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Monday, 24 May 2010
Page: 3763


Mr BRIGGS (8:03 PM) —I rise to speak this evening on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011 in conjunction with the other appropriation bills before this place. In doing so I make the point that this budget highlights that you just cannot trust Labor with the nation’s finances. It quite clearly is the third consecutive budget where the Rudd government has failed to deliver a well thought through budget that will help set Australia up for the future. Instead, we see another big deficit to follow the previous one, which was a record deficit in our history. This year we have an even bigger budget based on tax increases and featuring the introduction of a great big new tax on mining, which the previous speaker, the member for Hasluck, unfortunately did not have enough time to continue making remarks on. I am sure she would have enjoyed spending another 20 minutes or so talking about the benefits to Western Australia of this great big new tax on mining, as so many other Western Australians on this side of the House have already highlighted!

Labor’s major political claim in this Rudd budget is that it will deliver a surplus in three years time. Labor has not delivered a surplus since it has been in government, but it expects us to believe that in three years time, with no additional spending programs and with no additional programs blowing out, it will deliver a $1 billion surplus. That is a rounding error, as far as the federal budget is concerned. Coincidentally, $1 billion is the figure for the blow-out in the computers in schools program and is equal to the blow-out in the insulation program, so those on the other side tend to like that $1 billion figure.

You cannot believe Labor or trust Labor when they say they will deliver a surplus in three years time because, if you look at what they have done since they have been in government, everything points in the opposite direction. The claim is based on very optimistic assumptions in the budget, including a compounding 20 per cent growth in the industry on which they have decided to whack a great big new tax of 40 per cent. That will, of course, reduce investment. But in Labor’s books, if you tax it more, they will come. On the one hand, if you tax the cigarette industry more, that will reduce the number of people taking up smoking; on the other hand, if you tax the mining industry more, people will be rushing to invest. That does not make sense, nor do Labor’s optimistic budget assumptions.

This government has spent Australia into massive debt. We will have net debt of nearly $100 billion by 2013, which is around the same level of debt we found in 1996 when we took government and around the same level of debt we will have to face if we are successfully elected to government, which I believe we will be in three or so months time. This financial year will deliver the biggest budget deficit in Australia’s history and the next will not be far short of it. This will reduce the ability of the government to fund worthy programs into the future. It will put additional pressure on interest rates, and we are already seeing that in the Australian economy today.

You just cannot trust the Rudd Labor government with the economy and you certainly cannot trust them to implement a program. Let us have a look at the litany of waste and mismanagement of this government. Today we saw in the galleries around us workers from the insulation industry who are now out of work. These small business people some months ago had an opportunity and a future. Their dreams were destroyed by those on the other side. I know that the member for Longman is distraught at the prospect that these insulation small businesses face. It is going to cost the Commonwealth $1 billion to clean up the mess it created when spending around $500 million in that program. That is quite an extraordinary feat, even for those on the other side.

We saw another $1 billion blow-out in the computers in schools program. Again there was a complete failure in implementing the government’s policy. We have seen a $39 billion blow-out in the initial promise on the NBN, a program I suspect will never see the light of day. It was a good political promise, and that was all it was ever intended to be in 2007. We have seen over $600 million in consultancy fees. Of course, we have the mother of all blow-outs—the Building the Education Revolution or, as the member for Sturt unkindly puts it, the memorial school hall program.

In the electorate of Mayo we have seen some very clear and good examples—sad examples, unfortunately—of BER mismanagement. We raised the first one in parliament with the Deputy Prime Minister last year. Of course she just brushes these off—there are no problems at all; there is no waste and mismanagement in the system; everything is going swimmingly. The first one was on Kangaroo Island. Some $100,000 was spent on architectural fees for a drawing that already existed.

I notice that the Deputy Prime Minister has been busily working with her colleagues in recent days. She was so keen to deny she had any interest in the leadership last week that she was in the media by 9.30 in the morning making sure there was lots of camera footage of her denying that she was interested in the leadership. In the same week she popped up on the Sunday program. When interviewed by Laurie Oakes she also denied she was interested in the leadership.

