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Monday, 24 February 2014
Page: 643

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (20:41): I begin by thanking the voters of Makin who elected me to represent them in this place. I would not be here were it not for them. Equally, I thank my family, my office team and the many supporters, for without their help I could not have run my re-election campaign. As every member of this place would know, running an election campaign for a federal electorate requires a huge effort. I am most grateful for the work of all the people who in some way assisted me. I also acknowledge the many candidates who stood for office in the 2013 election and in turn provided voters with choice. It is part of the strength of Australia's democratic system of government.

The election resulted in a change of government. As a result, several of my colleagues whom I had worked alongside in the last parliament were not re-elected. I place on record my appreciation of their service as members of parliament. They were all hardworking MPs who, I believe, had served their electorates well, but for reasons mainly beyond their control they lost their seats. Such is the nature of Australian politics where the focus is too often and too much on the political leaders of the day. I particularly acknowledge the service in this place of my South Australian colleague Steve Georganas, who diligently represented the Hindmarsh electorate for three terms. He was a hardworking local member who served his electorate well. I also acknowledge the many colleagues who voluntarily retired at the 2013 election or, in the case of the former member for Griffith, who retired shortly after the September election. I will miss their friendship and their experience. Having said that, I also congratulate other members of this place who were re-elected in September or were elected for the first time.

This parliament forms the centre of our democracy, our rights and our freedom, but in truth we are only as free as our laws allow us to be. The role of this parliament is, however, to ensure that those laws fairly balance the rights of individuals with the rights of the collective society we are all a part of. One of our important responsibilities as MPs is, therefore, to ensure the independence and impartiality of this parliament.

Regrettably, in its first months in government the Abbott government has treated this parliament with arrogance and contempt,

making a mockery of question time with ministers refusing to answer questions or avoiding answers, removing supplementary questions from question time, limiting opportunities for members to speak in adjournment debates and private members' motions and, as we have seen, gagging debates on important legislation at a time when the legislative program is very light. Restricting parliament's ability to do its work is a direct attack on our democracy.

The Governor-General's address on 12 November outlined the Abbott government's agenda for the 44th Parliament. What is notable about the address is not what it spells out but what it does not. As voters are very quickly finding out, the Abbott government has much more in store for them than what the Prime Minister told them in the lead-up to the election. Of course, the government's defence will predictably be to blame the previous government. Even that is already beginning to wear thin with the voters with whom I speak. I will also comment briefly on the government's claim to have a mandate for all that they want to do. I do not accept the mandate argument.

Firstly, the government only received 45.5 per cent of the public vote. That in turn means that 54.5 per cent of the Australian people voted against the government—in other words, more than half of the Australian voters did not support this government. Secondly, the election, as is the case with all elections, was not a referendum on one single issue. Voters made the choice that they did for a multitude of reasons. Again, that is always the case, always has been and always will be. What we have seen from the Abbott government, however, in its first five months in office is a government that takes from low-income Australians and gives to high-income earners, a government that wants to balance its budget on the back of low-income earners, a government that has turned its back on the environment and a government that has turned its back on South Australia. If time permits, I will address each of those points.

As a South Australian, I will begin with how the Abbott government has turned its back on South Australia. I know just how important the river Murray and Holden are to South Australians. Yet, in its first weeks in government, the Abbott government capped water buybacks to 1,500 gigalitres, deferred over $600 million of buybacks and walked away from the Labor government's commitment to return an additional 450 gigalitres of water to the river Murray system. Restoring and securing the health of the Murray was a painstaking process. Being at the end of the system, it was particularly important for South Australians. Under Labor, we finally reached a national agreement. It was not an easy process, yet in a matter of weeks all of that good work was being undone by the Abbott government while South Australian Liberals both in this place and in the South Australian parliament remained silent. The fact is that South Australia is once again being rolled by the eastern states and the South Australian Liberal members of this government have gone to water, just as they did when it came to Holden.

The Abbott government had been warned for months by former Holden executive Mike Devereux that any cuts in government assistance to the auto industry would result in the closure of Holden and with it the loss of several thousand jobs in South Australia alone. For South Australia, it also meant a $1 billion plus hit to the state economy and that recovery for the state would take years. Secondly, there are no immediate jobs for those workers to transition to and, to add insult to injury, the Abbott government came up with a pitiful $60 million of national assistance funding—not just for South Australia; this is the total for the nation as a result of the hit on the auto industry. Again, where were the voices of South Australian Liberals in this place or the voice of the South Australia Liberal opposition leader Steven Marshall? Again, they remained silent whilst the people in South Australia, including hundreds of small businesses whom they elected to represent them, were being ignored by the Abbott government.

No amount of protesting by the Abbott government or South Australian Liberals that Holden was always going to close will change the fact that the Abbott government made no effort to keep Holden in Australia. Instead, they did the opposite, cutting water assistance by $500 million and then ordering a Productivity Commission inquiry after making it clear that there would be no further financial assistance to the industry. By all accounts, the Prime Minister not even once picked up the phone to speak to GM executives about Holden's future in Australia prior to GM making its decision to close. The Abbott government simply did not care about car workers or their families, just as it did nothing to secure the jobs of workers at Toyota, SPC Ardmona, Electrolux, Qantas, Simplot, Peabody, Caterpillar or Rio Tinto jobs in Gove. In fact, 63,000 jobs have been lost since the Abbott government was elected, predominantly in the manufacturing sector.

