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Thursday, 3 June 2010
Page: 5274

Mr CIOBO (11:10 AM) —I am certainly pleased to have this opportunity to speak in the cognate debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011 and related bills—in other words, on the Rudd Labor government’s most recent budget. It is instrumental when looking at the Rudd Labor government’s performance over the past almost three years to look at the way in which this government has truly come to fruition in terms of the promises it has made to the Australian people and how much it has actually delivered. It is instructive when you look at the journey of the Rudd Labor government and at the state of the nation’s economy to look at who it is we now have governing this country and what their philosophical and ideological beliefs are.

We know in 2007 that the Prime Minister stood before the Australian people and said, ‘Elect me because I am fiscally responsible, I am economically conservative and you can trust me.’ Shortly after being elected the Prime Minister wrote a treatise effectively in which he spoke about the dangers of neoliberalism, about the great concerns that he had about capitalism and about the structures that this country and others have had in place for decades. He did it in the context of global economic tumult as a consequence of the so-called GFC. I have no doubt that, within the core of the man who is our Prime Minister, there is a wholly unreconstructed socialist who is pulling the levers of the economy of this country.

As a young man growing up I often heard comments about former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. Gough Whitlam is heralded as being among the greatest of the Labor pantheon. He was a man who represented all the greatest ideals of the Australian Labor Party. His approach to government in a short period of time—I would argue, with my knowledge of history, it was too long a period of time—did incredible economic damage to this country. A common statement was that the very last thing Australia needed was another Gough Whitlam. I almost thought it was common knowledge. Unfortunately, that is where we find ourselves with this Prime Minister. This Prime Minister and his Labor government in less than three years have brought profound change to this country, and I predict it will take decades to repair the damage that has been done.

We know the former coalition government, in 12 years in office, did a number of notable things. Among them was the full repayment of $96 billion of Labor Party debt. The Labor Party have form when it comes to managing the nation’s finances and their form is to spend big and to tax big. Every time Labor are in power in this country they spend recklessly and then have to raise taxes to pay off their debt. Every time Labor are in power they drive the budget into deficit. Every time Labor are in power there is a reason why it has to happen. This government once again, true to form, have done exactly that.

So after 12 years of diligent, disciplined, safe stewardship by the former Prime Minister, John Howard, and the Treasurer, Peter Costello, the coalition paid off in full Labor’s $96 billion debt. We effectively lifted a burden off future generations of young Australians so that they would not have to pay the price for the ridiculous and reckless spending of the previous Labor government. We got the budget back into the black, and because we had paid off the debt and had the budget back in surplus, we were able to ensure that instead of paying billions of dollars every year towards the repayment of Labor Party debt, that money was better able to be channelled into the programs that the Australian people needed.

It was done in two ways. One was through investment in issues like health, education and infrastructure, and the second was through the provision of tax cuts, meaningful tax reform and personal income tax cuts. Those tax cuts, when it came to personal income taxes, amounted to around $150 billion. Our tax reform package, which Labor opposed, included the abolition of wholesale sales tax, which was being levied—I think from memory—at 12, 22 and 32 per cent, and it was replaced by a single growth tax, the GST, with all the funds flowing directly to state governments so that they had an ongoing source of revenue. That was the tax reform legacy of the coalition. More than that, the previous coalition government brought about reforms which actually reduced this nation’s unemployment level to a 30-year record low, to below four per cent. So I believe on any measure that Australians can be justifiably proud of the performance of the previous coalition government.

Contrast that with what we see happening under the appropriations bill and the performance of this government. We know that there was global economic tumult. We know that there was some need for some stimulus of the Australian economy. But the problem is that what the Labor Party gave the Australian people was not what they promised or what the Australian people wanted. What the Labor Party has given all Australians—and, most distressingly, future generations of young Australians—is debt and deficit. In the short course of around two years this Labor government has racked up what is expected to be net peak debt of around $95 billion. So we spent 12 years paying off the debt that Labor gave us, only to have them in two short years turn around and deliver another $95 billion of debt. That is the indictment on the Australian Labor Party, because it will be my children and the children of tomorrow that have to pay off Labor’s debt.

