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Thursday, 12 December 2013
Page: 1698

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment) (16:58): Hypocrisy, thy name is the Australian Labor Party. We have just listened to that—

Senator Wong: It's all very private school debating society.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: You are the one who went to a private school, Senator Wong.

Senator Wong: That's true!

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thank you.

Senator Cameron: I didn't.

Senator Polley: Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I ask you to direct the senator back to relevance instead of personal assaults.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Furner ): There is no point of order.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Grow up, Senator Polley. Really—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Birmingham, I will have you address your comments through the chair.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President—with your stern voice! Hypocrisy, thy name is the Australian Labor Party, because what we just heard was a remarkable tirade from Senator Wong, who, for six long years, was a senior cabinet minister and a member of the leadership group in a government that could not lie straight in bed and in a government that systematically broke every clear-cut commitment it seemed to ever make to the Australian people. Way back in the days, a sanctimonious Kevin Rudd, the opposition leader, would stand before the Australian people and pretend to be 'John Howard lite' and plead about how he would run a government of fiscal conservatism that would not be blundering into the debt levels that we had seen from previous Labor governments.

But of course he did not. He didn't, did he? He plundered the debt. He went straight in, as deep as he possibly could, as soon as he possibly could, and we saw him spin about as fast as he possibly could. No longer was he the fiscal conservative. Instead, he was the man writing essays for The Monthly talking about just how we needed to turn around from the capitalist regime and how we needed to turn back to some form of greater government involvement and government spending—and did he spend!

He, of course, was replaced. The Labor Party could not even manage to keep a commitment to the Australian people about who the Prime Minister of the day would be, so they rolled Mr Rudd and put in Ms Gillard just before the 2010 election. She went through that election, and what wonderful words did she have to say? 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead'—the infamous words, the words that came to haunt her and haunt the government, the words that she then broke. Pretty much the moment she had been elected at the 2010 election, she struck a deal with the Australian Greens and broke that clear-cut commitment, and off went the government on another flight of fancy.

We could go through Senator Conroy's National Broadband Network, the $4.7 billion NBN that was going to be complete by 2013. Here we are in December 2013, and we discover it was going to actually take more than $70 billion and take until 2024. So much for the word of those opposite.

So it is remarkable that, after just three months of a new government, Senator Wong comes into this chamber, moves a motion and tries to get all preachy about trust and honesty and truthfulness. But I will happily address some of the issues that Senator Wong went through in her comments and try to demonstrate to the chamber how wrong they were but also, importantly, where and how this government is setting about meeting and honouring its commitments.

Senator Wong started on the topic of the car industry. It is a tragedy that yesterday General Motors made the announcement they did. It is a tragedy.

Senator Farrell: You could have saved that company.


Senator BIRMINGHAM: Senator Farrell and others—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—sat on their hands in government while Labor broke, in the last two years, $1.4 billion of their own promised funding commitments as they chopped and changed in government. That was $1.4 billion that they chopped and changed in government, of their own funding commitments. The broken carbon tax promise slugged the whole automotive sector with a $460 million additional cost impost. Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard went along to Ford, promised them $34 million and said it would create 300 jobs, yet within eight months 330 jobs were gone. The same Prime Minister announced $215 million for Holden, saying it would secure its future in Australia until 2022, but within months 670 jobs were lost.

Senator Farrell interjecting

Senator BIRMINGHAM: All of that demonstrates, Senator Farrell, if you think about it, that, for all the money being thrown at the industry, it was still going backwards. That is the reason why in 2008, for all the money that had been thrown at it, Mitsubishi left. Earlier this year, for all the money that had been thrown at it, Ford announced it was closing its doors.

This, of course, is because we had become such an unsustainable, uncompetitive place in which to do business. The core of this government's commitment is to reduce the cost of business for Australia.

Senator Farrell: $150 million would have kept them going. That was all you had to do.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: That is just a lie, Senator Farrell. You know that.

