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Thursday, 14 February 2013
Page: 1521

Mr SECKER (BarkerOpposition Whip) (10:46): When one gets up in this place one never knows whether it will be the last time that one will speak, because we all know what is going on on the other side: the instability, the leadership problems and a lot of gossip and rumour going around the place. I know the member for Chifley, who is in this chamber, would know exactly what I am talking about. It is very interesting, because even though the Prime Minister got up and announced that we will be having an election on 14 September, I am very doubtful that we will wait that long for an election. The knives are out for the Prime Minister, and unfortunately this government is not doing the right job.

I have been in this place for nearly 15 years. During that time I have been in a lot of appropriation debates and they generally go along a set pattern with members of the opposition saying they are not happy with what money is being appropriated for their electorates. I can honestly say that myself this time, because I used to get record funding for roads. I used to get the highest amount of funding for aged care for my electorate, but not under this government. This government is doing things on the political side, not based on what is needed. One example is in the electorate of Canberra, where one of the infrastructure products was recommended in the top five in Australia, but there was no funding for it because Labor is taking Canberra for granted. These appropriation debates are marked by opposition members saying spending is not good enough, and government members getting up and saying how wonderful it is that the government is spending money in their electorates. Interestingly the Labor government has run out of speakers to say how wonderful things are in their electorates. Obviously they have given up the ghost.

Let us look at the NBN which is one of the so-called flagship policies of this Labor government. We only have to look to see that since this government, the Rudd-Gillard government under the two leaders, came into office they have taken the budgetary position backwards at a rate of knots. The $150 million debt is a result of five years of profligacy and ill-discipline with not knowing how to manage money and, frankly, as I said earlier, it is a government too distracted by infighting and leadership manoeuvres with not enough attention being given to good administration and the business of governing.

That is really what the government in Canberra should be about, the business of governing and good administration. We have seen it already with the mining tax. You had the Treasurer and the mining minister go behind locked doors with the three big miners and make decisions without the benefit of public service members behind them who would be able to look at the figures and make the projections. And what have we ended up with? A joke, an extra mining tax, I might add, that is not doing anything as far as raising funds for this government to spend in the usual way they do, without due concern as to what is sensible.

It is a government too distracted by that infighting and leadership manoeuvres. In great contrast, the coalition is committed to paying back the debt, getting it all back on track. We have form on this. When we first came into government in 1996, we had $96 billion worth of debt and we had the $10.8 billion black hole in the budget. I think this is a very interesting story. If you look at the history of Australia since Federation, since 1901 we have actually had to build a new capital, we have had to build a defence force that was national and we have had to fight two world wars and be in a few other skirmishes. But in the 90 years from 1901 to 1991 this government accumulated just $16 billion worth of debt but from 1991 to 1996 the Labor government with Hawke and Keating replicated that $16 billion of debt, which took 90 years, every year for the next five years. They went from $16 billion to $96 billion in five years. We know how hard it is to pay off because it took us a number of years to pay off that debt, but we will do it again. We have done it before and we will do it again. As a result of that when we left government there was $40 billion in the bank and we were not paying $7 billion or $8 billion every year in interest—generally to overseas banks—and we were able to spend that on services to the people of Australia and, of course, on income tax cuts. So we are committed to paying back that debt and getting Australia back on track.

On hundreds of occasions the Treasurer and the Prime Minister have promised to bring the budget back to surplus and, of course, they have broken that promise. This is typical of the Labor Party: all talk and no results or, as the good Aussie saying says, all sizzle and no sausage. A prime example of Labor's waste and incompetence is the Labor government's $50 billion National Broadband Network white elephant. That is $50 billion of borrowed money—not on the budget but off budget—with no cost-benefit analysis. As Paul Kelly, one of the most respected journalists in Australia, said in November 2010:

There is no escape from the core conundrum: Labor boasts the NBN as the nation's greatest infrastructure project, yet denies the inquiry to test whether it is financially viable.

This is typical of Labor's approach. They just do not know how to manage money. Originally half a million households were forecast to be using the fibre network by mid-2013. We are nearly there but only one tenth of that number is now expected to be connected. NBN Co. earned $2 million from selling broadband in 2011-12—its first revenue. Since 2009, NBN Co. has recorded losses of $923 million and the government has invested $2.8 billion. That is not a very good return—in fact it is no return at all, a negative return.

