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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14919

Mr LLOYD (5:59 PM) —Tonight I want to take the opportunity to highlight the Labor Party's disgraceful track record both in government and in opposition not only federally but also in New South Wales. Over the past seven years since they lost government federally, we have witnessed almost unbelievable hypocrisy and arrogance from members opposite. They have been a negative opposition, constantly blocking almost all initiatives proposed by this government and hoping that the Australian community will forget the mess they left this country in when they were last in government. We should all remember Labor's track record; in fact, we must never forget how bad things were. They racked up $96 billion worth of debt, and it has taken the coalition government seven years of hard work and good financial management to repay $63 billion of the debt.

So what? you might ask. What difference does it make for the average Australian family? It makes a great deal of difference. Paying off $63 billion in debt saves the Commonwealth more than $4,000 million in interest payments every year, money that can be used for hospitals, roads and schools. Remember Labor's interest rates—housing interest rates at 10½ per cent when they left office in 1996, peaking at an incredible 17.1 per cent in 1990. I remember so many of my friends and acquaintances losing their homes, businesses and even sometimes their families through divorce at that time because of Labor's mismanagement. We must never forget that.

The hypocrisy from Labor is breathtaking. During the East Timor crisis, when they were clamouring for Australia to take action against Indonesia without UN backing, I well remember the calls for action from members opposite, who all conveniently forgot that for 13 years they had failed East Timor and its people time and time again. It took the Howard government to take the tough decisions to secure UN backing, to lead a force to liberate East Timor and to assist them on their path to becoming a democratic nation. Then when it came to the Iraq crisis, the Labor opposition claimed that nothing could be done without UN backing, conveniently forgetting their previous calls about East Timor. Again, there was no consistency, no courage and no commitment to stand up for what is right.

It never ceases to amaze me that every time the Howard government stands up for the national interests of Australia there are howls of outrage from Labor. Good government is about protecting its people and its country. The entry of illegal immigrants by boat is a classic example. The government took a tough stand, a successful stand, to protect our borders and to stop the influx of illegal entrants into this country. Yet we still hear a continual stream of bleating and crying from the opposition about what a crime it is for the government to be prepared to take tough decisions in Australia's interests—and they wonder why they are still in opposition! They are a joke in the eyes of most Australians.

Inconsistency and hypocrisy: these are the trademarks of the Labor opposition. After the terrible tragedy in Bali, they screamed long and loud about the government's travel advisories: were they correct; who knew what; why were they different to those of other countries? They made some outrageous claims that the government could have done more to warn people before the bombings. Yet only yesterday on the Sunday program the shadow foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, made the outrageous and disgraceful claim that the government was manufacturing security issues to promote its own political position. Either you want the government to provide adequate warnings and take appropriate action or you do not. Labor simply cannot make up their mind and the Australian people know it.

If you want to know what Labor federally would be like in government, just remember the 13 years of terrible financial mismanagement and the real pain and misery that were brought on Australian families and then take a look at the state governments' performances. The Labor state governments are becoming arrogant and deceitful. The premiers of all the states are becoming political commentators. They are refusing to take responsibility for anything. They are responsible for state schools, they are responsible for state hospitals and they are responsible for state roads. But night after night on television we see Premier Bracks, Premier Carr, Premier Beattie and all the other state premiers offering their political commentary on what the federal government should be doing. They are always there to claim the credit, but they are never prepared to take the blame or responsibility for the issues that are their responsibility.

Since its re-election only two months ago, the Carr government has revealed its true Labor colours. In New South Wales, we have a public health system that is in crisis. The people of New South Wales returned the Carr government to power on its promises that it would be tough on crime and fix our schools and hospitals. What have we seen since? In the words of the Daily Telegraph editorial of 23 May, `A pretty poor effort'. Also in the same paper on the same day, a headline screams across the top of two pages `A litany of lies from the Carr government', with articles that go on to highlight the disgraceful series of lies and cover-ups by this newly elected Labor government.

Firstly, there was the cover-up of the Menangle rail bridge, where it was revealed that New South Wales transport officials ignored warnings about the dangerous condition of the bridge and kept it open until after the 22 March election, placing the rail-travelling public at risk simply for political advantage. This is the Labor Party at work. Then there was the manipulation of the hospital emergency department figures, and many other incidents which time prohibits me detailing at the moment.

Finally, there was the disgraceful situation with the tragic death of Mrs Yakub from meningococcal disease where, one week before the election, we had former health minister Craig Knowles claiming that Mrs Yakub had left the emergency room prior to being called. Yet a Department of Health report shows that Mrs Yakub was never called to see a doctor at Nepean Hospital. According to media reports, Professor Malcolm Fisher, head of intensive care at the Royal North Shore Hospital, confirmed that this report was given to Minister Knowles's department before Christmas. That is another example of how the Labor Party operates in government.

Only last month, all the state Labor governments rejected the Commonwealth's latest offer on the new five-year Medicare agreement. This offer was for $42 billion—an increase of $10 billion, representing a real increase of 17 per cent. New South Wales was to receive $14.1 billion over five years, an increase of $3.4 billion—that is, $3,400 million. All the Commonwealth asked the states to do was to commit their share of the funding for their state hospitals in a five-year program which was transparent and available for the community to see. It is an appalling situation that the Commonwealth and the community have no idea how much money the states have spent on their public hospitals over the past five years. They have refused to disclose this figure—again, more deceit and cover-ups from the Labor Party.

A final example of Labor Party hypocrisy and deceit is a letter which has been circulated in parts of my electorate by the state Labor member for Peats, Marie Andrews, falsely claiming that the government's Fairer Medicare package will result in loss of access to bulk-billing. In paragraph 3, Miss Andrews claims:

Under the Federal Government's proposed changes, millions of working families will lose access to bulk billing and be forced to pay extra to see their doctor.

This is completely untrue. The government's Fairer Medicare package provides an extra $917 million, putting extra money in to strengthen Australia's universal health care system. As is the case now, doctors will be free to bulk-bill whomever they choose. For the first time we will be strengthening the availability of bulk-billing to pensioners, concession card holders and low-income people, but nobody will be precluded.

There is no means test. As is the case now, doctors will remain in control of their bulk-billing practices. They can choose to provide care at no cost to a patient regardless of whether the patient holds a Commonwealth concession card and regardless of their income. The universality of Medicare will be retained. All Australians will still have access to the Medicare rebate. This will not change, yet Marie Andrews has had the gall to circulate a letter, designed to scare Australian families, with a petition to sign. The last bit of her letter says:

I urge you, your friends and neighbours to sign the enclosed petition. Along with Premier Bob Carr, we can send a message to Canberra that our community can't afford these changes.

Instead of walking away from their responsibilities to the health care system, Premier Bob Carr and Marie Andrews ought to concentrate on and take responsibility for the things that they were elected to do just two months ago in New South Wales. The state's hospitals are in crisis. They have rejected that very generous five-year Medicare offer from the Commonwealth to inject a real increase of 17 per cent more into the state hospitals simply because the Commonwealth has asked them to be honest with the Australian community and tell the Australian community how much money they are putting into the state government hospitals.

Graham Richardson once said, famously, `Whatever it takes.' This is the Labor Party's mantra. The people of New South Wales may have to endure four more years of conceit and arrogance from the Carr Labor government, but federal Labor will not fool them. They know that federal Labor is wracked by division and crippled by leadership struggles. They know that Labor has no direction and, most importantly, that it lacks the courage needed to lead our great country through the difficult times ahead.