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Wednesday, 13 May 2009
Page: 3652

Mr KATTER (12:11 PM) —I was very pleased to be able to listen to the speech of the previous speaker, the member for Isaacs. He is an intelligent observer and an intelligent member of parliament, and I think he is very conscientious as well. But he has said that the Nation-building Funds Amendment Bill 2009 will mean less time wasted in cars, that car-idling time will be saved, that there will be more of a free flow of information via the broadband, that there will be swimming pools, that there will be more space in our classrooms, that there will be better traffic flows in outer Melbourne and that there will be more port facilities for exported manufactured goods. I am rather curious to know what manufactured goods we export and what we would have in the past.

Clearly we cannot compete against cheap labour in a lot of the Asian countries. They still have very cheap labour. They have economies of scale that we can only dream of. They have captive home markets, through tariffs, of hundreds of millions of people. We have no captive home markets. We have no tariffs. But, even if we did, we only have 20 million people. So we have no economies of scale. They have government-provided capital. If they want to build a factory, the government provides them with the money to build it. We have got none of those things. We cannot possibly compete in manufacturing. To say that you want to expand a port for manufactured items is quite ridiculous.

To give you specifics on my contention, I can talk about the motor vehicle industry. Seventy-two per cent of the motor vehicles purchased in Australia were Australian made in 1984, before that ratbag Mr Keating introduced his free markets. It was not a ratbag idea but it was a ratbag idea when nobody else in the world was doing it. It was an incredibly disastrous move when nobody else in the world was doing it. But he could not be told, he would not listen to reason and he would not look at reality. So now we have only 19 per cent—I have not got the latest figures but two years ago only 19 per cent of the cars purchased in Australia were Australian made. Over the next 10 years, on present trends, it will be only five per cent. So I do not know why you are expanding the port down there. The Liberals told me when they were building the railway line through the centre of Australia that it was going to cut the cost of imports dramatically. I said, ‘Oh, it’s a subsidy for imports,’ and no-one at the table laughed. It was quite extraordinary to me. I thought it was quite a good joke. But nobody laughed. They took it quite seriously. Was the previous speaker erudite? Yes. Intelligent? Yes. Conscientious? Yes.

I turn to the issue of green jobs. You must understand that if you want solar power—and I am not saying it is not a desirable social or environmental aspiration—you will be less competitive and all of your industries will be running on an extra handicap. Not only do we not have the cheap labour, not only do we not have the economies of scale and not only do we not have government investment but now we are asking them to run on a handicap. Let me be very specific. I was the Minister for Mines and Energy in Queensland and I secured the national prize for science in 1985 or 1986. As the minister, I personally won the national prize for science for the solar energy that we put into the first stand-alone system in the world on Coconut Island. So I speak with some considerable authority in these areas. I had a $30 million decision to make, which in terms of today’s money would be probably the best part of $100 million, in electrifying the Torres Strait islands. In that situation it is cheaper, on an isolated island in the Torres Strait, to put in solar power. But $140 to $200 a megawatt is the cost of solar or wind power. The cost to grid system power is $40. If you want to render every single industry in this country non-competitive, then go down that pathway. We have people who stand up here and say, ‘Oh, we will have 20 per cent renewables; isn’t that wonderful and marvellous?’ Yes, it is, but you just put the job of every single person in this country at risk. This is because you have made their industry—whether it is manufacturing, mining or agriculture—less competitive. You have put another handicap on the runners here in our country. Just how much burden do you think they can carry before they fall over? Look at the car industry and look at the agricultural industries of Australia and you will see that the last government, and the government before it, placed such a burden upon our industries that they are now falling over.

It is no use the opposition coming in here and saying what remarkably wonderful economic performers they were. Yes, they balanced the government budget, and they deserve credit for that, but did they balance the country’s budget? No, it was the most unbalanced budget in Australian history. The current account deficit was running at levels that simply could not be comprehended by anyone that had followed Australian economic history for any period of time.

