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Tuesday, 3 December 2013
Page: 1462

Mr KATTER (Kennedy) (18:24): I thought a great hallmark of the Whitlam government—it was also a hallmark of the Gillard government—was the concept that education would provide a way forward for poor people. Once upon a time the poor were called 'working class people'. The working class in Queensland are not poor anymore; it is probably just the opposite. God bless the coalmining boom! There is this concept that if we get an education all will be well and it will be wonderful. Well, it might be for you individually, but in this place we have to look at the overall, bigger picture.

I stagger at the cost of government. When we left government in Queensland in 1990, our outlay was $8,000 million. It is quite unbelievable to me that when Anna Bligh's government in Queensland fell, they were spending $45,000 million. I suppose that it should not surprise me that the Liberals have only been there for 18 months and we are already up to $51,000 million.

I always like the Liberals claiming they are a small-spending government! You want to have a look at your record for the 12 years you were there; you doubled taxation and trebled the national debt. I hardly think that you people inspire us all. You ran an election campaign about the $315,000 million of debt that these useless people on the opposition benches had rolled up. I could not agree with you more about that, but then you asked permission to run up another $150,000 million. And you have only been in government for eight weeks!

I had the responsibility, with Bill Gunn in Queensland, of running the government when Bjelke-Petersen was going to the federal parliament. We were spending $8,000 million. You could take a survey in Queensland and ask, 'Are your dental services, health services and roads better now than in the year 1990 when the government fell?' I think that you would find, almost universally, that the answer to those questions are: no, no and no. Yet the Liberal government in Queensland is spending $51,000 million a year.

Mr Frydenberg: We paid back the debt, Bob.

Mr KATTER: Never mind about paying back the debt. They are not running a surplus. Well, there is a surplus but you need a magnifying glass to see it! The government in Queensland can say to their constituency, 'We are wonderful people because we are running a surplus.'

I do not have the time to do the sort of research that I really love to do, but I would like to know where the massive increases have come in government. There are similar figures for the federal government: Keating was spending $92,000 million and Costello, when he went out, was spending $200,000 million. This mob, the ALP, have bumped that up, getting close to $400,000 million. But now the Liberal Party seems to be wanting to break their record of rolling up massive spending and massive debt.

Here is one of the questions we need to ask ourselves if everyone is getting an education. I will quote from a meeting of the Country Party—100 years ago, when I was in the Young Country Party! A bloke was saying, 'We need cheaper education and education support.' Someone said, 'Whilst everyone is getting this education, who the hell is growing the food?' I think that is basically what we are saying here: if everyone is getting an education, who the hell is growing the food? I am not going to say they will be in the motorcar industry, because our minister has already said that we are not going to have a motor vehicle industry in Australia. He should be called the minister for non-industry—shouldn't he?—not the Minister for Industry!

In my day, I had a choice. I do not say this with great pride, but I was president of my faculty, president of my college and president of the combined colleges council at the sandstone University of Queensland. I served on the students union for a number of years. I suppose I had a fairly prominent role in the university of those days. But I just thought, 'I don't want to be any of these things; what the hell am I doing here?' And I left. So what did young people do in those days? If you had ambition and you really wanted to do something, in those days you went into mining, and that is of course what I did. And this is very relevant to the education system. I was able to go home and take up 20 leases at $40 each. Within three months, I was mining one of those leases, the Flora Dora Mine. I was producing copper. So a kid who was just out of his teens could go out there and become a mining magnate overnight. That was the sort of world that we lived in.

I want to re-peg some of those leases now. I have found out that it takes you two years of exploration and then it takes you seven years to get a permit to mine. What took me three months to do—and to make a living out of producing copper—now takes seven years. And the cost of the environmental studies and the other reports that you have to put in on what you are going to do and how you are going to mine is in the vicinity of $100,000. So it is not open to a young person anymore to go out and make his fortune in mining. That is only for big corporations.

I also went into cattle. There was a 50 per cent return on capital vested in cattle in those days. There is minus two per cent today, so I do not think it is a good idea to go into cattle! I went into selling. There were 16 of us who had AMP agencies in north-west Queensland; now there is one.

