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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31544

Dr EMERSON (3:26 PM) —Yesterday in question time I asked the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations:

Now that the government has extolled the virtues of collective bargaining for businesses, will the government restore the right to collective bargaining for workers ...

The minister replied:

The reality is that, for both small business and employees, we are saying that they can have the choice of collectively bargaining or having individual arrangements ...

The former Minister for Workplace Relations sometime ago at the Morris McMahon dispute in Sydney made a very similar statement. To the workers who had been locked out by Morris McMahon for 17 weeks, he said, `People who want a collective agreement can have one.' Both of those statements are patently false. In making those statements, both the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and the former minister have misled the working people of Australia. We now call upon this Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, who says that workers have the right to bargain collectively, to explain why the Workplace Relations Act does not give them that right when an employer refuses to bargain with the union. Minister, here is an opportunity to put legislation into the parliament to overturn the Workplace Relations Act, to overturn the government's laws and give working Australians truly the right to bargain collectively—instead of misleading them, as you have done and as the former minister for workplace relations did.

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Rankin will address his remarks through the chair.

Dr EMERSON —Mr Speaker, I understand, and I did not suggest that he had deliberately misled them.

The SPEAKER —The obligation is not to say `you' but to address your remarks through the chair—that is what I was referring to, not the issue of misleading.

Dr EMERSON —Perhaps he has deliberately misled them, but I am not suggesting that. It is not the first time that working Australians have been misled by the government in issues that bear upon their living standards. Remember the former image of the Prime Minister: honest John Howard. Honest John Howard before 1996, before he became Prime Minister, said this:

... truth is absolute, truth is supreme, truth is never disposable in national political life.

The truth was disposed of in national political life with the `children overboard' scandal, when the truth was thrown overboard, when the Prime Minister said on 9 October 2001:

... the behaviour of a number of these people, particularly those involving throwing their children overboard ... I certainly don't want people of that type in Australia, I really don't ...

The Minister for Foreign Affairs said:

I don't think any Australian wants people who would behave in such a way as to throw their children overboard to come to our country, and they are not welcome in our country.

Peter Reith, of course, was very fast and loose with the truth throughout his career in this parliament. Of the allegation that children were thrown overboard, he said:

Well it did happen. The fact is the children were thrown into the water.

The truth is that the children were not thrown into the water. The government failed to tell the truth.

I refer to the ministerial guidelines in the first term of the parliament when the Prime Minister said:

The guidelines that were laid down in this document will be complied with in full.

It was obviously a non-core promise, because seven ministers resigned for breaches of those guidelines, but nine more ministers also breached the guidelines and did not resign. In the end, the Prime Minister tore up the ministerial guidelines.

In the area of tax, which directly affects the living standards of working Australians, there is that golden oldie of the Prime Minister saying in 1995 that a Howard government would `never, ever' introduce a GST—obviously a non-core promise. Similarly on tax, referring to a promise of no new taxes and no increases in existing taxes for the life of the first Howard government, the Prime Minister said, `That promise is quite explicit.' We have checked that through the Clerk of the Senate. The Prime Minister was saying there would be no new taxes and no increased taxes for the life of the first term of the Howard government. How many increased and new taxes do you imagine there were in that first term? Not one, not two, not 10, not 20, but 86 new taxes or increased taxes were introduced in that first term. In the life of the Howard government to date, that has now ballooned out to 151 new taxes or increased taxes. But of course this mean and tricky government says, `We'll get out of that promise by changing their names to fees, levies and charges.' The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry described the sugar levy as `an opportunity to contribute'. This is the government's description of a tax: it is an opportunity to contribute! So 151 increased taxes or new taxes have been introduced by this government in the life of the Howard government.

While we are on tax: the Prime Minister was asked about the tax act in 1998, `Will the number of pages in the tax act be reduced by the introduction of a GST?' The Prime Minister answered, `Yes, it will.' Well, what has happened to the size of the tax act? It was 3,500 pages when this government came to office, and it is now more than 8,000 pages—so much for a streamlined new tax system for a new century that working Australians were promised before the 1998 election!

Still on tax, referring to income tax cuts the Treasurer said in 2000:

The last time they were promised, they were not paid for one day and for $1.

He has repeated that so many times in this parliament, whereas the truth of the matter is that the first half of Labor's tax cuts were brought forward to November 1993 at a full-year cost of $2.9 billion. That is not $1; that is not $10—$2.9 billion is a lot of dollars. And the second part of those tax cuts was deferred into superannuation co-contributions which the Treasurer and the Prime Minister promised to keep. But what happened? They abolished those co-contributions in the 1997 budget.

Still on tax, in 2000 the Treasurer said:

I can vouch, as someone who has been in the work force about 20 years ... that whenever we seemed to get to the barrier on income tax cuts for some reason or another they were never paid.

He asserts that they were never paid in 20 years. Here in the parliament he made those claims. Labor cut personal income tax rates seven times in 13 years—in 1984, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1993—and here is the Treasurer saying that there were no tax cuts in the 20 years prior to 2000. He also told parliament on the same day—it was a big red-letter day for the Treasurer—about the budget:

First of all we put the budget into a surplus on a headline basis, which the Labor Party never did. Then we say, `We ought to put the budget into a surplus on an underlying basis,' which the Labor Party never did.