Senator Farrell: It's the truth.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: No, it's not. The business model was unsustainable, and it is very clear for all to see that that had become an unsustainable business model. And the problem facing Australia is that, if those opposite do not wake up and realise that we need to do something about the level of taxation in this country, that we need to do something about the level—

Senator Farrell: Get a government that cares about manufacturing.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: You cared so much you watched two of the manufacturers walk right out the door, Senator Farrell, and basically Holden did it on your watch as well. Really, you just think about it. Within three months, they followed the previous two. The industry collapsed under your watch.

Senator Farrell interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Birmingham, take your seat.

Senator Farrell interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Birmingham.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. The truth is that those opposite need to wake up and realise that we have to reduce the cost base of doing business in this country. We have to reduce the cost of taxes of doing business. We have to reduce the regulatory burden of doing business in this country. And, if we are to succeed as a government in doing that, we need to be able to pass some legislation through this Senate. We need to be able to get it through the Senate to ensure that we do not face more situations like Holden in future.

The remarkable thing is that, whilst the Labor Party in government spent all their time breaking the promises they had made to the electorate, in opposition the Labor Party seem to be spending all of their time trying to stop our government from honouring the promises we have made to the electorate. We told the electorate very, very clearly that we would repeal the carbon tax, yet those opposite and those on the crossbenches will not even let us get it to a vote. They will not even let us have a vote on it, let alone accept the mandate and the commitment we made to repeal the carbon tax, to repeal the mining tax, to strip some red tape and some green tape out of this economy and to try to get us to a position where the long-term economic fundamentals stack up so that we do not see more instances like Holden, so that we do not see more companies leaving Australia, but we actually have a lower cost place in which to do business and an attractive place in which to invest so that we might actually see new jobs created in the future. This government will not step away from those core principles. We will, day in, day out, whilst we are in office, seek to reduce those cost pressures, generate the jobs and create a sustainable situation for Australian industry into the future.

Senator Wong also had the gall to come in here and talk about debt, which was hard to believe. I admire her front, at least. Senator Wong had the front and the gall to come in here and talk about broken promises on debt. As I indicated, I can remember in 2007 when Mr Rudd was going to be the fiscal conservative. Instead, he inherited an office with around $50 billion in the bank, but then the Labor Party kept up racking up deficit after deficit—record deficit after record deficit. They had to change their own debt limit not once, when in 2008 they lifted it to $75 billion, not twice, when in 2009 they lifted it to $200 billion, not three times, when in 2011-12 they lifted it to $250 billion, but four times in six years when they had to lift the debt limit to $300 billion in the end. Even then when they left office it was hurtling past the $300 billion level, well towards and beyond $400 billion in gross debt that, because of Labor's budget mismanagement, they had racked up—a remarkably sad and tragic legacy of those opposite. But they come in here and have the gall to talk about debt.

It is bad enough they have the gall to talk about debt, because they racked it all up; it is equally bad that they are now trying to block us from doing the things we said we would do to try to rein that debt in. Labor are even opposing some of their own savings measures. What they committed to before the election they are now blocking and opposing in the Senate after the election. All up, the Labor Party are blocking around $20 billion of savings measures the government has identified, $5 billion of which was identified by their own government and that they said they would make if they won the last election. They are now coming into this place and voting against that having lost the election. This is a remarkable turn of events from the Labor Party.

They said they would freeze the indexation of the childcare rebate. Senator Wong spent a little time talking about childcare issues. They said they would freeze the indexation of the childcare rebate. Now it seems they are revisiting that. They announced $2.3 billion of higher education savings on 13 April this year. At the time Prime Minister Gillard said, 'Some of the biggest businesses in our nation can forego an extra research and development tax credit to fund this package.' That was the argument used by Prime Minister Gillard and Labor then, but no more. The Labor Party want to block that too. It is their own measure they are blocking.

