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Thursday, 27 November 2014
Page: 9594

Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Health) (17:26): Firstly, this afternoon I would like to commend Senator Leyonhjelm and Senator Day on their motion. When we see such a practical and sensible motion being brought forward to the Senate it is important that we recognise that that has been done.

The motion that we are discussing today is that 'the Senate acknowledges that it has a responsibility to propose and discuss options to cut government spending'. What a common sense and sensible proposal to bring forward to the Senate this afternoon! There is absolutely no doubt that that is something that needs to be done. And the Australian people understand that.

For the future of our nation we need to cut government spending. It is simple. People out there in the community understand this because they look at their own lives—they look at what they are doing in their own communities—and when they look at their own household budgets they know that if they do not keep their spending to a level that allows them to appropriately move forward through their lives they are going to go backwards—they are going to go out the door. They know that. They understand that it takes work to balance a household budget—that you cannot always do just what you want to do. You actually have to put thought into how that is going to work. They understand it.

People out there in small businesses—I know Senator Ruston would understand this very well—understand that they have to balance the books. They understand that they cannot spend more than they earn. They understand that they have to manage their businesses appropriately so that they can be sustainable. People out there in those communities right across Australia understand that. It is a shame that the previous, Labor government—and indeed Labor governments before them—simply did not understand that you have to balance the books and that you cannot spend more than you earn. They do not understand that you cannot borrow—and keep borrowing and borrowing—and expect that you are going to have a financially sustainable future. It is simply not possible. Those on the other side of the chamber do not understand that.

The reason it is so important that we debate this today is that it affects the future of the nation. We only have to look at the current financial figures to know what a difficult financial situation we are in and why it is important for this coalition government to take the difficult, necessary steps to ensure that we get some financial sustainability into the economy.

The previous, Labor government left this coalition government with a projected trajectory of debt to $667 billion—not millions; $667 billion! That figure is almost too big for people out there in our communities to comprehend; it is just a number. But it is a trajectory that this government would not allow to continue. We cannot allow our children and our children's children to be saddled with debt of around $25,000 a year each. We cannot allow them to be saddled with debt. This coalition government will not do that.

We are not going to do that to the future generations of this nation because it is not right. The previous Labor government might have been prepared to do that but this coalition government is not. And the interest we are paying on that debt is money that the government does not have, to allow us to do the things the Australian people are asking us to do. We are paying over $1 billion monthly in interest—over $1 billion a month! When I look at the people who come to me every day, and I know who go to you as well Acting Deputy President Williams, talking about their local communities, wanting to get things in place which they see as benefiting their local communities, we have to say no because there is no money, that we are paying $1 billion a month interest on the bill racked up by the previous Labor government. That is what we have to tell them.

When we on this side of the chamber look at those figures, we realise what a difficult task is ahead. We are paying $38 million a day, $1.6 million of hour, $27,000 a minute and $450 a second in interest on the previous Labor government's debt. And people wonder why the government is having to make tough decisions. That is exactly why—because we are going to be responsible and sensible, to ensure that this government gets this nation back on the financial track on which it needs to be.

What was it like previously under our coalition government? How did we leave the state of the finances for the previous Labor government? There was zero debt, none, and not only that, there were $50 billion in the bank. In six short years, the Labor Party managed in government to leave us the trajectory to a debt of $667 billion. It is no wonder people out in the community say, 'How was that even possible? How do they manage to do that?' It is because Labor simply have no ability whatsoever to manage the nation's finances.

There is a track record of it, too. In 1996, when the coalition came to government the debt we had to repay was $96 billion. It took us 10 hard years to pay off that debt. Here we see it again—it is a pattern of behaviour. When coalition governments come in, we have to clean up Labor messes, to make sure we do everything we can to get the nation back on an economically sustainable footing. And we will do that.

How did we get to this point? We got to this economic mess through the previous Labor government's waste and mismanagement. We only have to look at a list of the types of things the previous Labor government was prepared to spend money on that got us into this mess, things that actually did not do any good for the nation. They borrowed money, spent money and applied it to things that did not do anything good for the nation. This is only some of the list. Under Labor we saw—who can forget these?—Fuelwatch and GroceryWatch, nearly $30 million spent setting them up and then what? They were dumped. They introduced—this one I am sure people will remember—a $429 million 'cash for clunkers' program. That was ditched by the previous Labor government. There was the Home Insulation Program, the pink batts, $2½ billion dollars mismanaged. Computers in schools was a $1.4 billion blow-out. The next one I think really encapsulates the level of mismanagement that we saw from the previous Labor government. As many senators would know, we used to have some billiard tables in this building. The previous Labor government sold them to $6,000, but then what happened? The previous Labor government decided to spend $102,000 determining whether or not they got value for money. Those are the types of actions we saw from the previous Labor government. That type of waste and mismanagement by the previous Labor government has led us to the economic circumstances we are in today. The solar panels program was an $815 million blow-out. The set-top box program—at an average of $350 a home but Harvey Norman was offering the same deal for $168. They simply had no idea how to manage the nation's finances, how to get the country on a sustainable financial trajectory. That has left us in this economic mess.

This motion is so important today because the Senate has a responsibility to ensure that this government, elected by the Australian people to clean up the mess we were left by the previous government, can put in place what we need to ensure economic sustainability and part of that is cutting spending. As I said when I started, the Australian people understand that because they do it every day. We expect them to balance their budgets. We expect them to manage their livelihoods and they do. There is no bucket of money under Parliament House, as we all know. All of the dollars we spend are so much attributed to hardworking Australian taxpayers' dollars. The previous Labor government might have been quite happy to fritter that away but this coalition government is not.

