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Thursday, 24 November 2011
Page: 13831


Ms JULIE BISHOP (CurtinDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (15:56): Madam Deputy Speaker, I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your elevation to this position.

Not since the dying days of the discredited Whitlam government have we seen such a pitiful excuse for a government, with a leader who cannot be trusted, whether she is backstabbing her leader to take the top job of Prime Minister, having promised faithfully that she would never challenge him, or whether she is backstabbing the Australian people. This government is contemptible. A Prime Minister who promised the Australian people on the eve of the election that there would be no carbon tax under a government she led then did a secret deal with the Greens and broke her promise to the Australian people. She broke faith with the Australian people. It was a solemn promise that she was prepared to walk away from. When it comes to the choice of keeping faith with the Australian people or clinging to power, this Prime Minister will ditch the Australian people every time. This is a contemptible government led by an untrustworthy Prime Minister. No wonder the joke going around the Twittersphere is: if Australia is the lucky country, how come it is Greece and Italy that get to change Prime Minister?

A survey was undertaken by JWS Research asking Australians to name the best government in Australia over the last 30 years. Ninety-six per cent of those people surveyed named any government other than the Gillard government. Four per cent named the Gillard government. I was thinking about that four per cent, but then I read another survey that said four per cent of the Australian people still think Elvis is alive. That explains it, doesn't it, Member for Brand? The vast majority of those surveyed named the Howard government as the best government of the last 30 years, and that is because it was and is the best government of the last 30 years. The legacy that this incoming lot received from the Howard government was invaluable. Unemployment was around four per cent and there was no government debt. We paid off every single cent of Keating's $96 billion debt so that we did not have to pay $9 billion or $10 billion a year in interest. We provided successive budget surpluses. I think it was about seven in all, wasn't it, Member for Flinders?

Mr Hunt: Ten out of 12, we had.

Ms JULIE BISHOP: Ten out of 12 years were budget surpluses. But, for the past four years, the Australian people have been subjected to a divided, directionless, dysfunctional and increasingly dishonest government. What everyone has learnt, to this country's great cost, is that you do not listen to what Labor say; you watch what they do. Remember when the member for Griffith, before he was toppled by the Prime Minister, was campaigning on being an economic conservative. He was 'John Howard light'. He would have advertisements of him standing in front of the Brisbane skyline saying: 'I've always been an economic conservative. I'm committed to budget surpluses. I believed in them when in opposition. I'm committed to them in government.' Budget surpluses—what a cruel hoax on the Australian people.

What have they delivered? Deficit after deficit after deficit after deficit. The past four budgets have been in deficit—four successive budget deficits—a cumulative total of $150 billion in deficit. That means this government have spent $150 billion more than they have raised in revenue. That is one of the worst performances of any national government in living memory. How have they paid for this cumulative total of $150 billion? By cutting back the wasteful spending on their pink batts scheme and every other discredited scheme? By growing the economy? No—they have paid for these budget deficits by borrowing. From a standing start of zero government debt, in the last two or three years, net government debt is over $110 billion. It went from zero to $110 billion in two years. It took Labor 13 years to accumulate a $96 billion debt by 1996, and now it has taken just a couple of years for a $110 billion net government debt. The economic conservatives committed to budget surpluses have one of the largest debts in peacetime history and successive budget deficits with a cumulative total of $150 billion. Not even Paul Keating could rival that kind of economic vagrancy.

Is there anything that the Prime Minister can be believed on? What of the Labor principle that they would not send asylum seekers to a country that is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees? That is what the Prime Minister said when she announced her ill-fated East Timor processing scheme. She said, 'The government will not send asylum seekers to any country that is not a signatory under the UN convention on refugees.' She cannot even be believed on what we thought was an immutable Labor Party principle. Her Malaysia swap deal, the appalling deal that would see 800 asylum seekers sent to Malaysia, would already be exhausted by now because many more than 800 people have arrived since the deal was announced. This deal is, of course, to send asylum seekers to a country that is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees. So, what happened to this great Labor principle, the moral high ground that the Labor Party stood on to say, 'We won't send asylum seekers to a country that's not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees'? The only country they want to send asylum seekers to is one that is not a signatory. There are about 140 other countries to choose from. But, no, this government are committed to the one country that is not a signatory.

Then, what of that other immutable Labor principle that they will not sell uranium to any country that is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty? I understood that that was Labor's moral high ground. They stood there saying, 'We will not sell uranium to a country that is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.' The coalition happen to disagree with that because we believe there are countries that can be trusted with Australian uranium. The Labor Party insisted, year on year on year, that it would not sell uranium to India because it was not a signatory, and we have had four years of unnecessary tension and diplomatic frustrations with India because Labor said that it was committed to a principle not to sell Australian uranium to a country not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Well, guess what ladies and gentlemen, Labor have now done a backflip, a 180-degree turn, and all of a sudden they are not on the moral high ground anymore. They are now going to put it to the annual national gathering of the Labor bosses, the union bosses, the union officials who run the Labor Party, to ask them for approval to sell Australian uranium to India, which is not a signatory. Is there no conviction that this government will not trash? Is there no principle they will not walk away from? Have they no ethics, no principles? This is a dysfunctional, divided, dishonest government.

It does not stop there. There is another really disgraceful episode that has not received a lot of publicity but, believe me, it is on the slow burn. This is in relation to the $223 million taxpayer funded tender for the Australian Network which is an important element of Australia's engagement with our region. This is a taxpayer funded international television service, the Australia Network. It broadcasts to about 44 countries in the Asia-Pacific Indian Ocean. In the past the Seven Network has had the tender, the ABC has had the tender, and it is put out for tender from time to time.

The Gillard government announced the most recent tender in December with tender documents issued in February and at stake is $223 million. It was meant to be an arm's length tender. It has always been done through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as it should, because it involves soft diplomacy into our region. Responsibility for the decision rests with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, but so divided and so dysfunctional is this government at the top that, without explanation, a secret deal was done. They ripped responsibility off the Minister for Foreign Affairs and gave it to none other than the minister for the ABC, Senator Conroy. Talk about a conflict of interest! The minister, who is responsible for the ABC, one of the tenderers, gets to decide the tender. And the Minister for Foreign Affairs is backstabbed yet again. It is like Lucy and Peanuts holding the football and poor old Kevin comes running in and she takes the footy away. This tender is now so discredited, the political and government interference in this tender is now so discredited, that the Attorney-General is intervening to investigate the circumstances. The Prime Minister and the minister for communications are complicit in yet another disgraceful episode of this contemptible— (Time expired)