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Wednesday, 11 November 1998
Page: 171

Mr HORNE (6:44 PM) —Thank you for the call, Mr Deputy Speaker Adams. Let me say how delighted I am to see that since I was last here you have been elevated to the role of Deputy Speaker, and congratulations to you. I would also like to say how nice it is to be back here representing one of the greatest regions in Australia. But I must admit I was concerned this morning, when I had a look at my fax machine, to see a set of statistics printed out by that machine that had me listed as a National Party member.

Mr Bevis —That's libellous!

Mr HORNE —It's not so much libellous as the fact that while I accept with credit that I represent a major rural and regional area—and I would like to think that I do it well and I think it has probably been recognised in these statistics—on analysing the statistics more closely I found that, with my margin of 1.22 per cent, if I were a National Party member I would have the 13th most marginal seat. But when I extrapolate it back to Labor Party statistics, I am only the seventh most marginal seat, and so it tells me something.

It tells me that a lot of people in the coalition have extremely marginal seats. It is interesting in these days when we hear a lot about mandate, especially from those who are espousing this magnificent mandate that they have for this parliament, that we find it is supported by so many regions that have extremely slim margins indeed. When I have a look I find areas such as Herbert in Queensland, Eden-Monaro in New South Wales, Hinkler, Richmond, LaTrobe and McEwen—all regions that undoubtedly at the last election came very close to shunning the coalition and re-electing a Labor member, and I have no doubt at the next election what they will.

Before I go to the Governor-General's speech of yesterday, I would also like to say how proud I was today to be present for many of the first speeches of the new class of people that came in with this opposition at the last election. I have no doubt that at the next election, whenever it may be held, we will be sitting on the opposite benches.

Let us go back to the Governor-General's speech of yesterday in which he outlined his hopes and aspirations for this particular government and in which he talked about economic reform, reform for industrial relations and hope for young people. I would like to take everyone here this evening back to about 7 o'clock Eastern Standard Time on the evening of 3 October when the first polls, the first real votes—the first votes cast by Australians—were coming in and being counted. We all remember what was happening: the analysts were making some pretty wild predictions. They were heady days for us because they were predicting the possibility of a Labor victory, and then they moderated that to perhaps a hung parliament.

Now, of course, we know the final outcome, and we must congratulate the government. But the whole of Australia out there knows how close this election was to being the reverse—how close the Labor Party did come to actually being in government. And that is the thing that is going to force us on during this period of government to make sure that this government, which claims it has a mandate, does in fact serve the people as it claims it is going to.

We all remember 1996. I particularly remember it because I stopped representing my electorate for a short while and was put on the benches on the side. I specifically remember at that time a Prime Minister with such a large majority that he really did have a mandate. He had a mandate to do something about unemployment, he had a mandate to do something about foreign investment and he had a mandate to ensure that no Australian was worse off. I wonder what happened to that mandate, because I know that, going to the election in 1998, none of those things that he had a mandate for had been fulfilled, not one.

Indeed, quite a large number of promises had been broken. We all know the fiasco of the nursing homes. We all know how unemployment did not come down. We all know how foreign debt blew out by about $50 billion. These were the things that were promised to the people of Australia in 1996 but were ignored by a government that wanted them to be ignored because of its inactivity in 1998. Is it any wonder that 51½ per cent of Australians, on a two party preferred basis, voted for the Labor Party and voted for a change in government? That is what they wanted but, because of the dispersal of the votes and the way they fell, unfortunately it did not happen.

So we wonder why we now have a Prime Minister who stands up so authoritatively and demands that he has a mandate for things such as tax reform, industrial relations reform, competition policy and all those instruments of economic rationalism that are hurting regional and rural Australia so much.

I represent one of the great regions of Australia—from the Barrington Tops of Gloucester, where timber and rural industry abound, right down to the Hunter River, a region that takes in a large air force base, a large aluminium smelter and some of the most beautiful scenery in Australia. I represent some of the best people in Australia, people who have hopes and aspirations like every Australian that they will continue to be gainfully employed and that their children can grow up and look forward to a job working with skills that have preceded them, because there is no doubt that the Hunter is one of our most diverse and one of our most industrious regions. Mr Deputy Speaker, I am sure that you would not object to me saying that in the Hunter we have a GDP greater than Tasmania's and we have a population greater than Tasmania's.

Unfortunately, we have unemployment that is about 1½ times the national average. We have youth unemployment that is in excess of 30 per cent, and that is something I cannot understand. When wealth is created in a region in abundance, such as it is in the Hunter region, it always amazes me that those organisations that make that wealth do not reinvest enough of it to ensure that that region is ongoing, that that region is sustained by the wealth that is being created. I am sure that you can sympathise with that, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I know that, in your own state of Tasmania, exactly the same thing happens: the wealth is created and it is taken away. Unfortunately, from what I see of this government, that is a policy that it tends to support. And the wealth all goes to the capital cities.