The previous speaker, the member for Isaacs, also commented upon that fact. It troubles me deeply that the opposition is constantly attacking the government for spending money and deficit budgeting. I do not know whether these people are economically illiterate, but let me just compare three countries: Canada, New Zealand and Australia—dummies. The colonial pock marks were flashing in neon lights in 1932. Hjalmar Schacht took the Germans on an expansionary policy, John Maynard Keynes took Great Britain on an expansionary policy and Shikata, the Japanese economist, took Japan on an expansionary monetary policy. America, belatedly, went on an expansionary policy. The only three countries on earth that did not—the three dummy countries—were Canada, New Zealand and Australia. You can go down to the library and get any of the books out on the Depression and look at the graphs for those three countries.

The last speaker said that they are advocating exactly the same policies that they advocated in 1932. That is correct. It is really scary. They have learned absolutely nothing. They plunged Australia into the worst possible depression on earth. There is not another country in the world where anyone is advocating deflationary or non-spending policies. If the opposition were concentrating their attack upon the government and this nation-building amendment, as a government you have really got a hide to call this ‘nation building’. Building bikeways and putting insulation batts into your roof is not nation building. It is anything but nation building.

I have just done a series of interviews with the media—I do not know how much media we get out of these things—and I have said that if you want to see whether this is a nation-building budget look no further than the allocation of money for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. That is a nation-building department, a producer department. It has been reduced from $3,000 million to $2,000 million. On the other hand, an anti-nation-building department is the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, whose job it is to stop us from building anything in this nation. I can give you a thousand examples from my own backyard without drawing breath. The department that stops things from happening—and, Mr Deputy Speaker Adams, you would be an expert in this area—has had its budget increased from $4,500 million to $6,000 million. So we have a budget and an amendment in the House touted as nation building which increases the money for the anti-nation-building portfolios and decreases it for the nation-building portfolios. This is Nineteen Eighty-Four—the brave new world is with us. If ever there was a case of doublespeak, it has to be calling this ‘nation building’.

It behoves me to point out to the House what nation building is, because clearly the opposition have no understanding of it whatsoever. In 13 years they never did one single dollar of nation building. The government have been there now for half their term, 18 months, and they have clearly demonstrated in this budget and in this amendment before the House that they simply do not understand what nation building is. I will tell you what it is. Nation building is Ted Theodore, the most important man in Australian history, using government money to build all of the sugar mills in Australia. They were almost all built with government money. That is nation building. There are 40,000 Australians employed in those sugar mills today as a result of the great wisdom and perspicacity of that one man and his enlightened governments, the early Labor governments of the last century.

Ben Chifley—probably the greatest Prime Minister we have had in this country, excluding Jack McEwen because he was there for only a brief period—built the Holden motor car factory with government money. It was not GMH money; it was government money. That was nation building. That factory is still there today employing 5,000 or 6,000 Australians. It is still making most of the cars produced in Australia.

The building of the Snowy Mountains hydro, which is producing cheap, clean energy for Australia—and will do so forever—was built by Ben Chifley and government money. Governments do not build power stations in Australia any more. If you ask commerce to build a power station, it will build a power station where it has customers. There were no customers for the Snowy. It was built in the hope that customers would come. Massive areas came under irrigation. The great agricultural juggernaut of Australia took off with the diversion of those waters providing secure water supply to all the farmers along the Murray River. The vast bulk of Australia’s agricultural production comes from that area and security of production was provided by water from the Snowy. It was all government money, but in the last 22 years we have not built a dam in Australia—not one single dam. Not one single factory of any significance has been built with government money in this country.

When I was a young man, just elected to parliament, the government of Queensland was in the process of building a giant power station that did not have a single customer. Not one single megawatt of that 1,400 megawatts of electricity had a customer. Queensland built a giant railway line to a little siding called Blackwater. There was not one single mine out there to service that railway line. That would be unthinkable today. People would expect private enterprise to build it. In that day and age, governments built them because they had confidence in our country. That was nation building. As a result of that giant power station and that giant railway line, Australia today has a coal industry and an aluminium industry.

Ms George —And a steel industry.

