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Monday, 24 May 2010
Page: 3849

Mr LAMING (6:22 PM) —I will happily rise and talk about legislation that effectively moves to allow the increase in the salaries of ministers and to make further increases subject to regulation, because how can a government propose legislation like this with a record of 2½ years not of incompetence, not of impotence but of shameful and hideous waste? How can any minister in this government support this legislation when they have a record of having watched billions of taxpayers dollars burnt away to nothing, with nothing to show for it except smouldering ruins in their own portfolios? I am looking for one government minister to come in here and justify that pay rise under a Prime Minister who in his first year in power froze all parliamentary salaries in seeking out a headline for a day. He froze those salaries and then, when we were in the midst of an economic recovery, when we most needed to stimulate the economy, he allowed the salaries to rise again. That is what I call countercyclical economic policy, if ever I have seen it. This is a Prime Minister who says one thing and then does something completely different. This is a Prime Minister who has presided over spin and inputs rather than wins and outcomes.

Mr Melham —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I know that the honourable member can talk under water, which is why I am taking this point of order. He is not allowed to do that or range wide. He needs to be brought to the details of the bill, which are quite restrictive. I ask that you bring him to order.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member will refer his comments to the bill.

Mr LAMING —I will defend my right to speak to the Ministers of State Amendment Bill 2010 if it pertains to increasing the salaries of incompetent ministers. Let us do them one by one. Why doesn’t the minister for the environment step in here and justify his salary increase that is part of this bill. This is a minister who burnt off $2.45 billion—not million—on home insulation and could not get it right. This is a minister who set it at $1,600 per household. Some of these were 40 square metres. He amped up the price of home insulation from $4 per square metre to nearly $8 per square metre, mostly gouged, and then employed thousands of people who relied on the word of our Prime Minister to lay out and roll out that program. It was guaranteed to run until 31 December 2011 but it crashed in a heap because they could not monitor the training component. Show me the education minister who is meant to train those installation advisers.

Mr Melham —Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: the speaker opposite is abusing his position when speaking on this bill. He is only entitled to speak on the generic details of this bill, which relate to a generic increase across the whole of the ministry and relate to a regulation being added about future increases. It does not allow him to go into the level of bluster that he is going into now. I would ask you to call him into order—otherwise, he will have 50 points of order. He will not be able to open his mouth to say more than two or three words, and that is not the intent of this debate.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I would ask the member to return to the facts of the bill.

Mr LAMING —These frivolous points of order I will contest. Let me read through this. It says ‘parliamentarian’s base pay’. I am saying these ministers have not even justified an increase, and these ministers have certainly not justified the right to make future increases on regulation, when for 2½ years they have not even given value for money. I will continue to go through these achievements. We have a record in education of $1.6 billion going down the hole, completely unaccounted for in school blowouts. We have $25,000 being spent per square metre on school halls—

Mr Melham —Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: the speaker, I submit to you, is in effect speaking against your ruling on speaking to this particular bill. If he continues in the way he is, there might be other forms that we will use. I do not want to stop him speaking on the generics, but it is abuse. I also note the other point on the substance of what he is saying. The former speaker from the opposition indicated the opposition is supporting this bill. If you listened to this speaker, you would think he is opposing the bill, and that is a further consideration I would ask you to take into account in bringing him to order. I am reluctant to do this. I have rarely done it in the 20 years I have been in this place, but this is an abuse.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I must rule on that point of order. I do believe that you must return to the facts of the bill. So I would ask you to do that; otherwise, you may leave me with difficult choices.

Mr LAMING —That is fine, Mr Deputy Speaker. I return to another element of the bill. Since 1952, this change to legislation has only been made a number of times. The last time it was done was in 2006. I would put to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the justification for bringing this legislation to this chamber cannot be supported, given the performance of these ministers. I am absolutely insistent that we have a situation, politically and historically, where, for the first time in Australia’s history, we have a government that has insisted on wasting enormous amounts of taxpayer resources, with extremely limited accountability, and then they have the effrontery at the end of their first political term, only months before an election, to demand a salary increase. If I were this government, I would be scurrying away from this place, trying to do everything I could to obfuscate the lack of achievement over these last 2½ years because it is a shameful record. I think that the records of this party, the records of this government, are extremely tenuous and to make the association—

Mr Melham —I have a question that I would like to ask the member, if he wants to take it.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Are you prepared to take it?


