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Thursday, 27 November 2014
Page: 9598


Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (17:45): The question before the chamber at the moment is:

That the Senate acknowledges that it has a responsibility to propose and discuss options to cut government spending.

The proposition of course is one that all governments at some point or another in their time do have to consider. But there are many others that have to be considered as well in that context, and the concern that I have about such a statement is of course that it misrepresents the complexities of the way in which public finances have to be administered, and it underplays the importance that parliament has in terms of maintaining public confidence in the direction of the country.

It is one thing to talk about responsible economic management, and all governments of course do use that frame, but it is another thing entirely to go to an election and tell a pack of lies—to go to an election and say: 'We can undertake certain courses of action without cutting the budget.' That is exactly what this government has done. It went to the last election and explicitly said that, whatever programs it had, there would be no cuts to education, there would be no cuts to health and there would be no cuts to the ABC, and a range of other commitments were made. Apart from the fact that governments that do that sort of thing invariably get caught out as being liars—

Senator Back interjecting

Senator KIM CARR: There is no doubt about it—there is just absolutely no doubt about what this government has done: it has betrayed the Australian people, and the betrayal is real enough. But there is a more fundamental problem, and that is that, within this country—and I think this is common in many other countries as well, so it is not just confined to this country—there is a drop in public confidence in the authority of government, of the state; there is an undermining of the legitimacy of the democratic process; there is a capacity to turn people away from the political process itself. That, to me, undermines some fundamental democratic principles. It undermines the capacity of governments to actually talk to people about issues that are facing the country. It undermines the capacity of politicians to be trusted.

This Prime Minister we have now, Mr Abbott, made a great virtue of the issue of trust, in the last parliament. It was a central point in his assault upon the previous Labor government. And there were some very, very derogatory things said about the leadership of the last Labor government.

Senator Birmingham: Which one?

Senator KIM CARR: Well, it would not really matter, because you were quite indiscriminate when it came to your approach, and quite indiscriminate in your assault upon the integrity of Prime Minister Gillard and of Prime Minister Rudd—it did not really matter to you; you made a similar point.

Senator Birmingham interjecting

Senator KIM CARR: Well, you took the view—

Government senators interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Williams ): Order on my right!

Senator KIM CARR: that anything goes; you took the view that it did not matter, so you could then go to an election and say, 'Trust us: we will not have any cuts to education, we will not have any cuts to health and we will not have any cuts to the ABC.' This is a government that is now characterised by its capacity to even lie about its lies. So the question of the democratic deficit that arises in these circumstances—

Senator Canavan: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order on relevance. The question, I believe, before the Senate is about government expenditure, and nothing in the last minute or so related to that—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Canavan, there is no point of order. We have had wide terms in many of these debates. Continue, Senator Carr.

Senator KIM CARR: So this is a government that is now characterised by its duplicity, by the web of deceit that runs right through this government—a government that went to the election and said that there would be no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no cuts to the ABC—

Government senators interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order on my right!

Senator KIM CARR: So what do we find? In my particular areas of direct responsibility, we see the cuts to education: $5.8 billion—

Senator McKenzie interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator McKenzie!

Senator KIM CARR: $5.8 billion to higher education and university research; nearly $3 billion in terms of the attempts to impose crippling debts on students, through increasing real rates of interest; $1.9 billion in reductions to government course subsidies; $200 million in cuts to the indexation arrangements for universities; $172 million in cuts to the promotion and reward funding for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds; $173 million in cuts to the training of Australian research students; $75 million in cuts to the Australian Research Council; and $31 million in cuts to the regulator.

And we now have a situation where a government wishes to give universities the right to print debt. It will mean a lifetime of debt, and a situation where the $100,000 degree will be commonplace in this country. It will mean a situation where people will be denied—

Senator McKenzie interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Carr, resume your seat, please.

Senator McKenzie interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator McKenzie, interjections are disorderly, and you are not even in your seat—in fact, you are in my seat, where interjections rarely, if ever, come from! So I ask you, on my right, to be quiet, please. Continue, Senator Carr.

Senator KIM CARR: You see the government does not like to hear this, but this is the truth. This is a government that is characterised by its lies and its deceit, a government that is characterised by the duplicity—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator McKenzie, you have a point of order?

Senator McKenzie: Senator Carr is actually misleading the Senate with his claims that $100,000 degrees will be all over—

Senator Bilyk: Ask Tas Uni!

