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Monday, 23 May 2011
Page: 4101

Mr BROADBENT (McMillan) (18:31): The Australian people delivered a verdict at the last election that was unexpected by the nation, by the government and by the opposition—that is, a hung parliament. It was a verdict that said, 'We do not have confidence in either of you to the point where we will give you a mandate to govern.' So that mandate was transferred to Independent members of this parliament. In speaking to many Australians, as I do as a local member, the people's understanding of the hung parliament and the arrangements that followed was that they were given another Labor government. But what happened was that the government actually changed hands at the last election. Did we have a Labor government beforehand? Yes. Do we have a Labor government today? Yes, we do, but it is a changed Labor government. So at the last election campaign we had a change of government.

The change of government entailed a deal between the Prime Minister of the day and her leadership and a small number of Independents elected across the nation. To do that deal, particularly with one group—the Greens—the Prime Minister had to make concessions on things that she had previously, and genuinely, said she would not do. She had to literally oppose what she had said during the election campaign. We do not know all the details that were thrashed out in those meetings; we were only onlookers of the evening news. What we do know is that during the election campaign the Prime Minister said, 'Under my future administration there will not be a particular tax.' The Prime Minister then called that tax a carbon tax. She very clearly said to the Australian people, 'Under my future administration'—as she understood it at the time—'there will be no carbon tax.'

We as a nation took that at face value. As much as people say that they do not believe politicians, they do believe prime ministers and opposition leaders will do what they say they will do. If they say they will not do something, people believe that they will not do it. So a misunderstanding of the deal that the Prime Minister had to do with the Greens is a misunderstanding of the change of government because there was not only a change of government on election day because we had a hung parliament but also a change of government in the ensuing days and weeks of discussions with the Independents over what areas the government would need to change its position on.

The Prime Minister could have come out at that time and laid out before the people of Australia: 'To form government I have had to agree to these specific issues to get the support of the Independents. I know I said that before the election, but for us to form government we have done a deal with the Independents.' If the Prime Minister had then said immediately, 'This is the deal that I have done and part of the deal is that we are to introduce a carbon tax' the Australian people could have accepted that that was the deal. But to ignore it was to leave the Australian people out of consideration and bring them to a place of disappointment because they were not included in the process of government that they had just voted on.

Disappointment is one of the most difficult emotions to deal with, as anybody who has been disappointed knows, and it is a lingering emotion. So today the broader nation—from the top of Queensland to southern Tasmania, from the west to the east—is disappointed with the government, because it says it is now going to introduce a carbon tax. That disappointment, by my reckoning from the Australian people that I meet with, is palpable. It is expressing itself in many ways, particularly through disappointment with the current Prime Minister. All issues become manifestly greater than they would otherwise have been because the people now feel that, no matter what the government does, the voice of the Prime Minister cannot be trusted. I do not know what the way back is for the government, but I know that my opposition to the carbon tax does not stem from the pure politics of, 'They want it; we don't.' My opposition to the carbon tax comes from the fact that many of the workers in my area—I once represented all of the power stations in the Latrobe Valley and I now represent many of the workers in the Latrobe Valley—can see themselves once again being the patsy for a political decision that needed to be made in order to take government.

The other issue is the test of a budget. The test of a budget for me is, bottom line, how we look after our most vulnerable—our frail elderly, our very young children, our disabled and those who have mental difficulties. I think that, in a bipartisan mood, mental health has come to the fore, and I believe we are progressing. But when it comes to our frail elderly, our youngest children and our disabled we still have a long way to go—and that is the test of the budget. The other test for me is what has happened in previous budgets that is still happening and being spruiked today, by the Treasurer in this case. I have heard previous speakers talking about skills training. In this government's last three budgets they have spoken about and funded skills training. Does that mean the money that was funded in the last two budgets did not work and so today we must still talk about skills training?

Mr Danby: No, because we've got to keep on going.

Mr BROADBENT: No, it is not a matter of keeping on going; it is a matter of rejigging the money each year to pretend that you have done something new on skills training. In truth, you have not. Every year you have reannounced, under a different name, a different package—and still we struggle with skills training. This is an indictment of a Labor government whose focus should be on making those programs work year after year, not just reannouncing them year after year.

It is very clear that, in our nation at the moment, families are struggling with the cost of living. I give you the example from Victoria of electricity prices, which have increased by between 30 and 40 per cent, mostly because of the former Bracks-Brumby government's determination to set a benchmark of 20 per cent of power having to be produced by renewable energies. What did they actually achieve? Between 3½ and five per cent of that target. It is great to get a front page article on renewable energy and what they are doing about it purely for the votes, but when the rubber hits the road you see that they have not reached their target and you read about it in a small article on the third page of the paper.

Cost of living is extremely important to families with mortgages. I am in a big mortgage belt area and people are concerned mostly about the uncertainty that pervades government at the moment. That concern manifests itself in many ways. We believed that we were in the running for some funding through the budget for the Warragul hospital—the West Gippsland healthcare centre. It received zilch, nothing, nano. I believe that 19 projects were funded across the nation, but none for Gippsland, although we are going ahead with some roads programs which will be beneficial.

I return to my farmers and say this: I owe John Howard because he was extremely important to all of the farmers across my electorate. Through the drought years, for 13 years, the Howard government never once walked away from a farmer. In fact, you might be surprised to know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that over those years the Howard government, with John Howard's signature on each one, spent $2.424 billion—that is, $2,424.1 million—on those farmers over that time. That does not count all the expenses that went into our farming communities. There was a direct concern and care for farmers who were suffering through that drought period. Each one of those farmers remembers that McMillan, of all places, was one area that was not in the funding stream because we just did not fit the criteria—but our farmers suffered in exactly the same way. I stand here at this time when, except for Western Australia, we are beginning to face the end of the drought and the results of all that has happened over 13 years in the full knowledge that, to the best of the ability of this parliament, the previous government and this government, we have supported those farmers through thick and thin. We will continue to support our rural communities through thick and thin.

I have some dreams that I would like to happen. I would like future governments to invest in aged care to the point where bonds were taken into high care. I have never moved away from that, from 1996 to this day. I would like to see money poured into our public secondary colleges across this nation, where every child in Australia, every teenager, can expect equal education, and that we retrain and re-fund our public education system. I would like to see cutting edge research on renewables rather than unsubstantiated expenditure in the area of a carbon tax of which we do not know the framework, where it will go or who will be paying. I would like to see cleaner emissions from our transport fleet of cars and buses.

We have great opportunities in this country to make a real difference not only nationally but to the world. We are good thinkers and we are good innovators. We can from this day forth take those opportunities and bring them to the attention of the world. (Time expired)