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Wednesday, 12 February 2014
Page: 206


Ms COLLINS (Franklin) (13:30): It is indeed a real privilege to be here to speak in the address-in-reply debate. When the Governor-General gave her speech on the new government in this parliament on 12 November this year, there was much rhetoric about a change of government and, indeed, there were many slogans and repetition of some election commitments. But it has now been five long months since the election and since the coalition came to office and what we have seen can only be described as one of the worst starts to a new government in political history.

Far from having a honeymoon period, voters are now experiencing a bit of buyer's regret. The election promises and commitments are being broken one by one and the rhetoric they held in opposition was thrown out the door on day one. The rhetoric has changed and is sometimes even the complete opposite of what they said when they were in opposition trying to achieve government. Indeed, we have seen major policy failures, blatant mistruths, missteps and many backflips. We have seen this in almost every portfolio area—from the economy, to immigration, to foreign policy with our closest neighbours and to education, healthcare and even of course government debt. The new government have already broken a shopping list of promises, contradicted themselves at every turn and showed the public that they do not have what it takes to run this great country.

The worst aspect of all of this is that the government is saying one thing and then doing another. There are millions of Australians who are now worse off because of decisions of this new Abbott government—with many more to come. As a Labor member of parliament, the most unsettling thing is the disregard for jobs, especially in regional areas. Jobs that this government seems set on destroying are sadly adding up to the tens of thousands. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer have used the guise of 'business must get its house in order' to punish working Australians—people who now will be without a job because this government was not there when they needed them.

The workers at Holden, Toyota, the Gove refinery, SPC Ardmona and the many smaller businesses that supply these larger companies are all now being let down by this Prime Minister and this new government. They are being let down by somebody who claimed before the federal election that he supported Australian manufacturing. But now that he is in office, where is that support? Sadly, there will be tens of thousands of workers who will be joining an unemployment queue because this government was unwilling to help secure their jobs here in this great country. We know that in coming weeks and months these workers will sit around their dinner tables wondering what on earth their next move will be. Many of them have spent a lot of their lives manufacturing a world-class automotive product and now they are being tossed aside. What will they do? Where is the support?

As the shadow minister for regional development, I am particularly concerned about how these jobs are affecting regional and remote communities. Many of the companies just mentioned have bases and suppliers in regional and rural Australia. Often the factories in these areas are major employers. Take Orange in New South Wales, for example, where Electrolux have recently announced that they will be closing their manufacturing plant. It was the last factory in Australia that produced household fridges and freezers. It directly employs over 500 people and contributes over $70 million to the local economy. How much federal government support did these workers and this company get? Where was the government?

More recently we have seen the government deny co-investment support to SPC Ardmona—a $25 million co-investment, with the parent company prepared to invest an additional $161 million, to support hundreds of direct jobs and thousands of indirect jobs. This government could not bring themselves to support these jobs. They could not bring themselves to support these workers, and now we will see factory workers and manufacturing workers being laid off and we will see fruit growers and farmers pulling out trees and wondering what their options are. The government are instead spending some money on a royal commission—a political witch hunt—rather than having crime dealt with by the police. This royal commission was announced as the workers of Toyota were told the devastating news.

The government are doing this under the guise of saying that they cannot be there to prop up multinationals, that businesses must be able to stand on their own two feet. That is all right, but try telling that to all these workers and to the Goulburn Valley farmers who have worked for years to make a living from the land, who will now have no-one to supply their product to because SPC Ardmona is competing with a high Australian dollar and cheap, dumped imports. Try telling those farmers that they do not have their house in order. They will quickly tell you that government need to get their house in order.

In a further hit to regional jobs in regional communities the new government cut support from local community development when it cancelled approved grants for local projects in communities right across Australia like parks, and swimming pools, walking paths and bike tracks—small projects that would have had a big impact on the local community both for their amenity but also for the injection of jobs in their local areas. The cutting of the Regional Development Australia Fund round 5, $150 million dollars, with funds going to regional councils will further exacerbate the situation in regional Australia.

The government walking away from regional Australia is highlighted in my home state of Tasmania. As we all know, the Tasmanian economy has been doing it tough. When the Labor Party were in government we set the agenda for growth in Tasmania—record investment in infrastructure; a $100 million jobs and growth plan—but, of course, since the Abbott government came to power in September last year I have been approached by countless Tasmanians who already feel let down by this new government.

In the coalition's plan for the Tasmanian economy—a little glossy brochure—we got lots of inquiries, committees and reviews. What has happened since? We have had two of the 31 projects committed by Labor announced by the new government. They did say they would match the $100 million of funding, but these businesses do not yet have the money and these jobs are not yet happening. High-value downstream processing jobs in areas like science, technology, agriculture and viticulture are very valuable jobs in the Tasmanian economy.

