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Monday, 28 May 2012
Page: 5884

Mr WINDSOR (New England) (17:57): Madam Deputy Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2011-2012 and the other appropriation bills. There are a number of things that I would like to say, but I was just reflecting on the last few minutes of the former speaker's contribution. I will move on. I think one of the things that we should reflect on as a nation and as a parliament is that we do not develop this 'poor bugger me' political view of ourselves. Irrespective of who has been in government for the last decade and a half or more, we have lived in an extraordinary country and we still do. I know this message is a political message, and it is saleable out there; fear is always the most saleable commodity in politics. But I think we have to be a little bit careful that we do not market fear and down-sell our country.

Everybody can find good and bad in budgets and the appropriation bills. I can do that. I could speak for 15 minutes on bad bits, or I could speak for 15 minutes on good bits. But, if you look at how others look at this country in terms of how they judge an economy, they look at this country as being extraordinarily lucky, and this country is extraordinarily lucky. They look at our inflation rate, our interest rates and our unemployment. If you look at Europe, the US or other parts of the world and their unemployment compared to us, we say we are extraordinarily lucky. In historical terms we are extraordinarily lucky. Even today, the main debate in the House has been about guest workers. That suggests to me—and I have some issues with that policy line—that we do not have enough skills in the country. So the economy cannot be in bad shape. There are patches of it that are. They need to be identified, obviously, and where possible they should be rectified. But that does not mean we should put in place absurd policies just to placate the politics of the day.

The minerals resource rent tax package is an attempt, in my view—and others will disagree, particularly on the coalition side—to share part of the largesse across those sectors of the economy that are not benefiting from the mining boom. The mining boom is a good thing; no doubt about that. It creates a whole range of economic and other activities. But it has adverse impacts as well. The high Australian dollar is one of those impacts. The value of the dollar has a direct relationship to the mining boom. I do not think anybody actually denies that, but there are others in the economy who are wearing that burden, whether they be in the manufacturing sector, the agricultural sector or the tourism sector. They are wearing some degree of pain because of the high dollar. If the mining boom stays around—and I think most people suggest that it probably will—there will be a transition within the economy in those other areas. In my mind it is an acceptable thing to utilise some of the moneys from the minerals resource rent tax to try to impact on those who are impacted by the high dollar and other competitive aspects, some within the skills area, created by the mining boom.

Mr Deputy Speaker Oakeshott, it is a great privilege to be able to speak in front of you—and in front of this large gallery! Before you came in, Your Eminence, I was discussing what a lucky country we are and that we have to be careful that we do not develop this 'poor bugger me' attitude to our nation. We have an extraordinary nation. And to use fear and misinformation to downplay our nation is something I think we all should avoid. Regrettably, we do not all avoid it. We tend to look for the negatives more than the positives. But let us look at the debt-to-GDP ratio. A lot of people, including the previous speaker, the member for Hughes, talk about the legacy of debt—that this government has got the country into a dreadful state through this legacy of debt. Our debt-to-GDP ratio is probably—along with that of Norway and two or three other countries—among the lowest in the world. It is something the rest of the world would look on and envy. I did agree with a couple of things the previous speaker said. There is nothing wrong with debt if it is used to advantage the nation.

I look with interest at how perception works in politics. The New South Wales government has recently changed. They had 16 years of Labor government there, and it changed. It probably should have changed after 12 years, in my view, or maybe even sooner. But it did change. The perception was that New South Wales was broke. If you had gone into the street then—and probably if you did now—and asked anybody, 'How's New South Wales going?' they would say, 'Not good' or 'broke' or 'that Bob Carr fella'—and a few others: the Mafia people or whoever they were in previous New South Wales governments. They would say, 'They broke the state.' Peter Costello suffers from the same disease as Michael Egan, who was Treasurer for a large period of that time: they ran surplus budgets. If you went into the street and said, 'What's New South Wales like?' people would say, 'Oh, well, the Labor Party'—and they are still saying it. Barry O'Farrell, who is a friend of mine, is still saying that the Labor Party ran the state almost to exhaustion. In political terms it probably did, but in economic terms it did not. For 15 out of those 16 years, it ran surplus budgets. The debt accumulated in New South Wales is quite small—one budget—whereas, in Queensland, the state of opportunity et cetera, there is a debt almost half the size of the national debt. There is a different perception. Campbell Newman picked up on it a bit towards the end, and probably it became a factor in that election.

The point I am making is about perception. To his credit, the Leader of the Opposition has created a perception of chaos, mismanagement et cetera. But, in terms of our relationship with the globe, we have to be very careful that we do not down-sell our nation, particularly given the massive expansion of the resources sector and the obvious need for overseas capital.

In the appropriation bills—and I will be supporting the legislative documents that are going through the parliament—I was very pleased to see that the regional Australia components of the agreement on the formation of government with the current Prime Minister held in place. They are good agreements. There are a range of significant regional packages. Like you, Mr Deputy Speaker Oakeshott, I am very proud of the Health and Hospitals Fund ring-fencing—100 per cent for country people, $1.8 billion. Dozens and dozens of health services in the country have received assistance that they never would have in the past. Traditionally, country people would have got about 20 per cent of the Health and Hospitals Fund. There is a similar thing in the education infrastructure fund: half a billion dollars which will go towards higher education, TAFE et cetera in country areas.

As you would remember, Mr Deputy Speaker, both the current Prime Minister and the current Leader of the Opposition during that 17-day period admitted that regional Australia had been neglected by previous administrations. The agreement to put in place regional packages that would address some of those issues is part of that reconciliation, in a sense. I thank the Prime Minister particularly—and the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and other ministers as well, but particularly the Prime Minister—for adhering to that agreement. There has been much said in recent weeks over the Craig Thomson business and some other issues. It has been said that the Independent members should suddenly walk away from this particular parliament. The agreement that I struck with the current Prime Minister has held solid, and I presume it will into the future as well.

There are other issues that I think are important in this particular parliament. One, looking forward, is education and the Gonski report. I think we have an extraordinary opportunity. I congratulate again the current minister, Minister Garrett, because I think he is taking the correct approach to this. He is not trying to grandstand on it; he is trying to take people with him, and I think until recently he has been able to do that. I have been saying to the public system, the private system and the Catholic system: this is not the time to go back and look at the old divisions. There is an opportunity here to move this thing forward—to move past the old political or religious divisions. We have to grasp that. The people I have been speaking to in the three systems, particularly in country Australia, can see that opportunity. I see the infancy of politics and division starting to creep in, the little bits that I have seen mainly driven at the city level, which has traditionally controlled the politics of education.

My challenge to the three sectors is to work together to get a package that does work. To the credit of the current New South Wales minister, Adrian Piccoli—and I do not want to verbal Adrian; I was in parliament with him and know him quite well—he is one of the state ministers who is actually looking beyond the politics of old. If that is the case, I congratulate him and Barry O'Farrell, the Premier. This is a time for leadership in this issue. Education is paramount. How it works for those who are disadvantaged and those who are disabled will underpin the advantage that all our children should receive in education. In recent years, some very important assistance packages have been developed, including national partnerships arrangement assistance packages to country schools. The Gonski report in a sense would put those packages in a different, more easily explainable form, whether it be in the city or the country or to rich kids or poor kids. I make this plea: all of us should try and look beyond the politics. Do not use the Gonski report as one of the weapons to create fear in the minds of certain people. Use it as a positive to create something that we can all be remembered for. I encourage those not in this building who are involved in the private, public and religious education systems that this is an opportunity to show real leadership, get this right and back it in. There were a number of other issues that I wanted to speak about, but time does not permit.