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Thursday, 6 March 2003
Page: 9478

Senator MASON (5:41 PM) —There is one golden rule of politics in this place: you do not listen to what the Labor Party say, you remember what they did. On issues like the economy, they talked about the economy but what did they do? They trashed the economy. For a party that talk about social equity and intergenerational justice, they were going to slug the next generation with a huge debt. For a party that are committed allegedly to social justice, they were going to slug young people with a huge debt. And on issues central to social democracy, allegedly, like health, what did they do? They wrecked the health system by wrecking the private health system and private hospitals. Then there is the issue of welfare. The worst thing the Labor Party have done over the past 25 years was to create a culture of entitlement that nearly flattened the Australian people and took away their will. They are a party who talk about social justice yet they trashed the economy, wrecked the health system and changed Australia's culture for the worst.

Then there is their big issue of human rights. They always preach to this side of the chamber about human rights. Do you know what I think about when the Labor Party talk about human rights? They, the Left of the Labor Party, believed in moral equivalence. They preached to the Liberal Party about human rights all over the world yet they believed that any system of government anywhere in the world was okay. Communism was a legitimate aspect of cultural diversity—that is what they believed last century. Their big issue now is human rights, and they preach to the Liberal Party about human rights. But they got the economy wrong, the health system wrong, welfare wrong and human rights wrong. Their last big issue is the environment because the Labor Party sticks up for green issues. Isn't that right, Senator Boswell?

Senator Boswell —Well, they get dragged along.

Senator MASON —Which party has spent more money on the environment than any other in the history of this nation? The Howard government has, under the Natural Heritage Trust, which was funded by the sale of Telstra. The Howard government has done more for the environment than any other government in the history of this nation. Yet the opposition think they have the green vote and that they have done more for the environment. They have not.

What did they do? The Labor Party opposed the setting up of the Natural Heritage Trust from the sale of Telstra. That is what they did—like everything else they know is in the public interest, they are against it. This is the party that opposed the GST, not because they did not believe in it but because they thought they could win an election on it. I do not care about disagreement in debates in parliament—we sometimes have legitimate disagreements, and that is fair enough—but the worst thing about the Labor Party is that they will go against the national self-interest of this country if they believe there is a bloody vote in it. That is what they did with the GST and the partial sale of Telstra, and they think that somehow the Australian public will reward them for that. Cheap politics! Cheap populism!

Senator Marshall —I can hardly believe that you are protecting the reef. Protecting the reef against the national interest, is it?

Senator MASON —Let us get to that. Australia has made significant advances in recent years in managing and protecting the environment. Most of that has been funded through the Natural Heritage Trust, which was opposed by the Labor Party. The government is moving to integrate the principles of sustainable development into programs all across government agencies, as well as improving the sustainability of government programs' in-house operations. This has been the result of partnerships with the community, industry and state and local governments. The largest environmental restoration program in the history of this country was funded by the Howard government from the partial sale of Telstra—opposed by the Labor Party. That was opposed by the Labor Party—and they come into this chamber and preach to us about the environment! They opposed the greatest single injection into environmental protection in the history of this country, and they wonder why Senator Boswell and others are incredulous of the Australian Labor Party. Now you know why.

What they have been saying on this issue has largely been political window-dressing. They say oil should be banned on and off the Great Barrier Reef. As Senator Boswell said so eloquently, mining is banned on the Great Barrier Reef and has been for decades. The Howard government has enacted the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which for the first time ever gave the federal government the power to protect the reef from any activity anywhere in Australian territory which could harm it. The Labor Party do not want anyone to know that, because they think they can lecture the government about the environment, yet they opposed the greatest injection of funds into protecting the environment in this nation's history. They opposed it, yet they lecture us. The Labor Party also do not want the public to know that the Howard government is currently hard at work with the Beattie government of Queensland developing for the first time water quality standards for run-off into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. Agricultural run-off in Far North Queensland is creating problems.

Senator Boswell —I took the minister up there last week.

Senator MASON —That is right: Senator Boswell took the minister up there last week. That is an issue, and who is addressing it? Who is doing the practical things that need to be done, Senator Boswell? The Howard government is. Who opposed the greatest injection of funds in environmental protection in this nation's history? The Labor Party and the Greens and the Democrats—they are all condemned. The government that has spent more money on the environment in the history of this nation is the Howard government. We keep saying it because they do not like it: they all wince and turn and say, `We don't like it'—but we did do that. They know it and they do not like it. The Labor Party also objected to the Howard government's proposal to put water quality onto the national agenda. The Howard government introduced the $1.4 billion national action plan on salinity and water quality, and created the first national oceans policy and, of course, a national coastal policy.

Finally, there is all this talk about Kyoto that comes from the Labor Party. That is a big issue with the Labor Party and once again they preach to us. They preach to us about human rights and the economy and health and education and welfare. They preach to us about the Kyoto protocol. Labor do not want the public to know that the Howard government is committed to meeting our Kyoto targets and is busy implementing Kyoto with a billion dollars in greenhouse gas abatement programs which are on track to deliver 60,000 tonnes of abatement, the equivalent of taking all passenger cars off Australia's roads.

Senator Marshall —Then ratify the protocol. Ratify it!

Senator MASON —That is what we are doing, something practical—not the rhetoric of the Left. That is what we are doing in practical terms. The Howard government has already moved beyond Kyoto, which will not deliver enough cuts in emissions to combat global climate change. It will not do that, but we have moved beyond it by working both within and outside the Kyoto mechanism for a more effective regime, by engaging the United States in a joint climate action plan to work on better science and technology to monitor and combat global warming and, by working with businesses, environment groups, local government and community groups, to frame the next generation of greenhouse policies to take Australia way beyond the Kyoto arrangements.

