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Wednesday, 27 November 1996
Page: 6125

Senator PANIZZA —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport and Regional Development. I refer the minister to comments made by the Leader of the Opposition arguing that taxpayers should continue to subsidise the enormous financial losses at Australian National. Could the minister advise the Senate—

Senator Sherry —He has already done it.

Senator PANIZZA —No, he hasn't done it.

Senator Carr —Weren't you listening?

Senator PANIZZA —Yes, I was listening. Madam President, are you going to shut that rabble up?

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Panizza, go ahead with your question.

Senator PANIZZA —Could the minister advise the Senate how this government is acting responsibly to ensure taxpayers do not have to continue paying for Labor's mismanagement of our rail system and to provide for a brighter and more secure future for all rail employees and Australian rail generally?

Senator ALSTON —Senator Panizza is absolutely right. There is a very serious problem here and it goes to your economic credibility. It is beyond comprehension that Mr Beazley said, as he did, in response to questions about Mr Sharp's $2 billion reform package, that taxpayers have been carrying debt on rail systems for a long period of time and that AN's debt could have been subsidised or sustained for a few years yet. That is absolute nonsense. It might be pandering to a few people who simply want to turn a blind eye to these problems but it is utterly irresponsible. It is interesting that Mr Beazley cannot get his lines straightened out with his shadow minister for transport who said, pretty much at the same time, that the debt is too high.

You cannot understand how these people can get it so wrong so often. The fact is that Mr Martin Ferguson, who is the shadow minister for employment and training, on the same issue said that the key to security in life is job security. The fact is that you are the crowd who presided over 7,000 job losses at AN over the period of your government and in 1995 Mr Brereton and Mr Beazley both announced a jobs loss package of a further 972 jobs over a four-year period.

If Mr Ferguson is right, that the key to security in life is job security, then what can you offer them other than that sort of continuing deterioration? It seems that your idea of job security is simply to put people on the scrap heap. It is very disappointing that you cannot comprehend the difficulties that are obviously apparent to everyone else and do require the firm and decisive action that Mr Sharp took.

That does point to a much wider problem that the opposition has on this and other issues: they simply have not learnt from their mistakes. Not content with bequeathing us an $8 billion black hole, effectively what Mr Beazley is doing is trying to dig even more black holes into which you are about to tip more and more workers.

The problem with AN is that it has something like 500 employees at the present time but it has enough work for 50. What are those people meant to do? They are not unproductive; there is just no work for them because of your so-called restructuring. That is an absolute tragedy. That is an issue you ought to face up to if you are serious about the significance of employment.

I think all of this is summarised in the news poll in today's Australian, which makes it clear that Mr Howard is regarded as more trustworthy, less arrogant, more likeable and more caring than Mr Beazley. When it comes to who is best to handle the economy, what do we find? A massive 54 per cent to 22 per cent difference. If you analyse that, what do you find? Less than half of Labor voters endorse Mr Beazley and 24 per cent of Labor voters support Mr Howard.

In other words, the Australian community overwhelmingly understands that in order to get the economy back into shape, to get Australia moving ahead again, you have to take some tough decisions. It is a great shame that you were prepared to endorse privatisation in government but now in opposition you take this opportunist, negative approach to issues.

Perhaps you should have a look at the Sunday Telegraph in England, which I happened to have sent to me today by one of our networks of international contributors who are all appalled at the way in which the Labor Party in this country simply buries its head in the sand. This reports that even the left leaning French weekly, the Le Nouvel Observateur, claims that it is now quite apparent that economic issues in the UK might have been handled in the right way all along, and they deal particularly with privatisation. It is about time you learnt that lesson as well.