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Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Page: 133

Senator RUSTON (South Australia) (09:32): I move:

That the following address-in-reply be agreed to:

To Her Excellency the Governor-General


We, the Senate of the Commonwealth of Australia in Parliament assembled, desire to express our loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign and to thank Your Excellency for the speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament.

It is an honour and a privilege to move the address-in-reply to Her Excellency the Governor-General's speech yesterday to the 44th Parliament. I echo Her Excellency's sentiments on the endurance of our democracy, founded on the principles of freedom in which the people who govern do so at the behest of those who give their consent to be governed.

This day marks the return of a majority government to the Australian parliament. It marks an end to the dysfunction, vitriol and divisiveness of the last three years. What Australians expect from those gathered in this place is a return to the stability of a government with a clear mandate to represent the aspirations and wishes of the people of Australia.

Stability does not mean stagnation; it does not mean Australians will not embrace meaningful change for the good of their nation; it does not mean we do not vigorously debate the issues. What stability means is the provision of an environment which gives Australians the confidence to propose, debate and implement change peacefully and democratically. That is what Australians look forward to from the 44th Parliament. This majority government has been given an emphatic mandate to deliver meaningful change. It is time for government to get out of the way and let Australians get on with their lives and their business. This is a priority commitment of an Abbott coalition government. This commitment is demonstrated in the words of Australia's longest-serving Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies:

This is a wonderful country. It’s going to be more wonderful still, but it will achieve greater wonders on the hard work and efforts of its people and not by a spirit of dependency, not on the kind of attitude towards governments and what governments ought to do that our opponents find so easy.

I say it often in this place and I will say it again: governments should only do what individuals and the private sector won't do, can't do and shouldn't do. We are committed to the principles of small government.

We will repeal legislation which increases the costs of living and the costs of doing business. We cannot expect Australian businesses to profit and to create jobs by controlling every aspect of their operations. We cannot expect Australian businesses to be competitive by nullifying their inherent comparative advantages with increasing costs and time spent complying with thousands and thousands of regulations; nor can we expect investors, both foreign and domestic, to inject the much-needed capital into our economy by scaring them away with excessive costs of regulation.

In this parliament we will dedicate entire sitting days to winding back the legislative and regulatory burdens which shackle our economy and threaten our prosperity. Our commitment is to reduce red and green tape by the equivalent of a billion dollars every year. As a priority we will introduce today legislation to repeal the carbon tax.

In 2010, Australians installed a government they were told would not introduce a carbon tax. This year Australians installed a government that is committed to repealing it. The responsibility of this government and those opposite is to acknowledge the Australian people's rejection of the carbon tax. Rejection of the carbon tax is not a rejection of the facts of global warming and the contribution of human activity to it. Australians overwhelmingly accept the science; as does this government, which is committed to a five per cent reduction in emissions by 2020. We will take direct action with an emissions reduction fund which will allocate funds to emissions reduction projects wholly within Australia. We will not spend a cent on foreign carbon credits. Our aim is to meet our national target by not forcing businesses to reduce emissions through the imposition of a tax which damages the economy and raises the cost of living but empowering and enabling businesses through incentive to contribute to the good of Australia and the global community. The Abbott government will also move to abolish the minerals resource rent tax, a massive impediment to the investment in one of Australia's most important sectors, the mining sector.

Our commitment to small government also means a commitment to efficient and responsible government. Governments should not be a jobs program. It should not be an endless parade of committees and councils, agencies and authorities, convened and established at a whim, creating yet more layers of stifling bureaucracy and interference in Australian life. The Abbott government has already started the process of making government more efficient in this respect, winding up bodies whose activities are better and more efficiently handled within existing government departments.

Most importantly, this government will work to get public spending under control. Our aim is to return to sustainable budget surpluses in a responsible manner as soon as possible and to pay down Australia's record debt. This debt has been costing the Australian taxpayer more than $7 billion in interest payments alone every year—funds that would be far better spent on critical public services and infrastructure.

We aim to get spending under control through a number of means: reduction of duplication and overlap between different levels of government; allowing natural attrition to reduce the burden of the Commonwealth Public Service payroll; refocusing the public service towards better provision of effective front-line services; and ensuring value-for-money government programs.

We have established the National Audit Commission headed by Mr Tony Shepherd, the president of the Business Council of Australia, to identify savings which must be made to reverse Australia's budget crisis. The escalating budget deficits and national debt have been a massive and completely unnecessary drag on the economy which the Abbott government will address as a priority.

