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Wednesday, 7 March 2001
Page: 25396

Mr RIPOLL (5:11 PM) —I am pleased to be speaking this afternoon on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2000-2001 on the eve of the by-election in the federal seat of Ryan. I have particular interest in the outcome of this by-election as it borders my seat of Oxley and, for the past few years, I have actually been very active in maintaining contact with many of the constituents from the electorate of Ryan to assist them with problems of a federal nature. Some of these people have sought my help, as they live in the suburb of Oxley, and therefore you might assume that they thought they were actually in the seat of Oxley rather than in the seat of Ryan. So while I am always happy to help any person who seeks assistance from me or from my office, I usually advise them of their correct representative and, up until the beginning of this year at least, that was John Moore. In Fawlty Towers, Basil Fawlty always said, `Never mention the war.' In Ryan, the line is `Never mention John Moore.' I do this not only as a matter of protocol to help out these constituents of Ryan but also as a way to advise them that I am a backbencher of the Labor Party—

Ms Hoare —And a very good one.

Mr RIPOLL —Thank you very much for that interaction, Member for Charlton. I therefore may take a different course of action from that of their own member who, after all, was a senior minister in the Howard government. I figure that if anyone can pull a few strings, so to speak, it would be the member for Ryan, having been such a senior member of the government and a member of cabinet. Obviously, in most cases, that was not the case. I have not kept a precise record of the direction these Ryan constituents take, having decided to contact their properly elected representative, but I am aware, however, that a few have called my office again, having been unsatisfied with the outcome of their inquiry with their federal member. I do not recall if these people's problems were beyond the point of anyone's assistance and so I will not question the level of service they received from the past member for Ryan. But I do remember a number of people who, knowing that I am not their elected representative, still wanted me to assist them anyhow. They are partly influenced, I think, by their personal political beliefs. But there is also an insinuation that these people do not believe a member—

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—I am reluctant to interrupt the member for Oxley, but this is the debate on the appropriation bill. Could you try and speak to the bill?

Mr RIPOLL —Absolutely. I am bringing this to the point that I am actually raising, which is about the Howard coalition government and its lack of understanding of the problems or its unwillingness to actually battle an agency such as Centrelink which, at the end of the day, is part of the coalition's policy that created the problem in the first place. In a sense, the electorate of Ryan, and John Moore for that matter—whom you cannot escape in the seat of Ryan—are an analogy for all of Australia. It is an analogy about five years of pain. It is an analogy about not listening and it is an analogy about bad policy. I expect government members to actually have a go at me about this. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the proof is in the results of the polls and what the people are saying, because the government is still not listening. And that is the key.

The discussions that I have had with these people are only anecdotal evidence of the general perception of how the coalition now represents, or does not represent, the people. Constituents are, however, the only means of opinion polling I have in order to understand the nature of people's concerns and just how deep-rooted some of their problems really are. One of my biggest concerns is the number of people who try to tackle problems they face of a federal nature on their own or who accept a decision from a federal agency without questioning that decision not only on its fairness but also on its accuracy. There is a lot of speculation on the outcome of the Ryan by-election, with many analysts predicting that the disgruntled coalition voters will send a short message to Prime Minister Howard on the current state of affairs. The tussle in Ryan is extremely symbolic for not only the coalition but also the ALP. This is a blue-ribbon Liberal seat—let us get it right. This is not a seat that Labor should win, can win, or ought to win in reality.

Mrs Elson —And will not win.

Mr RIPOLL —We will see in a couple of weeks time. I am not saying that we will win but it is certainly going to be interesting. It is the sort of seat we have never had a look-in with or a chance of winning. But in effect the result does not matter. Whether we win or you win in Ryan, it is the people of Ryan who have already lost. That is the real issue and that is where government members are not listening. It is not about whether you win Ryan or whether we win Ryan; it is about what you have done for the constituents in Ryan. And you have done nothing. You do not have to ask me. You can ask anyone in Ryan. I have door-knocked quite a few doors in Ryan in support of Leonie Short and it is amazing what people tell me about their former member.

Also, the real thing that comes out of this is that the by-election in Ryan is not about petrol prices. The Howard government has tried to turn it around and make it about petrol prices by backflipping and giving the 1.5c fuel tax excise rebate—the Ryan rebate—but the Ryan rebate is very little and much too late. The most exciting part of the result for me will be not whether we win or lose; it will be that every new ALP vote that Leonie Short gets on St Patrick's Day this year is a reward for the Australian Labor Party. I see it as a reward because the ALP has fought the Howard government for the past five years not only on petrol prices but also on the issues that affect all Australians, such as the GST, aged care funding, compulsory health insurance, regional development, privatisation of Telstra, the Job Network, Work for the Dole, and a whole heap of other things.

