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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 3025


Senator IAN MACDONALD (1:10 PM) —The second reading speech to the Nation-building Funds Amendment Bill 2009 says that the legislation is to provide funding for infrastructure spending priorities and that to do that the bill will repeal the crediting of $2.5 billion from the 2007-08 budget surplus—I want to come back to the word ‘surplus’; it is something we do not understand much about these days—to the Education Investment Fund that was to occur by 30 June this year. This amount is now to be made available for the new Clean Energy Initiative. The second reading speech also says that the Clean Energy Initiative will encourage further research and innovation in clean energy generation and low-emissions technology. On that point I refer to a comment by Dr Glenn Withers of Universities Australia, the peak body representing universities, which criticises the decision to divert funds from the education fund to the Clean Energy Initiative. He is reported as saying that ‘little of the money for the Clean Energy Initiative would go towards universities, vocational education and training or research institutes’. So at last academia in Australia is getting to understand the duplicity in the approach of this government to any issue and, in the instance I have quoted, to this particular bill before the parliament.

I refer again to the second reading speech, in which the government talks of surpluses in the 2007 budget. Madam Acting Deputy President, you and all senators would realise that that budget surplus was really money left to the current government by the Howard-Costello government—money and surpluses that had been built up in the previous couple of years after the Howard-Costello government had paid off $96 billion of Labor’s debt. As those senators who were here in 1996 when the government last changed would remember, in 1996 when the new government came in there was no indication that the current account for that particular year was $10 billion in the red. But when the new government came in and had a look at the books we found that there was almost a secret $10 billion deficit that had been run up in that particular year, and that $10 billion deficit went together with other deficits to create the $96 billion that was owing by the last Labor government. Madam Acting Deputy President, you do not have to look far to understand that this is not an isolated instance. That was the last Labor government. It was $10 billion in debt for that particular year and $96 billion in debt for the 13 years that it was in power. Have a look around at all of the state governments now, Madam Acting Deputy President, and you will see that all are in substantial debt.

It just shows that you simply cannot trust Labor with money. Labor is incapable of managing the taxpayers’ finances. My own state of Queensland, regrettably, has lost its AAA rating. We are facing a budget that is cutting services. In Queensland we are even talking about selling Queensland railways. We are talking about selling all of the electricity generation companies. We are talking about selling the ports infrastructure. These were all things which prior to this time I thought were tenets of the Labor Party philosophy—you know: the government should own all of those things. I see the unions, in their typical way, were demonstrating outside the Labor Party conference the other day. They were not going to let this happen. Of course, the Premier went inside the doors, said a few fine words, all the union bosses scurried around to fall in line and so went through the decision to privatise a lot of the Queensland government infrastructure.

Why is the Queensland government doing that? Because they have run out of money. They are now at a state where they cannot even borrow money without the support of the federal government. If any of you were around in Queensland before the state election just a few months ago, you would have heard stories from the Labor Party of how well the state was being managed and what good shape the finances of the state were in, only to find out two or three short months later that we as a state are in the financial pits. If we were a business we would be going into liquidation. That is what you get from the Labor Party when you leave them in charge of money. This bill before us today is another indication of the Labor Party simply being incapable of making financial decisions that stick.

We thought $96 billion in 13 years was pretty horrendous. Now Australians are beginning to realise that in 18 short months this Labor government has provided not for $96 billion of debt but for over $300 billion worth of debt. How are the Australian taxpayers going to pay that off? The Labor Party are not interested in it. This has been well commented upon. They have come to the conclusion that they will not even try to pay off the debt. They know that the electoral cycle will turn. As every day goes by I think it is going to turn much sooner than the Labor Party intended. They always knew that at some time the electoral cycle would turn and the good old Liberals would come back, take the hard, tough decisions, get the economy back on track and pay off the debt.