The development of a strong, productive and diverse economy will indeed be the driving force behind the Abbott government's policies. A healthy economy is fundamental to achieving every national goal: a high standard of living, job creation, quality health and education, and competitive industries and modern infrastructure that will meet the needs of the 21st century. Building a stronger economy also requires building infrastructure that makes it productive.

The Abbott government is committed to completing the National Broadband Network more quickly than the previous model at a cost that is lower to taxpayers and more affordable to consumers. Every household and business will have access to the NBN by the end of 2016. We will give greater priority to areas, particularly in rural and regional Australia, where existing services are basically inadequate. Most importantly, we will not raise the expectations of Australians about the NBN and then fail to live up to them. We will be up-front and transparent about the progress of the NBN rollout and deliver the network Australia needs at a price Australians can afford.

The Abbott government is also committed to building the roads of the 21st century. Her Excellency the Governor-General highlighted some of the major projects to which we are committed. I take this opportunity to welcome the Prime Minister's commitment to address the critical bottleneck on Adelaide's South Road.

The section of road between Darlington and Sturt Road, which includes the Southern Expressway intersection, has been a major traffic choke point for decades. Motorists from the Adelaide's southern suburbs will welcome the relief this project will bring. It will be part of a long-term plan to upgrade the entire north-south corridor in Adelaide with the ultimate aim of creating a nonstop flow of domestic and freight traffic right through the heart of South Australia's capital city. The Abbott government is keen to see this project through to fruition.

A healthy economy is also one in which government interference and regulation is minimal. Since the foundation of this country, the free market has been the most efficient and effective mechanism for regulating the economy, while government has always been the most inefficient and ineffective. Boosting productivity will be the key to building a stronger economy, and we aim to do this in a number of ways: we will encourage more people into the workforce by providing incentives to employers to hire young people and seniors; by introducing a genuine and inclusive paid parental leave scheme; by introducing a job commitment bonus for people who get themselves off welfare; by introducing a job seekers relocation bonus for young people prepared to move to take a job; by supporting more opportunities for Indigenous employment; and by tightening requirements for people on the dole, including making working for the dole mandatory for all long-term unemployed under 50 and suspending payments for people under 30 where work is readily available to them.

The best form of welfare is always a job. Having a job provides purpose, self-esteem and the means for a person to look after their affairs instead of that responsibility being taken on by someone else. Having a job means a person is making a contribution to Australia rather than depending on the support of the Australian taxpayer. The Abbott government aims to create a million jobs over the next five years and two million jobs over the next 10.

We will also improve productivity through improved government services and ensuring our essential public institutions are more efficient and responsive to the needs of the Australian people. We will improve productivity by reviewing and improving competition laws, and providing for a genuine level playing field in the marketplace for both big and small business. We will improve productivity by building the infrastructure Australia needs for the future and reducing the bottlenecks that hamper both industry and the Australian worker. We will also improve productivity by bringing workplace relations into balance and ensuring all stakeholders are playing from a similar set of rules.

A key focus of our plan to build a stronger economy will be small business. I make no secret of the fact that I am unashamedly an advocate for small business—after all, every big business started life as a small business. Small business employs almost half of the Australian workforce and is a sector in which job creation is more readily achieved, provided that government gets out of the way and instead helps foster the conditions in which business success can be achieved instead of penalised.

Small business is the sector where people bet on their own innovation and skills, their ideas and their vision, and really make things happen. Small business is also the backbone of many of our rural and regional communities. We aim to double the growth rate in the number of small businesses by addressing the poor circumstances and regulatory burdens which see so many start-up businesses fail within their first year.

The Abbott government's economic policy also seeks to ensure prosperity and manage economic risk through diversity. Our policy recognises that the mining, energy and resources sector, while critical, is not the be-all and end-all sector that drives our economy. Our aim is to build a five-pillar economy to unleash the potential and make the most of the wide range of inherent advantages that Australia enjoys. In addition to mining, the pillars include world-class education and research, advanced services, manufacturing and innovation, and agricultural exports. Australia has sometimes been referred to as the clever country, but it is essentially an empty phrase unless we as a nation foster education and research, both publicly and within industry, and utilise our expertise and innovation for the benefit of the nation and the world. For too long, the rhetoric has not been matched with actions; so often the policy settings have been in total conflict with the professed position. This must stop and under this government it will stop.

