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Thursday, 14 February 2013
Page: 1524


Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (11:02): Firstly, to the ladies in the room, happy Valentine's Day. May your valentine find you! Or are you meant to find your valentine; I think that is actually the process.

This is an opportunity to take a step back and look at things more broadly. It seems the case, to my limited experience over the last nearly three years, that we are caught in day-to-day battle. We fight the issues of the day. Often politics is put in front of policies. This is compounded by a three-year election cycle and supercharged by a 24-hour news cycle. A desperate government often needs to take desperate actions to serve its masters—the masters of the media. Policies that have been tried and failed are not modified or fixed but spun to appease and gain the pleasure of the masters in the media.

During this last three years we have had, probably, three major areas of conflict. We have debated, endlessly, the state of the economy—the economy that was left if a very good state. Yes, there was a global financial crisis and there were any number of remedies. We have seen the debt escalate and we have seen the deficits, that we were promised would away, not go away, and a loss of trust and a loss of confidence. We have seen spending and waste. We have seen school halls built where they were not needed and, to compound that problem, we have seen an overspending on those school halls.

We have had the issue of asylum seekers and an endless stream of boats. The previous government had put in place a raft of policies that have been developed over a period of time, which had stopped the boats. And over a period of time, we had developed the experience to implement those policies to stop the boats. These policies were taken apart. Some of them were brought back but it is not unless you have the whole raft of policies and the experience to implement those policies that you can effectively stop the boats.

The economy was travelling well. The mining industry was thriving and, as in the fifties Australia was riding on the sheep's back, we were now riding on the back of a thriving mining industry. We have had the problems of the minerals resource rent tax, which has put all sorts of trauma through this mining industry. We have had promises of changing the climate and that a carbon tax will do that, but that alone will not change the climate. Central to these situations developing has been a loss of trust in this government. That loss of trust has come through a loss of truthfulness—the inability to rely on what is said—a loss of certainty and a loss of stability. With the loss of certainty and stability, we have had, for the first time, an allegation that Australia is a nation of sovereign risk. This sovereign risk has resulted from at least three different areas of endeavour that are very important to our economy and to our wellbeing.

In the area of health, the medicines industry entered into a memorandum of understanding that would see them forgo an amount of income—quite a sizable amount of income—in return for certainty. This is telling you what international businesses want: they want certainty. They want certainty that when a drug is approved by the PBAC it will be listed on the PBS. These drugs take up to 10 or 15 years in development and the cost is often over a billion dollars. The changing of rules during the playing of this game is devastating to this industry. This industry generates $4 billion of foreign income for us each year. They spend approximately $1 billion a year on research and development. For the first time, when this arrangement was reneged on, the reverberations throughout the pharmaceutical world were that Australia is now a nation of sovereign risk—an uncertain place to do business. That put in peril the research and development, the investment, the continuance and certainly the likelihood of pharmaceutical industry looking to locate in Australia.

We had a similar shock to our international reputation when, on the strength on an ABC Four Corners story about live exports and the inhumane treatment of our cattle that were going to Indonesia, policy was hastily put together overnight—putting politics in front of policy—to appease the press and to appease certain special interest groups. But what was achieved? The international standing of Indonesia was damaged and our relationship with Indonesia was damaged. An export industry that was generating $700 million of foreign income was reduced to close to $200 million. The biggest employer of Indigenous people in the northern part of Australia was put on its knees. There was collateral damage of enormous size. Had time been taken and better policies developed, surely there could have been a way found to assist Indonesia in upgrading the standards in their abattoirs, to protect our industry, to enhance our relationship with Indonesia and to elevate their standing in the international community.

Then we had the minerals resource rent tax, which put the same tremors through that industry that we are riding on so strongly—we are relying on it; it is the biggest source of foreign income—to the point that mining industries and businesses that might have committed to Australia would see that going to war torn Africa involved less risk than doing business in Australia under this government.

