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Thursday, 12 February 2009
Page: 950

Senator ABETZ (9:53 AM) —Having listened to that contribution, I am sure that those listening in will be assured that not all dinosaurs are extinct. Indeed, we had a good old socialist style rant from Senator Carr in relation to this matter.

Let us get back to the very beginning in relation to what happened in about October 2007. We as a coalition said to the Australian people that an economic tsunami was coming our way. We predicted what would happen.

What did Labor do? They scoffed. They laughed. They said, ‘These nasty neoliberals are trying to scare you into voting Liberal. There are nothing but blue skies ahead and Kevin Rudd will make it even better.’ That is what they said and we were pilloried. Interestingly, Senator Carr says that the government’s policy is now to go for growth. Guess whose slogan that was at the last election? It was John Howard’s, which was condemned by Labor and Mr Rudd on the basis—and I remember Kevin Rudd thundering during his campaign speech—that ‘this reckless spending must stop’! All we were doing was spending a bit of the surplus, but that was ‘reckless spending’. Here are Labor now, 13 or 15 months later, not only wiping out the totality of the surplus but putting Australia $200 billion into hock.

Senator O’Brien —There is a global financial crisis.

Senator ABETZ —Senator O’Brien interjects and says it is all the financial crisis. But, you see, Australia would have been so much better placed if the silly nonsense, the divisive and unsustainable nonsense, of Mr Rudd had not been allowed to impact the Australian economy and the budget. Remember, in January last year the economy was overheating: those nasty Liberals had made the economy grow too big! It was growing too fast and it had to be slowed down. What did Kevin Rudd do in the May budget? Through taxation measures he hoovered out of the economy $20 billion of extra taxes—keep that figure in mind, an extra $20 billion of taxes hoovered out of the economy—designed to slow the economy down because it was overheating.

They were still going on with that mantra in the face of all the evidence that we had predicted to them would overtake the Australian economy. So the situation today is that Australia is in a worse position to face this crisis because of the mismanagement of the economy by Labor. If they had allowed growth to continue, if they had not hoovered out that $20 billion by way of extra taxation, the economy would not have fallen into as big a hole as it is in today. Sure, it still would be in a hole because of the economic crisis, but I am saying—and I think most economic commentators now accept—that the Liberal-National plan for the economy, if it had been adopted, would have had Australia in a much stronger position.

I remind those opposite that when we left office unemployment was 3.9 per cent. After 12 months Labor, in their usual style, have already got it up to 4.8 per cent and it is heading north very quickly. What is their remedy for this? ‘Let’s borrow $200 billion.’ All they talk about is protecting this, doing this somehow—it is all good, sweet and light. And of course it is if you go on a spending spree and you pull out the bank card. It is great going round all the shops being able to buy up everything. But one day you have got to pay it all back. It is a bit like a big lolly. In fact it is not a lolly; it is more like a pill with a very thin veneer of sugar coating over it. You offer it to people and say: ‘Look, taste this—how sweet is this! We can deliver $950—sorry, we have amended it now—$900 to you, $600 to you, $300 to you. We will give you a new school. We will even give you pink batts and a boom gate—you name it, we will deliver it, all at no cost.’ But the reality is that—and I think that the Australian people are waking up—all this sweetener on the outside of this very large pill hides a very big, bitter centre that will leave a very bad economic aftertaste in the mouths of Australians.

What we on this side are concerned about is that, in 10 or 15 years time, when the next generation of leaders are in this place and they have demands from their community asking, ‘Where is some money for a hospital or a road or a school?’ they will be told by the Treasurer of the day, ‘Sorry, the money ain’t there.’ The community will ask why, and the answer will be, ‘Because we have a recurring interest bill of $7 billion to $10 billion per annum,’ and they will rightly ask, ‘Who incurred that bill? Who incurred that bill and mortgaged our future?’ The answer will be: Mr Rudd and the Labor Party, aided and abetted by the Australian Greens—and can I say economic management has never been the strong suit of either the Australian Greens or the Australian Labor Party.