Frankly, I—and, I know, many other people in the community—get fed up with Labor Party politicians and with this Prime Minister and this Treasurer marching around the country claiming to be Santa Claus, saying, ‘If you do not like spending on schools, then get out of our way. If you do not like spending on these projects, get out of our way. If you do not like spending on this new initiative that we have got, get out of our way.’ I say right back to the Australian Labor Party—what I believe in and I know young Australians believe in—and that is: let us have sustainable spending and value for money, not the kind of ridiculous, wasteful, reckless spending that we see from this government, which has absolutely scant regard for value for money and for what Australian taxpayers work damned hard for. Australian taxpayers can spend their money a lot better than Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan, and it is disgraceful that the Labor Party would dare to stand up and argue that $600,000 school canteens and $1 million covered outdoor learning centres, which only two years ago had a cost of around $200,000, are in some way justifiable given the economic tumult.

It is absurd that Labor Party politicians would say to future generations of Australians: ‘Yes, we know we promised that we were going to provide a computer to every child in school between year 9 and year 12. We know we have only delivered 25 per cent of that—one in four. And we know that the cost has doubled to now be in excess of $2 billion. But that doesn’t matter. It’s only a billion dollars!’ So a billion dollars on computers in schools, several billion dollars under the so-called Building the Education Revolution, billions of dollars wasted under the solar program, homes burning down under their completely bungled and botched insulation program—and Labor members have the audacity to look Australians in the eye and say, ‘We’re doing a good job.’ How patently absurd.

I went to the opening recently of one of these new so-called education revolution buildings at one of my schools in Moncrieff. I endured a Labor senator standing there and waxing lyrical about how visionary the BER was and how it was a record investment in Australia’s school needs. I had the opportunity to speak, and when I stood up in front of those children I said to them: ‘You should enjoy this building. The community should own this building because, you know what, the community is going to take decades to pay off the debt that put that building there—decades to repay the $95 billion of debt that needs to be repaid.’

We hear the sophistry of the Treasurer when he says, ‘We’re going to get Australia back in the black in three years time,’ as if in some way it is a credit to their economic stewardship. But they will not have Australia back in the black in three years time. They might, if everything goes exactly according to their overly optimistic forecasts, get Australia’s budget a billion dollars back into surplus, but the $95 billion debt will still be there—and it will be there for decades. So when I see people like the member for Lindsay, who spoke prior to me, stand up and crow that Labor has Australia in the lowest net debt position in the Western world, I am forced to scratch my head over what an incredibly misleading tale Labor members provide in this parliament. The reason that Australia has the lowest level of debt in the Western world is because of the starting point: zero net debt—in fact, nearly $50 billion worth of assets.

Ms Owens interjecting

Mr CIOBO —How incredible that Labor members sit in the chamber now and shake their head, no. Fifty billion dollars of net assets is an inescapable fact, and it has been your government that has eroded that $50 billion of assets and left us now with $95 billion of debt. The members opposite can laugh—

Ms Owens —Laughing at your ignorance!

Mr CIOBO —but that just highlights how completely ignorant they are of the facts. Labor members do not appreciate when you go from a net savings position of $50 billion of surplus—which they have expended in full—to leaving Australia with net peak debt of $95 billion, that in some way that is wrong.

Ms Owens —It’s wrong!

Mr CIOBO —Well, I would dearly love to hear from Labor members who claim that that is wrong. I would love to hear them explain how that is wrong and attempt to justify to future generations of Australians that they have to pay off the debt that this government has left. I would dare say about the robustness than their arguments that, frankly, this piece of paper would have more strength.

What else have Labor said they will be able to do? What else have they promised the Australian people that they have absolutely failed to deliver on? We know that Australians are justifiably very concerned about the state of health. On the Gold Coast, Australia’s sixth largest and fastest-growing city, we have a number of unique pressures on the public health system. That is part of the reason the former coalition government put so much emphasis on driving people who could afford to pay into private health insurance through incentivisation. We knew that the more people there were in the private health system, the less pressure was placed on the public health system.