The truth is that Labor produced budget surpluses in 1987-88, 1988-89, 1989-90 and 1990-91.

As we move on to foreign debt, remember this promise from the Prime Minister with the debt truck:

I promise you that we will follow policies which will ... bring down the foreign debt.

What has happened? That was in 1995. Since then, foreign debt has doubled in size to around $360 billion—or $18,000 for every man, woman and child in Australia. Working Australians are drowning in debt. There is record household debt, record credit card debt and record national debt.

Now we move on to another area that affects the living standards of working Australians—those working Australians who aspire to send their children to a university where their talents can be developed and expressed. In October 1999, on university fees the Prime Minister very solemnly said:

I can guarantee we're not going to have $100,000 university degree courses.

Well, we have $144,000 university degree courses. He made that promise repeatedly before the last election—`No $100,000 university fees.' At the same time he also said:

Well, it means that we'll not have deregulated [university] fees.

All around Australia in the last few weeks universities have been putting up their fees by up to 25 per cent.

We now move to health. On the axing of the Commonwealth dental scheme, which Labor has pledged to reinstate, the health minister told parliament on 4 November 2003:

We did not abolish that program ... it simply lapsed through the effluxion of time ...

Yet the government's own budget papers show four years of budget savings from the government's decision to abolish the Commonwealth dental scheme. It was axed, but the good news is that Labor will reinstate it.

This same minister, the Minister for Health and Ageing, in relation to Australians for Honest Politics and Pauline Hanson was asked, `So there was never any question of any party or other funds from any other source being offered to Terry Sharples?' The minister answered:

Absolutely not, absolutely not, absolutely not.

The cock crowed thrice, and the minister thrice denied the truth. He established a trust fund called Australians for Honest Politics and lied about it.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—The member for Rankin will withdraw that.

Dr EMERSON —He failed to tell the truth about it, Mr Deputy Speaker. The minister was well tutored by the Prime Minister, for whom the whole argument for going to war against Iraq was supposed to be the existence of weapons of mass destruction. This was not simply some suspicion of them on the part of the Prime Minister. He said on 4 February last year:

The Australian government knows that Iraq still has chemical and biological weapons and that Iraq wants to develop nuclear weapons.

He said at the same time:

Iraq continues to work on developing nuclear weapons—uranium has been sought from Africa that has no civil nuclear application in Iraq ...

We know that that was completely untrue, yet it was the whole pretext for the war on Iraq. When the government could not find the weapons of mass destruction, because the weapons of mass destruction did not exist, they changed the pretext to regime change after the event—because they knew that they could not justify a war on regime change, as it would not be supported by the United Nations or by fair-minded people around the world.

This is the same Prime Minister who denied a pre-election plan. You might remember Senator John Herron, a minister in this government. A decision was made to appoint that minister as Ambassador to Ireland and the Holy See after the 2000 election, but the decision was made before the 2000 election. Again, the Prime Minister was asked about that and he said, `There's nothing to it.' Say one thing before the election; do another thing after the election.

In relation to the notorious ethanol matter involving the Prime Minister and his good friend Dick Honan, the member for Chisholm asked this question in parliament:

Prime Minister, was the government contacted by the major Australian producer of ethanol or by any representative of his company or the Industry Association before its decision to impose fuel excise on ethanol?

The Prime Minister responded, telling the Australian parliament:

Speaking for myself, I did not personally have any discussions, from recollection, with any of them.

We know he did because there was a note-taker from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet who produced the notes, and one of our shadow ministers, Kerry O'Brien, was able to obtain that documentation. When that documentation was obtained, the Prime Minister should have 'fessed up but continued to deny it, using semantics to try to get around the fact that he had not told the truth to the Australian parliament.

So ministers have been well tutored by this Prime Minister. The Minister for Health and Ageing has been well tutored. The Treasurer has been well tutored. The fact is the Australian people expect the Prime Minister of this country and the ministers of this country to tell the truth. It is almost nine years now since the Prime Minister declared:

...truth is absolute, truth is supreme, truth is never disposable in national political life.

In that time, in those nine years, the government has well and truly disposed of truth in national political life. It has thrown the truth overboard. The truth is dead in the water under this government. This may be the last day of parliament before the federal election. We do not know, but it could well be the last day of parliament. What I have sought to do today is to outline just a few examples of the constitutional incapacity of this government, the Prime Minister and ministers to tell the truth.

The Australian people deserve better than John Howard. The Australian people deserve a truthful, honest and decent government. The fact is we have seen, with the family debt trap, that this government will say anything and do anything to get re-elected. This government will say one thing before an election and another thing after an election. They will give money to people before an election only to claw it back after the election. The Australian people are waking up to this government. They are waking up to its unwillingness to tell the truth. The government always say, `Let's worry about the truth after the election,' like they did last time, when the truth was thrown overboard. I say to working Australians: do not trust the Howard government. The Australian people deserve better than John Howard. They deserve a new government, a fresh government—a Latham Labor government with fresh ideas, with energy; a Latham Labor government committed to honesty and integrity in governing our great country.