But I say to Senator Fielding from Family First: put not only families first but every individual family member first—because if Senator Fielding does vote for this package he will incur a debt of $9,500 for every man, woman and child in this country. And that is just the debt. There is then the interest to be paid year after year after year. Mr Rudd tells us it is only going to be short term. That is all very well until you ask how long short term is: ‘Sorry, we can’t tell you. We can’t tell you what “short term” means.’ And that is where the political spin comes in. Mr Rudd is not about economic management; he is about political management. If he cannot tell us how long this debt will last, he should have the decency and honesty to tell the Australian people that, rather than try to con them by saying, ‘This will only be short term.’

Let us keep in mind, my friends, that it took 10 long years to pay off the $96 billion worth of debt that the Hawke-Keating era racked up over 13 years in government: 13 years in government, $96 billion of debt. Mr Rudd weaves his economic wizardry and in the first 13 months of his leadership of this country he has budgeted not for $96 billion but for $200 billion worth of debt. That will be like lead in the saddlebags of the Australian economy. It will stall economic growth in the future. When the economy turns, it will recover a lot more slowly. As a result, people will be unemployed for a lot longer. There are economic consequences—negative economic consequences—of borrowing. That is why we as an opposition are so very strong in seeking to ensure that there is intergenerational social justice here. Let us make no mistake: intergenerational social justice—

Senator Conroy —You would not know what you are talking about. You are illiterate.

Senator ABETZ —and economic justice demands that we do not mortgage—

Senator Conroy —You are illiterate.

Senator ABETZ —the future of our children and our grandchildren.

Senator Conroy —You are seriously illiterate.

Senator ABETZ —The Labor Party do not want to hear about the mortgage. They do not want to hear about the debt. All they want to hear about is the spend, spend, because that has been the history in this country. You had Prime Minister Whitlam, and then Fraser had to fix it up. You had Hawke and Keating messing up the economy, and then Howard had to fix it up. Of course, what will happen here very, very soon is that Mr Rudd will have mucked up the economy, and Mr Turnbull and the Liberal-National parties will have to clean up the mess. Let us not forget that 21 April 2006 was ‘debt-free day’ for Australia. That is how long it took us to pay off the debt—21 April 2006; that was ‘debt-free day’. It has only taken a very short period of time for the Rudd government to want to legislate for $200 billion worth of debt.

So I say to Senator Fielding, I say to Senator Xenophon and I say to the Australian Greens: you might get some support in the polls today, tomorrow—and the Labor Party—and we accept—

Senator Conroy —You’re not.

Senator ABETZ —Senator Conroy in his arrogant way interjects and says, ‘You’re not.’ We have accepted that we may well take a hit in the opinion polls, but, as the Leader of the Government in the Senate this morning in the procedural matters so foolishly told the Australian people and the Senate, the problem with the Liberal-National parties is they are looking to the long term. We plead guilty! We plead guilty because in parliament you have to look to the long term if you want to be a true national leader. It is so easy to play the short term. Senator Evans has clearly shown the Labor Party is all about playing to the short term. But I, for one, and my coalition colleagues cannot look our children and grandchildren in the eye, put our hands on our hearts and say, ‘Guess what? To make our lifestyle more comfortable today, we are going to mortgage your future by $200 billion.’ It is amazing, isn’t it?

Do you know what Mr Rudd said? ‘The economic crisis has been caused by greed and a squeeze on credit. There is too much demand on credit and as a result we have got problems.’ So how do you ease the demand on credit? By going into the marketplace and demanding an extra $200 billion! That sure is going to fix the credit squeeze! Then there is the issue of greed. If this generation has been too greedy—as it has according to Mr Rudd—tell me: how does mortgaging our children’s future indicate that we have learnt that lesson of greed? What Mr Rudd is saying is: ‘Well, sure, we’ve been greedy. What’s more, we’re going to take even more, and some poor, hapless generation down the track, when I’m no longer Prime Minister, can pay it off.’ Now, there is a definition of greed if ever there was one.

