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Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Page: 1531

Mr COULTON (ParkesThe Nationals Chief Whip) (16:34): While I do not want to be critical of my friend and colleague the member for Shortland, I have never heard such claptrap and propaganda in all my life. She issued a challenge to visit her schools. She should come to the school at Louth in my electorate. They have a wonderful investment. They have a classroom for each child. The school at Windeyer also has a classroom for each child. These isolated schools could have had money spent elsewhere. While we are on the BER, we have schools that got covered outdoor learning areas—a bit of iron on a metal frame—for the cost of a five-bedroom house in any of the towns in my electorate.

This appropriation bill is because of the mismanagement of this government. It is all very well to talk about the wonderful largesse flowing through to the constituents in various electorates, but this is all about value for money. And what we have seen from this government is that they cannot handle money.

While we are on the BER, members opposite might like to come to Dubbo and speak to the tradesmen who are in dire financial straits because of the mismanagement of the BER and the lack of scrutiny of the contractors who managed this program. They had many people do jobs worth tens of thousands of dollars and in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars that are yet to be paid for. The tradesmen believed that, because they were working for the government, that money was guaranteed. But they were sadly wrong. When the subcontractors failed to pay them the government did not back them up.

Government members interjecting—

Mr COULTON: I would like a little bit of quiet. This is a free-ranging debate and I am speaking about the financial mismanagement. When we have an appropriation bill to fill in the gaps where the government has overspent, there is nothing more appropriate than talking about waste and mismanagement. The government came to power with a $20 billion surplus, including money in the bank and a Future Fund. But it has all been raided.

How about we start with the Regional Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund of $2.7 million. The member opposite, from the wild regions of Tasmania, would understand the importance of telecommunications. I have patches all over my electorate that do not have basic telephone services. They do not have mobile telephone services and they have no way of getting them. That is because the fund that was put aside by the Howard government to fund this infrastructure was raided. One of the first things I had to do when I got elected to this place was sit through the humiliation of watching this government raid the money that was salted away by the Howard government to protect the telecommunications infrastructure of the people of regional Australia. That is gone.

This government is very good at spending money but not very good at managing money. A lot of the schemes we have seen promoted by this government, a lot of the policies, have been about restricting the capacity of this great country, not growing it. The job of government is to provide an environment where the citizens of a country can undertake their best endeavours, where they can succeed, where their hard work brings them benefits. Government should basically be an unseen guiding hand that provides that environment. Instead we have a government that wants to meddle in people's lives. They want to control the environment. They want to control the river system. These are things that are not possible to attain. With these grand gestures they are severely impacting on the residents of Australia, particularly those that I represent in this place.

The carbon tax is going to affect everyone in Australia. I cannot find anyone who can guarantee we are going to see any changes to the environment from the carbon tax. Indeed, the government's salesmen, Professor Flannery, says maybe in a thousand years if the whole world follows Australia's lead we might see some changes. So this grand gesture to garner the support of the green fringe elements and give the Greens politicians in this place the opportunity to strut on the world stage is not going to have any environmental effect at all but it is going to affect the lives of everyone. The member for Shortland spoke about this wonderful compensation that is coming through the carbon tax. Compensation by its very definition is a payment for hardship caused. There is no need for compensation if you do not put in the tax in the first place. Why will people need compensation if there is no carbon tax? I represent a regional seat where people are heavily reliant on fossil fuel not only for their production but because of the distances involved for the basic tenets of life like education, health and employment. There is a large fossil fuel component for regional Australia. And, because of the harsh climate, a lot of energy is required to heat and cool homes and workplaces.

We are finding now, with the cost of electricity going up and the further escalating costs predicted—they are not denied; they are predicted—coming up from 1 July, that the sad reality is that older people, the most vulnerable people in my electorate, are sweltering in summer and are spending their winters under the blankets because they are not game to turn on their air conditioning or their heating. Meals on Wheels volunteers tell me that they are finding elderly people in the middle of the day in bed, not because they are unwell but because they cannot afford—or they perceive that they cannot afford—to run their electricity.

What is more, this carbon tax is something that we are going to do all by ourselves. None of our trading partners have this. This is what I liken this carbon tax to. When we send our athletes to London later this year, we could just chain a 10-kilogram steel ball to their ankle and say: 'This is our grand gesture to the rest of the world to show that we care about the environment. We're going to put this 10-kilogram ball on the legs of all our athletes when they go to London and expect them to compete with people who aren't encumbered.' That is exactly the same as the government are expecting Australian businesses, Australian farmers and Australian manufacturers to do with their competitors in the rest of the world by giving them a tax that their competitors do not have, a tax that will serve no purpose other than to generate money into consolidated revenue and provide a grand gesture.

We have seen other forms of mismanagement from this government. There is no better example than the youth allowance debacle. Great changes were made to the way regional students were serviced when the current Prime Minister was Minister for Education. While there has been some redress—I have to say a massive backflip—to restore independent youth allowance, there is still the means test element to it. While this government might not be very fond of farmers and farm families and saw the independent youth allowance as some sort of benefit to a farming elite, the reality is that the people who are really suffering now are the people who work in the towns. These people are coming to me asking why they cannot get independent youth allowance for their child, who has actually spent 12 months or 18 months working in a supermarket to earn the money. They might be a teacher and their husband might be a policeman or work in the banking sector or something like that. Two-income families are ineligible for any sort of assistance. They are expected to educate their children and compete with people who live within a bus ride of a university. So there is still that discrimination against country kids, and the youth allowance debacle was another example.

We as a nation are looking forward to the rollout of the NBN, or supposedly we are. But, once again, the more I find out about the NBN, the more I realise that this is going to be—I will quote Kim Beazley; I looked up the word the other day on Google—a boondoggle. The NBN is a boondoggle. What is more, it is a boondoggle that will not benefit the people in my electorate. A few of them will gain access to high-speed fibre services. Many of them feel that they do not want that or do not want to pay for it. But many people think that the point-to-point wireless connections that are going to get to most of my towns will provide higher speed on their hand-held devices. Most of the people in regional Australia are connected to the internet in a mobile sort of way. The NBN wireless system will go to a point in your house, at your personal computer. You might be able to have a router within your house, but for someone who is working in the field the NBN will play no part. When a technician goes to repair a tractor in a cotton field at Moree and is looking for a fast internet connection for his diagnostic equipment, he will go through Next G with Telstra, but he will not be getting anything from the NBN.

So people will be using the system they have now, because in most places it works, and the NBN is going to be a $50 billion white elephant. There is no greater example of financial mismanagement. You cannot measure your success as a government purely by the beads and blankets you can hand out to your constituents on a regular basis. The success of a government occurs when the Australian people have the confidence to do it themselves. The greatest gift a government can give its constituents is the confidence to succeed and have a go.

What is happening now, right across Australia and particularly in my electorate, is that people are holding back. They are nervous about the future. They are holding back on purchasing that extra bit of land, on putting on an apprentice, on updating their work vehicle and maybe on sending their kids to university. There are actually families in my electorate who are having to choose which of their children have the greatest aptitude to go to university. In the year 2012, that is an absolute disgrace. The member for Braddon is pulling funny faces, but that is an absolute fact. Tertiary education might not be a big deal in Tasmania; they might not have quite the same levels down there. But this is a big deal.

In conclusion, it is a sad state that many of the appropriations that are coming through on this bill are because of the mismanagement of this government. I believe the best thing it can do is put up the white flag, go to the Australian people and let them decide on the management style of this country.