We have seen some inconsistency in how the Abbott government has been treating employers, with Cadbury receiving $16 million to keep and create jobs in Tasmania—a great project that gets our support. But where is the consistency? How is that consistent with SPC? When and how will the money flow to Cadbury? There was also a commitment in the federal election for an upgrade to Hobart airport in my electorate. Again, it was another great project which of course I support. But I do ask: how is the government providing $38 million—50 per cent is owned by Macquarie Bank—when the bank is only putting in $2 million itself? Again, it is not consistent.

We have already seen 56 Department of Human Services jobs moved out of the state. The government said at the time:

What we've said is we want to look at boosting Commonwealth presence in regional areas, not reducing the Commonwealth presence in regional areas, not reducing the Commonwealth presence in regional areas.

That is another broken promise because those jobs are gone. We had road funding and infrastructure projects announced by Labor in the last budget reannounced by Minister Briggs last week. But there is $100 million for the Midland Highway missing. I am not quite sure where that has gone, but obviously that money was not required in Tasmania.

Sadly, letting down regional Australian workers and workers in Tasmania is not the only policy failure of this government to date. I have spoken with schoolteachers and parents at some of the schools in my electorate about Labor's BetterSchools Gonski reforms. Everybody will remember the 'unity ticket' the coalition was on prior to the election. But the teachers and parents in Tasmania do not know whether the $400 million for Tasmania is going to arrive or not because much of the funding was in years 5 and 6, so another broken promise.

Parents have just sent their kids back to school for the new school year. They have gone out and bought new school uniforms, stationary, text books, lunch boxes, aprons, haircuts and new shoes—as a parent of three children, I know this only too well. Parents do this because they want their children to have the very best start in life. But we also know that these things cost money. Even with one child the costs can be prohibitive, and that is why Labor introduced the Schoolkids Bonus. We know that over a million Australian families, nearly 7,000 families in my electorate, were relying on this money to help get their kids to school. The coalition believe it is expensive and unnecessary. They even said parents could not be trusted to spend it wisely, and now it is gone. This comes on top of the cut to the low-income superannuation co-contribution affecting low- and middle-income families. The coalition seem to keep taking from low- and middle-income Australians while giving money to the big end of town.

Families are amongst those most concerned about the attack on Medicare. Australians like and respect Medicare. Since it was introduced by a Labor government, Labor has worked hard to ensure a universal healthcare system that Australians are rightly proud of. It is one of the most revered public healthcare systems in the world. The Commission of Audit has floated an additional GP levy to be paid when you go to your GP. It will be another cost for families—and not one word of this prior to the election. It will be interesting to see what the 'commission of cuts' recommends when it finally is released.

Today we have the sale of Medibank out there. I wonder if that will lead to increased premiums or reduced premiums for private healthcare cover? Pensioners, people on disability pensions and people on unemployment benefits come into my office concerned about the media reports and what will happen to their pensions and benefits. Pensioners are the people government should be supporting. We should be supporting them and their everyday costs. This announcement and the stuff in the media has them panicked and frightened. Pensioners are waiting anxiously for the Commission of Audit to see what is in it.

When I get out and about in my electorate I get a lot of questions about when people are going to get the national broadband network. It was a great Labor policy to be introduced right around the country. Before the election, Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal Party said that Tasmania would get the full fibre rollout. After a review and a backflip or two it seems that tens of thousands of Tasmanians will actually miss out. In my home state there will be the haves and the have-nots of communication technology. All I get in my home state of Tasmania is, 'When will I get the NBN?' People want this technology, they want it now and they want it as quickly as they can get it. My constituency want the real full NBN, not the pretend NBN. This government does have a problem with communication, whether it be technology or trying to give information to the media. We know that the government is in hiding. There has been a real veil of secrecy, not just around 'on water operations'—as they are being called—but around a whole range of matters.

Of course, one of the biggest items on this government's list of failures and backflips has been our economy. Before the election, anyone listening to the rhetoric from the coalition would have thought that our economy was about to fall apart. There was a budget crisis—then a budget emergency—that needed to be fixed. But, like everything else, this suddenly changed when the Abbott government came to power.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): You have five seconds to go.

Ms COLLINS: In closing, I would like to say that I sincerely hope that this government improves and stops breaking its promises and commitments to the Australian people. I would like to thank the good people of Franklin for re-electing me once again.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member for Franklin will have to leave to continue her remarks when the debate is resumed.