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Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Page: 29

Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (15:45): There can be no more important topic for this parliament than the economic future of this country. I regret to say that, having told us earlier today in question time that she wanted to bring on an economic debate, the Prime Minister then shut down question time and, of course, is conspicuously absent from this chamber for the beginning of the economic debate that this country needs to have and which this coalition will most assuredly win. Is it any wonder that we have the Prime Minister fleeing the chamber at the beginning of the economic debate which she says she wants when we had this by way of argument from the Prime Minister in question time today:

I accept that the Treasury modelling which I have just relied on and the figures which I have given to the House are the Treasury modelling and should be relied on.

There we have it from the Prime Minister: the Treasury modelling is the Treasury modelling.

Opposition members: We are us.

Mr ABBOTT: As my colleagues behind me remind me, this is the economic equivalent of the vacuous 'We are us' speech which she gave to the Australian Labor Party conference late last year and which I suspect might mark one of the milestones in this Prime Minister's downfall.

The Australian government has two great responsibilities. One of them is national security, which is a responsibility for another day in this chamber. The other is economic security, and that is the subject which should be covered today. What the Australian people expect from their national government is the circumstances in which can be delivered good pay, low interest rates, strong economic growth and more jobs. That is signally what this government has failed to deliver.

This government is constantly congratulating itself because our economy is not as other economies are. That is no thanks whatsoever to the efforts of this government and all thanks to the reforms of previous governments including—let us give credit where credit is due—the reforms of the former Hawke-Keating government, which was in its own way and by its own light a principled government and a government of genuine economic reform. The comparatively, and it is only comparatively, strong position that Australia is in at this present time owes itself entirely to the reforms of previous governments and not at all to the spending spree of the current one. The Prime Minister has the gall to lecture European leaders on economic responsibility when the clear lessons of the eurozone are that a terrible judgment is ultimately pronounced against those countries and those governments which spend too much, borrow too much and tax too much. This government and this Prime Minister are copying failure. The only difference between many of the countries of Europe and this is that we are not as far down that fateful and ill-starred path.

This is a government which has an evil genius for destroying value. This is a government which is proposing to spend $2 billion of taxpayers' money buying back perfectly good power stations in Victoria and closing them down. This is a government which is proposing to spend $11 billion of taxpayers' money buying back Telstra's copper wire network and closing it down. This is a government which is proposing to invest what will ultimately be more than $50 billion of borrowed money that we cannot at this point in time afford to build what is called a National Broadband Network which is one technology and one owner—the government—to deliver a service which Australians do not necessarily need, do not necessarily want and certainly do not want to pay more for. This is a government which excels in stultifying economic activity and at repressing the economic entrepreneurial instincts of the Australian people. The most extraordinary, the most remarkable, the most scandalous case is of course the live cattle trade of the Northern Territory. It was closed down by this government in a panicky overreaction to a television program. But there is more. There is the Tasmanian forestry industry, which is slowly being strangled by this government at the behest of the real deputy prime minister of this country, Senator Brown. There are the oceans which are increasingly being locked up by this government, again at the behest of the green movement. And then there is Senator Brown's proudest monument, the great deception perpetrated by this Prime Minister against the citizens of this country: the carbon tax. This is the worst possible time to introduce the world's biggest carbon tax, and it is just going to get worse and worse and worse as the years go on. The Treasury modelling, which is the Treasury modelling, clearly shows that by 2020 the real wages of the workers of Australia will be $600 a year, or about $12 a week, lower thanks to this carbon tax. Treasury modelling clearly shows that the GDP of this country will be a cumulative $32 billion less in 2020 than would be the case without the carbon tax. This carbon tax is a wrecking ball, smashing through our economy. This carbon tax is the great handbrake on what should be the mighty engine of economic growth, which government should be fostering, not restraining.

