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Thursday, 12 February 2015
Page: 665

Senator RUSTON (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (16:35): The motion we are debating reads:

That the Senate condemns the Abbott Government for its litany of broken promises which are hurting low- and middle-income earners, harming the economy, damaging business and consumer confidence, costing jobs, undermining fairness, and changing Australia for the worse.

The only thing I can say is what abject hypocrisy this motion demonstrates. Australia is not in the kind of condition that I know many of the people who voted for the coalition government in 2013 would have liked it to be in is not because of the actions of the coalition government but because of the vandalistic actions of those who sit opposite. One of the things that those opposite will fail to tell you is that when they came into government in 2007 they inherited a $60 billion surplus—there was $60 billion in the bank. That surplus was there so that the Australian public could be confident that when something needed to be done, when some major infrastructure project came along—

Senator Gallacher: Like the GFC, or something like that?

Senator RUSTON: Exactly, so that when something like the GFC came along they would have some money in the bank and could put some investment back into the community. But, no, they did not do that—they basically went on a wasteful, unproductive spending spree for six years. I have no problem whatsoever with the injection of funds into productive endeavours but they injected money into the stimulus package so that people in Australia could go and buy foreign-built television sets and the like. The stimulation of that sort of retail spending really did not have any long-term benefit for the economy. It might have given a short-term sugar hit to the economy, but it did not deliver the long-term sustainable economic growth pattern that we needed to put our economy on an even keel. We got our sugar hit, but we got nothing afterwards. I am quite happy to accept that the $60 billion that was inherited by the Labor government in 2007 could have wisely been spent at a time like the GFC, because I think everybody accepts that it was a tough time for economies around the world, but we could have done so much more with that $60 billion than just throw it at pink batts and things like that.

The cold hard reality is that we basically inherited your problems. To sit here today and put a motion before the House to suggest that the Australian economy is not powering ahead because of actions of this government is absolutely ludicrous. I will just mention a few facts. As I mentioned, the Labor government converted the record surpluses of the Howard government into record deficits. Labor delivered around $2 billion worth of deficits, with $123 billion worth of deficits yet to come when they left office. They promised surpluses in 2012-2013 on over 500 separate occasions, and they did not deliver any of them. The budget legacy of Labor includes that the budget is unlikely to return to surplus within the next decade, unless of course the coalition government are allowed to put in place the budget repair measures that we took to the Australian people when we said, 'We are going to repair the budget.' I do not think anybody on the other side can doubt that we told the Australian public, as part of our promise to them when we went to the election, that we were going to repair the budget, that we were going to get the budget back into surplus and that we were going to deal with Australia's debt problem. I do not think anybody can doubt that. They can squawk all they like, but I do not think they can doubt that.

Basically, we have a situation where, unless we take action now, the debt of the Australian nation will rise to $667 billion within the next 10 years. Just to put that into some sort context, that is $25,000 for you, for Senator Conroy, for Senator Gallacher, for Senator Birmingham, for Senator Ryan, for the clerks and for the Hansard reporters. But it will not just be for them; for your children, for my children and for everybody's child in Australia, it will be $25,000 a day. What we need to remember in this place—and what we so often forget, and sometimes the media forget to portray it like this—is that this debt is actually not the debt of the government. This is the debt of the Australian people, because the Australian people, in a sense, own their government. If we do not address the issues that we have with our debt and deficit problem, and the expanding debt and deficit problem, all we are doing is knocking the problems of today on to our children in the future because we are outspending our means at the moment—so what we are saying is that it is okay for us to spend our kids' money.

The debt at the moment is already costing us billions of dollars in interest. I think it is about $14 billion in gross interest payments this year. That is $40 million a day. Think about what $40 million a day, or $14 billion a year, could build you. In my home state of South Australia—and Senator Gallacher will see this when we drive down North Terrace—the construction of the new Royal Adelaide Hospital is a $3 billion infrastructure project. Whether you do or you do not like where it is, it is going to be a fabulous piece of infrastructure for South Australians—$3 billion. With $14 billion of gross debt annually, we could build quite a number of hospitals; in fact, we could probably build a new hospital in every capital city.

Have a look at the amount of money that we spend on child care in a year. The debate has obviously been around productivity in dealing with the issue of child care and getting more of our mothers back into the workforce as quickly as possible. Imagine what $14 billion a year would be able to do in that space, not just in giving the opportunity for women and mothers to get back to work but also for the productivity that it could generate.

I think we need to contextualise the size of the problem that we are dealing with before we decide that we are going to condemn a government that is trying to deal with a legacy that I think is almost incomprehensible to the people of Australia. We often talk about small numbers—people can understand that—but once you get into these sorts of billions and we are talking about numbers the size of telephone numbers, people just cannot comprehend what this debt situation really means. To everybody who is listening, $25,000 has been stuck on your credit card because of the actions of the previous Labor government and the refusal of those opposite to allow us to address that problem.

There would have been no doubt by anybody in Australia that when we went to the election we told the people of Australia that we wanted to get rid of the carbon tax, we wanted to get rid of the mining tax, we wanted to stop the boats and we wanted to build the roads of the 21st century. I said it so many times that I almost got ready to scream myself for the amount of times I said it. The Australian public, and that includes those people who did not vote for us—the Labor voters, the Greens voters and those people who voted Independent—would all have known that that was the platform on which we sought to be the government of this country.

