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Thursday, 28 October 2010
Page: 2077


Mr ABBOTT (Leader of the Opposition) (3:41 PM) —Today in question time the Prime Minister noted that when Mr Beazley called Mr Howard to ask him about the privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank Mr Howard congratulated Mr Beazley. Well may he congratulate Mr Beazley because Mr Beazley was proposing a real reform. Mr Beazley was a Labor leader of some courage. Mr Beazley was a Labor leader who understood that privatisation was reform in a way that nationalisation is not. I congratulate Kim Beazley for his understanding of what good economic policy was and I congratulate the former Prime Minister, Mr Howard, for his understanding of what good economic policy was. I think it is a bit rich of this Prime Minister to talk about the former Prime Minister as some kind of compatriot. Well may she congratulate the former Prime Minister. I wish she could emulate the former Prime Minister because that would be the best thing that she could do if she wanted to seriously fill the big shoes of the former Prime Minister.

We have seen today an extraordinarily shabby and tawdry performance from members of this government. We have seen today from this Prime Minister behaviour of a carping, nasty, unbecoming nature which we would never have seen from the former Prime Minister. It ill behoves this new parliament in which there has been an agreement for better behaviour to see the Prime Minister leading standards down as she has done today to her lasting discredit.

This debate is about reform. It is about effective reform. I say to the Prime Minister and to the government that building a nationalised broadband network is not reform. Privatisation is reform; nationalisation is not. Nationalisation that puts at risk $43 billion worth of taxpayers funds is not reform. I say to the Prime Minister: imposing a carbon price is not reform. Raising taxes is not reform. Lowering taxes is reform. Raising the government’s share of GDP by a permanent one per cent is not reform. Lowering the government’s share of GDP is real reform.

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan as it currently stands is not economic reform. In its current shape, it is a direct assault on the economic welfare of regional Australia. I say to the Prime Minister that abolishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission is not economic reform; it is economic vandalism, and that is precisely what this government has in mind. I say to the Prime Minister that blowing the surplus is not economic reform. Blowing the surplus is more akin to the work of the Whitlam government than it is to the far better work of her immediate Labor prime ministerial predecessors, Messrs Hawke and Keating. I say to the Prime Minister that if she is a serious economic reformer why was she complicit in the pink batts program, a program which is probably the most monumentally incompetent in modern Australian history, a program which tragically has been linked not only to 200 house fires but to four deaths. I say to the Prime Minister that blowing the best part of $16 billion on overpriced school halls is not economic reform; it is an absolute paradigm of how not to run a government program—and yet it is so typical of this government. I say to the Prime Minister that moving from a 40-60 federal-state share of public hospital funding to a 60-40 federal-state share of public hospital funding is not economic reform either; that is simply a bureaucratic reshuffle which is almost certain to make a bad situation in our public hospitals worse.

I am happy to try to be fair to this Prime Minister, who is not fair to us and she is certainly not fair to this parliament. But let me extend to her the courtesy and the decency that she does not extend to members on this side of the House. Let me say that, yes, the MySchool website is a reform. But it is only possible because of the good work of the former government in introducing standardised national testing across the schools of Australia. Let me further concede that, yes, the compulsory quarantining of unemployment beneficiaries who have been on a benefit for 12 months in the Northern Territory is a real reform. But, again, that is only possible because of the legislation that was introduced into this chamber by the former Howard government. It is only possible because of the work of the former Howard government in establishing welfare quarantining in the remote Indigenous communities of the Northern Territory.

Let me draw this together by saying this is a government that after three years of incessant talk of reform has this to its credit: one website and one change in one territory of this Commonwealth. So the result of three years of so-called reform is one website and one welfare change in one territory of this Commonwealth. Compared to the truly inspirational reforms of both former Labor governments, the Hawke and Keating governments, and of the Howard-Costello government, the work of this current government, and so the work of this Prime Minister, is a joke. It is not reform worthy of the name and I am waiting for the former Prime Minister, Mr Keating, to come out and say just that, because I am sure he will.