We have indicated that sensible, responsible packages are important. In the United States President Obama, with a huge election victory under his belt, had the decency to approach the Republicans, the opposition, and say, ‘Can we work together to work out a deal?’ Guess what? They did. What great leadership, what great statesmanship. That was unlike our Prime Minister’s approach. Our Prime Minister dropped something on the table and said, ‘Within 48 hours this has to be passed or else.’ We were basically misled—I am not allowed to say someone lied, because that is unparliamentary, so I will not. But the leader of the government in this place said that this had to be passed by last Friday otherwise the payments could not be made by 11 March this year.

Senator Williams interjecting—

Senator ABETZ —And as Senator Williams interjects quite rightly, that was rubbish. The Senate committee investigating this was told that that was wrong. Time and time again I have invited the Leader of the Government in the Senate to explain to the Senate and the Australian people why he misled them and on whose advice he said it. Given that we have not had an answer now for over a week, we can only come to the conclusion that it was cheap, short-term politics to hector and force senators to vote for this package.

This package was so sacrosanct that it could not be amended or changed. In a dastardly deal with the Greens, they have now amended $500 million worth. So, instead of only having boom gates and pink batts, we are going to have a few other things as well. But at the end of the day there are no savings; it is still the same debt. What concerns me and many other Australians is: what other side deals done with the Greens did not find their way into the letter signed by the Treasurer? A lot of people fear especially for the timber industry in that regard.

I want to finish on this. The Australian Labor Party have said that this is urgent. They recalled the parliament for nine o’clock this morning. Our view is that, if Labor can strike a deal with Senator Xenophon and others—and we accept whatever the numbers might be; that will be the way the numbers fall—so be it. Good luck to them. But what we are going to go through here this morning is high farce and an indication of the shambolic management of this Senate by the Australian Labor Party, because from now on we will hear Labor speaker after Labor speaker after Labor speaker filibustering whilst Wayne Swan and Senator Xenophon are trying to cobble together a deal.

Senator Coonan —It’s a disgrace.

Senator ABETZ —You are right, Senator Coonan; it is a disgrace. They should have said: ‘We will sit down in a calm, timely manner and discuss the issues. When we have a deal, we will recall the parliament and deal with it.’ But today the Senate is sitting—and it costs about $10,000 an hour to run this show—and we will be hearing speech after speech after speech from Labor senators. I am sure Senator Jacinta Collins will be next. This is only to buy time for Mr Swan and Senator Xenophon to cobble together a deal. Why wasn’t the Senate adjourned until such time as a deal had been reached? They should act in a statesmanlike way; they should not use bullyboy tactics to try to force people into a position.

The Senate voted on these measures 15 or 16 hours ago. What has changed, other than this package that could never be amended all of a sudden now being capable of being amended? From day one we said that we oppose the package, but we also said that we were willing to negotiate around the package. Did Labor approach us? Never. All Mr Rudd was able to say was, ‘Get out of our way.’ He refused to get off his bulldozer. Well, the Senate has voted and as a result Mr Rudd’s bulldozer has stalled. He has been humiliated into backing down, he has been humiliated by the Greens and I assume he will be humiliated by Senator Xenophon. Quite frankly, I do not know what Senator Fielding will get out of this, other than a legacy that Family First in this parliament voted for $9,500 of debt for every man, woman and child. That is not a great legacy. Senator Fielding, it is not too late to change your mind. There is an alternative approach, and that is the alternative approach put by Mr Turnbull, which does include tax cuts. Like every other package in the world—

Senator Jacinta Collins —Oh, come on. You’re misrepresenting the evidence.

Senator ABETZ —Like every other package in the world, Senator Collins—

Senator Jacinta Collins —Stop misleading the Senate.

Senator ABETZ —You can interject as much as you like.

Senator Jacinta Collins —I’ll bring in the Hansard for you.

Senator ABETZ —You can deny as much as you like, but the truth remains the truth, despite Senator Collins’s interjections. We have a different approach. We actually support jobs without Australians bearing this unbearable debt. I simply say that we as an opposition oppose the severity of this package, the huge debt that will be foisted on future generations. Those senators who vote for it will be responsible to those future generations.

Labor senator after Labor senator will filibuster, but we will not be party to the filibuster. I have set down the opposition’s position in relation to this.

Senator McEwen —What? You have been speaking for 20 minutes.

Senator ABETZ —Yes, I have, and we continue to oppose— (Time expired)