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Monday, 30 May 2011
Page: 5191


Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (17:21): I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No.1) 2011-2012 and cognate bills and to condemn the lost opportunities that this budget represents. This is indeed a budget that has a bark that is worse than its bite. Madam Deputy Speaker, two weeks ago, you might remember, the hounds were out howling at the moon before this budget was delivered, howling about how tough things had to be and howling about how tough measures would be taken to bring the budget back into surplus. But what was the result come budget night? An utter disappointment and a disgraceful waste of opportunity.

This budget does not cut back on spending. On the contrary, the budget actually increases spending, ramping up government expenses from $351 billion to $368 billion. That is no way to go about returning a budget to surplus. If that is the government's plan, then it is a dog of a plan. That is not surprising as it comes from a dog of a government delivering a dog of a budget. It beggars belief that a government purporting to have the ability to bring a budget back to surplus would start by increasing spending. You do not have to have a high-school education to recognise the fundamental flaw in that plan, and Labor wonders why the public thinks it has no economic credentials.

If this government thinks spending more money is a tough budget that can deliver a surplus, then it is not smarter than a fifth grader. But increased expenditure alone is not why this is a dog of a budget. The real issue that Australian families find unpalatable is the reckless waste they are witnessing from the current government. Far from tightening its belt, this government has employed an additional 24,000 public servants since it took power in 2007. That is a bitter pill to swallow for people in my electorate of Dawson, many of them living in regional towns with an entire population less than that.

We now have 1,027 public servants in the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency alone. This is a department that has proved to be a total failure. It has failed its first priority for 2010-11, which is spelt out in its corporate plan. It is, 'Delivery of the government's election commitments.' That is not just a fail; that is a fail of epic proportions. The government's pre-election commitment was that there would be no carbon tax. The Prime Minister said, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.' That was her election commitment, and yet we have 1,027 public servants there in the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency beavering away to achieve the polar opposite of that election commitment, trying to sell a lie to the Australian public. It is now time for the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency to amend his department's corporate plan so that he can at least say that 1,027 public servants paid by the Australian taxpayer are achieving the election commitments of the one Greens MP in the House of Representatives.

It is the same Australian public money that is going to pay for the scandalous excesses of this government, like exorbitantly priced set-top boxes for pensioners, valued at $400 each. Even the pensioners recognise what a contemptible waste of money that program represents. Those who have already purchased a set-top box for themselves tell me that they would just like to be reimbursed the $50 that it actually cost them. I have listened with interest to various members of the government, particularly the member for Kingston, yelping that the coalition members keep talking about these set-top boxes. I say: get used to it, because that is what the general public is talking about.

How can this government look the public in the eye and say to them, 'We're paying $400 of your money for something that is worth $50'? How can this government look the public in the eye and tell them, 'We're increasing our offshore asylum seekers spend by an extra $1.7 billion of your money so that we can swap one of our illegal immigrants for five of Malaysia's'? These are not the actions of a government capable of a budget surplus. These are the actions of a government with an atrocious record of debt and deficit. Australian families who are struggling to meet spiralling cost-of-living expenses cannot even comprehend the sheer magnitude of the debt that this government is racking up. How can the average family comprehend interest payments of $135 million every day? The average family cannot even comprehend just how much money that is, let alone the thought of borrowing that much on a daily basis to service debt incurred by a government addicted to spending—$135 million a day, and every single taxpayer will have to pay that debt back.

It is also interesting to hear the government speakers yelping about how the coalition have not produced a detailed budget on how we would do things. The answer to that probably should be a bit obvious: fixing the Labor-Greens debacle is a moving feast because the mess gets bigger each day, $135 million a day bigger, and that is if they stop making bad decisions today. But debt and deficit are to be expected from this lot in the long run. This dog of a government is a mongrel breed with a big Labor streak, a Labor streak that has no form on the board for economic competency, just a track record of reckless spending and reckless taxing. And added to this mix now are the Greens, whose barren economic understanding is limited to the cost of a pair of sandals and whose economic answer to alarmist bleatings about climate change is to close down all the coalmines in Australia.

This government is a pack of strays with no legitimacy, no direction and no leadership, an illegitimate government that has sold its soul and the soul of the Australian taxpayer in a desperate grab for power. The price the Australian people have to pay for the grubby deals that are so far apparent is blatant pork-barrelling in the extreme to woo the Independents, reckless pokies legislation that will destroy clubs and the communities that depend on them and, of course, the biggest tax with no mandate to ever be thrust on Australian families. This is a sign of a weak government, a dog of a government with not one but many different leaders, these multiple leaders all leading the pack astray, all pulling in different directions and pushing the government from one extreme to the other.

One of this government's leaders, Senator Bob Brown, is leading the pack off to investigate this rotting carcass of a carbon tax that no-one wants to touch, but now it is one in, all in. They are all feeding on that same rotting carcass because that is the only way they can stay in office. And the country is forced to follow, even though everyone knows it is a rotting carcass. Industry can smell that it is rotten, business can smell that it is rotten, and families can smell that it is rotten. Even the government recognises how rotten it is, by not including the carbon tax in its budget. The majority of this pack is too embarrassed for the public to see where it is going to be led. The mining tax legislation has not been introduced into parliament, yet it is in this budget. How can this government pretend the carbon tax is not part of the nation's economy in the next four years when it will have far-reaching, damaging consequences for every single person, every single family and every single business in this nation?

