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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 619

Mr GRAY (Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Northern Australia) (5:03 PM) —What a lazy way for those opposite to finish the week. Having started the week in a lazy fashion, last night, when an important debate was taking place in this House, they slept and their leader slept. Their leader did not get out of bed—

Mr Hartsuyker —Your leader slept!

Mr GRAY —and did not come in here to debate the very debt issues that you now claim to be important. Why do you claim that they are important? It is not for any reason of principle but purely for your own low-rent political expediency. You know—because the story has been well chronicled by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry—the way in which the National Party today spends its time in fearmongering and trying the best it can to spread fear amongst farmers and regional communities that our government does not have the interests of regional Australia at heart.

I was hoping for a real debate here this afternoon. I was hoping for a debate about jobs, about the global financial crisis, about education, about infrastructure and about economic activity. But you do not get that. What you get from a clapped out, tired National Party—tired in the first week of sittings—is a pathetic attempt to disguise politics as principle. That is not even a sad reflection on those opposite. It is just the truth—and you know that to be the truth. You know that if members opposite really believed in this motion they would have been in here last night and this morning to vote. You know that the National Party was the most underrepresented party in the parliament. While we worked, members of the National Party slept. When it came to voting on the very important matters that are allegedly the subject of the debate today, members of the National Party and their leader were simply in bed.

Let us face the facts. You do not really have a problem with debt. Your own performance as a government, your own performance with Regional Partnerships, was criticised in a three-volume, 1,200-page National Audit Office review, which pointed to the absolute collapse and failure of good governance and good administration and decent public policy. You know that the interests of the National Party are not the interests of good governance and good public administration.

What we are debating today is the plan which the government has for nation building and job protection. And what is that plan? It is about school facilities upgrades for 9,540 schools. It is about insulation for 2.7 million homes. It is about cash payments to families of $950. It is about the construction of 20,000 social houses, public houses—like the ones that I and my friend the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government grew up in—that, in almost every speech last night from members opposite, were criticised as being a waste of money. We know the view that those opposite have of renters. We know because that view has been published time and time again over the last 15 years, and we know that the previous Howard government did not put one cent into public housing. We know it did not have a minister for housing. We know that, under the last government, the public housing stock of our nation declined, and we know that homelessness increased. We know the lack of care and the lack of concern.

The announcements this week by the government also go to the creation of specific tax breaks. They boost local community infrastructure. The package is about support for jobs. It is about decisive action. It is also about aligning monetary policy with fiscal policy, something which those opposite never considered in their entire period of government. To have the Reserve Bank of Australia pushing down interest rates while monetary policy is boosting our economy is exactly the balance advised by the IMF and by insightful economists, and it is the advice taken by the Rudd government. It has not been at any time the policy matrix pursued by those opposite. In fact, as you know and we know, fiscal policy and monetary policy for the bulk of your time in government worked in opposite directions. You spent like drunken sailors and you pushed up interest rates in order to compensate, forcing hardworking families to have higher mortgages to pay for the profligacy of your government. It was a disgrace, and the people of Australia quite properly treated your government with the lack of regard that your government treated Australian families.

You say in your matter of public importance that the issue is about debt. It is not really about debt. It should be about caring for families, in cities and in regions. It is actually about putting the interests of the National Party first. That is interesting because members opposite in the National Party do not do that themselves. In your own lives, in your own work in this place, you do not put the interests of the National Party first. The great leaders of the National Party of the past would never have put a matter of public importance before this parliament in the way in which you have. McEwen would not have. Doug Anthony would not have. Charles Blunt would not have. John Anderson would not have. You know Tim Fischer would not have. Ian Sinclair would have. Mark Vaile—he would not have.

Year on year we have seen the National Party decline, at its own hands. In 1996 there were 18 members of the National Party in this place. By 1998 there were 16 members of the National Party in this place. By 2001 there were 13 members of the National Party in this place. By 2004 there were 12 members of the National Party in this place. By 2007 there were 10. Currently we have nine, when they are not asleep, when they bother to turn up in this chamber and represent the interests of the families and communities who voted for them. It tells you something about the people of rural and regional Australia—they were onto something when they decided the National Party was not for them. Barnaby Joyce knows that. Let us look at the National Party leaders: Mark Vaile gone, seat lost; Tim Fischer gone, seat lost; Ian Sinclair gone, seat now lost; Doug Anthony gone, seat now lost—at your own hands. Your ability to whittle away your own party, your own base, is why you come into this place at a late hour on a Thursday afternoon and practise what you preach, which is merely fearmongering and the invention of stories about how our government behaves to communities. Worse still, there are occasions when I think you actually believe it.

We have had a package already, in 2008, which was designed to get our economy through the difficult fourth quarter of 2008. We had a bank guarantee that has held our banking system in good stead. We have had engagement with the G20, with the IMF and with global institutions. While we work, if those opposite are not asleep, they spend their time undermining public confidence. They spend their time trying to crush business confidence. They try to destroy our national confidence. For what? For pure political advantage.

Let me explain why this matter of public importance is so weak and so pathetic. It is because people—kids, families, workers, farmers—in regional Australia are actually doing it hard. Let us talk about the real impact of the global financial crisis on jobs in regional Australia. In Western Australia in the last quarter, in Kununurra, Argyle Diamonds shed 300 jobs; at Koolan Island, Mount Gibson Iron shed 190 jobs; and at Leonard Shelf, in zinc and lead, Xstrata shed 300 jobs. At Spinifex Ridge—these places are all through the Kimberley and the Pilbara—at Moly Mines, 70 jobs were lost. At a tantalum mine, 200 jobs were lost. At Telfer goldmine, a Newcrest operation, 400 jobs were lost. At FMG’s Cloud Break iron ore mine, 180 jobs were lost. At Mount Keith nickel mine, 300 jobs were lost. At Waterloo nickel mine, 150 jobs were lost. At Golden Grove zinc-copper mine, 70 jobs were lost. I am only at the central west of Western Australia.

The impact of the global financial crisis on regional Australia and on mining communities is immense, and it is likely only to get worse. That is why our government has acted early and acted with decisive intent and with a precise set of policies to respond in a way that will help families, help our regional committees and help Australia. (Time expired)