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Thursday, 27 November 2008
Page: 11682

Mr RIPOLL (11:25 AM) —I rise to speak on the Nation-building Funds Bill 2008, the Nation-building Funds (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2008 and the COAG Reform Fund Bill 2008, but just before the member for Sturt runs out of the chamber I would like to comment to him that listening to him is like being slapped in the face with boiled lettuce: sure it feels sloppy and annoying, but it does not quite knock you off your feet!

Mr Pyne —The same old line! You need some more lines.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—Order! The member for Sturt ought not to interject from the doorway.

Mr RIPOLL —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. You are quite right; he ought not do that, at all. In his speech the member for Sturt talked about computers in schools and about our program to put laptops in schools. At least we have a program; we have a policy; we have an education revolution. The strongest policy the opposition had in terms of getting computers in schools was to provide slate tablets and chalk! That is about the extent of any commitment they had to the education future of young Australians.

It is a bit rich when opposition members come in here wanting to attack us on education, of all things, when for the past decade plus they did the least they possibly could. They did not just take the easy road; they took the sloppiest, easiest, cheapest, nastiest road they possibly could. So I do get a little annoyed when opposition members come in here and start to rant about education policy and about us actually putting extra funds, to the tune of billions of dollars, into schools to try and make a difference.

It will take some time to make that difference because we have a lot of catch-up work to do after what we were left—the legacy of the former government, the Howard government, who diminished schools. The extent of their education program, in terms of trying to provide a future to children in schools, was to provide a steel post—a steel post called a flagpole. I support the flag and I loved the idea of having a flagpole in schools, but you have to do a little more than that. So it is a bit sloppy of them to come into this place and try to attack us on these issues.

Today we are talking about the Nation-building Funds (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2008, which is one of the most significant pieces of infrastructure legislation this country has seen. It is about an economic boost; it is about productivity; it is about efficiency. And it comes at a critical time: a time when Australia needs to be looking to the future, insulating itself and providing the best possible way forward in terms of dealing with the significant global financial crisis—a deep crisis which is affecting the United States principally but which is also flowing on to every other country in the world. We cannot just sit back and let that happen.

The beauty of what we have done is that this is not a knee-jerk reaction to the global financial crisis, although it fits perfectly with what you would do in any circumstance, regardless; this is something that has been carefully thought through and considered for quite a number of years. Contained in these bills are policies and matters that we have been discussing for years and around which we have been developing policies. And we are delivering on that. So regardless of whether there was a financial crisis we would do this. Why would we do this? Why would we go through with this regardless of whether there was a global financial crisis? The answer is simple: because it is good for all Australians. It is good for the future of the Australian economy. This legislation will provide the basis by which we continue to grow, whether there are financial problems in the world or not. We may be growing slowly, but this will ameliorate some of those international problems that we face.

The nation-building funds bills that we are talking about today establish three new nation-building funds, very important ones. The Building Australia Fund, which I have talked about a number of times; the Health and Hospitals Fund, which I think is critically important so as to get the health infrastructure and policy framework right in Australia; and something that is very close to my heart, the Education Investment Fund, because I think that is how we provide a platform for young Australians to be the best they possibly can to give this country a decent shot at competing with our competitors to make sure that we do not slip behind, which is what is taking place. We are slipping behind the rest of the world. We cannot just hang our hat on an old book and say: ‘You know, we’re pretty smart and we do things pretty well in Australia. We’re innovative and competitive and we can go out there on the international stage and we can compete with our neighbours.’ While we are busy patting ourselves on the back, our neighbours have been very quietly and busily educating themselves. They have been spending more and more, as a percentage of GDP, of their total government revenues on further educating their young people and educating their nations. However, in this country, for the past decade or so, the government has been more than happy to ride on the old adage of: ‘Look, it’s good enough. Let’s not interrupt what’s currently in place.’

That is not good enough. There is a saying that I love: if you are not moving forward, if you are standing still, then you are actually going backwards. And by standing still for the past decade, that is exactly what we have done: we have gone backwards, and in a significant way. Everybody else who is in this race, the global race, the competitive race to stay in front, has moved forward a long way ahead of us. We have slipped behind. We have slipped behind in infrastructure. Countries which were once looking to us for guidance and policy direction and a future on how we deal with our infrastructure development in Australia no longer look toward us. We now turn and look towards them because we have fallen behind. When it comes to health provision and the state of our hospitals and doctors and training in this country, we have slipped behind. We have allowed other countries in our immediate region to get in front of us. And they have done a good job. They have worked very hard, they have had some vision about where they ought to be, but we have slipped behind.