The coalition's consistent criticism of the NBN Co strategy is that it will cost far too much money and take far too much time to complete the broadband upgrade, but it is the coalition that is totally committed to ensuring that all Australians have access to very fast broadband. However, because we would take a more businesslike approach to the project we would deliver it sooner and at less cost to taxpayers and, therefore, more affordably to consumers than Labor's doomed process will.

NBN Co. has sought to create the impression that it is ahead of its targets when in fact it is not. They have invented this nonsense metric of premises where construction either has commenced or been completed. The only meaningful metric is the number of premises actively connected and the number of premises that are passed by the fibre network that can be connected at the customer's request in a very short time.

Whilst the government is keen to talk up the productivity benefits of the NBN, it fails to acknowledge that this is a snail's pace construction project. By its delays it is continuing to deny all of those benefits to millions of Australians who are waiting and waiting and waiting. In my home state of South Australia there are just nine fibre-serving area modules; construction began between June 2011 and March 2012 but not a single site is ready for service yet. So what is the government's response to the cost, the schedule blow-outs and the inability to deliver? Their response is an expensive advertising campaign. That will fix it. In the May estimates, the NBN claimed that its overall marketing spend for 2011-12 would be $8 million. Yet, in its latest annual report, NBN Co. listed communications and marketing campaigns as costing not $8 million but $11.2 million in 2011-12. That is 38 per cent more than was stated at estimates in May. In the 2012-13 MYEFO, the government announced that the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy will spend $20 million on advertising for the NBN. Why would you spend $20 million in advertising a project unless you are trying to make the government look good—much better than it really is. That is on top of the $20 million spent by the department in 2011-12. The Department of Finance and Deregulation reported that the NBN campaign was the third most expensive across all agencies.

The coalition has a better way. We will conduct a fully transparent cost-benefit analysis to assess the quickest and most cost-effective means of upgrading fixed line broadband in all areas of Australia where services are currently substandard or unavailable. We will deliver superfast broadband using whichever technology is appropriate and cost-effective and make use of existing network structure whenever possible. This will ensure that fast broadband is delivered sooner and more affordably and will also ensure that competition is encouraged wherever possible to encourage innovation and put downward pressure on broadband and telephony prices. We will provide transparent subsidies to ensure high-quality services available in the cities are available at comparable prices in rural and regional areas where the market alone would not deliver this outcome. We have done it before and we will do it again. We will maintain strong support for independent, innovative and efficient national broadcasters that provide value for money, and we will ensure that Australia Post achieves world-class performance levels in postal services and regains a firm financial footing.

The Australian people are sick of this Labor government, of that there is no doubt. They want help with the cost of living. They want more job security. They want our borders under control. They want stability and certainty returned to decision making and they want leaders they can trust.

We will not be making knee-jerk reactions based on a television program, as the government did with live cattle experts. We understand that our decisions have real-life consequences. And the industry still has not recovered from the disastrous decision to halt live cattle exports to Indonesia. Whilst we are on that topic, it was not just the northern cattle industry that was affected. The southern cattle industry was affected because there was a huge increase in supply in the southern markets and that dropped the prices in a typical demand-supply reaction. Trust and reputation is something that is built up over a long period of time and can be tarnished in the blink of an eye and through sheer incompetence. This government has taken our live cattle export industry backwards and damaged the whole industry and the reputation of our country—all because of a TV program and few nervous nellies on the back bench in the Labor government.

The Tony Abbott led coalition has a plan to get Australia back on track. The carbon tax will be gone so power prices will fall. The mining tax will be gone so investment and jobs will increase. The boats will be stopped, because that is what has been done before, and can be done again. And the budget will be back in the black.

Government has the resources to deliver the services that are really needed. The coalition will build a powerhouse economy through lower taxes, more efficient government and more productive businesses. This will deliver more jobs, higher wages and better services for Australian families. With the right policies Australia can once again have a competitive manufacturing industry, a dynamic services sector, a growing knowledge economy, a strong resource sector and strong agriculture industries, which this government can never deliver.