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Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Page: 5194


Mr COULTON (ParkesThe Nationals Chief Whip) (21:20): I too rise to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2012-13 and related bills, and the recently-brought-down federal budget. I was quite interested to listen to my colleague from Braddon, in Tasmania—I am always fascinated to know what goes on across the other side of the ditch—but it is just a little strange that he did not mention the carbon tax. The member for Braddon mentioned a small business in refrigeration and dairy farms, but he did not mention how much the cost of that refrigeration would go up through electricity prices and he did not mention how much those dairy farms would have to pay for the electricity to pump the water to their pastures. Nor did he mention how much the carbon tax was going to affect the cost of their nitrogenous fertiliser or the cost of freighting their milk, let alone that, when they needed to re-gas their refrigeration systems—whether it be the refrigerated transport for the milk or on-farm coolroom storage—the carbon tax was going to exponentially increase the cost of the fluorocarbons that are involved in refrigeration to the extent that to re-gas a refrigerated semitrailer will cost tens of thousands of dollars.

From the outset I say that I am not going to stand here and criticise absolutely everything in the budget, because obviously there are things in there that I agree with. The budget is the tool that manages the economy of the country; the budget is what pays for our public servants, for education and for everything else. So I would be foolish to criticise everything in it, but I guess is the general tone of my contribution is critical. We have had members of the government up here speaking about individual items in the budget—the beads and blankets and other trinkets they have managed to get for their own electorates—but the real tragedy is that the Australian people have stopped listening to this government.

I have just had a week in my electorate, and the conversation was not about the payments to school students, the extra funding for Newstart or the payments to pensioners. The conversation was about frustration over this government's loss of direction, the frustration that the country has become rudderless and that we are losing direction. So, while people welcome the cash payments, they are concerned about the general welfare of the economy. The reality is that these payments are not going to make the recipients better off, because the payments will be a mere shadow of the costs of the carbon tax. It is interesting that, on the night that the Treasurer brought down his budget, the carbon tax was not mentioned. But, if you go out into the streets of Dubbo, Mudgee, Moree, Narrabri, Warialda or any other town in my electorate, it is on everyone's lips. It is on everyone's lips because it is seeping into every aspect of everything we do.

I represent an area that very much relies on exports. The two major industries in my electorate—agriculture and mining—contributed to Australia staying out of recession. These are the two major industries that are keeping Australia going, particularly in the last four or five years. But there was very little in this budget to encourage either of those industries. As a matter of fact, we are getting a minerals tax, which is going to impact on one of the major industries in my electorate, and agriculture has basically been ignored.

I would like to talk a little bit about agriculture. The frustration, unrest and unease of the people in my electorate did not start with this budget; it started with the general shift in policy in this country under the previous Labor government and this Labor government. The Green influence on every piece of policy that comes out of this place is making Australia uncompetitive with the rest of the world. The carbon tax is a grand gesture to the rest of the world to say, 'Look, we care about our environment.' Grand gestures are fine if they do not cost you anything, but this grand gesture is going to cost the Australian economy billions of dollars. I liken the carbon tax to fastening a shot-put to a chain on the leg of every one of our Olympians when they go to the London Olympic Games as a gesture to prove that we care for our environment, expecting our Olympians to compete on the world stage with those from the rest of the world, who do not have such an impediment. That is what this carbon tax has done.

Earlier we heard the member for Braddon in the chamber speaking about the great investments of the BER and about how important investment in education is. I could not agree more. Education is the one thing that can help society. Education is the one thing that transcends poverty, bigotry, unemployment and social disadvantage. That is why the billions of dollars that were spent on the BER were such a lost opportunity. As is often the case with this government, the problem lies not so much with their ideas to stimulate a certain sector of the economy, such as education, but with their ability to implement and manage programs.

I visited Windeyer Public School about five months ago, just before Christmas. They had a classroom for each child. Three months after their BER project—worth about $300,000—was completed, they closed the school. Louth Public School, a wonderful school on the Darling River, has a classroom for each child. The last thing that the four students at Louth Public School needed was an extra classroom, but that is what they got, whether they wanted it or not. Due to the lack of oversight and the mismanagement of the BER in the public school system in New South Wales, builders and contractors in my electorate are owed thousands of dollars. One builder in Moree is owed $642,000 for work done under the BER. If they had given the money to the Catholic education system, maybe there would have been a different outcome. I have seen the projects that were implemented by the Catholic education system and they were mostly very good. The ones that were implemented through the government have been an absolute disaster. The collapse of TCT Constructions in Dubbo has left businesses in Dubbo about $2.4 million in the red. That is the mismanagement that is being caused by this government. Local government is going to cop a real hit from this carbon tax, not only from the thousands of dollars that emissions from land fill are going to cost but also from the cost of road construction. There is a fuel cost in road construction. The bitumen base of roads is based on petroleum. Councils are going to have cost increases of hundreds of thousands and, in some cases, millions of dollars. There is the cost of street lighting and of swimming pools. All the infrastructure that councils are expected to run will be hit by this tax. In New South Wales, councils have rate-pegging, so they have no ability to pass on this tax. How they are going to cope with this added impost they do not know, and I certainly do not know either.

The role of the government is not just to hand out individual amounts of largesse; it also needs to fund programs. I acknowledge that in this budget some of that funding went to my electorate—not very much, I have to say, when I hear some of the speeches from those on the other side. But a little bit of money went to my electorate. That is what is expected of government.

The real tragedy of what is happening at the moment in this country is that its citizens have lost confidence. The citizens of my electorate are just holding back: they are saving more; they are not venturing out to put on extra staff in their businesses and, in some cases, they are shedding staff; they are not putting the renovation on at the back of the house that they have talked about for a while; they are not taking that trip. They are bunkering down because they have lost confidence in this government's ability to manage the economy and the country. That is the real tragedy. You only have to spend time speaking to people, as I did on the weekend at the Dubbo show. Sad as it may seem, the first question from 90 per cent of the people who came up to me was: 'When are we going to have an election?' That is happening right across the country. I find that a real tragedy.

There are a lot of other things happening in this place that I find incredibly frustrating. I am not going to comment on them. We all know what is taking up the time of this House at the moment. It is such a shame that this parliament and this government has sunk to such a low that people have stopped listening to it. In some cases, people are probably harder on the members on the government benches than they deserve—but that is what has happened. I have never seen a community so stressed about where we are going as a country.

This is a lost opportunity. The Treasurer made much of his surplus; we all know that it is a contrived surplus. We all know that the payments which went to compensating for the carbon tax were made this year, before the start of the next financial year, so that the expenditure will not be in that year. We all know that money is being moved forward to the states for road funding so that it will not be included in the next financial year. The last budget blew out by, I think, $12 billion more than was expected. The real proof of the pudding of this budget will be at the end of the next financial year. No-one seriously believes that we are going to end up at that time in surplus. What is the point of having a surplus if it is being generated only by paper being shuffled around?

Governments have a role to motivate and inspire the people that they govern. Australia has great resources. What has made Australia great is its ability to produce large amounts of food and fibre, its mineral wealth and the availability of its cheap energy. What this government has done through its green agenda over the last four years is put a handbrake on all the natural advantages we have as a country. All the advantages that we had over our trading partners now have had an artificial barrier placed upon them, and we are starting to see that manifesting itself. In Kandos, which was in my electorate until the last election but is now in the seat of Hunter, they had a cement plant with over 100 years of history that is now closed. The cement is coming in from Asia into Sydney Harbour as clinker while the plant at Kandos sits idle and the cement workers are ignored. (Time expired)