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Thursday, 27 May 2010
Page: 4483

Mr LINDSAY (10:24 AM) —Australians have come to expect to be disappointed by the Rudd government and its budgets. This is the third budget by Treasurer Wayne Swan and the third time Australians have been let down. The list of broken promises from the Rudd government is almost endless. At last count I think I got up to 47 broken promises. People just do not believe the Prime Minister anymore. They have stopped listening because with a record like that in just the first term it really undermines the confidence that Australians have in their government.

It was a classic budget this year relying on big taxes and big spending measures, and they are going to hurt. Australia is living beyond its means, and as much as people say, ‘Well, our debt as a percentage of GDP is much lower than many other countries,’ everybody knows that in your own family the first thing you do is you pay off all your debt if you can because you are better off because of it. A country is no different. Running a country is no different. I am disappointed when I see $4 billion to $6 billion of interest being paid to overseas lenders now because that is money that cannot be spent on Australians. Yes, there is a case to be made for some level of debt, particularly if it funds long-term infrastructure, but much of the debt that the Labor Party has built up was just a one-off thing and there is nothing lasting to show for it.

There has been a bit of debate recently, members might have noticed, about a great big new tax on mining. All sorts of people had all sorts of views. The government has had a view and the alternative government has had a view. The mining industry has had a view. Economists have had a view, and so it goes on. Treasury has had a view as well. It is sometimes hard for Australians to get to the bottom of what it all really means. Often it comes down to a feeling of, ‘Well, the mining industry was the saviour of Australia in the global financial crisis and why are we now punishing it?’ I thought the Leader of the Opposition made a very good point in question time when he said, ‘Look, if the government is right that this big new tax on mining actually improves jobs, improves investment, then why aren’t a whole lot of other industries clamouring to have a great big new tax on them as well?’ It is a very interesting question. The other thing that many people worried about was is in relation to the threshold where the tax cuts in on profits in excess of six per cent. The question was: which was the next industry that was going to cop a great big new tax on profits?

It has been a great debate in the country and I read the speculation in the newspaper today that we are going to see another great big backflip from the government. It is a bizarre way to run the governance of this country. I worry for my own patch in North Queensland where we rely very heavily on the mining industry. The north-west minerals province in North Queensland is the most prospective minerals province in the world and it very much depends on new exploration, new mines and existing mines. So much of our economy is supported by the mining industry. Yet the government wants to put this penalty on it. I asked in question time yesterday a question on behalf of the mining company Miriwinni, a small family business, who just said, ‘This is going to affect so many sectors of the economy, not just us,’ and that is certainly very difficult for them.

The budget delivers yet another deficit. What is new? Spend and rack up debt is the mantra of the Labor Party, and I guess that the coalition will come back in and clean up all the mess again. I was elected in 1996 when the government last changed and I remember the pain of having to go through and make the savings necessary to get rid of all of the debt, which we then successfully did. I guess we are just going to have to face all of that again.

In a way it is bizarre, too, that the government comes in and has a heyday in spending and everybody thinks the government is wonderful, then the coalition comes in and has this dreadful problem of trying to fix up the problem. It is happening in Britain now, with its new conservative government. Famously, the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the outgoing Labour government in Great Britain left a note for the incoming chancellor which just said: ‘There is no money.’ Why does that surprise any of us? The deficit this year is $57.1 billion—still the biggest peacetime deficit in Australia’s history. The deficit next year will be $40.8 billion, the second-biggest peacetime deficit. That makes my point that Labor governments a have long history of leaving debt for the coalition to pay off and clean up. The last Labor government, despite denials, left Australia with $96 billion of debt—and it took them 12 years to rack that up. It took the coalition 10 years to pay it off. The Rudd government has now managed to rack up a similar amount of money in just three years, despite the very healthy surplus left by the coalition government. Economic conservative? I do not think so. And when you look at all the other promises you think, ‘How can people have confidence in the current Prime Minister and his claims of good economic management?’ particularly when he is about to slug the mining industry with this great big new tax.

This advertisement appeared in the Townsville Bulletin this morning. It says, ‘Which North Queensland businesses will be hurt by the government’s supertax on resources? The answer is—all of them.’ People have not quite come to the realisation that it is not only the mining industry that will be affected; it is engineering, restaurants, construction, car retailers, catering, hotels, small business and manufacturing. So you can rightly ask the question: has the government really thought this through? I do not think so. Where there is mining there is more than just mining companies; there is retail, airlines, hotels, car rental, hospitality, construction, engineering, manufacturing—a whole range of industries that make up whole communities. That is all of us; the communities we live in. When the Rudd government introduces the world’s highest resources tax and puts new mining projects at risk, it also risks whole industries and in some cases even whole towns.

The federal government has to think this through properly and it has to consult with the mining industry. It has to put all the issues in relation to this matter on the table for discussion and we have to get a much better outcome. I note that Xstrata has already stopped all of its exploration. It is pretty sad when you have people on the phone saying: ‘I’ve lost my job. What is my family going to do?’—all because the government wants to put this great big tax on the mining industry, so exploration in North Queensland stops. To the government, I say: ‘Hey guys, you are the Labor Party. You are supposed to represent the workers of this country and you are taking their jobs away from them.’ What kind of a party does that, when it is supposed to represent organised labour? It will be fascinating to see how this plays out. I certainly believe that we will see another backflip from the government, and it really does have to happen.

