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Thursday, 12 December 2013
Page: 1702


Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (17:18): I congratulate Senator Birmingham on managing to avoid discussion of his own government's performance over the last 100 or so days. As Senator Birmingham knows, it is quite an extraordinary achievement. I think it has been ranked as the shortest honeymoon in political polling history. That is because those opposite are so incompetent, they are such a shambles, that this motion—to demonstrate and highlight that—is absolutely worthy of debate on this floor. We have already seen them want to avoid any discussion in question time of some of their debacles. They went through what was probably be limpest attempt to suspend standing orders I have seen in six or seven years, pretending they wanted to stay longer. It was just like Senator Birmingham now, who is rushing out of the chamber and who at 7.30 tonight will be rushing out the door to the airport, because he does not want to talk about all of the government's broken promises. He does not want to discuss the fact that every time we look at this government it is engaged in childish behaviour. Everywhere we look decisions are being made for short-term political gain, not the long-term needs of the Australian public. They are not the government they said they were going to be.

It is increasingly clear that the coalition has a plan for opposition. They are still running the same tired one-liners, pretending that that is a substitute for hard work, policy reform and determined delivery of legislation through the parliament. Within three months—I do not know if it is even 100 days, Mr Acting Deputy President—this government has sold out 50,000 families by publicly goading Holden into leaving Australia. You just had to pick up any newspaper in the last two weeks to find leaks from the cabinet against Minister McFarlane—leaks like: 'It's 18 votes to one to give Holden nothing and make them leave the country.' Headlines such as those in today's and yesterday's Financial Review: 'Minister Hockey goads GMH.' This is a government that has set out systematically to drive Holden out of the country and betray 50,000 Australian families.

We have seen education used as a political plaything. The government has shown scant regard for thousands of families and children across this country—but I will come back to that.

I lost count of the number of lies that were exposed and the promises that were broken by Mr Turnbull in his document, at his press conference and in his parliamentary performance today. I lost count of the broken promises. He promised to roll out 25 megabits-speed download to every Australian by 2016. We have seen today that in his own document, a deeply flawed document, written by his handpicked mate—handpicked at taxpayers' expense—whom he owns a yacht with and sails around Sydney Harbour with, has delivered a shonky set of figures and assumptions based on shonky inputs to come up with the numbers that he did. But even that document, based on his own figures for his own rollout, shows that all he will reach—despite promising every Australian that they would be getting an improved broadband speed—is five per cent of Australians by 2016. He made promises to everybody before the election and he is delivering to five per cent of Australians by 2016. So, at every level, this government are sending Australia and Australians backwards. Nothing they do is about the future prosperity of our country. It is quite an extraordinary start. It is quite frankly a disgraceful start.

Holden have been building cars in Australia for 65 years but now they are leaving because this government, the Liberal government, the Abbott government, does not have the wit or the desire to make them stay. Let me be clear: the coalition has abandoned Holden and 50,000 Australian families. It has sabotaged the lives of 50,000 Australian families. They have been abandoned across Victoria and across South Australia, because they rely on the automotive industry to pay their mortgages, to feed their kids and to ensure that they can have a Christmas break in a few weeks time. Before the election, the coalition said that they supported highly skilled manufacturing jobs in Australia. After the election, the coalition have not lifted a finger to help those 50,000 Australians.

The performance of the Treasurer and the Acting Prime Minster this week on this matter has been nothing short of disgraceful. Their performance in the other place left Holden in no doubt that they had no friends in the Abbott government. No-one in the coalition was standing up for Holden and the jobs that they represent. Before the election, the coalition promised no decision would be made on Holden before the Productivity Commission reported next year—no decision. After the election, the coalition demanded that Holden make a decision before Christmas. So, before the election it was: no decision is needed until after March next year; in government, it is: we want to know by Christmas. These are job losses of high-skilled jobs. There is a place for these jobs in Australia's future but the government does not get the future.

It really was quite an extraordinary performance on education. We had a minister who wanted to play politics and did not have a single clue about policy. He had not done the hard policy yards before the election. Before the election, the coalition had two diametrically opposed positions on providing extra money for our public schools. When the Better Schools Plan was first announced, you will all remember Mr Christopher Pyne announcing that the coalition considered it to be a 'conski'. It was not a Gonski plan; it was a conski plan. But the political penny dropped fairly quickly for Mr Abbott, at least. I do not know whether the political penny has ever dropped for Mr Pyne. What we then saw was an abandonment of Mr Pyne's policy—an abandonment of the conski before the election. Before the election, the now Prime Minister stood up before the Australian public and said, 'We're on a unity ticket with the Labor government on education.' But after the election what did we get? The education minister reverted back to his true policy position; it was a conski again. There was no more talk of a unity ticket. It was back to the conski.