When it comes to education, the evidence is stark. How can anybody come into this place and possibly defend the policies of old when you have a look at what the results are? We are not still debating these old, dead issues, but the opposition are. They are still the party of Work Choices. They are still the party of failed education policies which have left our young kids unable to match the competitive education standards of our neighbours. They are still the party of the old policies. They still have not gotten through that. And every once in a while you will hear them in here saying, ‘Look, we’ll support it, we’ll support that there are going to be fair workplace laws in this country,’ but deep down they do not believe that. They just say they support that because they know they have no political choice. Political judgements, ideological judgements from this mob, who once were in power now really struggle with the concept of being in opposition—although I have to say this: they do not struggle with opposition in one sense; they have taken to it like ducks to water. They are the natural party of opposition. They can take the high moral ground, they can get on their high horses, they can bat on about everything, have a different policy view every single day—twice a day, it does not really matter. They are in opposition; they are happy to be there. They have not quite worked out that they are in opposition, even though they have really taken to it like ducks to water, but this is the conundrum they face. Two leaders in 12 months; I am sure there is another leader in the waiting.

The member for Higgins, Peter Costello, the once so-called great Treasurer—he thought he was the greatest thing that ever happened to this country—talks about the legacy that he left us. After 12 years, what did he leave us? If he is so great, why aren’t we better insulated against the global financial crisis? If the member for Higgins was such a genius Treasurer, how come the day after he resigned—sorry, the day after he was no longer—

Opposition members interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—Order! The member for Oxley will resume his seat.

Mr RIPOLL —They really don’t want to hear this, do they?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The member for Oxley will resume his seat!

Mr Keenan —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance. The member has been rambling far and wide, but I ask that you to draw him back to the substance of the bill.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The honourable member for Oxley is well aware of the standing orders, and I would ask him to ensure that he focuses on the cognate debate before the chamber.

Mr RIPOLL —Thank you for your wise counsel, Mr Deputy Speaker. That is exactly what I am doing, so I appreciate your counsel on that. It just goes to show that when you get serious about what the opposition are really responsible for, they do not want to hear it. They are prepared to do anything not to hear it. They will stand up, they will interrupt me, they will do all sorts of things, but they do not want to hear the truth about nation-building, they do not want to hear the truth about education—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Oxley will not defy the chair. I would ask him to return to the bills before the chamber!

Mr RIPOLL —Sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker. In terms of nation-building funds, in terms of education and health—which is what we are discussing here today—they do not want to hear this. They do not want to hear about the legacy they left behind by not dealing with the areas covered by these nation-building funds, because it hurts. It hurts to hear someone tell you the truth. The truth is always ugly. The truth is always going to be painful. But that is the reality of the legacy they left behind. They have got nothing to hang their hats on now. Where were the nation-building funds? Where were the great nation-building projects? Where were the great education revolutions that the previous government put into place? Where were the reforms in health? Where were the great programs that would deliver us in times of need? It is easy to be a great Treasurer when times are good, when the rivers of golden revenue flow into the coffers in Canberra. More money than you know what to do with: company profits up, stock market at record highs, resources being sold at unprecedented levels with record prices, company receipts back to government at all time highs. Easy. Any buffoon can run an economy like that because you have more money than you know what to do with. You can always run a surplus; that is easy. Just spend less on education, spend less on health and keep more of the money under the bed. But what are you keeping the money for? It is great to have the surpluses: I support them and we will work very hard to continue that.

But when times get tough, when the rubber hits the road, when you as the government are actually required to make tough decisions to deliver for people beyond the political rhetoric, when the whole world is facing a crisis—not just a financial crisis; a jobs crisis, a crisis of confidence—that is when you have to step up to the plate. That is when you are really required to make tough and hard decisions. That is when you have to show what you are made of, and that is what this bill is about—showing what you are made of. It is about ensuring this country actually has a future. And we are going to do it the proper way. We are going to do it through legislation, by providing funds that are properly measured, strategically delivered, and by making sure those funds are not just a great big pork barrel which is geographically based on electoral boundaries. I will not have to go into the detail of that, Mr Deputy Speaker. You would be well aware because, like all other members of this House, you have heard many times before about those great rorts, those great pork barrels that we got from the other side—incredible wastes of money, millions and millions of dollars wasted, and lost opportunities. That is what I call them—lost opportunities.

I will give you just one example. In my electorate, there is the Queensland Pioneer Steam Railway. It is a real community based organisation, not-for-profit. These guys work hard, and every single weekend they run a steam train in and out of the area. They provide services, they hold Christmas carols, they actually maintain old steamers and they do a really good job. For years they have been looking to government to get a bit of funding and a bit of help from the feds. Guess what they got? They got nothing from the previous government. These are people with real steam trains. Take a marginal Liberal seat like Forde, which had an organisation that was thinking about perhaps one day having a train at all if it could get some tracks. It got given $7 million by that mob—an utter waste of money which got completely wasted, by the way. Whoosh! It disappeared into thin air while people in my electorate—and it must have been just because they were in my electorate; what other possible logical conclusion could you come to?—got nothing. This mob should be the ones hanging their heads in shame. They should be the ones coming in here and apologising to Australians, apologising to parents for never delivering on the education outcomes that they should have been providing. After 10 years, what can the other side actually stand up in this place and say they really did? What did they really do? Build more detention centres—detention centres that are being shut down now because they are useless?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. I would ask the honourable member to return to the provisions of the cognate debate before the chamber.

