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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 3780

Dr STONE (Murray) (15:50): Probably no government since Federation have spent so much time with personalised attacks on an opposition rather than actually explaining their policy and their extraordinary debasement of Australia's opportunities and the futures of our kids.

Andrew Robb, the shadow finance minister, has just observed in the press today that a staggering 73 per cent of finance minister Penny Wong's press releases are attempts at diversionary attacks on the opposition leader, the shadow Treasurer and the shadow finance spokesman. There is something going on. There is something not smelling right in Denmark, as they say.

The Australian public is seriously sick of Labor's endless negativity and shrill attempts to distract everyone from what they are doing with the economy. Unfortunately the public is not unwise and they are experiencing the impact of the government's debt levels that are now afflicting all Australians—some $6,000 for every man, woman and child. We have young people now in despair and not able to pursue careers that they imagined would be something for them. We have empty shops and retail confidence at rock-bottom levels. We in fact have an economy that should be bubbling along, that should be in great shape, but that is now looking pretty bad. As our first speaker, the shadow finance minister, said, our economy unfortunately has structural deficits rivalling the poor men of Europe.

Labor is desperate to distract the public and paper over the fact that it has converted the coalition government's legacy of no government debt—$70 billion in net assets and a $20 billion surplus—into a staggering $130 billion net debt, with interest payments on average of about $6.5 billion annually. Under Labor, productivity has slowed, growth has stalled and only a few new jobs have been created. We are in a serious mess. None of Labor's debt can be paid off until it manages to produce a surplus, something it has not been able to conceive. It will have to be a very decent surplus to seriously tackle Labor's debt. On the current prediction for what the Treasurer, Mr Swan, calls a wafer-thin surplus, it would take over 100 years to pay off Labor's debt.

As I said, our structural deficit is a serious problem. We do not hear about that. I wonder if Mr Swan still believes that all we have to do is pray to China. 'China will save us,' he says, 'We are such a lucky country.' I doubt the Treasurer is sleeping well at night, now that China has downgraded this year's growth forecast to well below its average for the last 10 years. This government has hung all of its hopes for getting away with its profligate spending on rivers of gold continuing to flow out of the mines of Australia to feed China's insatiable demand for new goods and services.

Unfortunately it is not that simple. China's growth is dependent on a strong performance in its own export markets as well as in its domestic demand. Europe's debt crisis obviously affects China's exports and that in turn translates into slower demand for what they want to buy from us. So we have to be smarter than simply saying, 'Spend, spend, spend—China will fix us.' If only we had a government that was more disciplined and had some depth of understanding of interacting factors, causes and effects—those sorts of factors that influence a nation's prospects. Instead, in the last four years we have had four of the country's biggest deficits.

We have a government, typical of all previous Labor governments, that has overspent taxpayers' hard earned cash on hair brained and/or totally mismanaged schemes. Labor has wasted not just millions but billions of dollars and it continues to borrow about another $100 million per day to fund its unstoppable government spending. We have a huge Public Service administrating more government red tape and regulation than this nation has ever seen. The coalition will reduce that Public Service.

Take the pink batts. Everyone in Australia knows what I mean by those two words. Mention those two words to ordinary Australians and they either guffaw or groan. This program must go down as one of the most misguided, mismanaged and deadly that any government has ever cooked up in any country. Labor spent more than $1 billion to put the batts into hapless people's roofs and over $1 billion to take them out again when too many houses caught fire. You can understand why this government would also want to create smoke screens to hide the fact that they spent over $16 billion on new school buildings. But unless you were one of the lucky few in the independent school system you did not get what you wanted or needed. You could not employ locals and the value for money was just a joke.

Meanwhile, on Labor's watch, we are now just about at the bottom of the OECD league tables in terms of literacy and numeracy improvements and teacher capacity. It is not just about a new BER hall, sadly, and this government does not get that. They think a website will fix it up: the new NAPLAN and My School websites. Sadly, that is a cruel joke as well. Imagine the cruelty of this government's intentions when it identified the need for a national disability insurance scheme—something the coalition also understands the need for—but did not and cannot put a single red cent on the table to turn it into reality. Not a red cent. But they have put it out there as though it is going to happen. I have had people with disabilities in my electorate saying: 'Isn't this fantastic! At last, a national insurance scheme.' I say, 'Look I'm terribly sorry; it's a great idea but they've got no money.'

Imagine a government that introduces a paid parental leave scheme which is the cheapest and nastiest scheme you will find anywhere in the developed world. On top of it being the cheapest and nastiest it denies these new mothers any superannuation at the time of their leave. So the poverty of older women in Australia continues—no superannuation continuation in their working lives. Imagine a country that slaps a new national food plan on the table, very proudly, acknowledging that globally and especially in our region there will be enormous additional demand for fine food. At the same time it proposes to take away much of the key means of production in the Murray-Darling Basin—the water—from farmers in what is the largest food-producing zone in Australia.

They have slashed Customs and Biosecurity funding as well and they have slashed the research and development effort that is going to help farmers innovate and meet that global food task. It is cruel and it is absurd. No wonder there is now a crisis in confidence in one of the nation's biggest employers, the food and farm production manufacturing sector. Applications to do agricultural science courses have crashed, universities have halved their course offerings and skilled and graduate jobs in agriculture go begging. People have basically given up on this government. Then there is the Gillard government's $500 million carbon farming initiative. There are doubts now that it can ever deliver real emissions reductions and the scheme will be too costly and too bound with red tape for most to even bother about it.

The Greens have a lot to answer for. They are a key cause of the urgent smoke-and-mirror campaigns of the Labor government. With the Greens, Labor are trying to cover up the economic troubles their marriage has helped to create, and the vulnerabilities they cannot understand or can no longer respond to. The carbon tax was the price of the keys to the Lodge. We all understand that, but we are the laughing stock of the world. Other countries like us acknowledge the need to live in a carbon constrained world but no one else intends to smash their competitiveness, to beggar their people by destroying jobs—by closing down businesses or shrinking them—because the cost of their energy will be beyond any reasonable price.

All of us on the opposition benches are closely in touch with our big businesses and also our small businesses, which are the generators of wealth and opportunity in our economy. We acknowledge the risks these businesses take. Unlike Labor, we applaud when they prosper and grow the wealth and productivity of the nation. We acknowledge that these businesses are now in great fear of the impacts of risings costs, as they see their power bills surge in anticipation of 1 July. The Murray Goulburn Cooperative, Australia's biggest dairy company, has worked out it will cost them, per annum, over $15 million a year extra. All of this will be passed onto their farmers, because the big supermarket duopoly laughs when they suggest putting up the prices of dairy products on the shelves. This is the sort of country we are now living in, a country where Labor's spin gets desperately louder and shriller every day. We just had an example from the previous speaker—attack the man, attack the woman but do not for heaven's sake let anyone look closely at what is going on with the figures, the finances, the debt and the deficit. (Time expired)