We must also allow individuals and businesses to follow through on their ideas and inventions, and embrace new technologies and the benefits that they bring. The Abbott government will encourage modernisation and the development of world-class education and research capabilities in Australia and support the use of new technologies, particularly digital and information technology. We will also expand our education sector with a focus on our neighbours in Asia. The services sector has much potential for growth and export, again with a focus in Asia. We need to cut the red tape which stifles this sector and allow our world-class expertise in finance, health, engineering, agriculture and education to meet this potential. A good example is the Abbott government's commitment to give priority to the Johnson report on Australia as a financial centre, to enhance the financial services industry's ability to export its expertise to the world.

Manufacturing innovation is another important pillar of our economy, although one could be forgiven for perceiving manufacturing as a sector in considerable difficulty. The closure of Australian based manufacturing operations is always wrenching—particularly for those who find themselves suddenly without a job, and their families and communities. The closure of such an operation is particularly devastating when it happens in a regional area. One such closure recently announced in South Australia was McCain's closure of a potato-processing factory in the south-eastern town of Penola, leaving about 60 people without work just before Christmas and the local potato farmers with a very uncertain future. However, we cannot expect companies to maintain manufacturing operations in Australia unless we foster the conditions which make it desirable for them to be here. That means we must cut business costs and red tape, ensure business has the incentive to invest and innovate, and do what a government can do to level the playing field to make Australia competitive. These measures are a priority for the Abbott government.

Agricultural exports have been the foundation of the Australian economy for two centuries and they remain equally important today. Australia has the capacity to sustainably and significantly increase agricultural production. However, for the sector to achieve this potential we must get out of its way and instead play the role for which government is best suited. In this respect, I am a strong supporter of public investment in research and development and I know farmers and agricultural industries wholly welcome the Abbott government's commitment to spend an additional $100 million per year in this area. This research effort will be absolutely critical to maintaining Australia's edge in quality, ensuring that Australian food is an aspirational product for overseas consumers and enabling productivity growth while sustainably managing our natural resources.

The Abbott government has also committed an additional $20 million per year to enhance Australia's biosecurity, including the establishment of a biosecurity flying squad to immediately respond to pest and disease incursions. Our relative freedom from the pests and diseases that plague agriculture across the world is another strong competitive advantage which we must protect. This government will also prioritise free trade agreements with China, South Korea, Indonesia, India and Japan and help bring down the barriers to these massive markets for our Australian farmers. The government will also provide $15 million in support for small and emerging horticultural exporters seeking to establish or maintain a foothold in lucrative overseas markets. Improving overseas market access in a way that does not place onerous compliance burdens on our farmers will be crucial to increasing our exports, building a sustainable farming sector and providing a long-term future for our rural and regional communities.

Those same communities will have a stronger voice on an issue of great importance to eastern Australia and particularly to the state which I am privileged to represent here: the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. If policymakers had listened more to those voices, they would not have been so surprised at the resilience the basin showed with the return of high river flows in 2010. The Abbott government is committed to a more balanced approach to water reform in the basin. We will ensure the recovery of water necessary to restore the system to health. We will not compromise the rural industries and regional communities that rely directly upon it. Our goal is a working river system, a healthy river environment and sustainable river communities.

Let me conclude with an example of what a government should not do—that is, interfere with free speech, one of the foundations of modern democracy. Since Federation, except in extreme emergencies such as the last world war, the citizens of Australia have been free to speak their minds on any subject and to express their opinions regardless of how many might disagree. This is a right for which Australians have fought and died—if not in this country, then certainly overseas. They did not fight to prevent people from being offended or insulted. That is not a right, if one could call it that, which is compatible with freedom of speech. In a healthy democracy there should be no institution, organisation, individual or government that is free from criticism or accountability.

The Abbott government trust the Australian people to inform themselves as they choose and to hold us to account for our conduct and policies. We trust the Australian people to exercise their right to freedom of speech without fear or favour and to do so responsibly. Unlike the previous government we will not make any attempt to interfere with this important freedom through regulation or legislation. We will not attempt to prevent the commercial media from taking any editorial position or make them accountable to government through legislation or regulation. This government was not elected because or in spite of headlines and editorials; it was elected by the Australian people. As this government trusts Australians, so they have entrusted us with a mandate for change.

Senator McKenzie: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.