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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 13972


Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (15:26): Madam Speaker, may I say that part of my plan for a stronger Australia is to restore respect to this parliament. I would very much hope—after what has been, I fear, an unedifying and dispiriting period in this parliament since two o'clock—that, should there be a change of government next year, the members of the Australian public who are interested will be able to watch question time in this parliament without embarrassment. And they will be able to look at the conduct of government ministers and, indeed, the Prime Minister and say, 'Yes, we now have a Prime Minister who is more interested in being the leader of a nation than the mere chieftain of a tribe.' That would be my aspiration, and that would be an important part of building a stronger Australia.

We all know that our country can be better than it is now. Most of us think that our country deserves better than it currently has. We know that our country can be better in the future than it has been in the recent past, because, if you go back, we have been more of what we should have been. We have been closer to our best selves.

I want to pay tribute for a moment to previous governments of this country and to the economic reforms that they put in place, which have been substantially responsible for what economic strength we now have. The Hawke government, to its credit, floated the dollar and deregulated financial markets. It began the process of privatisation. It cut tariffs and, yes, it even hesitantly began a process of workplace relations reform.

Then the Howard government came into office. The Howard government largely completed the economic reform agenda which is responsible for this country's current economic strength, such as it is. The Howard government reformed the tax system. The Howard government significantly reformed the welfare system. The Howard government substantially reformed the workplace system, albeit going too far in an important respect, and it continued and strengthened financial reform which had been begun by its predecessor.

Yes, compared to many other countries, this country of ours has a strong economy, but we should not constantly compare ourselves with countries that are mired in euro sclerosis. We should not constantly compare ourselves with countries that have been taxing and spending and borrowing for far too long, because for 25 years we had governments that built up our economic strength.

We should be comparing ourselves with what we were. We should be comparing ourselves with the standards of which we know we are capable, not comparing ourselves with the standards of others who are clearly failing at this time.

If you look at the statistics and if you look behind the headline figures that members opposite are so keen to quote, this country is not at that strength which it once was. Our GDP per head, which grew by well over two per cent a year between 1996 and 2007, has grown by scarcely half a per cent a year since then. Our overall productivity has declined. It actually declined by four per cent in the four years to the middle of last year. While our headline unemployment numbers have not risen much, hours worked—which are probably a more accurate indicator of the real state of the labour market—fell by 1.2 per cent in the last year.

Those of us who get out in the main streets and the suburban shopping centres of our country know that there is a serious lack of confidence in our economy. Why is the savings rate so high? The last time the savings rate was what it is now was at the time of the last big recession. The people of Australia do not trust the government to save enough—that is why they are out there saving more and more themselves.

What we need is a new era of change for the better. What we need in this country is a government with positive plans for a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia. What we have is an alternative government—the coalition that I lead—which has already put in place a whole series of specific policy commitments that I am confident will give us the strong and prosperous economy that we need in order to have the safe and secure Australia that all of us want.

First of all, there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead. When I make that statement to the Australia people I am telling the truth, because I understand that you do not improve the environment by damaging the economy. I understand that you do not impose on the Australian economy an unnecessary new tax that will act as a reverse tariff, damaging businesses and jobs in this country while inevitably helping the businesses and jobs of our competitors, which are not subject to this unnecessary new impost.

There will be no mining tax under the government I lead. Let's face it. What sane and rational government would impose a tax that actually raises no revenue but which does seriously damage confidence and investment in a vital sector? What sane and rational government would think that you can tax your way to prosperity, that you can somehow speed up the slow lane by slowing down the fast lane and that you can somehow strengthen the economy by clobbering its most successful sector?

One of the most important policy commitments that the coalition has made is that we will reduce the red-tape costs faced by business, particularly small business, by at least $1 billion a year. We will do this by following the constructive reforms in Victoria, which I have to say are to the credit of the former government where they were introduced. Every department and every agency will be required to put a cost on their compliance and regulatory burdens and they will be required to deliver specified savings, and Public Service bonuses will depend on those savings being delivered.

