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Monday, 24 November 2008
Page: 19

Senator MASON (3:46 PM) —The matter of public importance today is particularly important. It is important that the Australian Senate reflect upon the anniversary of the election of the Rudd government. The question can be quite easily put: is Australia better off or is it worse off on 24 November this year than it was on 24 November 2007?

Senator Sterle —Yes!

Senator MASON —Australia is demonstrably worse off—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Sterle, it is disorderly to interject at all, but it is even more disorderly to interject when you are not in your seat.

Senator MASON —and even a casual look at the key economic performance indicators of this country for these last 12 months indicates that. Let me go through just a couple before I go on to perhaps even more important circumstances. We heard so much about inflation during the first six months of this government. The genie was out of the bottle. It was the one thing within the target of the government, and they even failed to pursue that properly. Inflation is going up. What has happened with industrial disputes? There has been a six-fold increase in industrial disputation over the last 12 months. What about the real growth of Australian average weekly earnings? Australian average weekly earnings went up over 50 per cent over the last 10 years of the previous government. What have they done under this government? They have already fallen in the first year by a quarter of one per cent. Real average wages have fallen over the last 12 months. What about consumer confidence? As you would expect, it has plummeted dramatically over the last 12 months. What about retail turnover? What has happened to the small business people that the coalition seeks to represent? Retail turnover has dropped more than seven per cent and it is just in the positive. The retail sector is crying out for help.

Senator Brandis —At Christmas time.

Senator MASON —Indeed, at Christmas time, Senator Brandis. What about the budget surplus? Well, we left about $20 billion in the kitty. You would be aware of that, Mr Deputy President. Already at least half of that is gone. Who knows if there will be any left at all by the middle of next year! I somehow doubt it. What about small- and medium-sized business sentiment? Well, confidence there has dropped astronomically. The All-Ordinaries index, which, of course, reflects and impinges upon superannuation, has dropped by more than 50 per cent over the last 10 months. There really is a crisis in this country. What is even more disturbing is this: these melancholy trend lines, these dismal trend lines, commenced before the onset of the global financial crisis. That is the point: they commenced before. Business confidence turned down before Christmas last year. So the grand excuse of the government—that it is all the fault of the global financial crisis—simply does not wash. The trend lines were bad; of course, now they are getting worse.

Just imagine for a second if this government had inherited the sort of economy that we inherited from a Labor government in 1996. If the government had come into office in November last year and inherited a government debt of $96 billion, this country would be in dire straits. The interest bill alone would be more than $10 billion a year, and there would be no buffer between working families and recession. We would be in absolute dire straits. The only reason this country is insulated somewhat from the global financial crisis is a dozen years of very sound economic management. The government secured the healthiest Australian economy ever bequeathed to a new government, and thank God they did, because without it this country would be lying on its back.

But there is something even more important, something more basic—perhaps even more fundamentally flawed—than simple economic failure. It is this: 12 months ago, the Australian people believed they were electing a new government. They did not elect a new government; they elected a bureaucracy. Mr Rudd is a technocrat, a soulless bureaucrat. He is not a conviction politician. To Mr Rudd, politics is no longer about ideas; it is about management. In the Rudd regime, politics is about management. Life under Mr Rudd is like a perpetual 2020 Summit, full of the flummery, bells and whistles of summiteering. We had the apology, the republic, the tax on alcopops, which Senator Joyce mentioned, and we had politicians’ salaries and Kyoto. Some of that was good, some of that we supported, but it is all bells and whistles. No hard decisions have been taken. Now it is the war on everything. Mr Rudd is seeking to invoke the language of war to somehow elevate himself to the island of statesmen. But, to me, he still sounds much more like Sir Humphrey Appleby than Sir Winston Churchill.

The Rudd government combines the worst of bureaucracy with the worst of politics. On the one hand, there is the elevation of process over outcomes—that is more important to the Rudd government; process over outcomes—constant ideas about management over leadership and technocracy over policy. On the other hand, all of this is subsumed by and subjected to spin, focus groups, symbolism and a 24-hour news cycle.

I read the other day in, I think, the Weekend Australian where someone said, ‘Mr Rudd is the first Prime Minister of the 21st century. Mr Rudd is a perfectly modern man.’ I do not know about that. What I do know is this: he now leads the first post-modern government. Government does not exist, except as a media event. That is what has happened to this country under the Labor Party. A media event—that is all government is now. Mr Rudd is trying to garner responsibilities as a statesman, he is invoking the language of war, and yet it does not work. Why does it not work? It just does not work with Mr Rudd. What is it? It is a lack of conviction, a lack of sincerity. What does Mr Rudd lack? It is not hard work. It is sincerity and conviction. That is what is missing. Perhaps the saddest part, though, of the last 12 months is implementation. Implementation has been an absolute shambles. I remember so well Mr Rudd, standing there before the election, with a laptop computer, saying, ‘This is the toolbox of the 21st century.’ What did we discover? It was all toolbox and no tools. We have a government of self-proclaimed economic conservatives who did not even take the trouble to estimate the total cost of this network. They did not even bother to estimate, until July this year. The opposition and the public have still not seen the costs of this proposal. An amount of $1,000 has been allocated for every computer, yet everyone knows and every indication is that it is underbudgeted by billions of dollars—a flagship policy that the government has not been able to deliver.

I listened to poor Senator Carr today in question time today trying to defend the indefensible. The fact is that 10,000 computers have been delivered this year—one per cent of the one million that are supposed to have been delivered. Do you know what the problem is? The state Labor governments will not pay for the ongoing costs of the computers. The capital costs, somewhere between $500 and $700, are virtually irrelevant. The problem is that the costs of insurance, software, storage, electricity, air conditioning and training teachers to use the computers have not been budgeted for—and the government knows it. It has been an absolute shambles—a keynote policy has not even been properly budgeted for. In essence, it comes down to this. Half of the Rudd Labor government believe in nothing and the other half believe in policies that are totally unacceptable to the Australian public, and that is the ultimate paradox, the ultimate failure of this government.