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Wednesday, 29 May 2013
Page: 4448


Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (13:07): The most recent budget of the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, has just been brought down, and now each of us in the opposition has the opportunity to comment on this budget and the government's performance of managing our economy. This is the very core of our government's most serious obligation to those whom they have undertaken the important commitment to govern. It is a time of sober examination. It is a time to deal with facts: facts of history, irrefutable facts. It is the solemn duty of government to caretake for our present needs whilst providing adequate planning and funds to be set aside for future development. The Treasurer has repeatedly promised surpluses and confirmed these in MYEFO updates. The facts are that none of these budget projections have, with the benefit of hindsight, been accurate. During this time the government have lost the trust of the people of Australia.

When times were good, the electorate took a risk on the charismatic member for Griffith, Kevin Rudd, who had so much promise but in fact just made promises. Shortly after the Rudd government was elected, the GFC confronted this brilliant young man, and, brilliantly, he had all the answers, some dreamt up on the Prime Minister's private jet at 30,000 feet and meticulously documented on the back of a drink coaster. These tablets of wisdom delivered down from on high were accepted by the devout followers—no time to question; no time to reason; who would dare question him? However, in hindsight it is irrefutable that these commandments should have stayed on the mountain. Waste on pink batts, waste on school halls, waste on failed border protection policies—wasting the hard-earned legacy of the Howard-Costello years, the Rudd government then racked up debt like this country has never seen.

There was a change of leader because Kevin had lost his way, but Wayne had not. He continued the borrowing and the waste: carbon tax advertising, NBN advertising, focus groups, the live exports fiasco, the Australia Network tender, the set-top box program—the list goes on and on. In business when you borrow money you have to repay the principal and interest. The enterprise must pay dividends and then some commensurate with its obligations. Government of our economy is big business by anyone's standard. The Treasurer's most recent budget is projecting record deficits of $19.4 billion, $18 billion, $10.9 billion and then, voila, a modest surplus. The fact is that every surplus promised by this Treasurer has not eventuated. It is an irrefutable fact.

For the average Australian there is a growing sense, as these irrefutable facts surface, that the government cannot be trusted with the enormous responsibility of taking care of our current needs and furthermore cannot be trusted to govern for our future. This government came to office inheriting a great legacy with abundant opportunities. They have been the beneficiary of the best terms of trade in our history and they have been the beneficiary of high levels of government revenue. Yet this golden opportunity has been squandered with ridiculous schemes wastefully implemented and their legacy is a record debt in excess of $300 billion. These are irrefutable facts.

Every dream that we share for the best possible care for those with disabilities, the best health care, the best education for our children, the best of our character, which is generously giving to our neighbours who are in need of assistance—all these things that can be given must be paid for. This takes planning; this takes forward thinking; this takes strength to be true to the promises that you make to the electorate. The same applies for major infrastructure commitments. In 2010 just 10 days before the federal election the Gillard government announced $2.1 billion in funding towards the construction of the Epping to Parramatta rail link. Rather than just make an infrastructure promise, they covered this announcement in caveats—with the corker being that the budget must be in surplus. Many people in this place mock the government's ability to bring our budget into surplus. They were accused of always being negative. However, the facts are irrefutable.

The surplus has never come nor will the promised rail link in my electorate. In the 2010-11 MYEFO, shortly after the last federal election, the government listed this project along with eight other infrastructure projects forming the Nation Building 2 program. The $2.1 billion committed to the Epping to Parramatta rail link was the single biggest funding item in this program. Six months later in the 2011-12 budget all eight of the other National Building 2 projects were re-committed to, but the Epping to Parramatta link was nowhere to be found. Over the following two years I have raised this issue in this place, asked questions in writing, forwarded queries to estimates, written to the minister and directly questioned him during the debate on these appropriation bills, asking if this was an attempt by the government to back away from their commitment to the people of Bennelong and Parramatta. The answers given by the minister were always attempts to deflect responsibility, to say that the money was still committed, to blame Barry O'Farrell and to accuse me of fear-mongering. On occasions this even descended into veiled abuse and mockery from the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure which was then leaked to the national media. Yet the truth is now plain and clear for everyone to see from the front page of today's Sydney Morning Herald—'Missing link: PM axes $2b Parramatta plan'.

Rail commuters and motorists will have to wait longer for vital infrastructure after the Gillard government quietly shifted $2 billion earmarked for the Parramatta to Epping line into a fund for projects not due to be built until after 2019. Whilst the minister continues his attempts to blame the O'Farrell government for his own broken promise, he fails to recognise the stark contrast in the approach to infrastructure commitments made by these two governments. In 2011 my state Liberal colleagues were elected on a promise to the community to build the Northwest Rail Link. Whilst Premier O'Farrell had expressed a strong desire for federal contributions to this project, they would not use this as an excuse of why not to proceed. Former premier Bob Carr first promised the Northwest Rail Link in 1998 at a cost of $350 million. Thirteen years of inaction and broken promises, combined with huge growth in this area, forced the cost of construction up to $8 billion. Despite this, Premier O'Farrell has kept his word and the infrastructure is being built. The Gillard government could learn many things from Premier O'Farrell's approach to governance and the fact that people need to have trust in their government. This broken model of New South Wales Labor, of announcing projects in election periods and cancelling them at budgets, has become a well-worn path, and the people of Bennelong are not impressed.

In his budget reply speech on 16 May, the Leader of the Opposition set out an alternative approach to government—one of being honest with people, establishing a long-term plan for the governance of our country and the administration of our economy, and offering the hope, reward and opportunity that Australians want. Let us not lose our vision of the Australia that we want. In maturity, we learn to live within our means and make provision for our future. The coalition front bench is made up of people who have gained experience in dealing with debt and taking measures to effect legislation to address this mounting problem, and with the experience to implement this program successfully. This is an irrefutable fact.

This government has failed us. They have squandered our wealth and opportunities. They have behaved in an immature and irresponsible way. Now the task ahead is to mend this dire situation. It is time for mature, prudent management. It is time for a government that will take care of these most important issues that affect us now and into the future. Our coalition wants to solemnly undertake the role of caretaker and provider for the future.