opposed that stimulus package. They opposed people being secure in their employment. They opposed infrastructure rebuilds and facilities around our nation. We saw investment in schools under the Building the Education Revolution, with more than 9,500 schools nationally receiving new facilities such as science and language centres, multipurpose halls, outdoor covered learning centres, resource centres—and the list goes on. As a duty senator for five electorates in the state of Queensland—Longman, Dickson, Brisbane, Forde and Wright—I get around and see a lot of openings of these facilities and I have a great opportunity to receive the gratitude from principals, teachers, parents and students who are so proud that our government has invested in education. This is an area that was neglected under the coalition during their term. There has been around 100 per cent positivity about our great investment from the people in those communities. Last week, I attended eight Building the Education Revolution openings throughout my five duty seats.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator FURNER: I cannot imagine you have been to one, because you do not have any faith in it. You are embarrassed by the fact that we are doing something good in education—something you were not ever, ever able to achieve.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Boyce ): Senator Furner, ignore the interjections.

Senator FURNER: I am sorry, through the chair. Just last week I opened eight facilities in a whole variety of locations. On Friday I was up at Murphys Creek, and that was a pretty solemn occasion. It was an eerie experience to be up in Murphys Creek at that opening.

Senator Johnston interjecting

Senator FURNER: You can laugh at that, Senator Johnston. That is a disgrace, laughing at a town that lost people in their community, and you are using that as an opportunity to make fun of Murphys Creek. What a disgrace. What an absolute disgrace you are.

Following that, we went to Mount Alford and later on in the afternoon we went into other areas of the electorate of Wright. One of the schools I visited was the Bribie Island State High School. That school received a new science and language centre, where they are able to carry out experiments and even learn foreign languages. The school has an arrangement with the University of the Sunshine Coast, where students are able to begin learning Indonesian online, with access to lectures and lecturers.

At other schools I have seen huge halls which can now fit whole student bodies into the one area. For some schools, this has been the first time they have been able to address all the students. I would like to acknowledge some opposition colleagues from the House of Representatives who have come along to those BER openings. There is the member for Longman, Wyatt Roy; the member for Wright, Scott Buchholz; and the member for Forde, Bert Van Manen. Picture this: you go along to these openings, and here you have the member for Longman, the member for Forde or the member for Wright. You have this huge conga line of wannabes—disingenuous groupies, as I refer to them. They turn up for something they opposed, the BER, but no doubt they turn up for the photo opportunities. This is hypocrisy at its greatest. What stark hypocrisy to see these disingenuous people turning up at school hall openings that they opposed. Once again, we see a huge conga line of disingenuous LNP members from the House of Representatives turning up for the chance at a photo opportunity at school openings. And I am not trying to make fun of young Wyatt Roy, but young Wyatt Roy at some of the openings—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator, please use the member's correct title.

Senator FURNER: Mr Wyatt Roy—he is a mister. Mr Wyatt Roy turns up at some of these openings and he is about the same height as some of the students. Sometimes the teachers put their arm around him and try to usher him back into class because they think he is part of the student group at these schools. That is what happens if you go along to attend the opening of these halls when you do not believe in it and you are there for the photo opportunity. What more do you expect?

This $16.2 billion program not only provided schools with facilities they never thought they would get; it also kept many people in jobs. Many, many contractors and construction workers have come to these openings and indicated their thanks to the government for keeping them in employment as well.

We have also been transparent with the BER through the government's establishment of the Building the Education Revolution Implementation Taskforce in 2010 to examine the program, and its report was released to the public. Our economic stimulus plan also invests in our roads, railways and ports. We have injected $37 billion and there will be even more when the minerals resource rent tax goes through.

When the coalition was in government, our nation ranked 20th of the 25 OECD countries for investment into infrastructure as a proportion of national income. One of our election commitments was to promote a pro-disclosure culture across the government by building a stronger legislative foundation for openness and transparency. Reforming Australia's freedom of information laws was a key component of that commitment, and an improved FOI regime commenced on 1 November 2010. The reforms also established the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner, supported by the Privacy Commissioner and a new freedom of information commissioner, is a specialist independent monitor with the ability to review FOI decisions and investigate complaints. The commissioner will also work with agencies to develop best practice standards in the areas of FOI and privacy and to monitor compliance. Labor is committed to improving transparency across government and increasing trust in our democratic institutions.

Another area that we are reforming is health. Under the national health reform, we are working to transform the health system to be more efficient, accountable and transparent. In 2014-15 the federal government will increase its contribution to efficient growth funding to 45 per cent and then 50 per cent in 2017-18.

Returning to the nature of this matter of public importance, I want to reflect on a headline in the Sydney Morning Herald dated 18 May 2010. The headline is 'Read my lying lips: Abbott admits you can't believe everything he says'. In an interview on the 7.30 Report he admitted, on air, to Kerry—what was his name?

Senator Bilyk: Kerry O'Brien.

Senator FURNER: Kerry O'Brien—in part:

… sometimes, in the heat of discussion, you go a little bit further than you would if it was an absolutely calm, considered, prepared, scripted remark, which is one of the reasons why the statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth is those carefully prepared scripted remarks.

These are the comments of a confessed liar, someone who has admitted on air—

Senator Brandis: Madam Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. The statement that came from the senator is itself an untruth, but the point is that you cannot in this chamber refer to a member of this parliament by that term.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Brandis. Senator Furner, you should withdraw that comment.

Senator FURNER: I am only referring to the actual headline: 'Read my lying lips'—

Senator Brandis: On a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President, the senator, although he has not been here for very long, should know that he cannot reflect on your ruling, nor can he hide behind a quotation mark to make an unparliamentary remark. He should withdraw without equivocation and apologise to the chamber.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Brandis. Senator Furner, I ask you to withdraw the comment.

Senator FURNER: I do withdraw that comment. Once again, they are not my words; it is a headline in the Sydney Morning Herald, based on an interview between Kerry O'Brien and Mr Tony Abbott. As Mr Abbott said:

… which is one of the reasons why the statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth is those carefully prepared scripted remarks.

I do not know what that means and I do not know what the public thought of that, but certainly after that interview there was a poll. I know the opposition get excited by polls. The poll asked the question: will Tony Abbott's admission devalue everything he says in the lead-up to the election? The overwhelming majority of respondents, 68 per cent, said yes, while 32 per cent said no.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! The time for the discussion has expired.