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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 618

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) (3:25 PM) —What is really interesting for the nation about this motion is that it comes on the day when the member for Wentworth stood to his feet and belled the cat on climate change policy. What this is about, with the pre-prepared speeches by those opposite, is making sure that they can fill the time, fill the space, and make sure there is no focus on the fact that two months ago they stood rock solid behind the then Leader of the Opposition on the approach to climate change.

Today is all about one thing: distraction with a capital ‘D’, because the former Leader of the Opposition stood to his feet and said unequivocally why the coalition had supported an emissions trading scheme. He said unequivocally that the alternative scheme would be a fiscal disaster. So what we have here is a simple parliamentary tactic, a parliamentary device, to take the attention away from climate change. Interestingly, the last several questions during question slid away from the topic that they have held to be so fundamentally important over this last week or so and which now has been relegated to the margins because the member for Wentworth belled the cat and exposed the Leader of the Opposition for what he is. The Leader of the Opposition’s baseline position is, ‘Climate change is absolute crap.’ Then he went on to say, ‘Well, the government has a mandate to act on an emissions trading scheme.’ That was his second position. His third position was, ‘If they accept the opposition’s amendments, then we will support the emissions trading scheme.’ His fourth position on emissions trading and climate was as follows: ‘We should oppose it.’ That was his view. In fact what he said, once he got to the eve of the Liberal Party election ballot, was, ‘I’m fundamentally opposed to action on climate change.’

Here is a very interesting further twist: when he has been asked since then about the change from December to January or from November to December in his support for an emissions trading scheme, the Leader of the Opposition has gone around saying, ‘Well, things changed at Copenhagen.’ There is a little problem with that, Tony: Copenhagen happened two weeks after you announced your change in policy. There is a little sequencing problem there. What in fact you sought to do was grasp the politics of the internal battle within your party and wrest the leadership from the member for Wentworth, the former Leader of the Opposition. That is what it was all about. In fact, when asked on 1 December by a journalist why he was changing suddenly, for the fifth time, his position on climate change, the ‘straight talk Tony’ response was: ‘Oh, Mate, the politics have changed. They’ve changed big time.’ So, ‘Captain Principle’, ‘Captain Consistent’, the straight-talking Leader of the Opposition, with five different positions on climate change, having gone to the previous election with hand on heart, supporting the introduction of an emissions trading scheme, then seeks to tell us he has changed posture because of Copenhagen while having in fact announced that change in posture two weeks before Copenhagen was convened.

That is because the Leader of the Opposition just makes it up as he goes along. Every single thing he makes up as he goes along. Whether it is the matter he raised in his motion moved just before about the future of the hospital system—the stentorian Tony Abbott as health minister telling the nation three years ago that he was going to take over the hospital system. That is what he thought the future should be. Then he gets to the first question asked about the future of the hospital system when he became the Leader of the Opposition and he says, ‘I didn’t mean that.’ In Battlelines, where he is supposed to have given his real, heartfelt position, what does he say? He says on the future of the emissions trading scheme that he ‘backed the then government’s view because it was the most cost-effective approach’. That was supposed to be Tony Abbott unbottled. That was supposed to be Tony Abbott uncapped. That was supposed to be Tony Abbott telling like it is—except, once again, it just changed, as each position changes along the way.

What is fascinating about today’s debate, in particular in terms of its dimensions on health and hospitals, is that it comes back to the Leader of the Opposition getting to his feet and speaking about integrity on health and hospitals. I have a few words that I think the nation may remember, which came from the Leader of the Opposition when he was health minister of Australia for four years. He said to the Australian people he would provide a ‘rock-solid guarantee’. What was that rock-solid, ironclad guarantee about? Was it about the Medicare safety net? Was this minister responsible for it? I think he was. Regarding the integrity of the Leader of the Opposition against the benchmark he just sought to advance, which is to honour your commitments to the Australian people, he said to everyone prior to the election that they had from him a ‘rock-solid, ironclad guarantee’ as far as the future of the Medicare safety net went, and what did he do? As soon as the election was held, as the minister responsible, the health minister of Australia, he welshed on it. That goes to the absolute core of the integrity of the argument being advanced by the Leader of the Opposition.

Can I also add this: he stands at the dispatch box and talks about integrity as it relates to the health system when, as health minister of Australia, he ripped $1 billion from the public hospitals of Australia. He goes also to the question of the government’s record of achievement in health and hospitals—one billion dollars ripped out by the Leader of the Opposition and a 50 per cent increase in funding to hospitals under this government. Secondly, under this government 125 hospitals have received new elective surgery equipment and operating theatres in just two years.

Opposition member interjecting—

Mr RUDD —He interjects: ‘That didn’t make much of a difference.’ The Leader of the Opposition would be interested to know that it made a difference to 62,000 elective surgery procedures, which, as health minister of Australia ripping a billion dollars out of the system, he sought simply to undermine. Thirdly, 37 hospitals are receiving upgrades to their emergency departments. Of course, the Leader of the Opposition’s record on direct funding to emergency departments was zero as health minister—not one brass razoo, not a single dollar either to emergency departments or to elective surgery.

Then there is $3.17 billion for 36 major health infrastructure projects. This is the first government in Australian history to directly invest in the capital that is the building needs of the public hospital system of Australia. What did he say for four years as health minister of Australia? He said: ‘That’s not my problem. It’s the states’ problem.’ What we have done, for the first time, is invest directly in our hospitals. That is why we are investing $100 million into the future development of the Nepean Hospital. That is why we are going to make investments like that elsewhere in the country as well.

He asked about achievement and honouring our commitments to improve health outcomes for the Australian people. Five hundred and sixty thousand teenagers have received a check-up under the Medicare Teen Dental Plan, which did not exist when he was health minister. It was brought in by us, and half a million kids, often from lower income profiles, are getting a dental check-up which they would otherwise not have got.

The Leader of the Opposition sat on his hands and did nothing about the chronic shortage of nursing places in Australia. Therefore, under this government in its first year of operation, 2009, universities offered an additional 1,094 undergraduate nursing places. When he was health minister, this man froze GP training places. How could he do that against the health needs of the nation? Since coming into office we have increased GP training places by 75 in 2009 alone. A further achievement—and they often guffaw about as if there is something remarkable about it—is the implementation of the GP Super Clinics program across the country. We are funding 36 of them across the country. How many did they fund? Zero. Funding agreements underpin 28 of them, and a number are already operating, compared to a record of zero on the part of those opposite. Aged care places have increased by nearly 10,000. Six hundred and sixty-two transitional care places have been delivered to help nearly 5,000 older Australians, and the Leader of the Opposition gets to his feet and says, ‘Where is your integrity on the question of health and hospitals?’

I say to him that in two years alone we have achieved more by way of investments into the system than he achieved in 12 years in the previous government. That is the basic comparator, which is why I said to him earlier today that we welcome fundamentally this debate on health and hospitals. And let us never forget that as a member of the government he axed the Commonwealth dental program, with 650,000 Australians on public dental waiting lists.

I go back to where this debate began. Why have they brought it on today all of a flush and all of a hurry? Because of their fear of the member for Wentworth being on television tonight. We know what the member for Wentworth had to say earlier in his general character reference concerning the Leader of the Opposition. His reference to the Leader of the Opposition and the policy he was putting forth in terms of climate change was this:

Any policy that is announced will simply be a con, an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing.

That is what the member for Wentworth, Malcolm Turnbull, said about Tony Abbott. I think the Australian people spot this for what it is. (Time expired)

Question put:

That the motion (Mr Abbott’s) be agreed to.