It just gets worse. That is how bad it is at $29 a tonne. By the time the carbon tax gets up to $131 a tonne in 2050 there will be a cumulative $1,000 billion—$1 trillion—worth of lost production to our economy because of the carbon tax, and a $4,000 real decrease in the wages of the workers of this country. Do you call yourselves a Labor government, members opposite? What a scandal! What an embarrassment to any decent Labor voter that this government first tells untruths about a carbon tax and then introduces a carbon tax that over time will reduce the real wages of the decent, hardworking people of this country by upwards of $80 a week. Shame! The first impact of the carbon tax, economic modelling shows, is a 10 per cent hit on power prices that have already increased by more than 50 per cent since this government came to office. The next impact of a carbon tax: a nine per cent increase in gas prices, which have already increased by more than 30 per cent since this government came to office.

What a contrast with the record of the Howard government. John Howard would stand up in this parliament and say that the Howard government was the best friend that the workers of Australia ever had. On the record, he was exactly right, because what the Howard government delivered was a 20 per cent increase in real wages, two million-plus more jobs and an increase in the net wealth of every Australian of 100 per cent—a doubling of the net wealth of every Australian. By contrast, what have we seen since 2007 under the Rudd-Gillard governments? We have seen wealth destruction on a scale unparalleled in modern times. We have had stagnating productivity. The greatest embarrassment of all, which none of the braying interjections opposite can cover up: 2011 was the first year since Labor's recession of 1992 when there was no net increase in jobs in our economy—not a single new job in our economy.

Why did we have this? We had this because you could trust the Howard government with money. The Howard government was prudent and frugal with the dollars of taxpayers, which it knew and understood how to husband. The Howard government inherited a $10 billion budget black hole. It turned it into a $20 billion surplus. Over the life of the Howard government, for almost 12 years we had surpluses averaging 0.9 per cent—almost one per cent of gross domestic product. We inherited $96 billion worth of Commonwealth debt and we turned it into $70 billion worth of Commonwealth assets. Look at the contrast. Members opposite have turned a $20 billion surplus into the four biggest deficits in Australia's history. In 2008, Wayne Swan said, 'Peter Costello is just an amateur'—Peter Costello delivered a $20 billion surplus—'I am Wayne Swan, the "me Tarzan" of the Australian economy. I will deliver a $22 billion surplus.' What did our hero, Wayne the wonderful, deliver in that year?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The Leader of the Opposition will refer to members by their appropriate titles.

Mr ABBOTT: A $27 billion deficit, that is what he delivered. But I tell you what: that is his best result so far. That is as good as it gets so far because it was followed by a $55 billion deficit.

Mr Hartsuyker: Now that's what I call a deficit.

Mr ABBOTT: That is right. We all saw the Paul Hogan movie—'That's not a deficit; this is a deficit!' And it was followed by a $49 billion deficit. This year, first of all he said there was going to be a $12 billion deficit; then he said, 'Oops, sorry. Got that wrong. It is actually going to be a $23 billion deficit. But, sorry, got that wrong too.' Now he tells us it is going to be a $37 billion deficit—one of the four biggest deficits in Australia's history. Now he tells us that next year—always somewhere beyond the horizon—we will finally get a surplus. Someone might have said this before, and I would hate to be guilty of the Leader of the House's plagiarism, but we will believe it when we see it.

The Prime Minister said she wants this year to be a year of debate about the economy. Please, please, please bring it on. Every minute, every hour, every day, every week, every month let us debate the economy, because every time she mentions the economy we will say 'carbon tax', the economy-destroying carbon tax that this Prime Minister lied about before the election and now is inflicting on the decent, honest workers of Australia. This is a Prime Minister who has monumentally failed in many respects, but there is one respect, above all others, where she has most clearly failed—and that is in her judgment. Today's demand that all of the debate should be about the economy is yet another failure of judgment—like her failure of judgment in challenging Prime Minister Rudd, her failure of judgment in having an early election, her failure of judgment in announcing an East Timor detention centre without first talking to East Timor, her failure of judgment when confessing that there was no such thing as 'the real Julia' and her failure of judgment in doing a deal with Andrew Wilkie which she never intended to honour. This is a Prime Minister who has failed in judgment, who has failed in honesty and who has failed in commerce. Let us debate that every day between now and— (Time expired)