I raised with her last year the Eastern Fleurieu School, which has been treated terribly by both the federal Labor government and the state Labor government. The state government said it is a multicampus school. When the schools were first combined in the late 1990s the state government gave them an assurance they would be treated as single schools; however, when it came to this program they were treated as one school, so they missed out on about $2 million. That is a very good example of the inability of this government to implement a program properly and, therefore, fairly.

We saw issues with water tanks at the Yankalilla Area School, the Macclesfield school, the Basket Range Primary School, the Stirling East Primary School and the Eden Hills Primary School, which is just out of my electorate. This is the greatest example of state government cost-shifting we have seen—something the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister both said very clearly could not happen under this program and would not be accepted under this program. The Deputy Prime Minister said they would crack down on it and there would be severe penalties. She said she would not allow state governments to cost-shift. Yet she was strangely quiet when contacted about this issue.

It seems in this case it is okay for the state government to cost-shift. The Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission last year recommended that schools have appropriate levels of bushfire protection. Everyone supports that. My electorate of Mayo, which is in the Adelaide Hills and on the Fleurieu Peninsula, is a high-risk bushfire zone; therefore, most of the schools are caught up in that respect. The state government wants these schools to have bushfire water tanks. The problem here is that that is a state government requirement and they are forcing BER funding to be used for this and therefore reducing quite significantly—up to $100,000 in most cases—the amount they have for their school buildings.

The Deputy Prime Minister promised she would say to her state colleagues—Jay Weatherill is the new SA education minister: ‘This is not good enough. I said this could not happen. We told you when we first announced this program that you were not to cost-shift and were not to take what should be state government spending and put it on this federal program.’ Instead, she has let her Labor mates get away with ripping off these schools and taking away their entitlements.

We will hear much more about this because there are angry mums and we all know what dealing with angry mums is like. Five mums are the chairpersons of these schools and they are extremely angry. They will continue to give both this federal Labor government and their state Labor colleagues in South Australia a hard time about this. I am sure the Minister for Early Childhood Education, Childcare and Youth and Minister for Sport, who is at the table, would understand the difficulty of dealing with angry mums when it comes to these sorts of issues. This issue is a very good example of how this program has been so badly implemented by this government.

This litany of waste and mismanagement will cost the Australian people for future generations. When the stimulus package was first put to this parliament we said it was too big and too fast. There ended up being a quarter of negative growth, which we hit with $100 billion of debt, which will dog generations to come. It was too much too soon and that is why we at the time opposed it—and we were right to do so. The Rudd Labor government have a record of waste and mismanagement and misunderstanding the economy. They ask us to believe them when they say that sometime in 2013 they are going to deliver a surplus budget. It is simply unbelievable. You just cannot trust the government to deliver on their promises. We will see that yet again with these rubbery budget figures.

In dealing with this government and its budget promises, a particular issue has been glossed over a little in the last few weeks with the avalanche of backdowns on policy issues. It was hard to keep up. You had the greatest moral challenge of our time junked, you had the insulation program junked, and who could forget the childcare centre promise—that key election promise from last year? I am sure the Minister for Early Childhood Education, Childcare and Youth tossed and turned at night in working out the language she would have to use to junk that program—another key election promise that they just crab-crawled away from.

Another one that I think highlights very much the superficial, fraudulent nature of this government was the advertising promise that it made in no uncertain terms before the last election. Thankfully, I have some of the remarks that the Prime Minister made about government advertising prior to the last election. Mr Deputy Speaker, you may remember the key promise of the then Rudd opposition was to have the Auditor-General vet all government advertising so none of it could go to air without the Auditor-General giving his tick off. That was the promise. In fact, some of the rhetoric that the now Prime Minister used to describe government advertising was as ‘a long-term cancer on our democracy’. ‘I believe this is a sick cancer within our system; it is a cancer on democracy,’ he told The 7.30 Report on 9 October 2007. In 2008, when he was elected, he implemented a role for the Auditor-General in looking at government advertising. The Auditor-General did not have vetting power but he had the ability to report that an advertising campaign complied or did not comply with the guidelines that had been laid down. We expressed concern at the time about the position the Auditor-General was being placed in. On the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit we have had many discussions with the Auditor-General about how this role has been fulfilled. However, unbeknownst to most members of this place, the government implemented a reasonably secret and quiet report headed by Dr Allan Hawke, a former chief of staff to former Prime Minister Paul Keating.

