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Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Page: 7686

Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (22:01): We Australians take pride in our reputation as a loyal ally and trustworthy trading partner, a country that resonates with legendary tales of heroic acts by our soldiers when confronted with overwhelming odds. Reputations are earned and only endure when the actions that earned such reputations remain.

In 2007 Australia embraced the Obama-like charismatic young man Kevin Rudd. Kevin had all the answers to all of our problems, and what is more he would lead the world in saving it. Confronted with great problems he produced immediate answers. His decisiveness, his confidence and his all-knowingness increased his popularity to unprecedented levels. The candy man was giving the kids every sweet they wanted and they loved it. Time is the greatest test of all, and it was not long before pink batts and $900 gifts were seen for what they were—policies on the run, headline grabbing but not standing the test of even a short time.

New leader, new hope, same policies, still a slave to the 24-hour media—the new government was on the same track; it had not found its way. Julia Gillard's first magni¬≠ficent claim was that in six days she had fixed the mining tax by dealing with just three big miners. In a short time there appeared to be more problems created than solved. For the first time Australia had been tagged with the term 'a nation of sovereign risk'. Superannuation funds decimated, and promised tax cuts halved—a high price paid by the Australian people for Julia to retain her office for one more day. Education had become our second biggest foreign income earner. Then, unfortunately, international students were maliciously attacked, leading to headlines throughout India. Australia was again seen as a nation of sovereign risk. More headlines, this time in my electorate of Bennelong: Chinese students at Macquarie University forced to stay in illegal boarding houses; no duty of care; Australia viewed as a destination of sovereign risk.

Julia's form of promising one thing and then delivering another continued. 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead,' and now there is. The Gillard government then entered into a memor­andum of understanding with Medicines Australia, who agreed to the forfeiture of certain income in exchange for an environment of certainty through the PBS approval process. However, at the first opportunity to honour the very essence of that agreement, drugs approved by the PBAC experts were deferred on spurious budgetary concerns. The countries where these multinational pharmaceutical giants are headquartered are now echoing that Australia is a country of sovereign risk.

They were a desperate government wanting to regain their charmed coexistence with the press and provide the candy when confronted with images of our cattle being slaughtered inhumanely in Indonesia, with emotional pleas to stop live animal exports—a quick shot of sweets does the trick. In a rush to grab the headline, there was no consideration for Indonesia, no consideration for our relationship with Indonesia, no consideration for our industry, which employs more Indigenous people than any other, and certainly no consideration for the welfare of the cattle being slaughtered in Indonesia and now being shot where they stand here in Australia. It is an international catastrophe with Australia again being branded a nation of sovereign risk.

It is only with the benefit of hindsight that we realise what we took for granted were in fact days of good government. Ours is a young country and in the process of building we should demand government that will consider deeply when confronted with a problem or an opportunity and thoroughly work through the consequences of any decision that is being contemplated. Haste and waste is not good enough. Headlines may not arrive during the time it takes to soberly consider, project, reject, refine, develop, coordinate, cost and determine the appropriate process of implementation. These considerations are essential to worthwhile, enduring and beneficial policy formation. These are the solid foundations that have built our nation's standing. We must restore our reputation as a reliable trading partner and good neighbour. The alternative is the increasing threat of our great country being labelled a nation of sovereign risk.