When we look at all this waste and mismanagement, we see that so much of it is sheeted home to the former failed finance minister. On Senator Wong's watch as finance minister, government net debt tripled. Net debt was $42 billion in 2009-10 and rose to $153 billion in 2012-13. Labor's debt interest bill rose from $4 billion in 2009-10 to $12 billion in 2013—$12 billion! That was all on the former failed finance minister Senator Wong's watch.

We are having to fix up the previous Labor government's economic mess and that means from time to time this government has to take hard decisions. We are not going to govern the way the previous Labor government did—in a populist way, doing policy on the run, getting appalling outcomes for the Australian people, with absolutely no view to the nation's future. We are not going to fritter away money as did the previous Labor government.

I turn to when Senator Wong was in a slightly different role as climate change minister. Some of the decisions that the then minister, Senator Wong, took when it came to water were quite breathtaking. You would understand this very well, Mr Acting Deputy President Williams. Bear in mind that we are talking about taxpayers' dollars. We are talking about hardworking Australian taxpayers' dollars. What did we see the former failed finance minister and the former failed climate change minister spend money on? You would assume that it would be things that would take the nation forward. Let me just give you a couple of examples. In the first one that I will refer to from under Senator Wong's watch, she spent $300 million—a third of a billion dollars—buying back water from Twynam Pastoral. The only thing was that the water licences that she bought were either general or supplementary. As those who understand water know, as I know you do, Mr Acting Deputy President Williams, along with my good colleagues behind me, Senator Canavan and Senator McKenzie, water is not always available. She was buying water for the environment that was not actually going to be there when she needed it. A third of a billion dollars! And people wonder why we are in the economic mess that we are. And it went on. When we look at the mismanagement, it continued.

Senator Wong, in her role looking after climate change, water and the environment, and those sort of things, also spent $34 million on a property called Tandou. The interesting thing was, in terms of the water licence that she bought with $34 million of taxpayers' money, it was for supplementary water to go to the environment, as the minister at the time said. Supplementary water only exists in a flood. Thirty-four million dollars wasted for water that did not even exist. Senator Wong, the minister at the time, purchased a property called Toorale out near Bourke. You may well remember this one, Mr Acting Deputy President Williams. Nearly $24 million was spent on purchasing this property by Senator Wong, the minister at the time, to go towards the environment. The really interesting is: did the minister at the time, Senator Wong, go and have a look at Toorale? No, she did not. You would automatically assume, wouldn't you, that somebody from the department or somebody from her office would have gone and had a look. Not a single person went to have a look at that property.

Senator Canavan interjecting

Senator NASH: I will take that interjection, Senator Canavan. No, I do not think they even spoke to a real estate agent, but I stand to be corrected. The minister at the time, Senator Wong, spent $23.7 million on a property that neither she, her office or the department went to have a look at. As if that is not bad enough, unfortunately for Senator Wong, it was incredibly overvalued.

Senator Back interjecting

Senator Back: No, it wasn't!

Senator NASH: It was, indeed, Senator Back. I will take that interjection. It was overvalued. What would have been funny if it was not so sad was that the people out there in the community were laughing themselves silly. Senator Wong was a joke; she was a joke. They knew that the government had spent all of this taxpayer money on a property that they had paid way too much for. She could have sold a Wet'n'Wild and she would not have even known; nobody went to have a look. That is indicative of how the previous Labor government operated when it came to the future financial situation in this country. That is what they did. That is how they operated.

It is no wonder that people around this country look at the performance of the previous Labor government and shake their heads. When it comes to financial management, the previous Labor government had absolutely no idea. They had six years to show the Australian people that they could manage the nation's finances. They had six years to show the Australian people that they had a vision for the future and that they did have a plan to ensure the future prosperity of the nation, and they failed. The Australian people recognised that. That is why they put the coalition government in—to fix Labor's economic mess, to have a government that would look to the future, to have a government that would take the tough decisions to ensure that our children, our grandchildren and their children have a strong and prosperous future in this nation, because that is what we all want. Unfortunately, it is just not something that the Labor Party can deliver. And we know—

Senator McKenzie: It is not in their DNA.

Senator NASH: I will take that interjection. Thank you, Senator McKenzie. It is not in their DNA, because we have seen it happen time and time again. On this side of the chamber we know what we have to do to ensure a sustainable and prosperous future. We know that it is not always going to be easy. We know we are going to have to take hard decisions and we know we are going to have to do what Senator Leyonhjelm and Senator Day are proposing today, which is to consider cutting government spending. We have to do it; we have to do it because it is the responsible thing to do. It is the responsible thing for any government to do—to look at the future, to make sure that we are living within our means, to make sure that we have those policies in place that are going to ensure long-term prosperity when it comes to health, education, the environment and agriculture. There is so much that agriculture has to offer in terms of our long-term prosperity, but that will have to be a speech for another day.

We understand that on this side of the chamber. The coalition government is absolutely prepared to take the tough decisions to make sure that we have a prosperous nation not only for us but, as I said, for our children and for their children as well, because it is our responsibility to do that. It is our responsibility to get it right. We will make those tough decisions. It is not always going to be easy and it is not always going to be popular, but it is going to be the right thing to do. We all sit in this place and we know that those on the other side had their six years; they had their chance to prove that they could do it; they had their chance to prove that we could see from them some plan for the future. They had their chance—and they blew it. They had their chance and they failed. And now this coalition government has to fix the previous Labor government's mess. And we will do that. As I said, it is not always going to be easy; it is not always going to be popular. But I would say to the Australian people: always, always keep in mind that the coalition government will do this for the right reasons. The difficult decisions will be taken for the right reasons, and the right reasons are: ensuring that we have those policies in place to give our children and our grandchildren a prosperous future in this nation.