Unfortunately, our good work in the area has been undone. When in government, we lifted the level of private insurance coverage from the low 30s up to, in my electorate for example, the mid-50s. That meant that more people were using the private system because they were incentivised and they could afford to use the private system. But, because of Labor’s absolute ideological commitment to socialised health, we have now seen them slowly unpick at the edge of that. Kevin Rudd, prior to the last election, stood up and said that he promised not to touch private health insurance, but, as with so many of the promises of this Prime Minister, it meant nothing. One of their first acts in government was to start to erode the effectiveness of the private medical insurance scheme by playing around with thresholds. There are projections that this would force up to a million people who were privately insured onto the public system. That is Labor’s solution: to push people who were not a burden on the public system and who were actually utilising the private system back into public hospitals.

To compound the problem, the Labor Party said it would deal with this effectively through the rollout of what it called GP superclinics. Apart from the fact that the GP superclinic model has been lambasted by medical practitioners, we also know that in a city like the Gold Coast, Australia’s sixth largest city, not a single GP superclinic has been built or promised—not one. The Gold Coast is Australia’s sixth largest city, with a population of 500,000 people, and this government, which hails itself to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, has neither promised nor built a single GP superclinic there. The government has made the problem worse by taking people from the private system into the public system. Is it any wonder that Australians are scratching their heads about what exactly this Labor government is up to? It is not delivering services. It is, in fact, compounding problems. It is little wonder that the Gold Coast hospital is so frequently on bypass. It is little wonder that Gold Coast residents and residents in my electorate are forced to go up to Brisbane because of the incredible neglect of the public health system on the Gold Coast.

Another promise that was made by Rudd Labor ahead of the election was to end the double drop-off. How many times did we hear the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister talk about how Labor would end the double drop-off? They were going to create 260 childcare centres across the country that would enable working mums and fathers to make a single drop-off of their children at school and child care at the same time. Now, as with all the other false and hollow promises of Rudd and of Rudd Labor, this has also been axed. This was yet another promise where, suddenly, apparently the market radically transformed itself in two years, so now they no longer need to build these childcare centres.

The truth is that the Rudd Labor government would say anything to get elected and then just junk it after the election. That is what has happened. But we were warned. The current Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts, the member for Kingsford Smith, said—and was in fact quoted by a radio announcer ahead of the last election when he made a remark in one of the airport lounges—that it did not really matter what Labor said, because they would just change everything once they got elected. Now we see the absolute truth of that statement.

So it is little wonder, then, when it comes to Labor’s performance, that this Prime Minister says he is an economic conservative, but then writes extensively boring essays on neoliberalism, runs up $41 billion of debt in this budget alone and has $95 billion of net debt forecast for this country. It is little wonder when he promises a computer for every child from grade 9 to grade 12 but then only delivers, in my own electorate for example, 16 per cent of those computers. This is a Prime Minister who promises the Australian people that he will not touch private medical insurance but then seeks to unpick it and pull it apart; a Prime Minister who promises that he will be strong on border protection but then does everything he can to completely dilute and water down our border protection policies; a Prime Minister who says that he knows and understands small business but then creates incentives which are totally ineffectual because they rely on small business cash flow; a Prime Minister who says that he understands the needs of older Australians who are self-funded retirees but then proposes an obscene 40 per cent extra tax on the industry that has helped to make this country strong and the economic powerhouse that it is; and a Prime Minister who erodes the retirement savings of older Australians, both those who hold shares in mining companies and, through his threatened exploitation of Telstra’s provision of copper cable, those who hold shares in Telstra.

On each of these fronts, is it any wonder that Australians have lost faith, confidence and trust in our Prime Minister? The track record of this Labor government is appalling. Australians can see straight through this Prime Minister and straight through this Labor government. It is best summed up in a comment that was made by one of my colleagues. He said that Kevin Rudd is just like Gough Whitlam but lacking the conviction.