This dog of a government is embarrassed because it knows it has no mandate to introduce a carbon tax. On the contrary, as I said, the Prime Minister has a mandate for there to be no carbon tax under the government she leads. Even the taxpayer funded Climate Commission cannot sell this tax to families, who will have to pay for it, because those families are not stupid. They understand the Climate Commission is just a taxpayer funded advertising scheme for a bad tax. They understand that the commission was never going to provide advice or a report that did not support the government's carbon tax decision that has already been made, that was made in a backroom deal to get the Greens on board to form government.

We have been given thousands of doomsday predictions and not one of them has come to pass. Even a couple of weeks ago the world was supposed to end. The world did not end, and we did not have aeroplanes dropping out of the sky or nuclear weapons launching themselves with the Y2K bug. The world did not end in an ice age as they predicted back in the 1970s. Forty years ago science, as reported in Time magazine in June 1974, was of the opinion that global cooling that had been experienced for more than three decades was a sign of an impending ice age.

We do not need scientists to tell us that the climate is changing. The climate is always changing and always has changed. But that is not to say we should not cut pollution or develop alternative energy. And everyday families know that the best way to cut pollution is to do something about it. They know that investing in new technology will cut pollution. They know that taxing every man, woman and child in Australia is not the way to cool the planet. Families in my electorate of Dawson know that if Climate Commissioner Tim Flannery's wild predictions of people having to row a boat down the main street of Mackay to get to work were true—that is what he said—then getting slugged an extra $300 on their electricity bill would not make one scrap of difference.

The Greens, who have a single member in the House of Representatives, seem to be the majority shareholder of the leadership of this government through Senator Bob Brown. The extent to which the Greens are willing to hold this government to ransom is a frightening proposition for the Australian economy and the families who depend on it. Not happy with the mining tax to bleed our biggest industry dry, the Greens have insisted on this carbon tax, so bad that the Labor streak in this government are too embarrassed to show it in public and put it in their budget. But, as if that is not enough to kill the golden goose, they have insisted on including in this budget an amendment to the fringe benefits tax that will see hardworking miners pay $8,000 a year for the privilege of going to work. Under these changes, someone who works in the mining industry and who leases a $65,000 vehicle for the long drives to and from work, racking up more than 40,000 kilometres a year, will be taxed at 20 per cent instead of seven per cent FBT. That means the FBT payable for that vehicle, which is used to get them to and from work and around the work site, will increase from $4,550 to $13,000. But it will not just apply to mineworkers and the industries servicing the mines; it will also apply to regional farmers and even sales representatives forced to travel enormous distances just to provide for their families. It would appear this government has some kind of visceral hatred for people who are working hard and having a go, especially if they live in rural Australia and even more especially if they have the misfortune to work in the mining industry that is propping this country up.

The extremist Greens, and the Labor government that panders to their extremist views, will continue to kill off industry, to kill off opportunity and to kill off the hopes and dreams of families until the Australian people have the opportunity to stop them. They will continue to rip the heart out of our way of life and our future in the interests of a few—the few scruffy tails wagging this dog of a government. While this budget delivers further blows to the cost-of-living pressures on everyday families, it makes a deceitful attempt to look like it gives more than it takes.

Last year prior to the election we identified the need for urgent action on mental health in Mackay. The Mackay region has an unacceptably high rate of youth suicide. There is a very good solution to this problem. It is called headspace. Headspace mental health centres have proved to be successful in terms of curbing youth suicide. The coalition made an election commitment to the people of Mackay that we would provide a headspace centre for the region if we formed government. We did not, but we still intend to work hard to get this Labor government to match that commitment. It is unacceptable that an area of such need is ignored in the latest rollout of new headspace centres. We had a petition circulating in Mackay that got 4,000 signatures in six short weeks. It was with great expectation that people who worked so hard to highlight this issue watched the delivery of the budget, and expectation was heightened with the leaks of a big investment in mental health. However, it was a little off the mark—$700 million of the mental health package was re-announcing previously committed funds. But there was a glimmer of hope: $197 million and 30 new headspace centres. But, on closer scrutiny, only seven per cent of the funds will be provided in the next financial year and more than 80 per cent does not kick in until after the next election. In an act of high deception, this yellow dog of a government pushed $65 million of that $197 million out to a period of five years from now. Flying in the face of a standard four-year budget estimate, the government included a third of the package in 2015-16. If Professor Flannery is right, we will all be rowing boats down the main street of Mackay before that promise ever comes to fruition. In addition to that are $580 million in cuts to mental health programs coordinated by GPs. On Friday, I was informed that psychologists have been sacked, in the mess that is now the coordination of federally funded health services in Mackay. One wonders whether this is the result of those cuts.

This is a government that must accept the fact that if you lie down with dogs you will get fleas. It is a flea-bitten government that needs to go to an election, and the most humane thing to do is to let the people put this dog of a government down before it is too late.