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Thursday, 12 February 2015
Page: 673

Senator KETTER (Queensland) (17:06): I rise to support the motion before the chamber. This week, we saw the Liberal Party go to war with itself, perhaps the last group of Australians it has not picked a fight with. They picked fights with pensioners, university students, unions, people needing to see a GP and even the ABC. And now they are turning their divisive politics inwards.

Under this government we have seen unfair policy after unfair policy being resoundingly rejected by the Australian public and also by the Senate. And yet the Liberals think that simply changing the spokesman will make Australians forget about the cruel and repeated attacks on the very fabric of our society that this government has undertaken during their 16-month reign. And let us not forget the complicit National Party in all of this, supporting the decline of rural health, the jacking up of petrol prices and the lack of any real plan for Northern Australia without so much as a peep. The Nationals: asleep on the job since Menzies.

The Liberal's unfair budget and their broken promises are hurting Australians by around $6,000 a year for the average family. And this is from a government which claims to be interested in lowering the cost of living. This government is so out of touch and so right wing in its views that it is little wonder that the public are not buying anything it is selling. The unbridled outrage from the community with regard to making Prince Philip a knight was remarkable to see.

But what gave the public anger momentum was that this decision encapsulated everything about this government to date: behind the times, out of touch, bowing to external interests and without consultation. That is what fired everyone up: it was the ultimate 'captain's call'.

And if the policies alone are not bad enough, it is the completely ad-hoc and flying-by-the seat-of-their-pants-way of governing that is angering the public and now, finally, the Liberal backbench. Before I go into detailing some of these examples of poor policy and backflips, I want to give a contrast to this cruel and bitter federal government. I would like to offer my congratulations to what in all likelihood will be a new Labor government in my home state of Queensland. What a campaign, and what a fantastic result for Queensland! Labor were outspent, outmanned and severely outnumbered against an arrogant LNP, that saw government as some sort of birthright and that saw office as a way to help their mates and to get square with their perceived enemies. The size of the groundswell of community support for a change in government surprised the LNP, who thought they could ignore their promises to the public and act in any way they pleased without consequence.

The Prime Minister clearly does not get it, when he describes the Victorian and Queensland election results as a 'fit of absent-mindedness' by voters. When all else fails, blame the public. So I congratulate Annastacia Palaszczuk—hopefully, soon-to-be Premier Palaszczuk—and look forward to dealing with a Queensland government that will genuinely have Queenslanders' best interests at its core.

Whilst I would love to congratulate each and every candidate, both successful and unsuccessful, time may prevent me from doing so. So I will congratulate those new Labor MPs in and around the north of Brisbane where my office is: Nikki Boyd in Pine Rivers, Shane King in Kallangur, Chris Whiting in Murrumba, Mark Ryan in Morayfield, Rick Williams in Pumicestone, Stirling Hinchliffe in Sandgate, Leanne Linard in Nudgee, former senator Mark Furner in Ferny Grove, Kate Jones in Ashgrove, Steven Miles in Mount Coot-tha and Grace Grace in Brisbane Central. I look forward to working with all of them to help bring back good governance in Queensland.

I just return now to the federal government and will look at some of the examples which have led to concerns and to this motion before the chamber. Firstly, let's deal with the intergenerational report. The intergenerational report must be released every five years; it is the law of the land. Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott have been too caught up in internal dysfunction and in trying to sell their unpopular and unfair budget to the point where the Treasurer is in breach of the very law his Liberal Party colleague Peter Costello created. What is Mr Hockey hiding in this report?

Let's look at the tax white paper. It is overdue. The failure of the Abbott government to pass their cruel budget has clearly demonstrated their inability to connect with the Australian people. How can the Australian people seriously trust the Abbott government on fair tax reform?

Let's look at the renewable energy target, the RET. The coalition's gamed review of the RET has led to investment in renewable energies leaving Australia's shores. This ideological crusade has permanently wounded our wind and solar industries in particular. When Germany is leaving Australia behind on solar power, you know there is a serious problem with this government's approach. I refer to the ARENA report on solar energy of 2013, which noted:

Solar energy is a vast and largely untapped resource. Australia has the highest average solar radiation per square metre of any continent in the world.

And yet when we look at the international comparison, Germany leaves us for dead—as does the United States, Spain, China, the Republic of Korea, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada and Portugal.

Additionally, the coalition misled the Australian people in 2013 when they stated that they were not expecting to make any changes to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA. However, Tony Abbott's budget of lies and twisted priorities did exactly that, announcing that the ARENA would be abolished.