There will be a one-stop shop for environmental approvals. We all know how difficult it is right now to get new projects approved. One of the major coal seam gas projects in Queensland took $25 million, four years, 4,000 meetings and a 12,000-page environmental impact assessment statement to be approved. After all of that process, there were 1,200 state conditions, 300 Commonwealth conditions and no fewer than 8,000 subconditions. Is it any wonder that people are choosing to invest in places other than in Australia? One lot of environmental regulators is enough and that is what there will be under our one-stop-shop process.

We will have a wholly restored Australian Building and Construction Commission, because that tough industry deserves a tough cop on the beat. We know that that cop on the beat did deliver some $5 billion a year in productivity improvements in that industry. That is exactly the kind of productivity improvement that we need now if the Australian people are to enjoy the hope, reward and opportunity that they deserve.

Under an incoming coalition government, there will be a fairer Fair Work Act. We understand that the working people of Australia are doing it tough. The last thing that we want to do is damage their pay. We will never do that. The changes we make will be careful, cautious, responsible and within the framework of the existing act. But we will not shrink from the changes needed to address the flexibility, militancy and productivity problems which not just are holding our country back but are now making it harder for the workers of Australia to enjoy the wage increases that, quite frankly, we all should want them to have.

And there will be tougher laws—much tougher laws—to ensure that union officials, no less than company officials, are subject to appropriate penalties when they break the law, because an incoming coalition government will not be conflicted. It will not be compromised. It will not suffer from guilt by association in the way in which the current government does.

There will be a once-in-a-generation commission of audit which will go through all the apparatus of federal government, department by department, agency by agency, division by division, branch by branch, section by section, to try to ensure that we are delivering only the services that government needs to deliver in the best and most efficient way. That is what the Australian people expect of an incoming government, and that is what they will get from the government I lead, should we win the next election.

There will be, at last, a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme. I acknowledge that the government has introduced a form of paid parental leave. Unfortunately, it is simply a rebadged baby bonus. I support the baby bonus; I was proud to be a part of a government that introduced the baby bonus. But we can do better than that. Paid parental leave is a workplace entitlement not a welfare one; that is why it should be paid at a parent's real wage, not at the minimum wage.

It is important that we give every Australian maximum opportunity to be an economic contributor, not merely a social and cultural one. That is why we will revitalise Work for the Dole, because every working-age Australian should be working—preferably for a wage but, if not, for the dole.

There will be a root and branch review of competition law. That is another important policy commitment from this coalition. There should be a level playing field for all businesses, large and small.

There will be modern infrastructure. Within 18 months of a change of government here in Canberra, I expect to see more cranes over our cities. I expect to see the bulldozers at work on projects that, frankly, have been neglected for far too long. The WestConnex project in Sydney will begin. The East West Link in Melbourne will begin. The Gateway Extension in Brisbane will begin. The Pacific Highway between Newcastle and the Queensland border will be completed, well within a decade, under the next coalition government. This is important, because if we have a more productive economy we will have more prosperity for the forgotten families and for the decent, honest workers of this country.

Let me give you just one or two illustrations of the benefits that will flow to the Australian people from fair dinkum economic reform—practical, achievable economic reform. We could increase gross national income per head by almost $5,000 a year with a single one of the reforms I have mentioned. Abolishing the carbon tax will make every single Australian almost $5,000 a year better off by 2050, and it is the government's own figures that show that. A single reform will make our cumulative gross domestic product $1 trillion higher by 2050. If we abolish the carbon tax then on the government's own figures we will increase our GDP by $1 trillion.

If we can do all that, then we can have the worthy reforms that this government talks about but will never be able to deliver, such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme. A strong economy is what makes the NDIS possible. A strong economy is what makes possible further spending on education such as that recommended by Mr Gonski. That is what makes everything else possible. If we have a strong economy we can have a healthy society. That is why it is so important that we have a strong economy. We can have a million more jobs within five years. We can have two million more jobs within a decade. But only a strong economy will deliver them.

So that is our positive plan. That is our positive plan for a better country with a brighter future. All it needs is a change of government to bring it about.