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Monday, 22 August 2011
Page: 5050


Senator HUMPHRIES (Australian Capital Territory) (17:36): As I move around my electorate, the ACT, and travel to other places around Australia, I have to say that there is one sentiment that comes through almost universally, almost without fail. And it comes through even from people who I know have been supporters of the Labor Party in the past. It is a theme that recurs again and again—that is, that this Gillard Labor government has lost its way, that the government cannot be trusted, that the government she leads cannot be believed in what it says to the Australian people. And it is not difficult to see why. This government has systematically, comprehensively trashed its authority. You could not script a fall from grace, in the eyes of the Australian people, as perfectly as this government has executed it. If the polls are to be believed, no government in the history of Australian politics has spent so much on so many half-baked schemes to so little electoral benefit.

Why is this? Why is it that this government has so comprehensively lost its way and lost the confidence of the Australian people? It has lost their trust. Why? It is not hard to see why. The Australian people now see these examples recurring again and again before their eyes and they have become almost axioms in the eyes of many people.

Of course, the previous government, the Rudd government, broke such a long list of promises, such a litany of commitments to the Australian people, that their lack of trustworthiness on the question of keeping their word became almost legendary. The 10 minutes or so I have in this place does not give me a chance to even scratch the surface of those broken promises. They promised to cut the number of consultancies the federal government used; they in fact increased the number of consultancies. They promised a laptop on the desk of every school student; most of that scheme is yet to be delivered. They promised 260 childcare centres; only 38 were ultimately delivered. They promised 36 GP superclinics; I think only three have been delivered so far. They promised to stop whaling in our waters by Japanese whaling boats, a promise not delivered on. They promised a department of homeland security. They promised an election debates com­mission. They promised an Auditor-General review of government advertising. They promised to make sure all major projects would be subject to cost-benefit analyses. They promised a grocery choice scheme. They promised Fuelwatch. And the list goes on and on and on. It is not difficult to understand why people, who I suppose are already inured, to be frank, to a certain level of suspicion of politicians, would so compre­hensively believe that this government has reached the gold standard when it comes to breaking promises.

Ms Gillard was the deputy leader of the Rudd government and, since taking the reins of this government herself, has perfected the technique of breaking election promises. She has a host of broken promises to her own name. But of course one stands out, in a way which is in a sense a little hard to understand. It is the promise that she broke with respect to the carbon tax. It is a promise that was, in a sense, less audacious than many of those broken by her predecessor. But the fact is that this broken promise, the particular promise she made that there would 'be no carbon tax under the government I lead', has crystallised the Australian public's view of this government. This broken promise has told the Australian people more than any other broken promise made by this government that it cannot be trusted. It is a government not true to its word. And the government's shallow and unconvincing attempts to direct the ire of the Australian community away from that broken promise have been singularly unsuccessful. That is why today, a month or more after some of the details of this government's carbon tax have been laid on the table, it is still failing to reap much benefit from the delivery of this carbon tax and the details of this carbon tax because, frankly, far too many Australians have ceased to listen to this government, are no longer interested in what this government has to say, because they simply do not believe what they hear.

The recent events surrounding the member for Dobell reinforce yet again the sense that this government is a government that is not prepared to live by its word. A government that promised transparency in government, a government that promised a higher standard with respect to the behaviour of ministers and members than the previous government had exhibited, has delivered what I think can fairly be described as the most conspicuously disgraceful piece of cover-up that this community has seen for a very long time.

The opposition acknowledges that the member for Dobell may face proceedings, and he is absolutely entitled to the presumption of innocence with respect to those proceedings. But there are other matters that the member for Dobell has faced which are not on-foot, which are concluded and about which the parliament deserves an explanation—and neither the public nor the parliament has received that explanation. Again, even if the Prime Minister were to offer an explanation as to, for example, why $90,000 of funds of members of the Australian Labor Party has been put to settling a defamation action which was promptly then cancelled and the money used to disburse legal costs, even if the Prime Minister were to account today for why that occurred, I doubt that many Australians would be listening to hear—because they have ceased to trust her and her government.

The matter of public importance motion that has been moved today again draws attention to this government's maladministra­tion. Again, in just a few minutes it is impossible to do more than scratch the surface of that—broken promise after broken promise, botched execution of a scheme after botched execution of a scheme. The figures entailed in these failures of administration almost boggle the mind. On the govern­ment's own appointed assessor's view, for example, of its BER scheme, the Building the Education Revolution scheme, we hear that waste in public schools in New South Wales and Victoria alone cost $1.53 billion—a loss of effectiveness of $1,530 million has been squandered by this government on their own independent commissioner's assessment.

Yet these days it almost does not register with the Australian community because its level of waste and mismanagement is of such a scale that that figure almost means nothing. The $50 million wasted on the pink batts scheme is small fry in comparison with that; the $67 million wasted on the set-top box program; the concern in the community about the $25 million to sell a carbon tax before the scheme has even passed the parliament and even before people understand what is entailed in the scheme; and there is the $7 million wasted on market research testing federal government policies. We do not need market research to know what is happening to federal government policies. Then there is the abject failure, the smoking ruin, of a policy that the government's so-called Malaysian solution represents. This has again simply reinforced the sense that this government has reached a gold standard when it comes to broken promises and maladministered schemes.

I am concerned about these things because the value of Australian government, the authority of Australian government, is an important asset that everybody in this chamber ought to protect. At the end of the day, whoever takes responsibility for the Treasury benches needs to be able to deliver a certain number of programs and actions through the credibility of being the government of the country. I do not know that anybody can occupy the Treasury benches of this country anytime soon and look the Australian people in the eye and command that kind of respect, precisely because of the way in which this government has trashed that authority and debased that currency.