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Monday, 7 November 2005
Page: 75

Mr RIPOLL (5:21 PM) —Today I want to place on the public record two important issues that profoundly affect the lives of many people in the electorate of Oxley and many other people as well. One, in particular, is the Ipswich Motorway, the other being industrial relations as it interacts with our economy. I want to place on the public record once again my complete and utter disgust and dismay at the way in which the federal government—and in particular the Prime Minister—has delayed funding for the full upgrade of the Ipswich Motorway. As everybody in this place would know, I have spoken about this issue many times, asking the government to do something about this road. But, despite my continual pleas on behalf of the people of south-east Queensland, to date the government has achieved absolutely nothing.

The Ipswich Motorway is a crucial link in the national highway network and it is clearly 100 per cent a federal government responsibility. The Howard government has known since 1997 that the full upgrade of the Ipswich Motorway must go ahead at some point, and yet the people of south-east Queensland are still waiting. Enough is enough: it is time the people of Queensland sent the Prime Minister a very clear message. Despite report after report and study after study showing that the Ipswich Motorway must be upgraded, the Howard government continues to ignore the transport needs of Queenslanders. We are constantly told by the Prime Minister and a successive band of hapless road ministers that a solution is on the way—it is coming. So is Christmas, and Queenslanders still have no road funding under the tree. I am still hoping that, because we have all been good boys and girls, Santa Howard will have a surprise for us before 25 December. That is my wish this year for Christmas, and I know it is the wish of many other Queenslanders as well.

But the Prime Minister cannot continue to treat Queenslanders like mugs. I urge people to call the Prime Minister directly and demand that he release funding for the full upgrade of the Ipswich Motorway immediately. The list of lies and deceptions from the Prime Minister and from the government and its road ministers on this project is—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—The member for Oxley will have to withdraw that comment.

Mr RIPOLL —I withdraw. Because of the limited time available to me today I will highlight just a few of the mistruths about this issue. The Prime Minister said that a solution would be announced with AusLink, the so-called national land transport plan, which was released publicly in June 2004, but no funding was allocated to the Ipswich Motorway for a full upgrade. During last year’s election campaign, the Prime Minister said on 4BC, a Brisbane radio station, that he had committed ‘$627 million to this project’—when he was referring in discussion to the Ipswich Motorway—‘over the next five years’. The Department of Transport and Regional Services, DOTARS, has since confirmed that no money has been allocated for the Ipswich Motorway upgrade at all.

After another independent report, released in May this year, found that a full upgrade of the Ipswich Motorway must go ahead, the Prime Minister said that an announcement on the fate of this project would be made in August. No such announcement was made, and we are still waiting. For far too long the Howard government has played politics with the Ipswich Motorway, while local residents continue to suffer. Just how much longer do the people of Queensland have to wait before some real action is taken to address the growing traffic problems in that part of the world? Today I urge residents to give the Prime Minister’s office a call to express their disgust at his complete lack of concern about their safety and their affairs. The number is readily available on the Parliament House web site. For those who cannot get access to that, the Prime Minister’s Canberra number is (02)62777700.

Finally, the member for Blair must also shoulder a good deal of the responsibility for the current state of affairs. He is known locally as the one-man roadblock, the man standing in the way. If only he had got out of the way or made a conscious decision to do something constructive for the people he claims to represent, this issue would have been solved a long time ago. Let us get fair dinkum and let us get on with the job: let us see a real roads solution.

The second issue I want to talk about is the issue of industrial relations and economic growth. While the government has pinned its hopes and $55 million of taxpayers’ money—an incredible amount of money—on the sham assertion that the next round of productivity growth will magically appear once the extreme IR changes become law, everybody knows this is not the case. There is no evidence to back up the central claims of the government’s $55 million worth of advertising—the claims that these changes will lead to higher wages and more jobs. The government is hoping this happens as a matter of continued economic growth and prosperity—which, by the way, was delivered during the eighties and nineties through the economic and structural reforms of the Labor Party, rather than through any policy initiatives of this government.

Despite what this government would have you believe, these legislative measures have absolutely nothing to do with offering working Australians real choices in the workplace—and least of all have they anything to do with providing a platform for the future growth and expansion of the Australian economy. Where is the evidence that supports the government’s assertions that reducing the rights and working conditions of average Australian families will actually produce any productivity miracle or magical increase in productivity and efficiency? The fact is there is none, and there is no credible economist who agrees with the government’s argument in regard to this case. Productivity and efficiency were never built on the back of lowering wages or reducing conditions. The current industrial relations system is not holding the economy back—far from it. In fact it is part of our success. The Howard government’s plan will be the undoing of Australia’s economic success.

The claims they make about their plan are spurious, just as the bills themselves are. In the absence of any firm modelling or conclusions from the Treasury it is clear that the government claims of economic gains following the industrial relations changes are completely unfounded. Statements from Treasury officials during estimates last week suggested that they have little or no concrete evidence of productivity, wage or employment gains at all. We know from estimates proceedings that modelling was undertaken as part of advice to the Treasury, and it is likely that no firm conclusions on wages or employment were actually reached. The truth is the Treasurer is sitting on economic analysis of the industrial relations package because it contains flimsy evidence of the economic gains the government has been claiming. That evidence would debunk the myth once and for all about jobs and growth and what the package would do for the economy. If only the Treasurer had the gumption and the courage to actually release those findings.

We heard today and we have seen in Treasury media releases a lot of fine word play. We have heard them making sure they do not let anything out of the bag, but the reality is that they have done some work on this. The problem for government, of course, is that that work does not show it what it wants in the outcome. Therefore we are never going to see that work—it will never make the light of day. But Labor has today lodged with Treasury a freedom of information request for the analysis of the industrial relations changes. This material should be immediately released in the national interest. If this government is serious about its own credibility on this issue, if it is so confident that what it is doing is in the national interest—that it will produce jobs, that it will produce growth, that it is good for productivity and efficiency, that it will benefit workers and families, that it is good for business and everybody—why is it scared? Why won’t it release the documents it has and the evidence it has? It will not do that, because it knows what those documents say and what they say does not favour the government’s argument.

The government wants Australians to bear all the pain, but for no economic gain. As the Prime Minister has said clearly on many occasions—but very specifically—this is an article of faith for him and for the government. It is nothing to do with commonsense, let alone economic commonsense; it is simply an article of faith. It is all ideology, with no commonsense.

Australia needs to ensure the retention of minimum standards, fair wages and conditions and an independent umpire to settle work disputes. It needs to provide real choice by allowing workers the right to join a union and access collective bargaining if they want to do so. The only possible outcome of the Howard government’s extreme changes to the industrial relations system is to reduce the living standards of working families: families in my electorate, in Ipswich, in south-west Brisbane, right across Queensland, right across Australia. More disturbingly, these changes will have drastic effects on all Australian employees.

As a federal member of parliament, I will not stand by. I will not silently let the Prime Minister and his band of ideologues get away with this injustice. This so-called Work Choices bill offers Australians Hobson’s choice: like it or lump it, take it or leave it. It is just not good enough. Only Labor are committed to the institution of public policies which will produce real future economic growth and improve the lot of all Australians, not destroy them as this government wants to do. Labor in government will not accept these changes. We will not allow this to continue. We will not be amending these changes; we will be ripping them up.