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Wednesday, 1 June 2011
Page: 5639


Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (10:46): We have a national epidemic of obesity. We have gone from the fittest country in the world to one of the fattest. There are any number of television shows, with titles such as The Biggest Loser, which dramatically tell the story of the desperate actions required to address situations of obesity—the hardship, the heartbreak and the humiliation. Today I am talking about our government's obesity and the radical action that will be required to address this country's problems of excess and waste. The parallels between the two are worth noting because, in the days when our sportsmen and women dominated the fields of endeavour, virtually all Australians would try to emulate their sports stars on the weekend, resulting in their wellbeing, health and fitness. At this time, we enjoyed lean government and we were a creditable nation.

No truer words have been spoken than those contained in the warning by Senator Barnaby Joyce when he said that he had never seen a big problem that did not begin as a small one and that if this rate of waste and misguided spending continued there would come a time when we would not be able to pay back our debt. Credibility and trust borne out of honesty should be the currency that a government or a political party trades on. Broken promises and treacherous behaviour do not build a sense of trust. The promise to build the Epping to Parramatta Rail Link, devoutly made in the heat of battle to win government during an election campaign, fades on even the most casual examination and exposes the fact that this promise to build would be dependent on the government winning a second term, the government being in surplus and the state government putting up the first $500 million. The very people who lose our trust and confidence with such transparently ingenuous undertakings deserve serious scrutiny when they make other promises. The promise made during the recent budget of a $3 billion surplus to come in the third year would be equally dependent on a number of factors and so has equal 'substance' to the promise made by the federal government to build the Epping to Parramatta railway line. Setting this aside, the government's representations put the promise of a $3 billion surplus into perspective. It will follow two more years of excessive deficit—$55 billion last year, followed by $50 billion, followed by $23 billion, and totalling $107 billion of debt. To have the audacity to say that a $3 billion surplus in year 3 is some kind of triumph beggars belief. This is a government that has come to dine at our table. They take more and more every time they need it. They go to their favourite dish—more taxes—creating the weight of debt to fund their lazy, misguided and, above all, wasteful practices. What could have nourished families, small business and industry has been squandered by inept government and criminal waste. It is so plain to see that history is repeating itself. The Howard government when elected inherited some $96 billion in debt. The Abbott government, when it is elected, will inherit a greater debt. The hallmark of the Rudd-Gillard government is that of quick-fix fast food, not the nutrition that our country needs. When we were crying out for vital infrastructure that would build our country and add value we got pink batts, and we got school halls when classrooms and libraries were needed, coated with lashings of waste.

Julia Gillard has justified this by saying that in large projects there will always be waste. This is an extraordinary position to take and it is difficult to imagine that somebody who has found their way to the position of Prime Minister could not understand the dynamic that when building more than one school hall, with a high level of architectural design and requiring no variations during construction, the marketplace will effect lower prices with greater quantity.

And we have the situation of pink batts in roofs, where those who entered the industry after promises and undertakings from the government committed themselves, their businesses and their assets to this new industry, then mercilessly had the rug pulled from under them after more empty reassurances. The government, which should be in the practice of building industries, was setting these poor souls up for a brief boom and an inevitable bust. In the solar industry we had the same scenario. And all the while the government was feasting on taxes, growing bureaucracies, growing inefficiencies and growing the obesity of debt. The next competitor in the Biggest Loser will be Australia after the final great feast—a carbon tax.

Personal obesity accounts for more than 50 per cent of our health costs—combined with other lifestyle choices, an imposition of over 70 per cent of our total health cost. The single best thing that you can do for your physical health or mental health is to exercise. When you exercise in the form of participation in a sport, the component of socialisation is added, which is a key component in the prevention of mental illness.

In the budget there was a promise of $1.5 billion for mental health. A little examination will tell you very quickly that sadly those who need help most are denied. The reduction from 12 appointments with a psychologist to 10 might not have been a devastating blow to many but on a little further examination we learn that those with more acute need for psychological intervention, who would previously have had the right to a further six visits, have now lost those visits.

This is another graphic example of short-term thinking, small savings and long-term cost. Tragically, the cost in this scenario is measured not just in dollars. Headlines this week—a week where there has been many major news events—have found the manner in which the Gillard government attempted to lure FIFA's affections in a bid to host the Soccer World Cup was consistent with their poor ability to manage and ensure value for our tax dollars. We have heard allegations of bribery. There are allegations of $11.4 million of the $45 million given by this government having gone missing and of two sets of books being maintained by the FFA. Despite an inquiry on this reporting back in March, this report has still not seen the light of day and it seems another $39 million has now been sent down the same rabbit hole. On reflection, what is fundamentally wrong with the way in which we attempted to win the World Cup bid is that it was largely contrary to our sporting heritage, which is such a vital part of our nation's history. The building of our character and what we stand for has always lain in the fact that we have previously put all our efforts into excelling in sports on the field, not in fancy hotels and restaurants. We host cricket tests with the greatest cricket nations in the world because we are one of those great nations. We host a grand slam tennis tournament because when the grand slam was declared we were one of only four nations who had won the Davis Cup—we earned our position on the court. We have hosted the Olympic Games twice, punching way above our weight, because we have always punched way above our weight. Australian sportsmen more than anything else have been the epitome of sportsmen: modest in victory and gracious in defeat, playing by the rules and playing fairly.

Without a knowledge of the past and an appreciation of history we are vulnerable not to learn from the past and to allow history to repeat itself. There is a great cost, whether for the individual or for the government, in becoming obese, and there is a great price to be paid for getting back into shape in order to be fully productive and enjoy a long and healthy life. To achieve this goal, an individual needs to take personal responsibility for their diet in the same way as a government needs to take responsibility for the economy and an obese way of living.

If history repeats itself, this government will leave office with a massive debt to be repaid. No doubt this will be undertaken by a lean and fit-for-the-purpose Abbott coalition. The path we then embark upon should be sustained, and we should learn from the past and not repeat the mistakes that have been made. With our dollar at record highs, there has never been a better time to undertake immediately the repayment of our debt.