We have been accused time and again in this place of being the party with no ideas. At times, when we have represented our policies they say that there is nothing new. Many times that is correct, because we maintain our policies. They have been well thought-through and they have been the result of experience of actually implementing policies in the past that have achieved the correct result—whether it was in the stopping of the boats or the raft of policies that were put in place and the experience gained in implementing the policies to stop them; whether it was in the policies that were involved that returned our country from a $96 billion debt to surplus and credit over the period of the Howard government.

It is interesting to note the alignment between the founder of the Republican Party in the US and our own Liberal Party, and the words that are attributed to Abraham Lincoln where he said: 'You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot help little men by tearing down big men. You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.' These words must be a warning to this government who have violated virtually every line of those great words, those words that are timeless and are enduring. It might be fashionable to go into debt but it does not have a great benefit over a long period.

We have the experience to manage the economy, to bring this economy back into prosperity. Through work in achieving the success, we can all share in this success, not share in $900 handouts. The question must come if you stand back far enough and look forward to the day that we are returning the budget to surplus and have paid back the debt: what do we then do? In an atmosphere where we battle each other, day after day, often with arguments that do not lend any dignity to this place, we lose the opportunity to dream and to look at the potential that this great country has. We are squandering our time and we are squandering these opportunities. But at the time when we have stopped the boats again, returned our budget from deficit and paid back the debt, when we have reduced taxes and business is thriving, when we have reduced red tape and small businesses is again thriving and able to employ people and not just generate wages but to make profits, what do we then do?

It was very interesting, a little over a week ago there was a leak of a vision paper that was clearly identified—'Vision 2030. Discussion paper. Draft'. I know very clearly that was what the paper said because I am on the committee that has been working on this vision. It was extraordinary that the party with no ideas and with no vision, came forth, albeit unwillingly at this time, with a vision paper to grow northern Australia with a vision paper that takes advice in regard to climate change. As the southern part of the climate becomes drier and less productive, as the Asian middle class grows from 500 million to 3.5 billion over the next 20 years, there is an opportunity to grow our agricultural resources in the northern part of our continent; to enter into infrastructure projects that will water this area; to look at the possibility of helping those through tropical medicine research; and yes, maybe using some of our foreign aid money in a more productive way that actually achieves real results.

Government members interjecting

Mr ALEXANDER: This is a discussion paper and a vision paper as I clearly said and I hope you are listening. In coming forward with visions, and the willingness to discuss visions and work through and develop policy, that in the very moment when we are being accused of being negative and having no ideas, but when the vision is put forward, albeit unwillingly, it is clear that it is the government who is so negative. It was an extraordinary turn of events. It would be certainly a hope of this place in the future when the debt is paid back, when the boats have stopped and businesses are running well that the debate moves to what we can do with our opportunities and what we can do to fill our potential. What is the opportunity of a high-speed rail network? Can we stop the debate about where a second airport should be for Sydney because that debate should not be had until you either rule in or rule out high-speed rail? What is the purpose of high-speed rail? Is it simply to get from Melbourne to Sydney quicker or cheaper or not have to wait at an airport for an hour or is it to take the pressure off our two cities that have so overgrown their infrastructure, that suffer some of the highest land prices and high levels of congestion in the world? Is it the infrastructure that is required to provide the pressure release valve for those cities?

Those cities need to be able to release land. Can you have endless urban sprawl that takes up more valuable farming area or could you with the development of the cities of Goulburn, Canberra, Yass, Queanbeyan, Gundagai, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton have a land release that could serve our purposes not just for the next 20 or 40 years but 60 or 80 years? We often talk about a two-speed economy. Could we create another speed of economy that is built on housing prices that the next generation can afford, housing prices that are in the vicinity of $100,000 to $200,000, housing prices that would then allow lower wages and a greater opportunity for people to operate businesses? These are the debates that would dignify this place and lift the quality of debate that the public so often complain about to talk about real things that can be done to attract investment, to grow our country and to give the next generation the opportunity of work and home ownership and a quality of life that we expect for all Australians.