As an opposition we were very honest and upfront when it came to matters such as the schoolkids bonus. There have not been too many times in this nation's history when an opposition has gone to an election saying quite clearly, 'Yes, the government are making a payment to families across Australia and we are going to axe that payment.' But we did. We were honest. We told the public that that was what we were going to do, that it was unsustainable in the budget because it was funded from an unsustainable mining tax that does not generate sufficient revenue. We were very clear and upfront with the Australian people.

We have come to office. We are trying to implement our promise. Once again, we find the Labor Party blocking us in that implementation. We find the Labor Party stopping us from being able to go through and implement something that, frankly, we could not have been more honest and upfront about before the election and that we could not be more honest about in attempting to implement after the election. Whether it is on debt, the carbon tax or the range of measures before the Senate at present, the Labor Party seem to be spending all their time trying to stop us from actually implementing our promises. That is why it is so remarkable that they want to come in here and have a debate about the implementation of promises.

Senator Wong also raised school funding. She talked about school funding. Again, it was remarkable front from Senator Wong, who would have been the finance minister to sign off on the stripping of $1.2 billion in funding out of the budget just before the election. That was a $1.2 billion cut that ensured that they could not implement school funding reforms across Australia and could not deliver funding promised to every state and territory. They took it out of the budget to fudge the budget bottom line. That was the step taken by Senator Wong.

Our government have recommitted that funding. We have put it back in so that it will not matter whether you go to school in a state that signed up beforehand or a school in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, you will still get that funding flowing through. That is the commitment that we made. It is a commitment that we are honouring. We are honouring it despite the fact that the Labor Party in a budget sleight of hand did everything they possibly could to make it impossible to honour. One can only wonder had they won the last election what they would have done. Would they have then had to find the funding to work with those other states or would they have run a school funding model where they paid significantly less for school students in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia than they did for all the other jurisdictions? Would that have been of the approach of the Australian Labor Party—to discriminate on how much money you get based on which jurisdiction you happen to go to school in? Would that have been their approach? Would they have backed away from the savings measures that they had committed to before the election?

It is very clear that we as a government are getting on with not only implementing our promises but fixing up their mess. The area of child care and the Early Years Quality Fund is another classic example of us implementing our promises while fixing their mess. We are committing the entire $300 million towards the education and professional development of long-day-care educators. We are following through on the full investment of that sum of money. We are not keeping the flawed model that we criticised before the election, which Labor was trying to implement and which was just a cruel hoax. The Labor model was only ever going to be accessed by a fraction of childcare workers and was only ever going to fund any type of wages benefit for that fraction of childcare workers for two years.

Labor's claims on this could not be further from the truth. Under their model 70 per cent of long-day-care workers would not have received a dollar of the $300 million fund. All it did was create a pay wall within the sector where, just like the discrimination between states over school funding, there would have been discrimination between childcare centres. Where the level of government funding going to support workers in one childcare centre would have been different from that going to support workers in another childcare centre. What was going to be the defining factor? Pretty much whether or not the United Voice union had signed them up; whether their union buddies gave the tick off on whether they could get the money. Only 16 per cent of the entire childcare sector was going to receive any form of funds from the program and it was only going to last two years.

Once again, what would have happened had the Labor Party won office? Would they have paid it out for two years and then the workers who got it would face a wage cut? Would that have been the option? Or would they have realised they had created a budget black hole. Would they really have continued to run such an equitable system where some workers got it and others did not, depending on whether or not they joined the union?

We are keeping the $300 million. We are investing it in professional development that is open to all long-day-care educators. It certainly will not be preferenced on whether they are active in the union. We hope that, when it comes to wages for childcare operators, we will see a wages ruling soon from the Fair Work Commission, that the independent umpire does what it is expected to do and comes up with a fair ruling.

I come into the chamber amazed at the fact that Labor has the gall and is so full of hypocrisy to want to debate the issue of promises. As a government, we have set about honouring our promises. We have set about fixing up Labor's mess. The only thing getting in the way of our delivering on our promises is the obstructionism of those opposite, who come into this place and block any measures even to extend the sitting hours to bring matters to a vote. The shame lies on their heads. (Time expired)