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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 1843


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (11:38): I am pleased to enter this debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2012-2013 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2012-2013, bills that authorise additional spending by the Gillard government. We can well understand why these appropriations are so necessary and the extent of them at the present time. We woke this morning to hear the news of the highest level of small business bankruptcies on record—12 per cent higher than bankruptcies were for small business during the global financial crisis. Why is this? Sure, we do have a high exchange rate. Demand overseas for our manufacturing is falling. But added to all of this is the world's largest carbon tax—$23 a tonne, increasing to $39 a tonne and eventually to $300 a tonne—when our competitors overseas are paying, depending on what day it is in Asia and the United States, practically nothing and in Europe something between $5 and $10.

You can have a look at the basket case that is the European economies at the moment, but Australia already has a carbon tax of $23 per tonne and rising dramatically. How can Australian small business and Australian manufacturing operate in the face of competition from countries that do not have this cost embedded in everything they do? Every Australian knows that their electricity costs have gone up by at least 10 per cent as a result of the carbon tax and this has put enormous pressure on small business.

As Senator Cormann says, this government is incapable of managing the finances. I remember when we took over from the Keating government in 1996. First of all, we had been lied to at the time about the state of the budget in 1996. When the government changed and the books were opened up we found that there was a $10 million difference between what the Keating government was saying the annual reports were and what the actuality was. But, of course, when we added up the debt run up by the Keating government, it was some $96 billion.

Over the years of the Howard government we paid off that $96 billion. It was not easy, but we did it. And not only did we pay off that debt but we set Australia on the path of being one of the most admired, respected and envied economies of the world. When the government changed in 2007, we had some $80 billion in credit—$80 billion in credit!—in the bank for a rainy day, to pay superannuation entitlements to public servants and to do these things that need to be done. There were good times because of the Howard government's management and we were able to put $80 billion away. Here we are, five years later, and not only has the $80 billion all been blown and squandered by an inept and financially incompetent government but we have run up almost another $200 billion in debt. That is almost incredible.

A lot of people do not understand and they say, 'Oh, that's government—they can do that.' Well, sorry, they cannot! Governments are like your own household: if you borrow money you have to pay it back and until you pay it back you pay interest. The money that the Gillard government is paying in interest to overseas lenders would pay for the National Disability Insurance Scheme—they would not have to borrow a cent. It would pay for the talked-about Gonski reforms. But are either of those two things mentioned in the appropriation bills that we are dealing with at the moment? We were told that the NDIS—the National Disability Insurance Scheme—would cost something like $6, $7 or $8 billion. What has the Gillard government put aside, if anything? One billion dollars.

It is all about the talk, 'We are going to put in this insurance scheme; we are going to bring in education enhancements.' But are we funding it? Does it show in these appropriation bills? Of course not! It is just talk, talk, talk from the Labor Party, trying to fool the Australian public into thinking that they are actually doing something with disability insurance or with education enhancements.

Is there anything in these appropriation bills about the cost of setting up Senator Conroy's new media police? I cannot see anything in the appropriation bills about the cost of getting the regulator. We see that Senator Conroy is determined to fix up the media. You might recall that he told media barons that anything he says in Australia goes. I think his analogy was, 'You can wear your red underpants on your head if you find a case where what I say does not go in Australia.' He told some overseas media people that. These are the sorts of people who are running Australia.

Where in here do we hear about the media police that Senator Conroy is setting up? I heard Senator Furner the other day—last Thursday, I think—talking on a debate about the media, complaining about an article that I had read from the respected newspaper the Australian Financial Review on 16 November. It was a very good article by Grace Collier, who is a union insider and who opened the lid on what happens within the unions. We all knew it happened, but Grace Collier is a person who has worked in that area; she knew it was all about.

I read some excerpts from that article about just some of the deals between the Labor Party and the union movement. They were all fairly corrupt, as was pointed out in this excellent article, but what did Senator Furner get up and do last Thursday? He got up and criticised me for quoting Grace Collier and then proceeded to viciously attack this person under parliamentary privilege. Why do I raise that as part of the appropriation for these media police? What will happen when Senator Furner loses his seat at the next election—as he surely will, having been relegated by the Labor Party down the list on the ticket in Queensland? He may well be appointed as the watchdog of the media.

Can you imagine Senator Furner having a look at this article and saying to the Australian Financial Review: 'Oh no, look, I don't like that article. This woman has been attacking the unions all the time so we won't have that in.' You can also imagine Senator Furner, as the thought police chief, making a comment about this headline that appeared in the respected Courier Mail on 31 October 2009, some time ago: 'Senator linked to union cash', with a big photo of Senator Furner. Can you imagine that that would have been allowed in the Courier Mail if Senator Furner had been in charge of the media police? Of course it would not.

This article talks about some dodgy union dealings with a particular union in Queensland. It keeps changing its name but was then the NUW, whatever that stands for. It was something that Senator Furner had been associated with before he came to the Senate: something about signing some cheques and some bank accounts and money paid to a union official when he no longer had a job. He was to receive a redundancy equivalent of $35,000 for each year of service. Talk about Mr Craig Thomson and what he did with the Health Workers Union! It would be good to have a look at what happened in the NUW that allowed this guy to get $35,000 a year of union membership fees for work that he had done.

The point I am making here is that this article quite clearly has the quote:

Mark Furner has nothing to do with it—

so it was absolving Senator Furner. But it was an interesting article. It raised issues, it raised them fairly and it said, quite clearly, that Mr Furner was not involved. But that does not stop the Labor Party from wanting to control the media.