But, yet again we had a backflip. When you do two backflips like that, you have done a full 360. So you are back to the unity ticket. Twice in three months it is a conski. But, no, Mr Abbott has to roll Mr Pyne again. The finance minister is not even invited to the meeting where they decide that they are going to spend an extra $1.2 billion on an education package. They just tossed it on the table. Before it was: 'No more debt. We can't have more debt. We can't have a bigger deficit.' But over a breakfast $1.2 billion was just tossed in. It was the most expensive breakfast this country has seen in a while—$1.2 billion. What a complete and utter shambles the minister made of education policy in a few short weeks. The government have delivered no certainty to students, no certainty to parents and no certainty to schools.

Mr Pyne has long been known for fighting battles of the past. He has a long memory of all those humiliations he had in student politics. He has never got over them. He is a bit like Senator Abetz—never got over them. So what did he say? What did he say when he went to the meeting of state education ministers? He said, 'No, no. We won't take any money off private schools. All the money that we're missing,' he claimed, 'will come from the public school sector.' Scratch a Liberal—scratch the surface—and there it is: public education does not matter to those opposite. It was all revealed just in that one little conversation he had with a majority of Liberal education ministers. It did not matter if they were signed up to put that money into public education. The true Mr Pyne-Liberal Party position slithered out, under the door of that COAG meeting, to the Australian public.

As I also said a little earlier, when it comes to the National Broadband Network, those opposite have now achieved what Mr Abbott tasked Mr Turnbull to do: demolish the National Broadband Network. Mr Turnbull has run round this country for three long years saying, 'No, no; I'm not doing what Mr Abbott said. I really believe in faster broadband. I know what Australian families need.' He started off in the first 12 months saying, 'No, Australian families can get away with three megs of download.' He quickly realised that that was a risible position, so he dumped that. Six months later, it was, 'Twelve megs—that's all Australian families need.' As the echo of laughter subsided around Australia, he realised, 'Oh, dear.' Then he announced he was going to have a 24- or 25-meg plan. This genius, the man who invented the internet in Australia, according to Tony Abbott—what a completely and utterly idiotic statement that was—said, 'I know what Australian families need. They only need 25 megs. They don't need any more.' Well, it is very, very kind of Mr Turnbull and Mr Abbott to decide that they know what is best for Australian families, for the future of Australian kids! They are going to put in place an artificial cap because they are too short sighted, they are too miserly, to actually build the national broadband network that this country is crying out for.

Mr Turnbull can keep talking about incumbents overseas and how they are sweating their copper and that is good thing. He can talk about BT in the UK: 'They built a fibre-to-the-node network. They rolled it out to 16 million homes in just four years—put aside all the prep for that; let's pretend it was four years.' And what is the take-up rate? How many people in the UK have taken up Mr Abbott's preferred version of broadband? Ten per cent. Ten per cent have taken up using Mr Abbott's preferred broadband model in the UK. That sounds like it is worth spending $40 billion on! Yes, despite promising it would cost only $29 billion going into the election, Mr Abbott quickly discovered—when he was told by not a lot of people; just almost every tech journalist in the country!—that it would cost more, that it was rubbish to pretend it was going to cost the $29 billion he was talking about. Those opposite want to spend $40 billion. Actually, I am being cheap there! It is $41 billion. They want $41 billion to build a network that will deliver only 25 megs on a good day. That is a $1½ billion, roughly, per megabyte download. Oh, my God, you are geniuses! Those opposite are geniuses! That is $41 billion to build a network that will be outdated before it is actually finished, because every projection other than Mr Abbott and Mr Turnbull's projection is that Australians will be using and needing more than 50 megs by 2020. Every reputable forecaster says they are going to need more than a $41 billion network can deliver by the time it is finished—every single reputable technology forecaster. But of course we have Mr Abbott—not a tech-head, he admits on television—and Mr Turnbull, the man who invented the internet in Australia and knows what all Australians want!

Well, my goodness, what a promise they have broken today. They have abandoned their commitment to give every Australian fast broadband of 25 megs by 2016. They have abandoned their commitment to build fibre to the node in HFC areas; it is not happening anymore. And, as I said earlier, by 2016, they will have delivered fibre to the node to only five per cent of Australian homes—in three years, five per cent rollout success, and that is before you even ask how many people have started using it.

But the real scandal is that Australians will have to pay again in the future. When it becomes clear over the next few years that the technology forecasters were right and Mr Abbott and Mr Turnbull were wrong, we will have to invest in fibre to the home to meet the demands of Australians anyway. So the scandal of today's announcement is that they are going to spend $41 billion and then Australian taxpayers in the future will have to pay to upgrade the network again.

So this is a government dominated by small-minded ministers, whether it is Mr Pyne—'No, we'll just take money away from the public schools'—or Mr Turnbull—'I know what Australian families need; I know how much they're going to use the internet, and not just today; I don't just know how much Australian families are going to use the internet today; I know what they're going to use the internet for over the next five, six, seven or eight years.' That is the entire basis of Mr Turnbull's policy. What a small-minded man Mr Malcolm Turnbull really is, that he thinks he can speak on behalf of my family; of my daughter, who is seven today, and will be using more and more of the internet over the next five years; of the families of you in the gallery; or of the families of those people who are listening to this broadcast or reading the Hansard in the future. Mr Tony Abbott and Mr Malcolm Turnbull think they know better about what is best for your families.