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Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Page: 1073

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (18:59): This is the second time today I have followed the member for Ballarat to make a speech. She, like me, represents an electorate with a major regional city—in her case it is Ballarat and I represent Wagga Wagga in the seat of Riverina. Ballarat and Wagga Wagga are not dissimilar inasmuch as they are both really important economic hubs in agricultural regions and regions with diverse economies.

I am sure that when the member for Ballarat goes down her main street she, like me—when I journey along Baylis and Fitzmaurice streets—hears stories about how difficult it is for families to meet day-to-day cost of living pressures. I listened to her speech very carefully, and much of it centred around blaming the Victorian Department of Health for, she alleged, not putting forward Commonwealth money into important medical funding, hospitals and the like. But that is what we are hearing so much from the federal Labor government—that is, blaming the states. We hear what a terrible job Campbell Newman is doing in Queensland and Barry O'Farrell is doing in New South Wales and Ted Baillieu is doing in Victoria. Those three premiers inherited parlous state economies following on from wasteful Labor state governments.

I am sure when the Liberal-National coalition is re-elected federally—hopefully this year—we will, unfortunately, also be lumped with an economy with huge debt and deficit which will take some recovery and which Mr and Mrs Average will expect us to fix. The way things are going, many people's grandkids are going to be paying off the debt that has been racked up by this federal Labor government. We are all familiar with the phrase 'another day, another dollar' but at the moment it is 'another day, another $106 million' that we are having to borrow to make ends meet. Anyone who has run a small business, as I have, knows that you cannot spend more than you make. Unfortunately, that maxim does not fall in the lap of the Treasurer, who continues to borrow—offshore mostly—to make up for his waste and mismanagement of the economy. When he announced the mining tax on 2 May 2010, the iron ore price was $161 per dry metric tonne. In January 2013 it was $150, a reduction of seven per cent. Thermal coal was $100 per tonne in May 2010 and in January 2013 it was $93, a reduction of seven per cent. The mining tax covers only iron ore and coal. The Treasurer said in his recent press conference:

The data being released today shows that the MRRT has collected less revenue in its first two instalments than was forecast originally. Now clearly, the huge drop in commodity prices in the second half of last year had a dramatic impact on MRRT revenues …

There has been no huge drop in commodity prices since the mining tax was announced, and yet, despite all the fanfare around the introduction of the mining tax and Labor saying that people were going to get their fair share of mining tax revenue, it has really returned only $5.50 per person. If you put in a tax and get only $5.50 per person, the tax obviously is not working—according to the Treasurer's own figures.

This government's atrocious record in finance is well known, and it seems that every day that Labor makes an announcement it is another embarrassing gaffe for those opposite. The first amongst these is the fact that when Labor came to office in 2007 it inherited a $20 billion surplus and $70 billion worth of net Commonwealth assets.

Ms Hall: And a GFC.

Mr McCORMACK: I hear the member for Shortland say, 'and a GFC', and that did have an impact. I will admit that certainly did have an impact. But we cannot keep using the global financial crisis again and again and again. When the Treasurer comes out with his budget and says that he is going to put the country back into surplus, we cannot keep harking back to the GFC five years earlier and saying that things are still so bad that he just cannot get his figures right. I take the interjection, and as a member of the coalition I accept that the GFC did have quite a dramatic impact on finances globally, and we are still seeing the meltdown in many overseas economies.

The member for Shortland would probably say, 'And we've done very well despite that.' Yes, we have—I would agree with her—but we have done well because of a coalition government: 12 years of a Howard-Fischer-Anderson-Vaile Liberal-Nationals government which actually managed to balance the books and managed to produce surpluses so that Mr and Mrs Average, as our friend the member for Fairfax talks about, were able to get funding initiatives for their electorates and were able to know that their government had integrity and fiscal responsibility.

To date, Labor has delivered the four largest deficits in Australia's history, topping a whopping $172 billion. This Labor government has borrowed more in its five years than every other Commonwealth government had borrowed since Federation in 1901. It is an amazing thing. This is after the Howard coalition government delivered four of Australia's largest surpluses in history over its time in office. But unfortunately it has all been squandered by those on the other side on such things as school halls—not a bad initiative on paper but the delivery of it was terrible—pink batts in roofs and so many other initiatives which, on the surface, could have been reasonably worthwhile if they had been put into place with some accountability, with some economic rationale. But no, no: in typical Labor style, it was just policy on the run, done on the back of a beer coaster and implemented without any thought for the fact that this was going to cost taxpayers and hit them in the neck again and again. Because of this, the Labor government is accruing billions and billions of dollars in net debt.