I say to my friends and colleagues in the Labor Party—not that there are too many of them who are my friends, I might say—if you are so upset about what the media do, and they print an article that is clearly wrong and is defamatory, you have remedies now. I relate my own experience, where I sued the Sunday Mail for a quite outrageous article that they wrote on me which was just full of lies and misinterpretations and was factually wrong. I took action under the laws of the land as they now stand and I was able to seek retribution; I was able to seek justice.

The Sunday Mail ended up publishing two apologies to me for that. They paid me some money, I might say, and the money did not cover the legal bills that I had paid. You do have to be careful taking legal action, but you can do it. If you are right, as I was in that instance, you have your remedies now. You do not need the Labor Party initiating a sort of thought police that is reminiscent of what happened in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s. You do not have to introduce and implement the sort of scheme that we saw in communist Russia during the years of the Cold War.

Not only are the legislation and proposals bad but they are going to cost money which is not referred to in these appropriation bills. The appropriation bills should be showing us how the Labor Party is getting back to, and discharging and honouring, the promise it, the Prime Minister and Mr Swan, the Treasurer, have made for the last couple of years—but certainly since the last budget—that they would definitely bring in a surplus this year. They said it once, they said it twice; I think it has been reported that they have said on 500 separate occasions that they would bring in a surplus budget. Everybody else knew that it was impossible, because you cannot keep spending, spending and spending and still bring in a surplus budget. But this was promised. On the day before the weekend that Mr Swan eventually conceded that this was unlikely to happen he had told all of his troops in the Labor Party to go out and repeat his promises that they were going to bring in a surplus. But did they? Of course, everybody knew, and Mr Swan eventually realised.

The point I make here is: is there anything that our current Prime Minister promises that you can believe? She has promised 14 September for the next election, so I would almost bet my house on the fact that it will not be on 14 September because if it is, it is the first promise that she has kept. Mr Acting Deputy President, you will remember the major promise before the last federal election, 'there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead'. And what happened? The first thing she did when she got back into power with the help of the Independents and the minor parties was introduce a carbon tax. Whether you agree with the carbon tax or not is secondary. The issue is: can we trust anything that this Prime Minister and her Treasurer say? Can we believe anything that is in the appropriation bills before us at the moment? I see Mr Shorten and others are wandering around the parliament saying: 'I'm not going to challenge for the leadership. There is no leadership challenge on. We all support Ms Gillard as the Labor Party leader.'

You might recall that for a couple of days in the week leading up to Ms Gillard's knifing of the then Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, she said on many occasions that there was no prospect of her challenging for the leadership. Those who follow AFL more closely than I might remember her comment that she had more chance of playing full forward for the Bulldogs than becoming Prime Minister. This was I think the day before she challenged the Prime Minister. How can you believe anything that she says? How can you believe Mr Shorten when he is out there today saying: 'At this point, no, I'm not going to challenge because of a number of reasons. I completely support Julia Gillard.' That is what Julia Gillard said when she was talking about Kevin Rudd when he was Prime Minister. Is there anything you can believe that this government, its leader, Ms Gillard, its Treasurer, Mr Swan, and any others on the front bench can say? If there is something that the Labor Party have promised that they have honoured, I would be interested to hear about it.

We heard just the other day from my colleague Senator Mason that there was this promise to connect up—what was it?—thousands or tens of thousands of school computers to the NBN. Senator Mason pointed out that, rather than hundreds of schools being connected, there had been around 20, I think, that had been connected. Thousands had been promised; 20 had actually occurred.

The shame of all this is that people go to the election, they go to the ballot box, and they cast their vote on the basis of these promises made by Labor Party politicians. Of course we would all love our children to have a computer on their desk in every school: 'Yes, we will vote for that.' But does it happen? Of course we do not want a carbon tax: 'Ms Gillard has promised we will not have a carbon tax, so we can feel confident voting for her.' What these lies from Labor Party leaders do is demean the whole instrument, the whole basis, of our democracy.

Time never permits us to go through the broken promises of the Labor Party, but the carbon tax is the broken promise of all broken promises. It was not as if it was a throwaway line. It was not as if it was something done on the spur of the moment. Ms Gillard promised on, I think, three separate occasions before the last election. And, on the day before the last election, the Treasurer, Mr Wayne Swan, said that those who were alleging that the government would introduce it were, in his words, 'hysterical'. He also assured us that there would be no carbon tax.

I often say to my Labor colleagues in the Senate here: if the carbon tax is as good as you now say it is, if climate change is one of the moral dilemmas of our time, as you once said it was, why then did Ms Gillard promise not to introduce it? I cannot work that out. If it is such a good thing as she now says, then why did she, a couple of days before the election, promise she would not bring it in? Didn't she understand then that the carbon tax would lead to huge cost-of-living increases for all Australians, and particularly for those on working salaries?

This brings me back to where I started, talking about these appropriation bills. We have a government that, based on a lie, introduced a tax that has not only destroyed so many Australian small businesses, a record number now, but just about sounded the death knell for the Australian manufacturing industry. What manufacturing we did have in Australia has all gone overseas. So it is not just the broken promise and the lack of trust we have in the Prime Minister and the Treasurer; it is the fact that their broken promises are actually hastening the death of the Australian manufacturing industry.

One would hope that in passing these appropriation bills you would see a bit of honesty, a bit of hope for Australia that our finances might be brought into line; one would hope that we might be able to start spending within our means, that we might be able to stop paying the interest which would allow us to implement immediately a fully funded disability scheme. But I suspect that these appropriation bills will get the same treatment as any other financial decision of the Gillard government—that is, being ignored completely and be— (Time expired)