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Monday, 24 February 2014
Page: 520


Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (12:16): I like the member for Chifley—he is a good guy—but he wants to have it both ways. He says that the cutting of the bill will result in the saving of only $250,000 but, if we do cut it, we risk stalling the economy. This is the government that came in in 2007 and said that, for every regulation in, there would be one out. For every regulation out now, there are about 18½ thousand in. I always like it when the member for Chifley gets up and speaks. If you have ever seen The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas there is the governor's song about sidestepping issues. The member for Chifley spent 15 minutes on that issue and did not actually address the thing. What we are about is repealing a bill that is no longer needed.

There was a rallying call by members opposite all the way through the 43rd Parliament. Whenever the issue of debt and deficit was raised, they said, 'The Liberals don't think there ever was a GFC.' For the record, I was not here during the GFC. I was trying to eke out a living as an auctioneer. The loss of confidence in any market is a very telling moment and I lived through that, trying to keep a company going and sales happening. So again, for the record, I truly believed there was a GFC.

But so too did the then coalition opposition. We stood shoulder to shoulder with the government when they proposed the first round of stimulus. We had, after all, cash in the bank and we could afford it. We knew our banking system was in better shape and better regulated than those of the US and Europe, which folded and/or needed massive government bailouts. Still in lock-step, we agreed that the government of the day had a significant role to play in this. We believed that government needed to assure Australians that we were on top of this. We agreed to lift spending with the first stage of the stimulus to help retail and to assist with bills. We agreed that Australia needed to prime its economy just enough to make sure it did not stop altogether.

Where we parted company was on the second round of stimulus. History has shown, I believe, that the second round of stimulus which included the pink batts and school hall projects was a spend-a-thon and waste-a-thon of epic proportions. The lack of checks and balances at the time led to all sorts of calamities, and I do not propose to rake over those coals. Part of that second round of stimulus was the bill we now seek to repeal. The $900 cheques provided some Australians with some stimulus. Like so many things the previous government tried to roll out, the words were great and profound. It was the delivery, or the lack thereof, which will forever be a hallmark of Labor's abysmal economic credibility.

Too many people paid down debt with the money which was supposed to wash through the economy. The basic tenet of the scheme was stimulus and this action went directly against that measure. To many, it seemed like panic was setting in and people began to batten the hatches. Too many people, with the advantage of the high dollar, used the money to go home to New Zealand or overseas for a holiday. This had the obscure effect of using money borrowed from overseas lenders to stimulate the economy of overseas economies! We even sent these cheques to people who lived in countries overseas, stimulating even more international economies but leaving ours without stimulus and with a debt to repay. Dead people were sent cheques. There were a whole lot of other issues where this program was poorly conceived and even more poorly delivered.

Labor borrowed $400 million to roll out this flawed program. The GFC emergency had passed well and truly before I entered this place in 2010, let alone being still around now in 2014. Yet last financial year the then Labor government continued to post out $900 cheques to 15,000 Australians. The money was still being borrowed and farmed out to people long after the need had ended.

I am not opposed to debt or spending, but there is good debt and there is bad debt. There is good spending and there is bad spending. When it is warranted, targeted and focused on improving the overall economy, you get a great result. Where you throw money out the window as you drive along, there will be some lucky enough to be used correctly, but a lot will just be wasted. So it is with Labor's $900 cheques.

We as a government and as a parliament must now face the truth and share that truth with the Australian people. As a government and a parliament, just as in our own households, we must prioritise our spending to ensure we get the best possible result from the money we get in through the door. In the household, that is normally through wages or business takings from hard work and long hours. In government, we get money from the people of Australia through tax. They give it to us begrudgingly, and we owe it to them to treat it with respect.

The first rule of government is 'to do no harm'. The second will always be 'respect the taxpayers' dollar'. With this program Labor broke both these rules. Just like households around the country, we have to work out what we must have, what we want to have and what would be nice to have. No successful family budget starts with the pub and the movies; it starts with the necessities of life. Food, clothing, mortgage payments, power and rates, filling the car and school fees are all listed first. Then there is trying to put some away for the family holiday as well or for that rainy day when something bad could happen.