The member for Shortland might be surprised to hear this, but I do say her government is praiseworthy in some respects, inasmuch as there have been times when federal Labor has rolled out some good initiatives in the Riverina, in my electorate. The funding for the Life Sciences Hub at Charles Sturt University at Wagga Wagga; the rail freight hub at Bomen, north of Wagga Wagga; and the medical facilities at Wagga Wagga Base Hospital, Griffith and Hillston have all been welcome initiatives. People say to me: 'What does all this net and gross debt mean? What does that actually mean? I'm still getting three feeds a day. I know it's costing me more and more to fill up my car at the petrol station and I know it's costing more and more when I go to the supermarket to buy groceries, but what does this debt really mean to me?' What I say to them is that it lessens our ability to get more funding for the sorts of medical and educational programs and projects that we so desperately need.

The member for Ballarat was highly critical of the states in this respect. I believe that in many instances education and health should be quarantined when it comes to cuts. You would perhaps agree with me there, Deputy Speaker O'Neill. Education and health are the great enablers of our country and, before state governments go and take huge swipes at those sorts of funding initiatives, they should really think carefully about how that is going to have an impact on the people that they represent. That goes for our side of politics as much as it goes for the other side of politics. As I say, I know the blame game has been played out in the chamber about the states and how 'dreadful' the coalition state governments are. However, they have inherited huge financial messes and they have had to make very prudent and at times wholesale cuts to balance the books.

We all know what Labor is like at delivering surpluses. Time and again we have heard the Prime Minister and the Treasurer tell parliament that Labor would deliver a surplus in 2012-13 on time, as promised—their words, not mine. In fact, on 650 occasions the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and Senator Wong have repeated their promise to deliver a surplus, but the Treasurer has now announced that it will not be. It will not come true.

On Christmas Eve, when the government thought it could nearly get away with it, the Treasurer unceremoniously abandoned the government's non-negotiable surplus, blaming a huge revenue whack—'Out of the blue', he said—rather than years of wasteful spending and illusionary forecasting.

We look at some of the areas Labor has taken a scythe to and, sadly, defence is one of them. We talk of things being quarantined, such as health and education; this country really needs to ensure that funding is made available to defence so that our troops overseas are best equipped and trained, and that the training being done here in Australia at such places as the Army Recruit Training Centre at Kapooka in Wagga Wagga enables our soldiers, and Air Force and Navy personnel to be best equipped and best trained to meet the challenging needs of these troubled times. As many members are aware, defence spending is a huge issue in my electorate. Wagga Wagga is a tri-service city, with Air Force, Navy—believe it or not, even though we are many miles inland—and Army being very prominent military bases and important players in the community.

Among this culture of mismanagement and splashing cash around like there is no tomorrow and it will not have to be paid back, Labor has seriously neglected the Australian Defence Force, cutting the defence budget by at least $5.5 billion this year alone and over $25 billion since coming to government five years ago. That is shameful. When I talk to ex-service personnel they are not only annoyed at the fact that this government is cutting spending in defence, they are also annoyed that there has been no real commitment on their superannuation benefits, no real commitment to ensuring that they are paid the amount that they should have been or should be paid for the service they have rendered this nation. Those people put their lives on the line for the defence of our great nation, and they are not being shown the same faith by this Commonwealth government. I do hope that when the coalition comes to government—hopefully, this year—we will certainly look after these people who certainly looked after our nation.

By the government's own account in the Asian white paper, we are entering a period in our history when regional flashpoints are likely to increase, and Australia will be required to take on an increasingly active role in our region. There is no doubt that the Riverina electorate will have much to do with ADF training for this period. This assessment is at complete odds with the government's decision to cut defence funding to its lowest level since 1938, the year before World War II began. The share of gross domestic product being spent on defence is now just 1.56 per cent, and next year it drops even further to just 1.49 per cent. For a portfolio area that is as important as Defence that is indeed disappointing, embarrassing and shameful.

We could talk about agriculture. In fact we will talk about agriculture because it is an area that Labor is not all that much across when it comes to ensuring money is spent on such important things as food security, quarantine measures and ensuring that farmers are given the support and help they need to do the job they do so well, and that is feeding our nation and others too. I was pleased that, when the opposition leader announced the coalition's Real Solutions plan, agriculture was one of the five pillars that he put forward. The coalition will take agriculture to the next election and put solutions in place to ensure a better and more prosperous regional Australia. Our famers are the best in the world. Even the member for Moreton across the other side would agree with me on that. But farmers are not being looked after, unfortunately, by Labor, and I will certainly continue to lobby loudly and often on behalf of those people who do such a fine job farming. The coalition will make sure that sector, which made this country great, is preserved and protected at all costs. (Time expired)