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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 1934

Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (17:50): I also rise to make some comments on the appropriation bills before us. Following comments from some of my colleagues who have already spoken in this place, there is absolutely no doubt that this Labor government has no ability whatsoever to manage the nation. My good colleague Senator Ronaldson has just very eloquently pointed out exactly that. The mismanagement that we have seen when it comes to the economy is nothing short of breathtaking.

As I travel around communities and talk to people who are out there going about their daily lives—going to work, going home; they have their mortgage and they are working hard to pay that off—they are absolutely astounded by this Labor government's complete inability to understand that when you borrow money you have to be able to pay it back. All of these people that I talk to, particularly in regional communities where I spend the bulk of my time, actually understand how it works. They actually understand that if you borrow money you have to pay it back. This government shows absolutely no sign whatsoever of understanding that.

We have about $268 billion worth of gross debt—268 billion. We have well in excess of $150 billion of net debt. We are paying $7 billion a year in interest on the money that this government has borrowed—seven billion! Billions seem to roll off the tongue of those on the other side of the chamber as if it was just a few dollars here or there. That $7 billion could give us another 100,000 nurses, another 100,000 police officers, perhaps another 100,000 school teachers, but because of this government's complete lack of ability to manage the economy it is all getting sucked up in paying off the interest on the debt—and so much of that money that has been borrowed has been wasted. I think it particularly galls people when they see this random borrowing. The government has never, ever, understood how to manage money, just like many previous Labor governments; but this one in particular is worse than most of the rest put together because it simply cannot do it—it has absolutely no idea. People are absolutely gobsmacked by the waste that we have so often seen with that borrowed money.

Colleagues often talk about the waste—$6.5 billion now—that the government has spent on trying to get some semblance of order into managing our borders, which it is not doing. We have had something like 580 boats and nearly 34,000 people turn up since Labor came to office. It is just extraordinary that the government simply cannot manage the borders, cannot manage money, cannot manage anything. It is like letting kindy kids be in charge of the country—although that is being disrespectful to kindy kids.

People out there in the community know that this nation deserves a better future; they know that this nation deserves to be able to look to the future and think they have a government that is going to take them to a better place. They know that this Labor government is not going to do that in any way, shape or form. It is really sad. I actually find it really sad, as a wife and mother, to look at the shambles of this government, that my children have to watch, ruining what is the best country on the planet.

As I move around regional communities—and I am sure my good colleague here Senator Ruston will be hearing exactly the same thing in her home state—I find people have no confidence. Money has just stopped moving. People do not have the confidence to invest or the confidence to spend because under this Labor government they have no idea what part of the shambles is going to come next. They have no idea what is around the next corner and they have no confidence to do anything. What is happening in our regional communities in particular? Money has stopped moving around and everything is coming to a grinding halt—and it is the fault of this hopeless Labor government.

This is a Labor government that does not understand rural and regional Australia—no idea, not a clue, nada, nothing. I am not just saying that from this side of the chamber; we can see it. Every day the Labor government prove yet again that they have no idea about regional Australia, about what regional Australia needs now and in the future and what makes it tick—not a clue. It almost seems like they do not want to know. It is almost as if they do not care. Whether they think not enough people out there are ever going to vote for them and we are not worth worrying about, I do not know. Maybe it is just a complete inability to understand it, and not enough sense and sensibility to actually try and figure it out. When we look at some of the actions of this Labor government, it is absolutely appalling the disrespect with which they treat regional Australia and the lack of ability to try and put in place any kind of policy determination that will improve the lives of regional people.

Colleagues, we only have to look at the snap live export ban that the government put in place on the cattle trade to Indonesia. If there has ever been a more stupid decision by a government—no, actually there have been quite a lot from this government so I do not think I can say that, but that one was of note as particularly breathtaking. The government responded to an email campaign from people who so often had absolutely no idea how the live export trade worked, what was actually happening and what those people were doing, particularly in the north of the country. They had no idea, and yet we saw that absolutely knee-jerk reaction from the Labor government to put in place a live export ban: 'Snap! Gee, we'll do that!'—and Julia Gillard and her agriculture minister in the Labor government decimated the lives of so many people across northern Australia. It just seems they simply did not care. And it was not just the cattle producers; this was far-reaching. All those people in the community, all those people who ran businesses that relied on the trade, all those people who were involved in producing hay for people involved in the trade, all those flow-on businesses and flow-on practices—all of them were affected because of the live export ban.

Colleagues, do you know what the Prime Minister said recently at the Press Club when she was asked about this? She made some reflection about having to respond when there is an overwhelming call from the people out there. They are not her exact words—I do not want to verbal the Prime Minister—but they were along those lines. She basically said, 'Well, I had to do something in response,' and she thought it was better, rather than affect the industry long term, to have some 'short-term disruption'. The Prime Minister of this country, having decimated the lives of people and those in the communities around those cattle producers, termed it 'short-term disruption'. That is appalling. If that does not show a complete disregard for rural Australia and the people in it, I do not know what does.

Recently the Prime Minister said that, under the carbon tax, the dairy industry was not only going to survive but going to thrive. I do not know if the Prime Minister is completely disconnected from what is happening in rural Australia, just does not care or both, but it is tragic to have a Prime Minister so incompetent as to not actually understand the effect of government policy on different sectors. That is just appalling. And this from the Prime Minister who said, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead,' but then, lo and behold, what do we get? We get a carbon tax. You cannot trust a single thing this Labor government says.