Similarly, no federal budget should start with random cash splashes. The problem with the previous government was that they just kept spending, on anything. It is easy to spend money. It can be very hard, though, to stop that spending habit. Metaphorically, the previous Labor government started their budget with the pub and the movies, and they did that for six years in government. They did not pay the mortgage or put money aside. When they spent all the money in the bank, they went and got another credit card, then another and another. They were, by the election last year, cash advancing payments—those who have done it tough will understand and know exactly what I mean by 'cash advancing payments'. You had better make sure that you do not fall into arrears on your account. If you put money into your Bankcard or Visa account and you cash advance the payment straight back out you are going to pay interest and, sooner or later, it catches up with you. But it keeps them away from the door for a while. And when you get to that stage, it only ever ends badly, or you must really cop the hurt to get back on track.

The thing about spending without thinking of the consequences is that sooner or later you run out of money, and Labor ran out of other people's money. The consequences of large debt are tough and hard, and Labor never faced these decisions or consequences. They just kept going, making other people pay. So while Labor bashed the single parent pension, forcing them onto Newstart and out of their homes, they kept sending out $900 cheques; while Labor cut $2.8 billion from higher education, they kept sending out $900 cheques; while Labor cut billions from public hospitals and basic health, they kept sending out $900 cheques; while Labor cancelled the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, a scheme which benefits the poorest and most disadvantaged in all our communities, they kept sending out $900 cheques; while Labor slashed Defence spending to its lowest level as a percentage of GDP since 1938, they kept sending out $900 cheques; while Labor short-changed the NDIS initial trial by more than $3 billion, against the recommendations of the Productivity Commission, they kept sending out $900 cheques; while Labor short-changed the Gonski education funding reforms and loaded them to the back end of the next parliament—not this one—as someone else's problem, they kept sending out $900 cheques; and while all this was happening, they kept sending out $900 cheques—long after the emergency passed.

We have had over $120 billion in accumulated Labor deficits since 2008. If left unchecked, as Treasurer JB Hockey has stated, Labor would never have delivered a surplus and we would be heading toward $667 billion of gross debt. To quote a former Labor Prime Minister, 'This reckless spending must stop.' We have to stop sending these cheques out; we have to end the waste—it is that simple. We have to start living within our means—it is that simple. We cannot simply keep on spending and passing the debt on to our children to repay simply because we just cannot do the hard yards. We must pay back Labor's debt—it is that simple. We must roll back legislation that is no longer needed; the Australian public expects it. We must respect the Australian taxpayer's dollar, because the taxpayer demands it. We must make sure that we do the right thing. It is the time for conviction politics and the time when we have to stand up and be counted. It is the time for hard decisions.

Anyone can stand up here and say, 'We are going to spend some more money and make everyone happy.' What we must be doing as a parliament is focusing on what we have to do, focusing on making sure that we do respect that taxpayer dollar—and that will be a recurring theme throughout this parliament. And thank goodness that we have come to a time when we will be respecting the taxpayer dollar.

Previously, the member for Chifley said that the Howard government was profligate. What they did, though, was pay off all the debt. They had money in the bank. You will find in your own household that on that magical day, sometime soon—sometime in the very far future for myself—when you do pay off your house that your spending on luxuries will increase, because you can afford it. But the spending that the Howard government did, by and large, was affordable, because that was the time and the place. You cannot tell me that from 1996 to 1998—and you know that period particularly well, Mr Deputy Speaker Broadbent—was a time of all fun and glory, where everyone was just throwing money out the window. Some good people lost their seats in that 1998 election because hard decisions had to be made and we had to change the focus.

So we have to start living within our means; it is that simple. Once again, we simply cannot keep on spending and passing the debt on to our children simply because we could not do the hard yards. We must pay back Labor's debt. The rollback and outright cancellation of bad and redundant programs and legislation starts with this bill. It must start now. We have to be fair dinkum about it, and it is as simple as that.