Mr RIPOLL —In talking about nation building and nation-building funds, you have to understand one clear principle. It is at the core of what this debate is really about. What do you as a government do to provide for the future? How do you use taxpayers’ dollars in a proper, transparent, accountable way? That is what these bills are about. They are about health and education. There are three funds, nation-building infrastructure, education and health. What is more important in this place than for a government to actually deal with the core issues at hand?

I can tell you that our record in 12 months has already eclipsed the record of the past 12 years. The former government now come into this place—for 12 years they did nothing—and in 12 months they have done everything possible to block any new measures we have, any reforms, any investment, any form of trying to bring stability, credibility and confidence back to the market. How could an opposition do that? I looked very closely at a lot of the policies and what they actually delivered for people now, now that people are in need, now it is actually raining. Governments are supposed to do probably two things in essence: one is to build for the future and the other is to make sure that they have something in reserve, something ready to go when there is a rainy day, when there is a crisis.

Thank God there was the election of a Rudd Labor government last year because we had already been working on, for example, the bill that we are talking about today. We had already been structuring and working on the policy, years of work had gone into infrastructure policy, to make sure that it would provide for this country into the future in education and in health. It is not as though the other side did not have an opportunity. It is not as though, in those lost Howard years, they did not have an opportunity. They sat back; they enjoyed the good times. It was a huge party. Being in government was always about smiles, about handing out millions of dollars to your mates, about not worrying about what the future was going to be like. They did not have to worry about it because during their reign, particularly in the last year, it was all blue sky sailing—the resources boom would go on forever.

We have a former resources minister here, and I remember quite clearly some of the rhetoric that came from him and some of the people that he was involved with, certainly from the then Howard government, about how there was a 20-year run. The resources boom would go on forever. Everything that went wrong was always the fault of the states, but when it actually came to the crunch we actually talked about having to have more than that because, when the resources boom is over, what are you left with? Only what is in your head, and that is your smarts. The only thing that you can rely on in the end is how clever you are. How do you provide for that cleverness? You provide it through education. How do you do that? You actually have to invest in it. You have to put money down on the table. You have to provide the funding for it. You have to make sure that our schools are properly equipped. We do not need those old tired debates about government schools versus non-government schools. No-one even cares about those tired old debates—about the percentage of federal government funding which goes into XY school compared to the percentage of kids from what background go there. That is not the debate. The debate should be about how we best provide for all young people in this country to get a decent opportunity.

The great innovators in this country are probably in rural and regional areas that do not get the resources that they need to get the opportunity to perform. That is what is at the core of the bills that are before us today. We are going to be out there building the roads, the ports and the rail network and working on the productive means to make this country more efficient. Not only are we going to do that, not only are we going to provide the essential infrastructure, social and hard infrastructure, but we are going to do it in a proper, transparent and accountable way. We are going to do it in a way that does not just rely on a single person or an inner circle of people making a decision on billions of dollars of funding in totality just based on which electorate you belong to. We are going to look at this in an objective manner. That is why we have set up Infrastructure Australia. That is why we have these funds in place. That is why it is part of legislation—to make sure we do this right. You have to get it right. You have to be big enough, you have to at least be responsible enough, to say that you cannot be the fount of all knowledge and that every decision you make cannot always be the best decision unless you get some sound advice, unless you consult the community, unless you go out there and are prepared to make decisions like we have made.

There are good examples already. Out of the top 10 infrastructure projects being funded currently, only two are in Labor electorates. The other eight are in country and rural seats, Liberal seats and National Party seats. That is fine; I do not mind. I do not care. In fact, I support it because if we are going to talk about the national interest, the national economy, about being productive in this country and making sure that we have jobs growth to insulate ourselves against the global financial crisis then we have to do this from a national perspective. It does not matter which colour the seat is, red or blue; it does not matter whether it is Independent.

A government member—The light is on.

Mr RIPOLL —Exactly; the light is on. People in the community have, I think, twigged to this. They understand what has happened over the years and years of neglect and irresponsible behaviour we had in the lost Howard years—the lost opportunities, the wasted millions, the begging opportunities and all the people, all the schools, all the parents who could just not quite get that little bit of a hand-up they needed, a little bit of assistance and support. But, today, let me tell you some really good news: amongst all the bad news that we have out there on the international platform, the Rudd Labor government is doing everything it can in its power and it is doing it the right way, the proper way. It is about the national interest, the national economy. It is about making sure that the precious tax revenues, which are now less because of the international circumstances we find ourselves in, will be expended for the right reasons in the right areas on the right programs. We are going to make sure every school is looked after. I commend these bills to the House. (Time expired)