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Thursday, 30 May 2013
Page: 4664

Mr NEVILLE (HinklerThe Nationals Deputy Whip) (11:33): I rise to speak to Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2013-2014, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2013-2014 and Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2013-2014. Having been here 20 years you would think I would have seen it all and that it cannot get much worse, that surely the government will pull its socks up coming into an election year. You hope that this will be a good budget, but it just does not happen. Not only does it not happen but also it is an appalling budget. The words of the Treasurer last year predicting four years of surpluses are still ringing in our ears. At the time he said the 2011-12 budget was:

a powerful endorsement of the strength of our economy, resilience of our people, an d success of our policies.

The Treasurer was going to deliver:

… this coming year, on time, as promised …

In the light of the subsequent result, what a cruel betrayal that was. What a cruel betrayal of the Australian public.

My prediction was there would be no surplus that year or likely in the subsequent three years, and that has virtually come to pass. Even the government itself has conceded—or certainly not in the subsequent two years, so you can pretty much say that if this government continues it will not happen, and even a new government is going to have the devil's own job to get it back into surplus in that time.

But worse than that, we know from this budget speech that it is the fifth record budget in five years and sets a new Labor benchmark. That benchmark is 12 deficits for their last 12 budgets—right through this government and right back into the Hawke-Keating governments. Twelve in a row. I remember last year the Treasurer was predicting sweetness and light—they are my words—as he took us into the Elysian Fields of surpluses. Some fields. It is more like a parched, depressed desert. And what we are seeing now is the downside of the fudges that went on in the previous budget. Can you remember roads funding last year? We were going to have in its previous year $6.2 billion of allocations, dropping down to $2.6 billion this year—6.2 down to 2.6. Now that, as we know, was a fiddle in the hope of this elusive surplus that they were hoping to get. It was simply playing games with the figures. But how difficult that must be for the RTAs and the Main Roads departments across Australia to do any planning when they have those sorts of wild variations in funding estimates.

If you look at the coal industry, going back to last year, it went from 220 million down to 10 million and then up to 250 million. Again, that is a fiddle and makes good government and good governance totally unpredictable. Then we have seen the disappearance of the mining tax. It was predicted in 2010 to be $22.5 billion, and now it has come down to $3.3 billion over its first four years—from a predicted 22.5 billion down to 3.3 billion. That is a hell of a drop. The carbon tax; well we all know the carbon tax is a disaster. What that has done to families is just appalling. People come into my office crying that they cannot pay their electricity bills. Clubs going to the wall because they can no longer afford the electricity to run their clubs properly.

One of the worst in my area is irrigation. When we think of irrigation, we generally think of water. I have had long association with irrigation schemes, right back to Black Jack McEwen. I actually stood for the seat of Wide Bay back in 1969. I was very young and probably foolish, but I did have a very good rapport with Black Jack McEwen. I did get him to come to Bundaberg and promise what was then called the Burnett-Kolan scheme and is now called the Bundaberg irrigation scheme. He honoured his promise, despite the fact I did not win the seat at the time. He honoured his promise and what has resulted from that has been the whole Bundaberg-Childers-Gin Gin area has been totally irrigated. It is not the biggest scheme in Australia, but it is certainly the most intensive. There are two dams in that scheme, the Moondarra dam and the Paradise dam, and a weir at Walla.

It is a very comprehensive scheme. It has channels, pipes and all sorts of methods of delivery. You would say: 'God, what a lucky district. You've got over 1,000 small crop and cane farms all connected to this marvellous scheme.' But the ingredient for the delivery of this water is electricity, and the farmers tell me now that they are coming to the point where, because of the new tariffs and the carbon tax on top of the new tariffs, they cannot afford to irrigate. They cannot afford to turn on the pumps that deliver the water. That is an appalling circumstance, and it comes from this carbon tax.

This carbon tax itself is flawed. Far from getting to the $38 a tonne that the government talked about in the early part of their deliberations, they have now forecast for 2015-16 that it will drop to $12 a tonne—and that will cost revenue $5 billion, by the way. But then, if you look at the European market's forward price, it is only $6 a tonne—not $12 but $6. In other words, the government have deliberately built in something that is set for failure.

When you look across other fields—and we had the shadow minister for immigration here as the previous speaker—at the accumulated blow-outs caused by the boat people, $5.8 billion was the figure he quoted, with another $4.1 billion predicted in the forward estimates. That is $10 billion. It makes you wonder how much better off this country would be if we could have maintained the level at which it was left by the Howard government, not only in terms of orderly migration but in terms of the amount of money available for other projects.

Ten billion dollars is a lot of money on top of the net debt of the Commonwealth of about $190 million and the interest that is payable on that. So take the interest on the $190 million, plus things like the $10 billion we have blown or will have blown on this illegal immigration. You can see that things like Gonski and the NDIS would have been easily encompassed in the capacity of the government and subsequent governments if it had not been so profligate with some of these schemes, so profligate with spending. The government is earning $80 billion more than it did in the Howard years, but it is spending $120 billion. That is just a formula for going approximately $40 billion behind each year. This has to stop.

I was in the chamber the other night for the budget. I always welcome the budget, whether it is from our side of politics or from the other side. I am not a political bigot. I think we all go in with a sense of anticipation, perhaps even elation. But this one was just the most depressing thing I have ever seen. On budget nights, over the 20 years I have been here, the government has its supporters in; you have dinners through this building, lectures and guest speakers; and even the opposition of the day turns on dinners and things to listen to the budget. And then you come into the House and there is a buzz in there. There is an excitement that the Treasurer is going to bring down his budget.

There was no excitement. It was as flat as a pancake. I looked around the galleries. They were 40 per cent empty. The cheer squad from the unions was not there—or, if it was there, it was surprisingly quiet. I looked across at my colleagues in the government and I thought that there was not a happy face there. And I also thought, 'Gee, what an appalling thing that the budget has come to this.' It is as if the government had sucked the enthusiasm out of its backbench and left it there to try and defend this almost indefensible budget. The one thing we used to do in the Howard years was to fiercely defend our budgets. But there was no fierce defence from the government backbench this time. It is as if they have almost thrown in the towel on the budget. I found that very depressing.

In the remaining time I want to say a few words about the floods, because they had a huge impact on my area. When we have a flood, and I am not being unduly cynical, people rush to your electorate from both sides of politics—everyone from the Governor-General down comes—and we thump our breasts and say, 'This must never happen again and we'll be out there to help you.' At the time of the flood itself, the agencies are simply superb—the people who cook the barbecues, who arrange the accommodation in the civic centre or the Agro-Trend Grounds where displaced people are given temporary accommodation. All that stuff works like a clock—it is resilient and it is good. But when the emergency workers vacate the field and the army goes back home, you get down to the hard yacker of cleaning up the houses that could not be cleaned immediately after the flood—getting the plaster board off the interior walls, getting people to focus on their homes again.

This time the help was not there, because, as you know, Bundaberg was flooded twice in two years. It was flooded around Christmas-New Year 2010-11 and then again on Australia Day eve 2013—barely two years apart. The second time it is so much harder for people to pick up their bundle. I am noticing and I am getting reports—I have not been able to delve into all of them and so I am being a little bit careful—that bodies like QRAA, the Queensland agency which administers money from the Commonwealth, have to be more generous. People cannot be knocked twice in two years and be subjected to the same rules about loans and so on. I think there has to be an element of trust and risk if we want to get farmers and businesses back on their feet. I do not think we can run this as a pure banking operation. There has to be an element of compassion in it.