Let's look at workplace relations. Senator Abetz says that the coalition will not legislate to change penalty rates. But you cannot trust the Abbott government. They are already laying the groundwork via the Productivity Commission and are letting the more-loyal backbenchers off the leash with regard to penalty rates. Why can't they be upfront in their plans? One need only have a look at the news article of 5 September last year from the ABC, whose headline stated 'Liberal backbencher Alex Hawke calls for penalty rates to be cut …'. This article quoted Mr Hawke:

"If you change penalty rates now, in six to 12 months you'd start to see an impact of more small businesses taking on more young people," he said.

"Given that Sundays are no longer sacrosanct ... having to pay a 75 per cent loading [is] an old concept."

So that is their answer to jobs: cutting wages and conditions of workers. Of course, Mr Hawke's call flies in the face of the coalition's election promise to make no changes to penalty rates in this term of government, and this Productivity Commission inquiry is an opportunity to reintroduce Work Choices by a different name.

On the issue of privatisation, the Queensland election result clearly indicates that Queenslanders are opposed to asset sales. Yet the coalition's Asset Recycling Fund Bill is nothing but a bullying tactic to force states and territories to sell off their assets if they want to obtain Commonwealth funding for much-needed infrastructure. This is a sneaky way to impose their ideological agenda of blanket privatisation and reduced government services. As we saw in the Queensland election, an asset sale is an asset sale. You can try calling it a lease, Strong Choices or asset recycling, but in the end you cannot fool the public, particularly in the most decentralised state in the country, where regional communities often depend on vital government services to stay viable. I did not hear the Nationals standing up to their coalition partners on that issue either.

On the issue of the GP tax, before the 2013 election Tony Abbott made no mention of a GP tax. Yet, like all his other broken promises, his unfair budget imposed a $7 GP co-payment on Australian families just for seeing the doctor. Despite two backflips and the dumping of a minister, this government is still committed to taxing families more to see the doctor. Why won't they listen to Australians?

On the issue of paid parental leave, the Prime Minister's signature policy is in tatters. This was a policy he persistently promised to deliver yet has, like countless other promises, backflipped on. If the Prime Minister were serious about engaging in productivity gains he would reverse the government's cuts from child care of over $1 billion dollar that leave working families even worse off under this unfair, cruel budget.

On the issue of university deregulation, the Abbott government should stop its ideological attack on Australian universities. The twisted view that students should have to pay up to $100,000 for a degree will, quite literally, kill the hopes and dreams of thousands of potential students who will not be able to justify the higher cost of attending university. This government needs to scrap their plans to bring this policy back from the dead after the Senate killed it off last year.

On the issue of submarines, not due to the opinion of dozens of eminent defence experts and not due to the pleas of the South Australian government and local members but on the eve of a vote on his leadership the Prime Minister gave a promise for a tender process. I feel for Senator Edwards. He is trying to stand up for his state, and I can appreciate that. But the way this Prime Minister has played him is reprehensible. One the most important military procurements in our nation's history was put up for grabs to win a single vote in a leadership challenge. That is remarkable. I have visited the Collins class submarines at ASC in Adelaide and, unlike this government, I could not help but be impressed and incredibly proud of what we are capable of building in Australia. The experts are on board. The industry and the public are on board. It is time the government got on board.

On the issue of business confidence, confidence in the business community—the alleged base of the Liberals—has been hammered by the never-ending chopping and changing of reviews, policies and ministers that has been the Abbott government so far. So far this term, the Liberal playbook in any area seems to be: (1) promise moderate changes before the election; (2) commission a sham review; (3) use the sham review to propose policy that is infinitely more extreme than previously promised; (4) be genuinely surprised when the public does not support the new policy. For many policies you can also add in the optional fifth step: perform a half-backflip. But they manage to mess that up as well. The end result is that no-one knows where they stand, and no-one knows what on earth is going on. The end result is backbenchers announcing policy to the media based on promises from the Prime Minister, then being contradicted within minutes.

This government has changed its views and double-crossed itself so many times on so many issues that its head must be spinning. They go on about blaming the previous government for their own poor economic management, but I would suggest they have a look a step further back. Let's ask the IMF about their spending, and I quote from The Age here:

Australia's most needlessly wasteful spending took place under the John Howard-led Coalition government rather than under the Whitlam, Rudd or Gillard Labor governments, an international study has found.

The International Monetary Fund examined 200 years of government financial records across 55 leading economies.

It identifies only two periods of Australian "fiscal profligacy" in recent years, both during John Howard's term in office—in 2003 at the start of the mining boom and during his final years in office between 2005 and 2007.

The Rudd government's stimulus spending during the financial crisis doesn't rate as profligate because the measure makes allowance for spending needed to stabilise the economy.

We have heard that 'good government' has allegedly started this week. It must be a pretty slow starter because I am yet to see it.