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Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Page: 745

Ms HALL (ShortlandOpposition Whip) (12:55): I would like to commence my contribution to this debate by thanking the people of Shortland for placing their trust in me and re-electing me to this parliament. I wake up every morning and consider the great responsibility they have placed on me. I take that responsibility very seriously and my decisions are very much motivated by what is best for the people I represent. I would also like to thank the people who worked for me in the election; they worked tirelessly. I would particularly like to thank my campaign director, Chad Griffith, for his organisation of my campaign and for the work he put in. My family were very supportive, as were my wonderful electorate staff, who have to put up with me every time I walk in and say, 'I have an idea, a new plan for something we can do!' I would like to thank each and every one of those people who have contributed to me being in this place and I say to them that I will do everything in my power to represent the electorate of Shortland very strongly. Unfortunately, since the last election I have moved from being a member of the government to being a member of the opposition.

Mr Baldwin: Well deserved!

Ms HALL: I notice the member for Paterson does not share my feelings there. I believe the current government was elected on a platform of 'Vote for us simply because we're not the ALP.' That means that the people of Australia now have a government that has the agenda of an opposition, that we have two opposition leaders in this country and that we do not have a Prime Minister. We are in a situation where we have a government in power which has no policy, no vision and no plan for Australia. That is very sad, because it will have enormous implications for our nation in future. It is vital that when a government comes to power it has a plan, a direction, a goal that it wants to achieve. This government has none of those.

I am standing in this parliament today speaking in the address-in-reply debate. There is virtually no legislation waiting to be debated in this House. It is an absolute disgrace. The newly elected government should have a plethora of legislation which it wants to introduce, be debated and be made law, but unfortunately we have a government which has the appropriations legislation waiting to be debated, the address-in-reply and one other piece of legislation on primary industry. At the end of the previous government's time, we still had over 650 pieces of legislation that we had not got through and that was in a really difficult hung parliament. Here we are today with a newly elected government that is bereft of ideas, bereft of policies and bereft of legislation. It is very sad because of the implications this has for Australia, for us as a nation and for the people we represent in this parliament.

Since the election, probably the most notable feature of the Abbott government has been the enormous numbers of job losses. We no longer have a car industry in this country. There are the job losses at Holden and Toyota, job losses in Western Australia and job losses last week in the aluminium industry. The response of the Abbott government has been to do nothing. It would not act when issues came up about SPC Ardmona, despite the fact that the local member implored the Prime Minister to step in and help. It was left to the Victorian government to step up to the mark, because our Australian government did not have the vision to protect Australian jobs. There has not been one act by this government that will give the people of Australia any confidence that their jobs will be protected. Australian jobs are going overseas and we have a government that are not prepared to stand up for Australian workers in this place. They have no plan when it comes to jobs. They have no plan when it comes to any aspect of their legislative program.

But if they have any plan at all to address job losses, it is to cut the pay and conditions of workers. This government really do not have much time for workers. There have been job losses in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and in other areas. I must put on the record that I am very worried about what will happen this week in relation to Qantas. I will be interested to see the response from the government of this country, because every day we see job losses and they have no answer, no solution and no plan. If they have any response whatsoever, it will be to attack the conditions of workers. We constantly hear Minister Abetz talking about how workers in Australia are overpaid. The Prime Minister tried to blame the pay and conditions of the workers at SPC Ardmona, saying that the decision to seek assistance from government was based on the pay and conditions of workers. That was disproved, and the Prime Minister should hang his head in shame. He should have come up with a solution to protect the jobs of those workers. Instead, he tried to blame the workers and blame them for their penalty rates because they get paid a decent wage. It seems to me that those on the other side of this House would like to see a situation where average Australian workers are paid a subsistence income. I do not know if they realise this, but that will have a detrimental effect on all sectors of the economy.

Now I turn to their broken promises. It has only been six months since the election and there is a plethora of broken promises. Before the election the Prime Minister said that there will be no Work Choices legislation, but all we have heard about since the election are ways to implement Work Choices type reforms to the industrial relations system. It is obvious that this government are being mean and tricky and are looking at alternative ways to bring in changes to the pay and conditions of workers. I am afraid they have no commitment whatsoever to ensuring that Work Choices type legislation does not re-enter this parliament, perhaps in a different form but with exactly the same results. I have news for those on the government benches: people in the community understand the hidden agenda. I go out to shopping centres with my mobile offices and I talk to people. They constantly come up to me and express their fear about exactly that—the fact that the pay and conditions of workers are being eroded. I have had workers say to me that they do not know how they will survive if their penalty rates are taken away. It is the penalty rates that allow them to make the payments on their houses. But those on the other side of this House do not understand how difficult it is for some people to actually make ends meet.