Every single opportunity that young people had then to get off their backsides and produce something for the people of Australia has been cut off to them. So they have to go to university. Who is picking up the bill? The taxpayers of Australia are picking up the bill, of course. And, quite frankly, I can say on behalf of the university students of my day that we had great fun. I really appreciate the taxpayers giving me all that money to go through university! In those days you had to have a Commonwealth scholarship. Not everybody could get into university; you had to have a certain pass level to get into university. It was possible to do it the hard way. In fact, although I said thank you to the taxpayers, I did not need the taxpayers because, every single vacation, I would work in the mining industry and make a heap of money which would carry me for the rest of the year. Now the opportunity to do that has been cut out. The Labor government brought in 125,000 section-457 workers. I would not want to be a young bloke trying to get a job in the mines today. And, to my horror, the Liberal Party attacked Labor because they were not bringing in enough! But there are only an extra 180,000 jobs created each year in Australia. When 125,000 workers come in in one year, I do not think it leaves many jobs for the Australians, and that is before you get to the 100,000 illegals—mostly university visa people—and the 200,000 migrants. So don't go looking for a job in mining if you are a young person.

If you cannot get a job in mining and we are giving that money to people who are taking it back overseas—section 457 workers—then who has to pick up the bill for these young people who cannot get a job? We do. It is not the dole bill we are picking up; they are going to university. As far as I am concerned, I had a great time at university but I do not think what I learnt there was of any great assistance to society. In fact, I would say what I learnt at university was definitely of no assistance to society; I think a lot of it was counterproductive to the interests of society. I did economics and I did law, neither of which I completed.

There is a lady called Doreen Mortimer. She is a very hard working lady, she does not have a lot of wealth and she is very active in our little political party. Doreen has very passionate feelings about HECS, and when someone feels very, very strongly about something you know there is a serious problem with it. I see, lurking in a lot of young people, stress. Every night I see that ad—and God bless the government responsible—for a debt helpline, 'If you're in debt and you're struggling, please ring this number,' whatever it is called. But there are young people struggling everywhere with the issue of debt, and one of the great burdens on their back, particularly in their head, is their HECS debt. Our young people are setting out on their pathways to life carrying a handicap of $50,000 in debt, not including their credit card debt, which on average rolls up another $10,000 in the first year, which should not be permitted either.

Let us look at when the world was good. When the world was good, you had to study to reach a certain level to get admitted to university, which cut out a hell of a lot of people from going to university. You could do it the hard way—go out and work for two years and save up money, or work during the holidays to take you through university for the rest of the year. But those options have been cut off. And the cost now is crippling. The cost of tertiary education is absolutely crippling the nation. The cost is bringing us all down. And there is the cost of losing all of those bright and brilliant young people who could produce so much for their country. They could be out there doing those things, but they are locked up, pretty uselessly, learning stuff that will be a very limited asset to them for the rest of their days.

When I went home and I was in mining up to my eyeballs, I took all the university books on geology home with me, and everyone assumed that I had done geology—an assumption I was not going to disabuse them of, because there is a lot of bluff in the mining game. I let everybody think that I was a great expert in geology and mining, engineering and all those sorts of fields. But in fact you could very rapidly get the information you needed to be an expert in those fields.

Very proudly today, Fortescue is led by Neville Power from my home town of Cloncurry. He is a fitter who did his trade in Mount Isa. Is he a competent mining engineer? Yes. Is he a competent geologist? Yes. He learnt those things in the university of hard knocks, in the school of reality. I think one of the best mining men in this country was Nathan Tinkler. He came unstuck, there is no doubt about that, but Nathan is as good as anyone I have run into in the mining industry. He has an immense knowledge and capacity to understand ore bodies, how they formed and where the coal reserves should be.

These men show young people that they can be unleashed from what I see are the shackles of university and the idea that you have to have a university degree to be important or to advance in life and to climb the ladder of success. We should return those abilities to the ordinary people and take away the restrictions. When you take up a mining lease now, you have to find $100,000 and kiss goodbye to seven years of your life. Let us go back to a period where within three months you could do that.

Talking about the environment, I live in a town where a quarter of the entire surface area of the City of Charters Towers was cyanide heaps, the most deadly of poisons. That dreadful human demon Adolph Hitler used cyanide to kill many people in Europe. So do not talk to me about environment. I had two mining holes in my backyard. They were good—they were a tourist attraction. There were a lot of interesting things about them. I am saying to you that society has overprotected itself.

I conclude on this note. Malcolm Muggeridge was a great commentator who said that the modern education system is like the giant armadillo: with every successive wave of evolution it clothed itself in more and more armour plate until it was impervious to attack from any other animal on earth. He said that it then could not forage for food and rapidly became extinct. God bless Doreen Mortimer for bringing this problem to the people of Australia. (Time expired)