Mr KATTER —That is a very good contribution from the honourable member for Throsby, who knows this well. The steel industry is there because the federal government of the day, under John Button—who was sacked really for what he did here, I might add—put some $500 million behind John Prescott and his initiatives in conjunction with the steel industry of Australia and made us the most competitive steel industry in the world. They took us from 70 tonnes per man per year not to the world’s best of 240 but to 700 tonnes per man per year. That is how efficient that industry was under the enlightened government. That is nation building but there is nothing in this budget. The member for Isaacs went through it all. There is solar and wind power—that is very nice, it will help the environment. I am not condemning it; I am just saying do not call it nation building. It is a lie to call that nation building. Do not say that green jobs are nation building. That is nation destruction. That will take jobs away. If you demand that we do it this way, when the electricity costs are going to be $200 instead of $40 a megawatt, you will be closing industries all over Australia—if you proceed down that path, which the government seems determined to do.

And sure, it is nice to have bigger classrooms for our kids—although, when we are having fewer kids, I would wonder about the wisdom of going in that direction. It is nice to have swimming pools, it is nice to cut our traffic flow times in the cities—those are all nice things, but do not call them nation building. They are not nation building.

Let me tell you what nation building is. Nation building is just providing approval for us to build a dam where all the water is in Australia. Three-quarters of our water is in the north of the continent, which, except for a tiny belt of sugar cane on the coast, produces virtually no agricultural production. We are trying to do all the agricultural production down south where there is no water. This is extraordinary. Just give us an approval for 120,000 hectares of irrigation and let us be nice to the greenies and the environment because it will be producing ethanol. As Mr Gore said in his book An inconvenient truth, his first solution is ethanol. He said it reduces CO2 by 29 per cent. Sugar cane does not reduce CO2 by 29 per cent; it reduces it by 194 per cent because we do not plough. We do not put the steel through the ground or we do it once every six years. Unlike growing corn, where you have to put the steel through the ground four or five times a year, with sugar cane we put it through once every five or six years. So the benefit for the environment is ginormous here—ginormous!

Just as good, the bagasse—what is left after you take the sugar out and turn it into ethanol—is then burnt to produce power. We can produce 25 per cent of North Queensland’s power and about four per cent of Australia’s power, which would be clean renewable energy. Bagasse is like ethanol—you burn it, CO2 goes up, but the next year every hectare of sugar cane pulls 73 tonne of CO2 back down out of the atmosphere and into the ground. So instead of it going up and staying there, it is now going around in a circle and that is what we mean when we talk about renewables.

Just give us the approval because the project will pay for itself. It would be nice to give us some of the superannuation money and to give us 10 per cent ethanol in our petrol instead of what the last government did, which was to give us a tax on ethanol—and Australia is the only country in the world to tax ethanol. We can do this one ourselves. Just give us the approval.

Probably everyone in this chamber would be familiar with Joe Gutnick. He is a very prominent man in industry and commerce in Australia. He wants to build a phosphate mine with money from India. India has a huge population to feed. They must fertilise their fields every year. They do not particularly like the Americans; they do not buy fertiliser from the Americans. They most certainly will not buy it—for religious and conflict reasons—from the Moslem or Arabic countries. They buy most of it from Russia at the moment but they are going to buy it from Australia. They are going to buy it from their own mine, which Joe Gutnick is setting up here in Australia. That is where they will get their superphosphate from.

Even if dumb government does not force them to do some upgrading in Australia—even if that does not happen—we will still probably get $3,000 million a year out of this project. If it is done the way that I would like to see it done, with a third of that being forced to be processed here in Australia, we will get $5,000 million a year. But that mine cannot go ahead without increasing rail capacity through an upgrading of the line from Mount Isa back to Townsville, and it cannot be done without north-west Queensland—the biggest mineral province on earth, producing $15,000 million a year—getting electricity capacity.

What we say is: ‘Give us that transmission line and we will give you an extra $5,000 million a year in income for the Australian economy. Give us that rail capacity’—and both these things will cost no more than $200 million or $300 million—’and we will give you $5,000 million a year in income for the Australian economy. That will give you back in taxation revenue $1,500 million a year, at the very least.’ That is the sort of logic used by the great men of Australian history—the men whose pictures we have up on our walls, like Theodore, Ben Chifley, Jack McEwen and Bjelke-Petersen. Those were great men who created the wealth that we enjoy here in Australia today. (Time expired)