Senator McKenzie: That is not the case. The Regional Universities Network put out a statement today stating—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator McKenzie, there is no point of order. Continue, Senator Carr.

Senator KIM CARR: The prospect of $100,000 degrees will be widespread in this country if the sycophants from the National Party get their way!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator McKenzie, you have a point of order?

Senator McKenzie: On behalf of the three Nats in the chamber, we thoroughly reject—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The point of order?

Senator McKenzie: The point of order is: I would like Senator Carr to withdraw his statement that the National Party are sycophants.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: There is no point of order, Senator McKenzie. Continue, Senator Carr.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. We do know that the doormats in that corner are only too happy to go along with any device—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator McKenzie, on a point of order?

Senator McKenzie: Well, I would like Senator Carr, if he is not going to withdraw his claim of 'sycophant' against the National Party, to withdraw calling the National Party 'doormats'.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: There is no point of order.

Senator KIM CARR: Just this week I watched a program on the ABC that talked about the once great Country Party and people like Mr Sinclair. It showed many Nationals who actually stood up for rural and regional Australia, but not this crew now. They are sycophants, they are doormats, they are obsessed with brownnosing their way into ministerial office. They will do whatever they can, but they will not stand up for rural and regional students. They will not stand up to stop $100,000 degrees being imposed in this country.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Point of order, Senator Nash?

Senator Nash: You may have been distracted, but can I have your ruling on the fact that the phrase 'brownnosing' may not be parliamentary?

Senator Back: Make a decision, Acting Deputy President; it is not parliamentary. I am sure Senator Carr would be happy to withdraw it.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: In fact—

Honourable senators interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! In fact, I was talking to the clerk and I did not hear it, I am sorry.

Senator Nash: If I could assist: the senator clearly used the phrase 'brownnosing'. I am keen to get your ruling on whether or not that phrase is unparliamentary. And if you do rule it as unparliamentary, I would ask you to ask the senator to withdraw.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Carr, would you like to rephrase that, or did you indeed say that?

Senator KIM CARR: I will. What we have are obsequious, supine and absolutely craven groups of people who refuse to defend rural and regional students and who have allowed, as a result of the duplicity of this government, a process where $100,000 degrees will be imposed upon students in rural and regional areas, and where cuts of up to $5.8 billion will be imposed upon universities and university students.

We know the great tradition of this country is a commitment to a fair go and the idea that if you are bright enough and you work hard, then you can get a quality education. But under this government rural and regional students in particular will be denied that opportunity. And the cowardly behaviour of the National Party, the unbelievably supine attitude of the National Party, highlights the point that regional and rural students in this country will be seriously undermined in their capacity to enjoy the great Australian gift of a fair go. So $100,000 degrees will be common; crippling debts will be the order of the day. There is a $5.8 billion cut to the university system, in complete contrast to what the Prime Minister said before the last election.

There is a real issue of trust here. We cannot trust the National Party to defend the interests of rural and regional students. We cannot possibly imagine the circumstances under this current regime where the National Party will stand up to ensure that courses will not be closed in rural areas, that campuses will not be closed. In fact, I would suggest to you there may well be universities themselves that will face acute pressure and may well be faced with crippling circumstances. We have already seen the Auditor-General in Victoria pointing out the consequences of the failed policies we have seen in that state, where budget cuts have led to the extraordinary destruction of public education through the TAFE system. We know the circumstances here: a government that went to the election making clear, unequivocal promises that there would be no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no cuts to the ABC then brought in one of the most draconian budgets this country has ever seen.

We know these are the circumstances. We know that in the industry department similar sets of actions have followed whereby the government has sought to undermine jobs by destroying the automotive industry. It now seeks to take $900 million out of the Automotive Transformation Scheme. We see in a state like Victoria that up to 90,000 jobs are at risk as a result of a government that has been founded on lies. This is a government that has found itself caught out for the lies that it has told, the deceptions that it has sought to prosecute. This is a government that has lost the trust of the Australian people, and I trust on Saturday its relatives in Victoria will lose the trust of the Victorian people. We will see the debate in this country emerge about what are the prospects of government change because this is the real issue here: if you defy people's trust, it is inevitable that as the political cycle improves or in fact speeds up, then there are circumstances where governments may well be only around for one term. This is a government led by 'oncers'. This is a government that has lost the confidence of the people of this country because it has told so many lies about what it was going to do when it got into office. It has betrayed the Australian people's trust by cutting the budget, doing enormous damage to the economy— (Time expired)

Debate interrupted.