I will turn to a number of other issues. This one is classic of how the Rudd government has behaved—‘Crisis? What crisis?’ As long as I can remember, we have been having front-page articles in the Townsville Bulletin about ongoing problems at the Townsville Hospital. The current problem is the pay saga. Can you believe the Queensland government is not paying the staff at its hospitals properly—sometimes not at all? I heard that somebody the other day, for their fortnightly pay, got a cheque for $72,000. That is the other side of the coin. I suppose it is better to get that than to get nothing at all! That is going on in Queensland, but it is a symptom of a wider issue in the hospital system.

We had the Prime Minister saying, very famously, that, if the hospital systems in Australia were not fixed by June 2009, he was going to take them over. Remember that? What happened? It went on and on, and then in June 2009 there was another round of consultation, which delayed things further, and then, finally, the federal government did not take them over.

Ms Hall interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr AJ Schultz)—Order! The member for Herbert has the call.

Mr LINDSAY —I welcome interventions, Mr Deputy Speaker. The member for Shortland is a very good friend of mine. I have been thrown off the track—that is what interventions are for! What has finally happened with the health debate is that the government has taken back some GST from the states, which it then gives straight back to the states, saying: ‘Here’s our money’—and of course it is not new money—‘but, by the way, we’re not taking over the hospitals. You can still run them. Oh, and here’s our budget this year. We’ve got another $500 million for a whole lot more bureaucrats.’ Already, more bureaucrats than health professionals work in the hospital system. We are getting more bureaucrats, and it is the bureaucracy that stuffs up the health system in this country.

In Queensland, which I know about, the health department in Brisbane runs like a Soviet-style bureaucracy. It is awful. Nobody can make decisions. The local hospitals cannot make decisions. And the Rudd government says, ‘We’re going to have local control of hospitals.’ It just gets out there, bald faced, with these paid television commercials saying, ‘We’ve introduced local control’—utter rubbish. The policy of the Labor government was to basically have a local board to run a number of hospitals in each region. So it was not going to be that the Townsville Hospital would have its own local board—which would happen under the alternative government—but that an amalgam of hospitals would be run by a local board, meaning there would just be another bureaucracy. It has been an abject failure of public policy on the part of the Rudd government. It has been an abject failure of the expectations that were generated in the minds of our community. I will give you another example. Mr Rudd came to Townsville and said, ‘You need a PET scanner.’ Of course we need a PET scanner. ‘Hey, I’m going to give you a PET scanner—here’s the money.’ What he did not say was that it will not happen until 2014. It will be so disappointing when the community finds out they have been sold a pup.

I would not mind betting that, if the Rudd government stays in power, in another three years we will have another set of promises. And nothing will have changed. People will still be on waiting lists—to get on a waiting list. That is pretty disappointing. The Deputy Prime Minister came to Townsville last week. There was a great big fanfare. We were all ears as to what she might promise or what she might say. Do you know what she promised? Do you know what she announced? Nothing.

The Deputy Prime Minister comes to Townsville and she says, ‘We are really interested in looking after skill shortages in North Queensland.’ But nobody took her seriously because she was the one who defunded the Australian Technical College—Townsville. It was the most significant technical college in the nation and Julia Gillard took the money off it because it was a Howard government initiative. Nothing more. The tech college struggles on. It could train twice as many apprentices as it is doing at the moment, but it does not have the money. The government then says, ‘Oh, well, we’ll have trade training centres in schools.’ How many have been delivered? They actually promised one in every high school, but that is not going to happen. They then promised 2,650 across Australia. One or two have been completed. We will probably see the rest by about 2020 or something like that. But they do not work. The technical college model, where students were able to do their apprenticeship and get their senior qualifications all at the same time—and get a job—was much, much better. It was just a wonderful model.

In relation to the Broadband Network, in Townsville we have got one of the five demonstrator projects. Do you know what they are going to do with broadband in Townsville? This is just utterly unbelievable. It is a demonstrator project and they are going to string the cables along the telephone poles. Hello! Haven’t you ever heard of cyclones in north Queensland? Why would you prejudice the reliability of a National Broadband Network in a cyclone area by stringing the cables along telephone poles? They should all be underground. All the electricity supplies should be underground. Of course, in all new developments in Townsville all electricity cables are put underground. But for the Broadband Network, no. We are spending $43 billion—and we are borrowing it all, of course—without a business plan. Well, hello! I think we have got to get a bit of sense here and make sure that the security of our National Broadband Network is in fact protected by making sure the cables are underground in cyclone-prone areas. That goes for both sides of the country and the Top End. So often the North is forgotten by these bureaucrats down here and by the government. Senator Conroy, particularly, should take an interest in this, and he should be making sure that we are protected in relation to the security of our Broadband Network.

Let me finish now on defence. This has really disappointed me. Mr Rudd made a commitment that the Defence vote would not be cut in the budget. But there are some really creative things that you can do: you can have your cuts and maintain spending at the same time. It has happened through a thing called the strategic review program. That is the cuts of $20 billion out of Defence over the next 10 years, and it is biting everywhere. Let me tell you where it is biting in the reserves. You cannot get the training days and you cannot get the ammunition. The reserves are just such an important part of our ADF these days. Many ships cannot deploy unless they have reserve officers. We have reservists right through our overseas areas of operation. And, of course, they work in the military justice system. They are all across the Defence Force. But the government is knocking off all of this money and they are not actually going to where the waste is—in the bureaucracy. I am disappointed to see that that is happening to the Defence Force, but our members of the ADF know and I think they will continue to mark down the Rudd government at the next election because of what they have done to the Australian Defence Force.