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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1378


Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (19:38): I congratulate the member for Solomon for her excellent speech. It is right: Australia needs a vision, the Territory needs a vision and Victoria needs a vision. The Gillard government are asleep at the wheel when it comes to providing a vision for this country’s future. There is no plan; there is no direction. They have no idea. This week we have seen it loud and clear. We have seen it writ large with the mining tax debacle.

I must admit that, when I had time on Sunday morning to watch Insiders, I found it quite amusing. I was listing to the discussion and debate, and there was George Megalogenis. George is usually reasonable. He is not someone to go out on a limb, to be a little bit outlandish. On the subject of the mining tax, he had this to say: 'If you spend the money before you actually have an understanding of how much revenue you are going to get from it, you are bordering on the idiot territory.' I must admit, I chuckled to myself, because I thought: George has got it in one. Sadly, we have a Treasurer who is bordering on the idiot territory, because there is $15 billion worth of expenditure linked to the mining tax. How much, in the first six months, has the mining tax collected? $126 million. That is an enormous discrepancy. That is fiscally irresponsible. That needs addressing.

But the Treasurer has a track record when it comes to this type of discrepancy. If you look at the last four budgets that have been delivered, they have delivered the four largest budget deficits in Australia's history. And where has all the money gone? What have we got to show for it? Defence expenditure, mentioned by the member for Solomon, is at the lowest level we have seen since before the Second World War. Yet we have had the four largest budget deficits in Australia's history. Look at road funding; take my electorate: we have actually had money removed from the duplication of the Western Highway to go to a project in Sydney that the private sector would have been happy to fund. These are the types of policies we are seeing. We are seeing the money actually disappearing, yet we are seeing it spent at record levels. And it is time that that stopped, because if we are not careful this country could face having the credit agencies looking at us and seriously asking: 'Where is this government heading? Is Australia now heading into serious sovereign risk territory?' And will they look to downgrade us?

It is going to be very interesting to see what happens now that we have it on the record. With the Charter of Budget Honesty, we potentially can now get an idea of structural deficits and whether this country has a structural deficit problem. If we do, that could have lasting implications. The Treasurer has to bring his spending under control. It has real consequences given what has happened. Our dollar is stuck at a reasonably high level, in the $1.03 to $1.05 range.

A government member: It is a strong economy.

Mr TEHAN: The member opposite says it is a strong economy. But if we had not had the four largest budget deficits on record, the Reserve Bank could have reduced interest rates even lower. When you compare our interest rates with those of the rest of the world—the US, Japan, the EU—they are significantly higher, which means we continue to get money coming into this country to take advantage of our comparatively higher interest rates, and that keeps pressure on our dollar. Do your economics 101 and you will see that that is what occurs. Look at the interest rates in Japan, the US and the EU, and look at our interest rates. Our interest rates are higher. I think our Reserve Bank has not been able to lower them as they have liked because they have an eye on this government's wilful and wasteful spending. That has consequences for our manufacturing sector and it has consequences for our agricultural sector.

And you have to combine these policies—this fiscal ineptitude—with other policies that this government has brought in. Our agricultural sector is having to deal with a high Australian dollar. And what is the helping hand that they get from the Gillard government? They get a carbon tax. What does that mean for the bottom line? Let us take the dairy industry: Murray Goulburn's carbon tax bill, $14 million. Can they pass that on internationally? No; it is a tradeable commodity on the international market. So what do they have to do? They have to pass it back on to the dairy farmer. And what is the dairy farmer dealing with? Increased electricity costs because of the carbon tax. For an average dairy farmer, the estimate is that increased electricity costs are $7½ thousand. So the dairy processors, the dairy manufacturers, are having to pass on their costs from the carbon tax plus you are getting a real electricity hit to our dairy farmers.