It is because of this financial profligacy that we hear reports of interest rates going up. Why are interest rates going up? It is not the fault of the Commonwealth Bank. It is not the fault of the National bank or the other banks. It is because of the huge amount of debt that this government has racked up in 18 short months. It is simply incredible that any group of people masquerading under the pretence of government with financial responsibility can have done that in such a short period. You will remember Mr Rudd telling the Australian public, with hand on heart, that he was a financial conservative. How can he possibly lie straight in bed these nights? He knew at the time that he was not telling the truth, and he has proved that in his actions since that time.

I know time is short and we have a busy legislative program. The coalition will be helping the Labor Party get through the urgent bills that are on the program this sitting fortnight, so I do not want to take too much more of the Senate’s time. Suffice it to say that the Labor Party’s ‘Clean Energy Initiative’ is also as fanciful as their suggestions of financial conservatism or of good economic management. In the two Senate committees inquiring into climate change policy and emissions trading that I have sat on, it has become quite clear that this is another piece of legislation that the Labor Party simply have no idea how to manage.

They have appointed a minister who in the first couple of weeks of government slipped over to Bali, got nationwide publicity—not worldwide publicity, as the Labor Party tried to pretend, but at least they did get nationwide publicity—for signing the Kyoto agreement, an action which meant absolutely nothing and did not provide one iota of benefit for reducing the emissions of the world. We had this minister who was going to solve everything. It quickly became clear that the job was far too big for this minister and so when it got into real problems Mr Rudd, at least realising that he was in some real trouble with the unions, with others, with industry and with financiers on the emissions trading scheme, brought in Mr Combet as Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change to go out and do the negotiations to try to bring the Labor Party’s emissions trading scheme back on track. Mr Combet has at least spoken to people; many people who spoke to us could not get in to see the minister, but at least they were able to get in to see Mr Combet. As a result of Mr Combet’s work, there were substantial changes made to the emissions trading scheme.

I would not mind betting you that before this bill sees its time out in this parliament there will be other substantial changes, because even the Labor Party now understands that the bill to come before us is a dog of a bill and one that will not make one iota of difference in reducing world emissions or the changing climate of the world—but it will destroy many Australian industries and will ensure that many working families who were working families in the Howard government years no longer have that title. They will be families of unemployed, families whose parents do not have jobs because of the mismanagement of the Labor Party and particularly this emissions trading scheme. In the two committee hearings that I sat through, witness after witness told us of the job losses that would occur.

In Queensland last week, the bankrupt state government increased electricity prices by 16 per cent. The minister who was given the short straw to go out and announce this 16 per cent increase said that if your electricity bill was something like $360 a bill—and I do not have the exact figures with me—it would go up by $55. This was done just because the Queensland government has run out of money. If you think of electricity and what the people of Queensland are paying now, our committee heard evidence that electricity costs for ordinary households would increase by anywhere between 50 and 200 per cent following the emissions trading scheme and the mandatory renewable energy target—the most modest estimate was a 50 per cent increase. While electricity prices in Queensland went up 16 per cent last week, when the Labor Party’s emissions trading scheme and mandatory renewable energy target come in electricity prices will go up another by 50 per cent at least—and perhaps by up 200 per cent.

The Clean Energy Initiative, which is mentioned in this bill, is a joke. Coal companies who appeared before the committee talked about clean energy and what they were doing to help reduce emissions. They have been cut off the Labor Party’s help list simply because they are coal companies and the Labor Party apparently do not like the coal companies. I can tell the Labor Party that many of their union members love the coal companies because they provide them with jobs, and up in my part of Queensland they provide them with very well paid jobs that in the future will not be available thanks to the Labor Party. I can just imagine the outrage and sense of betrayal that unionists in the Bowen Basin coalfields will exhibit when they realise that the government that they worked so hard to get elected just 18 or 19 months ago has turned on them and taken away their most valuable asset—that is, the right to work. Yet coal companies are doing things to try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They are trying to do their part but they have been shunned by this government and will not be assisted.

These are matters which we will be debating in the future, but what comes to mind when looking at the bill before us is that the Labor Party are using budget surpluses that were put aside in previous years and taking from education and putting it somewhere else. It again shows that where money is concerned you simply cannot trust the Labor Party.