People in regional Australia are feeling so left out, left behind and disregarded by this Labor government everywhere I go, probably no more so than in the area of education. This Labor government have been appalling when it comes to trying to provide some equity for regional students in access to education. I use the word 'appalling' deliberately. I cannot think of a more appropriate word than 'appalling'. When we look at the track record of this Labor government when it comes to regional students, there is absolutely no way that this government can possibly understand the inequity for regional students in accessing tertiary education. Indeed, in 2010 we saw the government make some sweeping changes to the youth allowance system. Some of them were, as I said at the time, good initiatives, but during that process the government came up with a change in policy that treated regional students unfairly. It took a year and a half before this stupid government realised that they had made a mistake and were treating regional students unfairly, finally doing a backflip and reinstating those students in the inner regional areas to equitable criteria when it comes to accessing independent youth allowance. It took 18 months to reverse something that should never, ever have happened in the first place.

I see Senator Back at the other end of the chamber is nodding his head and I will take that nod as an interjection because I know how very clearly Senator Back understands this issue. I know that in Western Australia, like everywhere else across this nation, this issue is burning regional families. Indeed, I got an email from a family in regional Western Australia just a couple of weeks ago pointing out the inequities in the current system and the huge difficulties they were facing just trying to educate their children. The Prime Minister keeps talking about equity in education, but it is clearly yet another thing you cannot believe from this Prime Minister. If she truly meant that then she would have fixed at least some of the problems for regional students accessing education.

The issue for regional students is the fact that so many of them have no choice whatsoever but to relocate to attend university or further education. That comes at a huge cost; the evidence shows it is around $20,000 to $30,000. This is the issue: those regional students who have to relocate have that huge financial burden, but city students who do not have to relocate do not have that financial burden. That, colleagues, is the issue of inequity for the regional students.

This government simply does not get it. I think they somehow think everybody living out in the bush is a rich farmer earning millions of dollars and can send their kids off to uni, thank you very much. Nothing could be further from the truth, yet we see this government put in place a $150,000 parental income test cap on independent youth allowance for those students who go do a gap year, work hard for a year and prove themselves independent of their parents. And the government puts on a parental income test cap. They say to these students who have been out working flat out for a year—or would if they could—'Oh, sorry. If your parents earn $150,000 combined before tax then, sorry, you're not even eligible to apply. Forget about it. Go figure out some other way to get the extra funding you need to go off to university. Oh, by the way: those city students who can stay home? They're fine.' And good luck to them. That is terrific and fine for them, but they do not have that financial burden.

How dare this government say to our regional students, who work so hard going through the proper processes of the only mechanism that is available for them in so many areas to get some financial assistance to go on to tertiary education: 'By the way, we think that, if your parents earn $150,000 combined before tax, they can foot the bill for you.' It is not a welfare measure. Dependent youth allowance is a welfare measure. Independent youth allowance is not. The parental income test cap should not be there. It is illogical. It should not be part of the criteria for independent youth allowance. We are, effectively, talking a school teacher and a police officer in a regional area: their child does not qualify for the ability to go work their tail off for a year to qualify under that criteria for independent youth allowance.

This government has thrown so many regional students on the scrap heap that it is just astounding. When we look at the debt and the $7 billion a year in interest payments because of this government's complete inability to run the country, it is no wonder those regional families are absolutely desperate and gobsmacked that this government cannot find the money to get rid of the cap that they should never have put on independent youth allowance in the first place. It is so wrong.

These regional students deserve better. They deserve a fair go. They deserve a fair crack at the equity of education that the Prime Minister keeps talking about. It is so wrong and not fair. Why would a professional in a regional area stay in that regional area when they have huge costs of having to send their students away? As one professional in a regional town said to me a while ago: 'I've got three daughters. Two of them are off at university. I've got another one coming that's going to be off at university in a year or two. I could move back to Sydney, get paid more and not have the financial cost of having to send my children away to university. Why would I stay in a regional town?' He said, 'I stay here because we love it.' There are so many professionals now talking to me saying exactly the same thing. This is not just an issue of regional students going off to tertiary education; this is an issue of the future sustainability of the workforce in our regions. This government is threatening the future sustainability of our regions every single day.

This government knows having that cap on independent youth allowance is wrong. In my view—and in the Nationals' view—we should have a tertiary access allowance so that students have that equity and have that ability to get some financial assistance so they can go to university on a level footing with their city cousins. Why should regional students be disadvantaged simply because of where they live? It is not fair and it is about time this government woke up and realised what they are doing to regional students and their families. People out there in the communities work so hard, and are the backbone of this nation—whether they be on-farm or in small business or working in so many different fields and areas that we see in rural Australia—and yet this Labor government could not care less. I say that in the true knowledge that it is the case, because otherwise they would have fixed it. They are not even going down the track of coming up with a better system for students, which they are crying out for and which absolutely needs to happen to give them some equity of access to education. This government will not even try to fix the mess that they have already created and have already got in place.

Why should these students not have the same fair crack at a decent education that city students do? Only around 33 per cent of regional students go on to tertiary education—compared with 55 per cent in the cities—and all the evidence shows that it is because of the financial burden that these students and their families face because they have no choice but to relocate; it is not rocket science. I simply do not understand why the government cannot get what they are doing to these regional students and their families. When we see this government do things like selling the parliamentary billiard tables for $5,000 and then spend $102,000 determining whether or not they got value for money, it is not surprising that these families are despairing of this Labor government ever understanding regional or rural Australia. It is no surprise that there is no confidence out there in those communities. Rural Australia has the most amazing opportunities ahead of it; the people in those communities have the most amazing opportunities ahead of them as well. Rural Australia is the most fantastic place in the world to live, and people out there can only hope that they will eventually have a government that will see that and finally give them some vision to a decent future.