When we got into this place on the first sitting day after the election in 2013, you would have thought it was reasonable for those opposite to accept the fact that those particular things that we had very clear policy positions on, that we had a mandate to undertake, would have been allowed to pass in this place. In 2007, prior to defeating the Howard Liberal government, Labor went to the election and ran a very hard campaign on Work Choices. Despite the fact that the coalition had the numbers in the Senate after that election, we allowed the passage of the repeal of the legislation surrounding Work Choices because we believed that the people of Australia had spoken and had told us, when they voted us out of government and voted the Labor Party into government, that they did not want Work Choices. So Work Choices was dead, and we allowed it to go.

So what happened when we got into government in 2013? When we came into this place and sought to repeal the carbon tax—because that was the No. 1 message in our election campaign—those opposite said 'No;' they were not going to let us repeal the carbon tax; they were going to stop us. So we had to wait out the nine-month hiatus between being elected to government and the Senate changing over and the crossbenchers coming in, which then denied the Labor-Greens coalition their majority in this place, to be able to rid the Australian people of the burden of the carbon tax.

So it comes down to being a responsible government. And I accept that governments have to be responsible, but oppositions have to be responsible too. On the behaviour of this opposition—in cahoots with the Greens, who should know better because they have been here long enough—to the Labor Party in particular I say: you have got to be a responsible opposition too. And do not tell us that we are not listening to the people. You are not listening to the people. The people wanted the carbon tax gone. You would not let it go. It had to be the crossbenchers who did it.

It was the same thing with the mining tax. There was no doubt that we were going to remove the mining tax. But, once again, when we came into this place, we could not get rid of it until we had a change of composition in the Senate.

It was the same thing with the boats. The Greens were probably more to blame for this one, but you voted with them. We said that we wanted to put this suite of activities and actions in place to stop the boats. But, of course, no—the Greens had to block the temporary protection visa legislation and the package of initiatives that we needed to put through to stop the boats. And I might say: when we eventually got them through, the boats actually did stop.

But it is about being a responsible parliament. A responsible parliament includes having a responsible opposition as well as having a responsible government.

All of this notwithstanding, some positive things are happening at the moment out there—things like the signing of the free trade agreements with China, Korea and Japan, and, hopefully, the negotiation of the trade agreement with India this year. These have all been amazingly positive things. And you have only got to go out to rural and regional Australia to see what a difference they have made in our primary production sector, which will now have the opportunity, over the next few years, to access these amazing growing markets—markets in which, for the first time in a very long time, Australia actually has a distance advantage. In the past, our traditional markets were Europe and the US, so we were further away than those trading countries we were seeking to compete with. But we are quite a lot closer to Asia than to anywhere else, and it is a burgeoning area.

Congratulations to the minister—and nobody could not congratulate Minister Robb, and of course Minister Robb is part of this government—on being able to achieve, in such a short period of time, these three trade agreements, and hopefully this year the fourth trade agreement, which is going to be of massive benefit to all Australians but, obviously, most particularly to those in rural and regional areas.

Another thing that has been of terrific benefit has been the deregulation agenda that this government has been putting in place. We have sought to remove the unnecessary and burdensome red tape that costs businesses and people on a daily basis.

We said that we wanted to deregulate. If you went and did a vox pop down the street and asked people, 'Would you like to have all of the regulation and compliance burden that is put on you removed unless it has a positive purpose for being there? Would you like to see it gone?' then I am sure that everybody would say, 'That would be fine.' But, no, we are actually seeing—

Senator Conroy interjecting

Senator RUSTON: Ah, I see Senator Conroy is here in the chamber today—those opposite blocking the passage of our deregulation bill in relation to communications, so that the Do Not Call Register is put in jeopardy. I would just like to say: it would be really nice if we could just deal with some of these sensible things sensibly. There are obviously going to be a number of things that we disagree on, but it seems that we disagree on many things that we do not need to disagree on, and that seems to be one of them.

But let us have a look at some of the things that have been a little more positive. I admit that some of the positive economic indicators are only just starting to show. We have a long way to go.

Senator Conroy: Higher unemployment.

Senator RUSTON: But there are a number of things that are happening at the moment. There were 200,000 more jobs created last year. That is about 585 new jobs every day. So in 2014 jobs growth was more than triple the rate in 2013.

Senator Conroy: Unemployment went up!

Senator RUSTON: So you have got to remember what you are comparing some of these things to.

Senator Conroy: You've got to get some new speaking notes!

Senator RUSTON: And, to those opposite who are interjecting—and that may not be picked up by the transcript—I say, as I said at the start of this: a lot of the blame for this, or in fact the lion's share of the blame for this, and for any of the negativity in our economy at the moment, can be landed firmly at your feet, because you are not allowing this government to get on with its economic agenda, because every time we try to do anything you try and block it. You trashed the economy—

Senator Conroy: Liar, liar, pants on fire!

Senator RUSTON: Madam Acting Deputy President, can I take a point of order in the middle of a speech?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator O'Neill ): Senator Conroy, it might help if you would withdraw that comment.

Senator Conroy: Oh dear, oh dear! I withdraw.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Senator.

Senator RUSTON: In concluding, to allow others to participate in the debate on this ludicrous motion, I will just say that, having spent six years trashing the economy, and then having spent the last 18 months refusing to allow us to fix up the economy, and having knowingly condemned future generations to paying for the excesses of this generation, I would be very interested to see whether anybody on the other side of this chamber, when they get up to speak—because I know a number of them are going to do so—has any constructive suggestions about how we are going to turn around the debt and deficit mess that we inherited from you, so that we actually can turn around the fortunes of this nation, so that we do not condemn our children and their children to a life of paying back the debt that we have racked up on their behalf because you opposite will not allow us to fix up our debt and deficit problem.