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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 5095


Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (16:37): Senator Moore, I hope that I contribute more than passionately delivered one-liners to outline why the Gillard government's pattern of broken promises, raised expectations and unfunded commitments is being debated today in the Senate. I guess you have to start by asking a question in times like this: when does a pattern of behaviour become a predictor for future behaviour, and when do we get concerned about it? The three behaviours listed for debate today—broken promises, raised expectations and unfunded commitments—are pretty typical, or stereotypical, of the ALP model of governance under Prime Minister Gillard and, I believe, have resulted in a significant decrease right across our nation in the faith and trust that our citizens have in the government in general. When government speaks to the public and makes commitments to the public, I believe the public has every right to expect—wars aside—that the government will keep its word and can be trusted, and I think that is a fundamental principle of our system of government.

When I go to broken promises—this is the one-liner, Senator Moore, that I will reiterate for those who have not heard it before—apparently, before the last federal election, the Prime Minister stated that there would be no carbon tax under a government she led. It is not the only breach of trust, but we will just dwell on the carbon tax for a moment. We now have the imposition of the world's biggest carbon tax. In 2011-12, the Gillard Labor government spent $100 million on carbon tax advertising without even mentioning the carbon tax. So, when we talk about muddying the waters and the conversation that the government is having with the public, that is a classic example.

Since the Labor government was elected in 2007, it has introduced and increased 20 new taxes. The Gillard Labor government's rhetoric about suppliers being able to pass on the rising carbon tax cost just is not the reality for small business owners in regional towns or primary producers right across regional Australia, particularly in the dairying heartland of our nation, which is the state of Victoria, now facing the burden of this tax. Businesses and primary producers are simply unable to pass on the increased costs arising from this tax, which is, amongst other factors, decreasing their ability to compete internationally.

In my patron seat of Bendigo, it has been revealed that Bendigo Health will suffer under the imposition of the carbon tax. Bendigo Health is a significant employer within the seat of Bendigo. Analysis performed by the coalition state government has confirmed the stretched budgets that public hospitals will face under the carbon tax—between $1,000 and $2,400 per hospital bed per year. For Bendigo Health, it was outlined in a recent newspaper report that an extra $600,000 this financial year was the cost that the carbon tax was going to put on the hospital, taking the hospital's total gas and power bill to over $3 million a year. While the hospital said the bill was the worst-case scenario forecast, without exemption or compensation available from the Commonwealth public hospitals have no choice but to accrue debt or cut services. In regional towns struggling to deliver comprehensive public health services, this will be a challenge. By 2020, the overall impact of the carbon tax on Victorian hospitals and health services will be $143 million. It is expected to cost $13.5 million in its first year, rising to more than $21 million by 2020. The carbon tax will not save the planet, but it might well compromise Bendigo health services and the service they provide to the Bendigo community. Prime Minister Gillard is making it harder to make ends meet not just for Australian families but for hospital services as well.

If we look at other patterns of behaviour which the Gillard government displays and which might be challenging the development of trust between citizen and state, let us look at the food plan and the Gillard government's commitment to agriculture. In the first five years of the Gillard government, Labor has shown a sporadic—and some would suggest schizophrenic—interest in Australian agriculture. Last month it announced the green paper, which will turn into a white paper—who knows when or where?—for a national food plan. This is despite the government, in the 2011-12 budget, taking approximately $33 million from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry over the next four years and despite the rhetoric from Minister Emerson on feeding the world and Minister Ludwig on the importance of agriculture. When we look at raising expectations and broken promises, the government's approach to agriculture and the agricultural communities right across our nation beggars belief.

When we look at unfunded commitments, let us talk about the Labor government's commitment to mental health. Despite the stated commitment by the minister, projects in my home state have missed out, and they are significant projects which could make a real difference. I would just like to briefly mention Swan Hill headspace, a youth mental health centre. Swan Hill is one of the places in regional Victoria that have the state's highest incidence of self-harm amongst young people. In fact, it is seven times the state average for this group of young people in Swan Hill. They have missed out on funding, and the town is now struggling to provide adequate support services. The Labor government recently announced 15 locations around the country for new headspace centres, yet Swan Hill, with its population of over 10,000 people, was overlooked.

I guess the pattern of responsible governments that we would like to see is raising aspirations within the community—not raising expectations but raising aspirations, because raising expectations for political purposes with no intent of follow-through is negligent. There has been no greater example in recent times, I think, than the recent NDIS debacle.

The last thing we want to do is raise expectations for those most vulnerable within our community—the severely disabled—which is exactly what has happened around the NDIS conversation. The Prime Minister has failed to adequately provide for the first phase of the NDIS by only allocating $1 billion of the amount required to roll out the launch sites and has used the issue to pick a political fight with state premiers for her own political gain. If they have underfunded the first years, how can we trust that they will not underfund in the years to come? The Labor government has failed to commit to the Productivity Commission's target date for the full NDIS by 2018-19, and even that is six long years away for the most disadvantaged in our community to have their expectations raised and then dashed.

The NBN is another example of raising expectations. As a regional Australian, those expectations have been raised and raised. If only I could take Minister Conroy at his word on the delivery. The NBN's pattern of behaviour would predict it is taking longer and costing more to roll out than the Gillard Labor government claims. We heard that it will be finished by 2012, yet every deadline, every household target and every iteration of customer numbers has been blown out or missed and rolled forward. It was promised that by June 2013—next year—the NBN would be available to 1.3 million households and would have 566,000 paying customers. However, NBN Co. has admitted that its fibre will by June 2013 reach only 341,000 households, missing it by a little under a million and reaching one-quarter of the target, and will have only 54,000 customers, one-tenth of the target.

Costs have blown out, and people are sick of it as expectations are raised. Particularly out there in regional Victoria there are a lot of grumpy potential customers for Senator Conroy. They want cheaper, faster and more affordable broadband to drive the economic and social development of the regions, particularly in those towns of fewer than 1,000 people. I will not be able to go through the list of broken promises that I have before me, but I think Senator Payne mentioned the ALP's strategy of changing the language and definitions. It is all about smoke and mirrors to hide the fact that Australians can no longer continue to support the government when they cannot trust anything it says.