One of the issues I discussed freely and frequently in the lead-up to the last election was the cost of living. The candidate that ran against me at the election talked about the cost of living, as did I. But the thing is that he did not really understand how the cost of living impacts on people's lives. He did not really understand, as the members opposite do not understand, that people have to make decisions about whether they get the medicine for their child or put food on the table. It is like that in the real world, and people are making those types of decisions each and every day.

Another broken promise is in relation to education. The Minister for Education said, 'We have a unity ticket with the Labor Party on Gonski.' You only have to look at his tricky little sidesteps since the last election to see just how much of a unity ticket actually existed at the time of the last election. And there is the ABC: 'There will be no cuts to the ABC.' There is a review into the ABC taking place at the moment looking at how efficient and effective it is. There has been a chorus line of members on the other side of this parliament making statements outside this parliament on how the ABC's funding needs to be cut and the ABC needs to have its editorial comments curtailed. One of the strengths of the ABC is that it is critical of both sides of politics. It is an independent voice and it is important that both sides of politics can take criticism. We do not want media controlled by one person giving out one message. Freedom of the press is a right and the press have the right to criticise the government and the opposition. I implore the government not to interfere in the independence of the ABC and not to cut its funding, because the ABC is vitally important to democracy.

Health is an area of great concern to me, a particular interest of mine. The Shortland electorate is an older electorate, and the provision of affordable health care is important to the people I represent. It is also not a wealthy electorate. A significant number of people rely on a pension for the basics of life. It is important to them that they can go to a doctor and be covered by Medicare. When the Prime Minister was the Minister for Health and Ageing, bulk-billing rates in the Shortland electorate were around 60 per cent. Now they are over 80 per cent and the Prime Minister is talking about introducing a GP tax, a tax on people when they see a GP. It is not good enough and it will not benefit the overall health of the Australian population.

Currently, people of this generation are dying when they are about 85, and each generation is living longer than the previous generation did. But we are approaching a stage where the next generation may live for a shorter time than their parents did. If we erode the health system, that will contribute to this scenario. There are also issues around diabetes, obesity and lifestyle that play an important part in that. When we have the Assistant Minister for Health, Senator Nash, and her staff removing from the internet the five-star health rating information, a tool to inform people about the food they are eating, we can see that this government has no real commitment to the good health of Australian people.

Much is said about the economy. When this government came to power, Australia had a AAA rating from every rating agency. That was only enjoyed by a handful of other countries and never came to fruition under a coalition government. We have been bombarded by the current Treasurer talking about the age of entitlement and how the age of entitlement has finished. However, that does not appear to apply to members and supporters of the Liberal Party. For instance, those appointed to conduct government reviews have strong connections to the Liberal Party. If you look at the terms of reference of the reviews, you will see that they are designed to deliver a certain outcome.

Returning to the age of entitlement, if you are a Liberal Party who formerly sat in this House or the Senate, it seems you have a special entitlement to represent Australia in the United States, as Senator Minchin is, or in the UK, as Mr Downer is. However, if you are a pensioner, you do not have much of an entitlement. Yesterday, the Prime Minister refused to rule out making cuts to the pension. I thought that was very interesting.

Mr McCormack: What about Kim Beazley?

Ms HALL: Yes, Kim Beazley did get an overseas appointment. But during Labor's time in government 18 members of the Liberal and National parties were appointed to overseas positions, whereas this government is pulling people back from overseas and getting involved in partisan politics. That is not the way to deal with these appointments.

It looks like pensioners are under attack and Medicare is under attack. Families have lost the Schoolkids Bonus. We are having the Commission of Audit, which is really a commission of cuts. There is talk of attacks on welfare, attacks on basic health services, attacks on education and attacks on families. Of course, there are attacks on unions—spin and cover-up. Australia's international reputation has been significantly affected by our relationship with Indonesia and some of the overseas appearances by the Prime Minister. Add to that Manus Island. What has happened on Manus Island and the cover-up of it are absolutely appalling. I think it is time for the minister to stand up and take some responsibility instead of covering up and just trying to spin his way out of trouble. It is not what a government should be doing.

This is a government of ideologues that is driven by a desire to implement an ultraconservative agenda which will lead to social and economic inequities. It wants to cut taxes and cut welfare. It is going to have an enormous impact on Australia as a nation. We need to be a globally competitive nation with an educated workforce. We are a country that can share the wealth with everybody. It does not have to be a country where one group of people have everything and another group of people do not. We need in Australia an inclusive society. Everybody should enjoy the wealth of this country. I call on the government to pursue that.