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Thursday, 24 November 2011
Page: 13819


Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (15:05): This is the fourth anniversary of the election of the current government. It is the birthday that no-one wants to celebrate. Members opposite do not want to celebrate it because they do not want to acknowledge the fact that someone else led them to the election other than the person who currently leads them and the public certainly do not want to celebrate because the public know that this is a government which has been an absolute, complete and utter failure.

What we have had from this government is four years of waste, four years of broken promises and four years of mounting pressure on the forgotten families of Australia. It is interesting, isn't it, the one person who has been completely scarce around this parliament today is the one person who had the popular appeal to lead the Australian Labor Party into government just four years ago this day? I wonder what the member for Griffith is doing to celebrate. Perhaps he is taking the knife out of the back of the member for Scullin and saying, 'This is the same knife that went into my back just over a year ago.' Perhaps having looked at the knife that has gone into the back of the member for Scullin, discovering it is the same knife that went into his back a year or so back, he is sharpening it up for a bit of use himself in the New Year. I suspect that might be what is happening.

The fact is: this is a government of monumental incompetence. Some of the incompetence of this government has passed into popular folklore as just about beyond any ordinary imagination. There were the pink batts that this government could not put into roofs for free without houses catching fire right around Australia. There were the school halls that could not be built without rip-off after rip-off. There is the National Broadband Network that is digging up a street near you, whether you want fibre, need fibre or are prepared to pay extra for fibre once it finally arrives. There was the live cattle fiasco, because this is a government that panicked in the face of a television program. Above all else, hovering over this government like a constant symbol of failure, are the boats that keep arriving, day in and day out, because this government did not have the common sense to leave well enough alone and accept the policies that actually worked. Having changed those policies, having restarted the boats, the government now lacks the honour and the decency to put back into place the policies that have been proven to work.

This is a government which has been replete with broken promises. Within the first six months of this government, the promises started breaking and there has been an absolute cavalcade of broken promises since. I could spend 15 minutes talking about the broken promises of this government: the childcare centres that never got built, the so-called superclinics that have not been built, the 2½ thousand trades training centres that are yet to be rolled out, the Fuelwatch which stopped watching and the GroceryWatch which had its eyes closed and eventually got everything closed. There is the private health insurance rebate that was never going to be means-tested and which now is being means-tested. There is the baby bonus that was never going to be means-tested and now is being means-tested.

Above all, there is the broken promise that will haunt this government and this Prime Minister to her political grave: that notorious statement, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead,'—that notorious statement that she made five days before the election, to win votes, and then trashed after the election to hold onto office. What a shameful, embarrassing and unprincipled Prime Minister, who would make a categorical statement to win votes and then trash any concept of democratic legitimacy by overturning that commitment in order to do her sordid, squalid deal with Bob Brown and the Greens—the first of many sordid, squalid deals which have been done by this government and this Prime Minister over the last 14 months. If there is one thing that this government lacks, it is integrity. It is the lack of competence, lack of honesty and lack of decency which are causing the Australian people to suffer.

We all know how prices have gone up, because this is a government that cannot manage the economy properly. Since the end of 2007, power prices are up 60 per cent. Water prices are up 58 per cent under this government. Gas prices—and you would know this, Mr Speaker, from your own constituents telling you—are up 36 per cent. Education costs are up 21 per cent, health costs are up 24 per cent, rent is up 23 per cent, and food and groceries are up a whopping 33 per cent because this is a government which cannot be trusted with economic management. Above all else, this is a government which cannot be trusted with public money, because this government inherited a $20 billion surplus and turned it into a $50 billion deficit. This is a government which inherited $70 billion in net Commonwealth assets and has so far built up $107 billion of net Commonwealth debt. And the government says that it is going to move into surplus next year. Four years of the biggest deficits in our history and now it says, on the basis of nothing—because it will not face this parliament to have the crisis minibudget that our country needs—that it is going to bring us back into surplus next year.

There is a better way. The better way is the coalition's strong plan for a better economy for a better Australia. Our objective can be stated quite simply and quite clearly. It is lower taxes, better services, more opportunities to work and, above all else, stronger borders. If we are going to be a self-respecting country, if we are going to be a truly sovereign nation, we must have strong and secure borders.