So in late March, a month before this budget was due, what do you know—this report recommended that the Auditor-General’s role should be removed. The Labor Prime Minister, the opposition leader at the time, had sung from every rooftop he could possibly find that he would fix this problem. On 19 November 2007, in a doorstop interview with two Labor candidates—a gentleman named Rodney Cox, although I am not sure which seat he was running for, and Mike Symon, who is now the member for Deakin—he said:

Well, I am dead serious in returning decency to public administration. What’s the machinery that we have outlined for doing this?

This is government advertising. He said:

That is for the Auditor General to make a determination about the content of television advertising campaigns on behalf of the government.

His promise was about the content of advertising campaigns and that got junked in late March, a month before the budget, a budget which, Mr Deputy Speaker, you will be very surprised to learn contains $126 million to be spent in 15 months on the government’s election priorities—climate change, health and tax reform, to name three of the five. In fact, it gets worse for the Prime Minister with his own words. On 10 October 2007, the Prime Minister said:

Why not have a system whereby three months prior to when an election is due—

about now—

for there to be a ban on publicly-funded advertising unless explicitly agreed between the leader of the government and the leader of the Opposition … That is an absolute undertaking from us. I believe this is a sick cancer within our system; it is a cancer on our democracy.

An absolute undertaking. Sure, it is not the greatest moral challenge of our time, I accept that, but it is an absolute undertaking. Again, you just cannot trust what this Prime Minister says. You cannot trust the Rudd Labor government to deliver, to implement, any of their promises because what they say before an election they will not be held to account for after an election, and this is the greatest of all examples. I think it is even bigger than the greatest moral challenge of our time because it gets to the absolute political opportunist, the hollow man himself, and the way that this Prime Minister governs our country. It is a wrong thing that he has done. He gave an absolute undertaking that he would implement this measure as part of the Auditor-General’s role.

The Auditor-General has not gone quietly, it must be said. He wrote a letter to the Special Minister of State on 29 March, two days after he had been told he had been cut from the government advertising process. He made some very interesting comments. In particular, in the second paragraph of this letter—this is in a report he released last Friday and which we discussed with him this morning in the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit—he said that the decision to remove the Auditor-General from the process was a marked contrast to the arrangements for the implementation of government policy platform ‘following the 2007 election when our view was sought on the proposed approach and the draft guidelines to apply. At the time the government was keen for my office to be directly involved in the review of advertising campaigns consistent with the various statements by Mr Rudd and the shadow minister leading up to the election’.

In other words, when it suited the Labor Party to use the Auditor-General for political purposes they did. When they wanted to get him out of the road so they could run out the political government funded advertising campaigns, they did that too. That is what we saw on the weekend with the first of the public information campaigns on the health issue which are some of the most political ads you are ever likely to see. They are actually really bad ads but, putting that aside, they are the most political, blatant use of government money we have seen. So those on the other side are complete hypocrites. They cannot justify this. They will not even try to. I bet their response will be, ‘Look at what the former Howard government did.’ That will be their response instantly because they have no defence for the complete hypocrisy of their Prime Minister on this issue.

This budget fails to deliver. It is a true Labor budget—big spending and big taxing. We have seen reports today of the impact of their great big tax on mining on 18 workers in a regional centre of my electorate, not BHP or Rio Tinto workers, with a salt mine most likely shutting if this tax goes ahead. What we have said and what the Leader of the Opposition has said very clearly is that people will have a choice at the next election in this respect. They can either vote for a Liberal government that will stop this great big new tax on mining, or they can vote for a Rudd Labor government or a Gillard Labor government, whichever it is by election day, that will implement this great big new tax on mining.

I am sure the member for Longman will be happy to go out and sing to his electorate in Queensland about the benefits of a great big new tax on mining. I look forward to seeing his campaign literature with the great big new tax on mining all over it. I just have a sneaking suspicion that his internal polling will tell him not to say anything about it. We have a very clear position on this. We will not have a great big new tax on mining. We will cut the budget. We will bring it back into surplus. We will deliver what we did for 11½ years in government—strong economic management, contributing more jobs to the economy and giving people hope and a chance at a future, not cutting into their future dreams. (Time expired)