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Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Page: 1647


Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (09:23): I am pleased to make a contribution to this debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2013-2014 and the cognate bills. I notice this debate is one of three items listed for today. One of the other items is the address-in-reply. Normally these debates would be taking place in the Federation Chamber but, because this is a government that essentially has not got any legislation before the House, the debate is taking place in this chamber. The positive element of that, Madam Speaker, is your presence in the chamber here this morning. Therefore I am very pleased to make a contribution about the appropriations bills on the floor of the main House of Representatives chamber.

Governments need money so they can maintain the business of government while also funding the implementation of their legislative programs. But when we consider appropriations, it is reasonable that we also ask ourselves how the government has been performing. The amendment before the House goes to that, and that is what I would like to make a contribution about today.

Members, of course, would remember that during the last term I frequently accused the then opposition leader, now the Prime Minister, of being addicted to negativity. I argued that the then opposition leader did little more than recite three-word slogans about how Labor was bad and the coalition was good. It was a bit like the farm animals in the famous George Orwell book Animal Farm bleating their slogan, 'Four legs good, two legs bad, four legs good, two legs bad.' But instead it was, 'The coalition good, Labor bad,' whatever the issue.

We have seen that played out in the parliament today and in recent days over the issue of Qantas, where the coalition have purported to argue that it is the pricing of carbon that has made a difference to Qantas, whereas the facts, of course, are that Qantas and Virgin both asked and lobbied to be included in the scheme, and that was one of the changes that were made. They lobbied me as the transport minister, they lobbied then Minister Combet and they lobbied all of the government ministers about being included in the scheme. That is not surprising, because aviation is a global industry in which the pollution caused, including carbon pollution, is an externality that has a price to it. If you remove the pricing of an externality in the production process, what you are doing is deferring payment onto someone else. That is the way that it works. But still the coalition, addicted to the old slogans of opposition, are continuing to put them forward.

It is a problem, because a coalition that spent all of its time being negative clearly just did not do the hard yards on what it supported. It did not develop new policy. Its only policy is to undo Labor reforms, and that comes through in the comments with regard to the government's now preferred option of removing any foreign ownership restrictions from Qantas. Back in December 2009, the government of the day produced the first ever aviation white paper, a program to take aviation forward for decades and not just for a year or a political term. It recommended the removal of the 35 and 25 per cent restrictions on Qantas. It was a minor change compared with the government's rhetoric of today, but it was rejected by Joe Hockey, who was then the shadow Treasurer, and by Warren Truss, who was then the shadow transport minister and, of course, had been the transport minister at the end of the period of the Howard government. They rejected it because they said that any weakening of any of the foreign ownership restrictions in the Qantas Sale Act would lead to a loss of the national interest. Warren Truss, as the shadow transport minister, stated very clearly that it was particularly against the interests of regional communities that there be any weakening of those restrictions. So, together with the Greens political party, the coalition blocked a suggestion of a minor change to the Qantas Sale Act, yet it says today that it wants to throw out the whole of the section that makes Qantas an Australian airline.

They did not do the hard yards in opposition; they just said no to everything. We have seen very clearly over recent months confirmation of the fact that the coalition had a plan to get into government but they did not have a plan to govern. Today they are still acting like an opposition. Mr Truss, as the now transport minister, said very clearly in December that it would be a waste of political energy to attempt to get rid of the Australian ownership provisions in the Qantas Sale Act. He said that because it was a fact in terms of the composition and stated position of the current make-up of the Senate as well as the future make-up of the Senate after July, but he also, very interestingly, said that a majority of the Australian people had that view as well. Today that does not seem to matter to those opposite.

Today we are in a position whereby we are debating these bills and the address-in-reply. The address-in-reply could keep going till 2016 the way this mob are going. They have no legislation before the House—no plan. They spent three years saying no to everything and coming up with three-word slogans, and now they are finding out you cannot put three-word slogans into legislation. That is why today we are having these propositions.

In my area of infrastructure, transport and tourism the government has done nothing but talk big about how investment in infrastructure can drive economic growth, but at the same time it is planning a budget in which it will cut billions of dollars out of infrastructure funding. They are saying they will remove the $3 billion that has been allocated for the Melbourne metro project. They are saying they will remove the $715 million for the Cross River Rail project. They will remove the $500 million that has been allocated for public transport in Perth.

What they are doing, of course, is going around the country and reannouncing projects that have already been funded and that are near completion. These are projects like the upgrade of the Brisbane Gateway Motorway north, which is nearing completion of one section; Brisbane's Legacy Way project; and the Midland Highway project in Tasmania. They are reannouncing funding of $210 million for Cape York. The have announced the package to upgrade Western Australia's Great Northern Highway and North West Coastal Highway and are pretending that these are new announcements.

It was a rather amusing political shambles by the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, who went down to Tasmania and announced funding for Huon salmon which had already been announced by Minister King of the federal Labor government last year. It was rejected then by those opposite but announced on the same day that the government's media spin was that they do not fund any projects in regional communities. This was an extraordinary proposition. You have minister after minister running around the country, embracing any announceable even if the 'noalition', as I described them so accurately in the past, opposed it when it was first delivered by Labor.

Then there is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry, Bob Baldwin, who apparently—it is not quite clear—might have some responsibilities for tourism. The parliamentary secretary announced on 29 October last year that the incoming government would scrap Labor's TQUAL grants scheme to encourage tourism operators to invest in lifting the quality of their products, but only a month later Mr Baldwin visited a New South Wales koala sanctuary, where he purported to announce a TQUAL grant worth $110,000. Mr Baldwin tweeted a very cute photo of himself with a koala. It is unclear which one the koala is—I notice those opposite trying to discern a distinction. Mr Baldwin made an announcement of a project which, a month earlier, they had said they were scrapping. What is more, a Senate estimates committee hearing on 21 November heard evidence that Mr Baldwin had a very limited role in tourism despite his enthusiasm to associate himself with the industry. The general manager of Tourism Australia, Deborah Lewis, told the appropriate Senate committee:

The role for Parliamentary Secretary Baldwin is to wind up the current discretionary grants program and then his role will cease in tourism.

What sort of government gives someone a job to cut things and wind things up, and then that is it, with no future vision, no role going forward? We should not have been surprised by that because when the Prime Minister announced his first cabinet after taking office, he forgot to announce who had responsibility for tourism. It is one of the nation's biggest industries, employing more than half a million people, yet there is no minister for tourism among those opposite. They also do not have a minister for science. They just forgot who was responsible at the time. They could not even determine which department tourism is allocated to—an extraordinary proposition and a huge embarrassment for those opposite.

Most governments come to office chock full of ideas—but not this one. They are a group of people ready to say no, no, no, as they did when they were the opposition—no ideas, no plan and no vision. That is what happens when people are addicted to negativity. When it comes to policy development, they want to turn Infrastructure Australia from an independent adviser into a politicised lap-dog. They want to remove the ability of Infrastructure Australia to publish its findings. They want to ensure that there is no independent ability to look at projects. Indeed, they want to remove the ability to look at whole classes of infrastructure. What might that be aimed at? That is aimed at not looking at public transport. They do not have vision and every single day that is reinforced. You cannot run a government with three-word slogans, and the mob opposite are proof of that.