Take the beef industry. We heard the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency in the parliament today talking about the fabulous work being done to reduce costs for our abattoirs. There is no doubt that investment in technology can bring down the cost of electricity for our abattoirs, but it does not mean that you have to hit them with a carbon tax at the moment. The minister's talk of farmers marching in the streets because of these wonderful developments and saying, 'Please keep the carbon tax,' shows that he has created his own personal biodigester. He is actually the one that is producing a lot of methane and a lot of liquid fertiliser by saying that he thinks that the farmers are going to be marching in favour of the carbon tax. He needs to get out of this parliament and go and actually speak to a few farmers. They are doing it tough at the moment. They are seeing the cost of doing business going up and they are seeing all these pressures being put on them. And the last thing they need is a gratuitous minister for climate change telling them that a biodigester is going to be the solution to all their problems. It just does not cut it, and if he got out of his office he would see that.

So we are seeing government policies that are impacting on the cost of doing business. And it is not just the carbon tax; there is also the issue of regulation, both red tape and green tape, which keeps being added to the cost of doing business. So our retailers are suffering, our manufacturers are suffering, our agricultural producers are suffering all because this government has a penchant to increase not only the tax burden but also the amount of red tape and green tape that has to be dealt with. We have seen the consequences of that. It makes it harder for our businesses, especially when they have to trade, to be able to compete internationally if they keep getting bound up in all this regulation.

One of the clear things that an Abbott-led coalition government would do if elected is cut down this red tape. In our vision for Australia, in our vision for Victoria, we want to eliminate this red tape. We want to free businesses to be able to invest, to be able to employ and to be able to get on and do what they do best, which is generate wealth, so that that wealth can then be passed on down into the community and the whole community benefits from it.

What are some of the other aspects that we are seeing that are hurting businesses? The member for Kooyong mentioned the downsizing of the workplace cop who was making sure that we were not seeing intimidation and thuggery in our workplaces. Look at what we have in Victoria at the moment. We have a so-called community picket line which is stopping a construction projection in Werribee—ultimately, hurting Victorian business and our ability to finish infrastructure projects on time and on cost. What has been Bill Shorten's response to this? Bill Shorten's response to this so-called picket line—which has, in evidence given to the Fair Work Commission, been linked to the AMWU—has not been to come out and say that, if the AMWU are involved in this community picket line they should desist. No; he has not only given support to the community picket line but also said that he understood the concerns that this community picket line has towards those people who are legally and lawfully employed on this project. The issue has been raised about four Filipino workers on 457 visas. My understanding is that those 457 visas were issued by the Gillard government six months ago. You cannot issue the visas and allow these people to lawfully work on this infrastructure project and then turn around when there is a community picket line against their employment and have sympathy for no-one else but those on the community picket, especially when it is your own government which has approved those 457 visas.

This is the type of attitude that is just making it harder and harder to do business both in Victoria and across the country, which means that our economy is suffering. We need some clear guidance. We need a real plan. We have to make sure we get back to stability in government. We have to make sure that we get back to stability with the way policies are delivered and implemented.

Take superannuation as another example. There is uncertainty in that sector because they know that the government are looking for money. They know that they want to go after superannuation because there is money there that the government can go after. So we are seeing real uncertainty in that sector. What would be wrong with the government just coming out and saying: 'We're going to leave super alone. We've made enough changes. We've fiddled around with it enough. We've tried to rip enough money out of it.' Why not just give that sector certainty by saying, 'No, you can have some stability; we're going to leave you alone'?

But it seems, given that this Treasurer has produced the four largest budget deficits in Australia's history, that he is desperately looking to find money anywhere and he does not care what that does to the confidence in particular industries. He is just going to go looking for his cash. It is almost time that those opposite realised that the Treasurer, in the way that he has performed, has become an absolute weak link in their government. I think there is probably a need—and it might be almost too late—for them to try and address that, because, as we have seen with the mining tax, as we have seen with his promise to create half a million jobs, as we have seen with his promises to make sure that we had a budget surplus, which he has now had to embarrassingly back down on, he basically is not up to the job. It is getting to the stage where the way he has to stand up in question time and defend his record is almost Monty Pythonesque because, in the end, he is now defending the indefensible. It is funny to see the faces on those opposite when he does get up, trying to defend the indefensible, because they know that that is what is occurring as well. As we debate this appropriations bill, I hope that this will be the last time we have to do so with this Treasurer in place.

Debate adjourned.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 19:54