What we have from this government in this House is a Prime Minister who has the effrontery to demand bipartisanship from this opposition on reforms that are not worthy of the name. I say to this Prime Minister: we will not save her from her own bad policies. It is not the opposition’s job to rescue a drowning government. We will not help her to break her pre-election promises—and she should not ask. We as an opposition will not join in a false consensus with a bad government to back bad policy which will be damaging to the long-term welfare of this country. That is not our job.

I am happy to support good reform. The last thing this opposition would do is stand in the way of good reform. We stand for lower, simpler, fairer taxes, not great big new taxes that damage Australia’s economy, not great big new taxes that are yet another hit on the cost of living of struggling Australian families. We stand for real welfare reform, not this government’s changes which have watered down the highly successful Work for the Dole program. We stand for genuine community control of public hospitals and public schools. We do not stand for this government’s policy which will simply substitute one lot of bureaucrats for another.

This is a government which has demonstrated time and time again that it is chronically unable to deliver real economic reform. Let me go into some of the reasons for that. First of all, this is a government which is chronically incapable of consulting with the Australian people, the very people who are affected by the government’s changes. There was no consultation with the people of Northam before the detention centre was announced there. There was no consultation with the people of Inverbrackie before the detention centre was announced there. There was not any consultation with even the government of East Timor when the detention centre was announced there. There certainly has not been any consultation with the people of the Murray-Darling Basin about the guide to the draft plan which poses such a deadly threat to their economic welfare. Not only was there no consultation before the guide to the draft plan was announced but the minister was too cowardly to front up himself and actually explain what the government has in mind for those people.

This is a government that cannot deliver economic reform because it is led by a Prime Minister who cannot be trusted to keep her commitments. There was the carbon tax that she ruled out before an election and ruled in after an election. There was the East Timor detention centre that was going to happen before an election but is not going to happen after an election. There was the domestic detention centres that were not going to happen before an election but are going to happen after an election. This is a Prime Minister who has chronically poor judgment. The East Timor detention centre was a joke. The Parramatta to Epping railway line will never be built. If it was not on the New South Wales 10-year infrastructure plan, it certainly is not going to be built by this government. The citizens assembly was another example of the Prime Minister’s bad judgment. Even the execution of the former Prime Minister, the member for Griffith, was an example of this Prime Minister’s bad judgment.

I used to say that the longer the Rudd government lasts the better the Howard government looks. I now say that the longer the Gillard government lasts the better the Rudd government looks, although I have to say the member for Griffith was not looking very pleased about the Gillard government today in question time. This is a government which cannot deliver economic reform because it is hopelessly divided between the old pragmatic Right and the new green Left. It is torn by the promises it made, on the one hand, to the Greens to enter government and, on the other hand, to the rural Independents to enter government. It is torn between the Left, represented by Senator Doug Cameron, and the Right, presumably the lobotomised zombies, a representative of whom is about to speak in this matter of public importance debate. The truth about the current situation is that Labor is in government but the Greens are in power. That is why this government is incapable of delivering real economic reform.

This government cannot deliver real economic reform because it has lost the two ministers in the government who were actually capable of it. This government has lost the former Minister for Finance, Lindsay Tanner, and Senator Faulkner, the former Minister for Defence, who were clearly the two most economically literate ministers in this government. The former member for Melbourne, Lindsay Tanner, said at the start of the current government’s tenure that not one single major project would go ahead without a full cost-benefit analysis, a cost-benefit analysis that would be published. How many cost-benefit analyses has this government done? How many cost-benefit analyses has this government published? We know what they did to Kevin, but not a single project has had a cost-benefit analysis done. It is no wonder that Mr Tanner has left this government which has so abandoned the economic principles which he tried to champion.

 Then there is Senator Faulkner, who said that the Labor Party—meaning this particular government—was long on cutting and short on courage. That is the essential reason why we will never see economic reform from this government. The truth about this government is that it is arrogant, it is incompetent, it is untrustworthy and it is cowardly. Mr Tanner knew that, Senator Faulkner knows that, we on this side of the parliament know that, and the people increasingly know that.