Mr Melham —We have had a railing for the last six or seven minutes on each and every minister that he seeks to name, when dealing with this bill. Can I ask through you, Mr Deputy Speaker, whether it is a fact that this member is going to vote for this bill, or whether he is going to remain silent and do what his party has said it will do, which is support the bill—completely in contradiction to the things he is now placing before the committee. I refer to his former Prime Minister, John Howard, who issued an edict about truth being absolute as part of his 1996 election speech. What has this ranting and raving to do with how he is going to vote on the bill? How is he going to vote on this bill? Does he support the bill? Is he voting against it?

Mr LAMING —Our position as opposition does not preclude me from pointing out many of the inconsistencies of the administration on the other side. I am within my rights to stay within the matters pertaining to this bill. In this case, it is ministerial salaries, the right to increase them and the right to make subsequent increases by regulation. I am simply, in the period of time allotted to me, pointing out the enormous waste that has occurred. Each of the ministers should be speaking to this bill but they have not come and done so. I ask the ministers who thought up the 2020 Summit to come and speak on this bill. I ask the ministers who are asking for a pay rise, who dreamt up GroceryWatch and Fuelwatch, to come and speak on this bill. But they are silent, and that in itself says something about the subconscious guilt that exists on the other side about their performance in the last 2½ years.

In effect, with respect to the member on the other side—and I have taken this question in good faith—they are simply too shy to come up and justify a pay increase. I would not mind if this were a government that had set out with some pretty big challenges and had done fairly well. I would not mind if this administration had actually been fairly incompetent but not wasteful. But, no, they have wasted enormous sums of money. To the average small business holder in this country they would say, ‘If the till is a little bit out, there are plenty of workers around who have been asked to make up the difference.’ But there is no minister who will take responsibility for the enormous waste that we have seen.

I will commend one minister. The member opposite will be pleased to know that this is not all a rant of criticism. There is one minister who definitely, on fiscal responsibility alone, deserves the pay rise. The best finance minister that the government has had in a very long time is their very own Minister for Health and Ageing, who has spent the last 2½ years bringing in Treasury bills to save money in the guise of health legislation. The best examples of that were the alcopops legislation, the cataracts legislation and the cuts to pathology funding. We have had no serious health reform to remove the overlap, the waste and the cost shifting between Commonwealth and states. No, there is none of that, which would make a more efficient health system. There is just a more bloated one with pre-election promises and a whole series of Treasury bills that have occupied our health minister for 2½ years.

The minister’s first year was completely consumed by the alcopops debate—fighting over whether we taxed tiny bottles of sweetened alcohol. Then it moved to trying halve the rebate on cataract surgery, which for three months left seniors in Australia having no Medicare rebate to assist them with a cataract operation. Then, of course, there was an idea from the blind side to gouge into pathology rebates for seniors, leaving many of them without bulk billing. If there is one minister who does deserve a pay rise, it is the health minister for being a very good finance minister. But that is a complete disaster for health, as you on the other side know. How many of the superclinics have been built? Three have been built and only two of them are operational. Even today, we had 50,000 services delivered Australia wide out of 150 million needed. It is a speck in the ocean. So for health, it is a big D; for being a finance minister, it may well be a B-plus.

Let us move onto the promises about whaling. Wouldn’t a minister wanting a pay rise admit that they had failed in their pre-election promise to actually take Japan to court? Instead we have this perpetual and tired—

Mr Melham —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I continue to rise to say that the speaker needs to be pulled up. Not only is what he is saying irrelevant but he is being hypocritical. He has conceded that he is going to vote for this bill. More importantly, if he wanted to single out particular ministers, he would have a case if there were amendments before the chamber. There are no amendments being moved by the opposition, and I submit that that is further evidence that he is way off the mark and running a political argument, not an argument in relation to the bill. He should have moved an amendment. I have raised the point.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I have asked the member to speak within the confines of the bill. I think perhaps, Member for Bowman, that you should bring your remarks to a conclusion.

Mr LAMING —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker Ramsey. I will do that, because I have almost run out of billion-dollar blow-outs by this government. You are quite correct; my material is running thin. I am down to the National Broadband Network, the $4.7 billion that became $43 billion of money that this government cannot even find. I will finish with the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, a person who has spent 2½ years trying to create an internet filter that, from any evaluation done in the private sector, no-one can actually see will work. We have an NBN that remains completely unfunded. We have only just seen a business plan. I do not think that minister can justify that either. I thank you for the latitude you have provided me with, Mr Deputy Speaker. I appreciate your understanding and sympathy and I think that one thing is very clear: no minister who is asking for this pay rise is prepared to stand up and justify it, and that is a great sign of their reluctance to stand up for their record.