In the Hunter region, it is no secret that we have a steelworks that is going to close next year. It has been the mainstay of our economy, the mainstay of employment. When I was a schoolchild, most of my schoolmates knew that they would be employed in the steel industry—they would be tradesmen or engineers or industrial chemists. Next year it will be gone. That will no longer be a source of employment for tens of thousands of Hunter people.

So it was in 1997 that, after this announcement, the Prime Minister—as he then was and still is—was led kicking and screaming to meet with the unions and the business sector of the Hunter region to announce what this government would do to assist. The Hunter Advantage Fund of $10 million was set up. Actually, I find it interesting that the princely sum of $10 million dollars was allocated to save jobs for the people of the Hunter region when this government could turn around and spend $15 million of taxpayers' money to advertise—illegally, I would suggest—a tax reform that people indicated by vote they did not want. We got $10 million.

Today I asked the Prime Minister in question time to advise me if he had monitored that $10 million. I can tell you that he has not. I can tell you that he could not give me an answer as to where that $10 million has gone. I can tell you the projects it has been earmarked for. I can tell you that $3 million was allocated for the transfer of the ANI Commonwealth steel to Kooragang Island. But that will not be proceeding now. That was announced in September 1997. To date, not one cent of that money has been spent, not one job has been created—nor will it be. I can tell you that $2 million of that fund was allocated to Forgacs Shipyard to upgrade their shipyard at Tomago and to dredge the channel from the port of Newcastle up the Hunter River to Tomago where that shipyard is. I can tell you that that was allocated in December of 1997 and not one dollar has been spent nor one job created. I can tell you that $600,000 was allocated for a Newcastle stock exchange. It has not gone ahead. I can tell you that $1½ million was allocated for a heavy vehicle interchange. After that was announced—with all the fanfare and brouhaha and a visit by the then minister for transport to the region to announce it because it was getting pretty close to election time—I can tell you that a couple of weeks later they said, `Now we have to do an EIS to see if we need it. We have to do a feasibility study to see if it's a goer.' Of the $1½ million that has been allocated, not a penny has been spent.

I can also tell you that $1.4 million was allocated for a glassworks. It was a consortium of Chinese and Australian interests. That was about 12 months ago. Since then, there has been disagreement over who was going to have the major share, so they are in disarray and it will not be going ahead. Of that $10 million that was allocated to save jobs in the Hunter region, not one dollar spent, not one job created, and the Prime Minister does not know why. If ever there was $10 million that was put up to fob off the workers of the Hunter, it was that fund. I think it is an absolute disgrace that there was no minister—not necessarily the Prime Minister—of this government there to monitor it, to make sure that jobs were created. I can tell you for certain that the steelworks will close next year and that 3,000 people will not have a job.

From the actions of this government, no-one could care less. It will go completely unnoticed if it is left entirely to this government. I can promise you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I will not allow it to go unnoticed. I will remind the government at every opportunity of what their obligation is to the people of the Hunter and what their obligation is to ensure that industry does go there and jobs are created.

I indicated earlier that wealth that is generated in regions should stay in regions. I find it completely abhorrent that, in a region such as the Hunter that generates 85 per cent of the state's electricity, the headquarters of that organisation is not located where the workers exist, where the coal is mined, where the generating capacity is. With a region that produces so much of Australia's wealth through coalmining, I find it ridiculous that we have a federal government that does not have a policy on the pricing of coal, that allows multinational corporations that own our mines to compete with each other to artificially drive down the price of coal.

It is a well-known fact that Australian coal is priced so low not because of international competition but because large mining companies are competing with large mining companies to drive out the small Australian owned operators. And this government sits idly by and allows it to happen. It is immoral and it is wrong. Until we get a change in government we will not have a minister or a government that is concerned about issues such as these.

I indicated earlier that I am not a National Party member. I am very proud to be a member of the Labor Party. It is interesting to sit here after some time on the sidelines and look at those opposite. I must admit that I recognise most of the faces, when they are here, and I realise that only three short years ago they were sitting on this side of the chamber. At that time we did not perceive any real talent there and, I must admit, looking at them from this side, we still do not. I cannot understand how it happened that they were transferred from here to there.

However, I can tell you that, having listened to the speeches of the new crop of the Labor Party today, I have no doubt that, after the next election, I will be very proud to serve in the first Beazley government. I have no doubt that those people that made their first speeches today will be elevated. They will be very good representatives and they will be representing the will, the desire, of Australians to make sure that they have a government that is concerned about the people of this great country and not simply about the bottom line that looks after the investments of multinational corporations. If there was a message that came out of the last election it was that the people of Australia want to see a government that governs for people and not for dollars.