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Tuesday, 11 October 2016
Page: 1485


Senator SMITH (Western AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (16:41): It pains me to admit it, but there are days when I admire the Australian Labor Party in this Senate, certainly for their cheek and disregard for the evidence. Let's look at the wording of this motion from Senator Gallagher:

The Government's refusal to heed the lessons of the election and stand up for Medicare.

Well, let's take that accusation in two parts, because I think senators opposite will find that, if there is anyone in this building who is refusing to heed the lessons of the most recent federal election, it is not the coalition; it is indeed the Labor Party. I think it is important to get on the record very early, right here, right now, that, on 2 July this year at the federal election, the Australian Labor Party received the second-lowest primary vote in its history. The lessons of the election that was just held was that the Australian Labor Party received the second-lowest primary vote in its history. I would have thought that was something not to boast about. I wouldn't have thought that achieving the second-worst primary vote result your party has received was something to be proud of. That is doubly the case when your campaign ran the most cynical and dishonest campaign I have seen in what will next year be 30 years as a member of the Liberal Party. I have not seen a more dishonest campaign.

Senator Carol Brown interjecting

Senator SMITH: I was there in 1993 when you tried to do a similar exercise with regard to Medicare. In its desperation, the Australian Labor Party threw everything at its Medicare campaign—a campaign based on the completely false, illogical and utterly unsustainable charge that the government was planning to 'privatise' Medicare.

Senator McKim: Children overboard.

Senator SMITH: If I get to the end of my contribution, Senator, I am going to put some facts on the table that Tasmanian senators—you, Senator Brown, Senator Polley, Senator Bilyk and Senator Lambie—will find most revealing about what has happened to bulk-billing rates in your state.

Senator Carol Brown interjecting

Senator SMITH: If you knew them, Senator Brown, you might have revisited your contribution. You will have a chance to adjust your contribution, because I am going to give you the evidence before you speak. I would have thought the lesson of this election was that, ultimately, the Australian public does not reward dishonesty. Whatever momentary political success, the sorts of tactics Labor deployed may bring you in the short term are, in the end, not the things that will be rewarded by voters.

If there are lessons to be drawn from the election campaign, I argue that one of them is that the opposition needs to spend more time developing serious, credible, economic policies instead of resorting to cheap and dishonest tactics to try and win the day. Looking at the state of Victoria, I would argue that one of the lessons of the election campaign is that, when Labor chose militant unions over community volunteers, voters did not reward Labor. The passage through the parliament just yesterday of the government's laws that protect Victoria's CFA volunteers was a seminal moment. It was a victory for volunteers and for integrity, in the face of a shameless union power grab that was supported by the Australian Labor Party.

I would also add that another of the lessons from the election is that the people of Australia want a restoration of integrity and the rule of law to our construction sector, which this government is seeking to achieve with its commitments to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission and bring its registered organisations bill to the parliament.

If collapsing union membership was not enough of a lesson for the Australian Labor Party, then surely the fact that they, the party of trade unions, came out of the election with the second-lowest primary vote they have received is a clear sign that something is wrong with their approach. Something is wrong with Labor's approach. Of course, you do not have to take my word for it, not surprisingly. Let us defer to John Black, a former Labor Senator for Queensland, who wrote in The Australian at the end of August this year:

Poor little Bill Shorten. Like the preppies at my kids' school, he got a nice congratulatory encouragement sticker just for finishing the race and, like a few of the preppies, he thinks that means he won.

His point is well made. For all the bravado and carry-on we hear from Labor senators in this place, particularly from Tasmania, you would think that they had won the election outcome. They did not win the election, and the reason they did not is that voters correctly saw that what the Labor Party of 2016 represents is no different to what the Labor Party of 2013 represented: a political party still beholden to trade unions, a party that has no credible plan for the future of this country and a party that is more interested in the quick headline than in serious policy reform.

That brings me, neatly, to the issue of Medicare, which is also the other focus of the motion moved this afternoon by Senator Gallagher. It used to be said, by former Prime Minister John Howard, that his government was the best friend of Medicare. I think that that was something of a boast at the time. However, that has now been overtaken. Let's have a look at Medicare evidence. You will see that it is the current government which provides the best support and protection for Medicare.

Let me pepper the debate with some evidence—some statistics—that have been missing from the contributions of Labor senators. An additional 17 million GP services were bulk-billed last year under the Turnbull coalition government, when measured against Labor's last full year in office under Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. Now, I would have thought that if you were trying to destroy Medicare, which is the claim Labor senators are trying to make this afternoon, providing an additional 17 million GP services is not what you would be doing. Last year, the Turnbull government—which the Labor Party says wants to destroy Medicare—invested around $21 billion in Medicare. That represents an investment of about $60 million every day—not the action of people who want to destroy Medicare. In fact, no government has invested more in Medicare than the present Turnbull-coalition government. To give you a point of comparison, Labor invested an average of $17.7 billion in Medicare during their six years in government. That is $3.3 billion less than the Turnbull government has invested in just the last year. It is a shame that the Hansard does not record silence, because I notice Labor senators have fallen silent.

Senator Reynolds interjecting

Senator SMITH: Senator Reynolds, I haven't even got to the bulk-billing statistics for Tasmania yet. Another one of Labor's favourite— (Time expired)