Where is Labor's plan to improve shipping safety on the Great Barrier Reef? Where is Labor's plan to improve water quality? Where is Labor's plan to achieve the cuts in greenhouse gas emissions needed to meet our targets? Mere ratification of the Kyoto protocol will not deliver one ounce of additional abatement. What the Howard government is doing and has always sought to do is to do what is practical and what is possible. Issues about salinity and the Murray-Darling Basin—who put them on the national agenda? The Howard government. Who opposed the greatest injection of funds in the history of this country into environmental degradation? The Labor Party. Who has done more for environmental sustainability in the history of this country? The Liberal Party. You would not know that, coming from the Left, would you? Who has failed to protect human rights, Senator Marshall? Not the Liberal Party but the Labor Party—we will get on to that another time.

Senator Ian Macdonald —What about White Australia too?

Senator MASON —That as well. Senator Macdonald, you missed my introduction but, make no mistake, I have covered those issues, as I usually do. What the Labor Party needs is a book like this one, Strategic leadership for Australia: Policy directions in a complex world, by the Prime Minister. Mr Crean or, indeed, Mr Beazley never developed one of these, did they Senator Tchen?

Senator Tchen —They had Knowledge Nation.

Senator MASON —I read that book every night when I go to bed. I read the Prime Minister's words. In a landmark speech on sustainable environment, the Prime Minister said:

The threat posed by poor quality water from nearby catchments entering the Great Barrier Reef lagoon and harming coral reefs provides an example of how the Government is working to meet complex environmental challenges. This year the Commonwealth developed a memorandum of understanding on this issue with the Queensland Government, and the two governments are working jointly with stakeholders such as cane and beef producers, environmental groups, the fishing and tourism industries and local government, to determine the reasons for declining water quality, the level of impact, and the best solutions to this problem. It is expected that a Reef Water Quality Protection Plan will be finalised early in 2003 that sets out key actions, timelines and responsibilities for helping to protect the Reef.

Who is doing the practical workmanlike stuff to help fix the reef? As always, the Labor Party just talks. When it was in government it failed. Now, it uses rhetoric and has no plans for the future. One of the changes in the Left over the last 20 years—you may have noticed this, Mr Acting Deputy President Lightfoot—is that they used to dominate the rhetoric but now even the rhetoric is sour. I will get to that at the conclusion of my speech. There are certain ideological reasons involved but the bottom line is they are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Late last year—this is another practical issue with respect to the reef—the cooperative research centres for rainforest and reef won joint funding from the Commonwealth government to minimise the effects of agriculture on the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. This $2.25 million three-year program will develop new cost-effective ways to identify, monitor and limit water quality problems in the wet tropics and the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage areas. Once again, that is a practical, workmanlike solution to a difficult problem and, once again, we are doing something that works after consultation with the community.

The Labor Party talk about things and, of course—I have to remind them again—opposed the greatest injection into environmental sustainability in the history of this country. They have no credibility when it comes to the environment. They opposed the greatest ever injection of funds into the environment, yet they lecture the Liberal Party about the environment. It is a bit like lecturing us about human rights; it is not the right thing to do. It is not clever debate; it is not clever policy. The Natural Heritage Trust has been the greatest boon to the environment this nation has ever seen. It has involved the greatest injection of funds, the greatest practical solutions—community-based solutions—this nation has ever seen. Sure, we have not got all the trendies and all the Lefties running around, but we have given them the money. The community organisations have been given the money. Those people opposite opposed it, and they opposed it on ideological grounds as usual. Of course, the ideology is failing and becoming more and more pathetic.

In 1996, the Howard government, when Telstra was finally sold, allocated $1½ billion to the Natural Heritage Trust over six years. It was the largest and most successful environmental restoration program in Australia's history. In the 2001-02 budget, the trust was extended for a further five years, commencing in 2002-03 with the injection of an additional $1 billion. The Labor Party opposed the Natural Heritage Trust. All the issues that we talk about today, whether it is the Great Barrier Reef, salinity or recovery in the Murray-Darling Basin, are the big issues. Did you ever hear the Labor Party mention them in their time in office?

Senator Eggleston —Not once.

Senator MASON —That is it. It is all very trendy but when they were in office there was no action and no money. Every morning, I spend time on the rowing machine in the gym, and I think about the Labor Party as I am struggling along.

Senator Hutchins —What, stroke for stroke?

Senator MASON —Stroke for stroke. There are two simple conclusions with respect to the Labor Party. Mostly, the Labor Party do not believe in anything anymore. Social democracy has been dealt some nasty blows. Basically, their economic template has been borrowed from the Liberal Party. Issues such as the economy, health, welfare, human rights and the environment are dominated these days by non-social democratic forces or, if they are social democratic parties—like Mr Blair's—they adopt the conservative template. Basically, they do not believe in anything anymore—except that they will get into government. When they do believe in something—they do occasionally believe in something, although rarely—do you know what? They get it wrong. They got the GST wrong because they thought they would win an election on it. They are all very guilty and they won't talk about that. Remember roll-back? They got it wrong. It was pathetic and they got it wrong. I am afraid that here again with this bill—guess what!—they got it wrong, even though I am sure Senator McLucas is earnest and sincere about this bill.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lightfoot)—Order! Thank you, Senator Mason, that was a very entertaining speech. It being almost 6.00 p.m., the time allotted for consideration of general business notices of motion has expired. The Senate will now proceed to the consideration of government documents.