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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 1808

Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongLeader of the Opposition) (15:19): The coalition said one thing before the election and, ever since they have been elected, they have been hell-bent on doing everything but what they said before the election.

I think this is a government who rather famously promised before the election that they would be a government of no surprises and no excuses. Indeed, Australians are learning that they are a government of nasty surprises and pathetic excuses. I think most famously in support of this proposition we remember the Treasurer, then the shadow Treasurer, saying that there was a budget emergency. The proposition in front of the House today is that, if you are ever in a real emergency, do not call 'Dr Abbott' and 'Nurse Hockey'. Imagine if you had a debt emergency. What will they say over there? What will Dr Abbott and Nurse Hockey do? What will they do when there is a debt emergency? Inject more debt into the system! Why not?

But then, of course, you have got the Greens emergency. Before the election, you could not even wear the colour green without being lambasted as part of some left-wing Marxist conspiracy. We know those famous words that the now government would say: 'Don't do tawdry deals with the Greens.' They said that the Greens were economic fringe dwellers, but this bunch of cynics opposite have never seen a promise or a statement that they would make that they would not jump over in order to pursue power.

What we see with this coalition government is the acid of coalition cynicism corroding public trust in politics. We talk about the real emergencies. A real emergency, as revealed by the international experts, is that for the last 10 years under the inadequate Howard government SES funding model we saw inequitable funding of schools. That is the emergency. We see the results going backwards. So what did Dr Abbot and Nurse Hockey—and I do not know how you would describe the Minister for Education; 'hapless' would probably be most accurate this week—instead do? When you have got an emergency which says that the system is inequitable, what on earth do you do? You inject more inequity into the system. Why on earth didn't Labor think to give money to the states and then allow the states to take their own funding out of education? What brain surgeon came up with that proposition?

But then, of course, we talk about the challenge of jobs. There can be no more important issue than jobs in Australia. I can forgive the coalition for some things. I promise in this debate not to say how relieved the Swiss are that the coalition said they are going to focus on Jakarta, not Geneva. I get that that is actually a complex issue, although I am sure the population of Switzerland is breathing a quiet sigh of relief. What I can't forgive the coalition for is that before the election they said, 'There are a million jobs—

Mr Hunt interjecting

Mr SHORTEN: I hear the Minister for the Environment piping up—what a misnomer that title is! Minister for the Environment? He's never seen a green paddock he would not concrete, never seen a bit of pollution he would not reward—what a joke!

Let's get back to the important issue of jobs. There is no more important issue in Australia than making sure that Australians can have jobs. When in opposition the now coalition government said, 'We'll give you a million jobs in five years.' I suppose we should have read the fine print. Did they mean net million jobs, or just a million jobs gross and then we will see how many jobs these people lose on their watch? Today in question time we asked the government, 'How is that million jobs promise going in light of the closures at Gove, in light of the sacking of CSIRO scientific staff, in light of what's happening at Simplot and Electrolux and in light of the disastrous news today for hundreds of people at Qantas?' We asked the government what they are going to do, but we got no answer whatsoever. Their answer to a jobs emergency is to find more unemployment.

The biggest problem we have had since the election is that the cynical administration that the coalition is emerging to be actually thinks that what is good for the coalition is good for the country—and we reject and repudiate that assumption. We see opposite us a government who said they would be orderly. Then we got the chance to read Paul Kelly's insightful piece in The Australian. You would think that since they have been in government they would have been calmly planning, in that education laboratory they keep well hidden out of public eyes, policies to target inequity. But then we actually find out the truth from Paul Kelly's article. It was Sunday night, all of the coalition were wondering, 'What will we do?' 'Thank goodness,' they say, 'Foreign Minister Bishop is back in the country.'

Opposition members interjecting

Mr SHORTEN: I think they said that! So they fly the foreign minister back in and the adults in the coalition grab the Minister for Education and they say, 'Don't you get it? Before the election you didn't do any work for three years, you didn't have a theory on education, and then you realised that Labor was absolutely pounding you in terms of having better education policies. In early August you slyly and trickily decide to pretend you're Labor in drag and that you can trust the coalition on education. Then what happens is you get into government and you go back to who you really are—not interested in reforming school funding.'

On the Sunday night he realised the outcry of annoyance and frustration—not from Labor but from teachers, parents and students. Any coalition member leaving parliament this week thinking they have had a victory on education lives in an alternative universe. The only people who have had anything approaching some sort of win in education have been the parents and students who are starting the process of making sure the government keeps their broken promise. We know that the coalition were dreadfully nervous about being seen to break a promise. I bet they do not mind breaking a promise on the Eye and Ear Hospital, which is a terrible judgement on them; they do not mind breaking a promise about working with the Greens, who they lambast and vilify and demonise—except, of course, if they can do a dodgy deal and get their votes—and they do not even seem to mind breaking a promise on the GST.

We did not ask the coalition in opposition to promise that they would not change the GST—they offered it. There was no gun to Joe Hockey's head. The coalition said they would not be changing the GST. But wait till they got into government—the backsliding, the position-changing: 'We didn’t really say that,' 'You didn't read my mind,' 'You didn't see that when I was standing up making the promise that I had my fingers crossed and my toes crossed and I didn't really mean it.' What consumers now face with this coalition government is the prospect that they will slap a new 10 per cent tax on online purchases.

But even if all those broken promises count for nothing, the promise which this opposition will not let the government get off the hook on is the betrayal of the promise to the schoolkids of Australia. I get that you are taking away the SchoolKids Bonus—only Charles Dickens and the coalition government could have dreamed up that Scrooge-like act—but what I cannot get is breaking the promise on education. We have an international report saying that our schools are falling behind because there is not enough equity in the funding model.

Mr Frydenberg interjecting

Mr SHORTEN: I am not surprised that the member for Kooyong laughs about not enough equity in the funding model—he would not know what I was talking about. Equity in funding means that you fund children according to their needs. What do the coalition do? Remember I started this story about the beginning of the week: when you have got an emergency, do you call triple-zero or do you call Dr Abbott and Nurse Hockey? What could they have done when they saw the education emergency? They could have looked at their solution before the election, where they had just promised to match Labor. Instead, what they have done is say, 'Quick, if we say that we are going to keep part of our promise from before the election, everyone will forget and we will move on to other issues.'

I will tell you another group of people who will not forget the last week of this coalition government in a hurry—other than 3.5 million schoolkids and their parents: the shareholders of GrainCorp. Imagine if Labor had been in government and we had made some knee-jerk reaction to appease part of a sectional base and wiped off 26.42 per cent of shareholder value. On 28 November, GrainCorp shares—

Government members interjecting

Mr SHORTEN: I would bet the people yelling do not have GrainCorp shares, because it is self-interest that motivates them. On 28 November the price of a GrainCorp share was $11.20. Today, after Dr Abbott and Nurse Hockey running around putting the band-aids on their base, I am afraid to say that the GrainCorp shares are $8.24. Fantastic. Do you know how you get a great small business in this country? You get the coalition to be in charge of big business! Down by $2.96.

Look at those opposite. They have got the great myth of Australian politics: 'Because we are the coalition, we can just be trusted. We might have said it before the election but things happen and things change'. But it takes real going to manage to kill the price of a company's shares by 27 per cent in a matter of days. The CEO is gone. Parliament of Australia: it is our submission that it does not matter if it is debt or dealing with the Greens, schools or GrainCorp, this mob opposite are not the people they promised Australians they would be at the election.