As shadow parliamentary secretary for manufacturing, I take a particular interest in those jobs and Australia's manufacturing sector. Even with the loss of jobs in manufacturing over recent decades, I do not accept that Australia does not have a future or that we should put up the white flag on manufacturing. In recent years, the most damaging hits to manufacturing have not come from workers' wages that the Abbott government seeks to blame but from globalisation and the oversupply of products arising from the global financial crisis, a high Australian dollar, loopholes in free trade agreements and high levels of government assistance in competing countries. Nor do I believe that Australia can be a secure First World economy without a strong manufacturing sector. Over the months ahead, I will be working with my colleagues and talking to manufacturers around Australia about the most effective ways the government can secure Australia's manufacturing industries. If other advanced countries are able to maintain a profitable manufacturing sector, there is no reason why Australia, with so many natural advantages, cannot equally do so.

What is of real concern and should be of concern to Australian families is that since coming to office the Abbott government's true agenda is quickly emerging, and the government's austerity measures are focused on working families, low-income earners and welfare recipients. The Abbott government has already cut the schoolkids bonus to 1.3 million Australian families; it is worth an average of $1,200 to each family. It has cut superannuation tax breaks worth up to $500 to some 3.6 million low-income earners. It has cut small business tax breaks, including the instant asset write-off of up to $6,500, tax loss carryback provisions of up to $1 million and up to $5,000 for motor vehicle tax write-offs to small businesses. The Abbott government has even taken back $4.5 million in grants made to not-for-profit community groups to which the previous Labor government had allocated funding.

These groups return far more in value to the Australian community than the grants that they receive from government. This is penny-pinching at its worst. There is no doubt in my mind that the government's Commission of Audit is nothing more than an excuse for further cruel cuts in the May budget. Commissions of audit have been standard practice of conservative state and federal governments in this country for the past 20 years. We know that the government wants to sell off Medibank Private and impose a Medicare co-payment on people who rely on bulk-billing. Again, low-income earners and pensioners will be hit the hardest.

Of course, the Abbott government will deny any such thoughts until after the Western Australian Senate election, just as they did in the lead-up to the Griffith by-election. The government and the Treasurer talk about the end of the age of entitlement but that only applies to low-income Australians whilst high-income earners, like BHP and Rio Tinto, are rewarded with tax cuts. For the years ending June 2012 and June 2013, I understand that BHP and Rio Tinto made a combined pre-tax profit of around $82 billion and an after-tax profit of $55 billion. If the age of entitlement is over, let us see what the Abbott government does in May to mining rebates such as the oil and gas tax concessions, worth around $1.2 million over the coming year; the accelerated depreciation for oil and gas assets, costing $450 million this coming year; and the $1 billion-plus fuel tax credits program, of which the mining sector are major beneficiaries.

The Abbott government's agenda is becoming very clear—that is, to balance the budget on the back of low-income earners and welfare recipients, to raise taxes that mainly affect those already struggling the most, to cut health and education spending and to reduce workers' entitlements by blaming them for the nation's woes whilst corporate CEOs and other executives continue to receive excessive salary packages. The member for Lilley articulated these points very well. The philosophies and the agenda of this government are clear and becoming even more so each day. The problem is that these policies will have an adverse effect on the Australian economy, on economic growth and on job creation within our country. These policies will hurt many of the people I represent and Australians right around the country.

Contrary to the rhetoric of this government that seeks to blame the previous Labor government for all its woes and in turn run the narrative that it is doing what it has to do in order to restore this nation's economy and balance the budget, the government inherited an economy in pretty good shape. Economists around the world had described the economy as being in pretty good shape, and the member for Lilley articulated this point well. The Lilley economy had a AAA credit rating from all three major credit rating agencies, relatively low inflation, low unemployment and relatively low debt and deficit by international standards. We will not hear this from the government over the coming months in the excuses for why it needs to do what it is going to do—that is, attack low-income earners, wage earners and welfare recipients. Those policies will have an adverse effect on the people who elected me to this place and whom I represent. Those policies will also have an adverse effect on the 2.7 million small businesses in this country.

This government continuously claims that it represents small businesses, but in reality when you analyse its policies it does nothing for small businesses. The best example I can think of is before us right now, with the government turning its back on the auto industry. In turn, who will be one of the major losers from that? Thousands of small businesses around the country. I was elected to this place by people who want me to stand up against those kinds of cuts, people who do not want to see education spending cuts, people who do not want to see health spending cuts, people who want to see our environment protected and people who do not want to see their working conditions further eroded. They took a strong stand on working conditions in 2007. People in this country work hard and do it tough, but they are not prepared to wear the responsibility for policies that this government wants to implement and which are going to make their lives even tougher.