The first task of a government, apart from securing the borders of the country, is to ensure that it lives within its means. On this side of the House there is the experience, there is the competence and there is, above all else, the will to get wasteful government spending under control. It is in our DNA to get wasteful government spending under control. We did it before, between 1996 and 2007, and we can do it again. Sixteen members of my front bench were ministers in the last government to get the fiscal position of the Commonwealth under control. We will not need to learn on the job. We will not need to wear L-plates, like the government are still wearing. In fact, they are not wearing plates, they are F-plates now—'fail' plates. In fact, they have been deregistered. That is what has happened to them. We can do it because we have done it. We have done it before, we can do it again, and one of the reasons why the Australian people are now so hungry for a change of government is that they know there is an alternative that can get the fiscal situation under control.

We will not just talk. We showed before the last election that we could go through the Commonwealth budget, line by line, item by item, program by program, and identify serious savings. Before the last election we identified $50 billion worth of savings. We did it before; we can do it again. We appreciate that the task is hard. We appreciate that the challenge is great. We appreciate that the political difficulties are there. But we will not shirk them, because we know from experience of what is happening in Europe right now that a terrible judgment is pronounced against countries and peoples that keep on spending, keep on borrowing and keep on taxing when it is going to do damage to them—and it will do damage to them.

We have a clear plan not just to get government spending under control but to make our economy more productive. I have identified a six-point plan for higher productivity. It involves a bigger workforce. It involves more productive public institutions. It involves a serious attack on red tape, with serious savings for small businesses based on a model that has been working for some years now in the state of Victoria. It involves investing serious money in infrastructure that really will bring economic and social benefits to our country.

We will spend the money in Auslink on projects which have passed cost-benefit analyses and which always have published cost-benefit analyses. This government, having promised that nothing would be done without a serious cost-benefit analysis, has not published a single one. It is no wonder that the former Minister for Finance and Deregulation, the former member for Melbourne, resigned as soon as the current Prime Minister took office; he was made a fool of, because his promise was never adhered to and he knew that it never would be adhered to under this Prime Minister.

There will be a review of competition law to ensure that businesses large and small compete on a genuinely level playing field. There will be more productive workforces. We will build on the legacy of the former Howard government and have genuine participation reform in this country. There will be continuous activity for unemployed people under 50. We will extend welfare quarantining from the Northern Territory to long-term unemployed people right around Australia. We will reform the disability pension to ensure that older people in particular are not parked forever on the pension when they could still have opportunities for work. We will cut off the dole for young people in places where unskilled work is readily available, because Warren Mundine is right. Warren Mundine, the former National President of the Labor Party, is right: it is much better to have people showing the world what they can do than to have policies in place which encourage them to show the world what they cannot do.

We took really outstanding policies to the last election. You know, Mr Speaker, because you were advocating for the policies that we took to the last election. I hope you might find it in your heart to continue advocating for those policies. There were incentives to employers who took on young long-term unemployed people and kept them there. There were incentives to employers who took on seniors and kept them there. The seniors of this country should not just be social and cultural contributors; they ought to be economic contributors too if that is their wish. There should be no age of statutory senility. There should be no bar to older people contributing to our economy if that is what they want to do. The older people of this country have the skills, the work culture and, in many cases, the readiness to do more, and we should give them the encouragement that they need.

Since the election, my front bench colleagues have announced better water management policies, including new dams, because why shouldn't the north of Australia become a food bowl for Asia? Why do we constantly set limits on ourselves because members opposite are in thrall to Bob Brown, the real Prime Minister of this country?

We came forward with a $2 billion mental health policy. It was so successful that even this current government was shamed into doing something at budget time. I am proud of the antidumping policy on which my friend the shadow minister, the member for Indi, has done so much work assisted by the shadow minister for resources. That will put in place the same effective antidumping regime which has protected the industries of Europe and North America.

We can do better than this government. The Australian people are feeling down because they know we can do better. This is a great country. It deserves a better government, and we stand ready to give it to them. (Time expired)