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Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Page: 1537


Senator THISTLETHWAITE (New South Wales) (15:57): I walked late into this matter of public importance debate. I thought I had come in for the wrong debate because I heard very little from Senator Joyce about the subject of the matter of public importance or about issues associated with the federal government or the federal economy. I heard a lot about Queensland but very little about our nation and our government. This matter of public importance really is one of the greatest ironies I have ever witnessed in my very brief time in this very esteemed chamber. If one wants to talk about waste, mismanagement and profligacy undermining hope, reward and opportunity for Australians, one need look no further than those opposite.

One should be suspicious of a motion that includes the word 'profligacy'. One can only imagine where this particular topic we are debating today—supposedly a matter of public importance—would have been dreamed up by those opposite. Perhaps it came from the offices of Senator Brandis. One can only imagine Senator Brandis and his mates—some of his barrister mates or his Senior Counsel or Queen's Counsel mates; whatever they call themselves these days—sitting around in their wigs and gowns, chewing on their cigars and sipping their cognac, trying to work out how they could get the word 'profligacy' into a motion in the Senate. And here is Senator Brandis—great timing. Perhaps he can explain how the word 'profligacy' got into this matter of public importance today. I would suggest that it is designed to bamboozle and to pull the wool over the eyes of the Australia public about the fact that those opposite are not willing to debate issues of policy in this chamber—and for good reason. When we do talk about issues of policy, when we do talk about real matters of public importance, those opposite come up woefully short.

One need only look at the coalition's record on economic management, particularly their attempts at the last election to justify their election costings. When their costings were submitted, they came up $11 billion short—an $11 billion black hole in their election costings. Yet they come in here and criticise this government about its record on economic management.

The MPI seeks to criticise the government for undermining hope and reward. I wonder how the coalition's accountants are feeling and what they are thinking in the wake of their performance in 2010. What sorts of rewards did they get out of teaming up with the Liberal Party and analysing their election costings? What sorts of rewards did the firm of accountants in Perth get for analysing the coalition's election costings? They got a wonderful reward. It came in the form of a $5,000 fine for breaches of professional standards—simply for teaming up with the coalition and providing analysis of their election costings. One cannot blame the firm of accountants; they were being asked to do things that were simply not possible. The money was just not there. That came out in the audit by the professional standards body.

The MPI from those opposite talks about the government's waste and mismanagement and how this is a destroyer of hope and opportunity. There is no greater destroyer of hope and opportunity than the Liberal Party. If you look at the budget cuts they are intending to make when they come to government, you get a pretty good indicator of future destruction of hope and reward by the coalition. They are planning to cut $70 billion from the budget. What will that mean for working Australians and their families? It will mean that important government programs, such as the childcare rebate—support which is critical for helping people with young children to survive, to get by from week to week—are on the chopping block. For senior Australians, there is no greater reward for the efforts they have put in over their working lives than an adequate pension. Yet who opposed the increase in the pension when it was put forward by the Labor Party? Those opposite.

There are Australians who are single parents, there are families who require support and there are Australians who are trying to get back on their feet after facing difficult circumstances. Instead of hope and opportunity, they face, from the coalition, the prospect of $70 billion worth of cuts to the services they rely on every day of the week. Yet the coalition seek to criticise us for destroying hope and opportunity.

This comes from the party who take every opportunity they get to talk down the Australian economy. They claim that there are sovereign debt risks in our economy. They claim that our level of net debt is unsustainable when they know very well that our economy has one of the lowest levels of net debt in the OECD. They ignore facts—such as the fact that Australia has a rolled gold AAA credit rating. For the first time, all three ratings agencies have us as AAA; all three have given us the tick of approval.

Senator Brandis: Who do we have to thank for that? Peter Costello!

Senator THISTLETHWAITE: Senator Brandis mentions Peter Costello. The real saviours of the Australian economy were the Keating and Hawke governments. They were the ones who built the bridge upon which—

Senator Brandis: On a point of order, Mr Deputy President: I am not sure what standing order it is which prohibits senators misleading the chamber, but Senator Thistlethwaite has disregarded the fact that Australia's credit rating was downgraded twice during the Hawke and Keating governments.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Brandis, there is no point of order. That is a debating point.

Senator THISTLETHWAITE: The strength of the Australian economy at the moment is directly related to the reforms made by the Hawke and Keating governments. They were the ones who built the bridge over which the train driven by Peter Costello travelled. They were the ones who opened up our economy, floated the dollar, reduced tariffs and opened up our banking sector and our bond market to competition. All of these were reforms introduced by the Labor government.

The great irony is the posturing of the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott. He claims that he can balance the budget; cut income taxes; reduce the company tax rate; increase pensions; spend more on infrastructure; deliver new social programs, such as an unfair and unfunded parental leave scheme, a national disability insurance scheme and a Medicare dental scheme; and restore the private health insurance rebate for high-income earners whilst at the same time cutting carbon emissions in our economy by five per cent by 2020—without a market based mechanism. He claims that he will scrap the minerals resource rent tax and he claims that he will do this while still providing reductions in the company tax rate. He will not say how he will fund any of these promises. And he will not say that he will support an independent process to cost their budget promises through the Parliamentary Budget Office.

This MPI is another admission from those opposite that they are not interested in debating the issues that really affect Australians—keeping our economy strong and providing adequate services that support working families in this country. We are happy to discuss policy on any occasion in this place. We are happy to discuss hope, reward and opportunity for Australians. We talk about hope, opportunity and reward; we delivered that during the global financial crisis. We protected jobs in our economy. When we talk about opportunity, we need look no further than the government's Building the Education Revolution program. It provided $16 billion worth of investment in better education facilities. I have visited some of those facilities, and the greatest irony of all is the coalition MPs turning up at them and sneaking their heads in the photos being taken when the plaques are unveiled. They were not too shy to come along to the openings of those new facilities. (Time expired)