There was good news today of another 0.25 percentage point reduction in interest rates, because people need that money to pay for petrol to get to work in the first place. Giving people 1.5c a litre back on petrol does not mean that they will forget. They will not forget that the Howard government misled them with the savings bonus scheme for pensioners—which none of us will forget. A saving of 1.5c a litre on petrol will not mean families will forget that the Howard government changed the age eligibility for youth allowance to 25 years. And 1.5 cents a litre back on petrol will not help the unemployed people who are breached by Centrelink and lose benefits for eight weeks. Whom does that benefit? It benefits no-one in the community. In terms of the houses they normally rent, the landlord is the one who misses out. In effect, you are penalising some of your own constituency. Isn't that terrible? Families are affected too—not just their immediate families but their extended families who have to try to help them out. We have helped many people out.

It hampers people's ability to find work, which is supposed to be the primary goal. But one of the worst things that it does is push up crime. You take away somebody's livelihood, giving them no means of supporting themselves, and you drive some of these people with no choice to crime. Over 200 years ago they used to send people here for stealing bread. These are the sorts of policies that go back to that genre of thinking about what we do and how we actually approach issues, such as people who are looking for employment. So getting 1.5c on petrol will not help families at the cash register when their grocery bill is more expensive under the GST. The government has made a lot of hoo-ha lately saying, `Food is GST free, so you have completely missed the boat.' That is exactly the point—again, it is not listening. Food is GST free and, hence, why should it be so much more expensive? It is easy to identify in any survey from anyone anywhere across the land that it is more expensive.

Mrs Elson —Not the Swan report.

Mr RIPOLL —Particularly the Swan report—one of the best reports. Let me tell you what is good about the Swan report: it is the constituents in the electorate of Lilley who actually appreciate the information. I have an Oxley Pricewatch, and I know that the constituents of my electorate appreciate that we do something for them through the community. It is something that we do with community people, and they appreciate that we give them good, solid, honest information about what the real prices of groceries are. They actually use our table.

So, again, it is not about the 1.5c a litre. In effect, what does that really mean for your hip pocket? If you add it up—roughly 90c a week or 0.9 of a dollar, per month, per year—what is it worth at Christmas? It is worth $45—that is it. But what is it really worth to people? The Ryan rebate is a slap in the face for all Australians. It is going to cost $2.5 billion over the coming budget. And why? Because, all along, John Howard said that it was fiscally irresponsible and that any government that would do that would be condemned for being irresponsible. But that was up until we had the Ryan by-election. So the Ryan rebate is not about doing something for Australia or for constituents; it is about doing something to try to win an election. Why? Because when the gates open and the horses are frightened, they bolt. John Howard is now chasing the horses, but they have fled. And do you know what? The nostrils are flaring and they ain't lookin' back. But who are those horses we are talking about? They are the backbenchers in the coalition. Have a look at the National Party—and I am sure you would appreciate this, Mr Deputy Speaker Causley. There are people who are very rattled. They are rattled because they know that the wrong things have been done.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I remind the member for Oxley that the chair has no party.

Mr RIPOLL —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I can assure honourable members that in Queensland—if not everywhere else in Australia—government and coalition backbenchers, particularly National Party members, are very concerned, because they know that the policies that are implemented by this government are not those that are supported by their own constituencies. Those policies fly right in the face of what their own people have been asking—and they have been asking in gentle terms. They have been saying, `We do not want the further sale of Telstra.' So what does this coalition do? It says, `We promise you we will sell it.' It is as simple as that. `We know you don't want it and we know nobody really wants it but we promise you we will sell it.' So, again, this coalition are just not listening—not because it is good policy or because they are trying to do something better for the country but because it is just an ideological bent. They are trying to do something that feathers their own nest, something that rewards a very small part of the community and disadvantages the majority.

In these few words this afternoon—which are not just about Ryan—I hope to point out my belief that this is an analogy about all of Australia and about the capacity that some people have of looking at something and yet not seeing it. Sometimes you can stare at something all day and, if you have stared long enough, you will believe it is not there, because you are used to seeing it every day. There is a little saying that `you can't see the forest for the trees'. I am sure that will ring true after the next election for many coalition backbenchers, who will wonder why they have lost their seats. They will wonder who is to blame but they will not have to look very far. They will just have to look back over what will then be about six years and ask, `When were the indicators out there? Were the indicators out there when people voted against the GST?' I say to the coalition: you might have won the election but you did not win the vote. You won the election because you won more seats, but you did not win the hearts and minds of the people. The people clearly voted against the GST.

So when you are looking for excuses about who to blame and who is going to be responsible, I do not think you will have to look too far. Just look to the party room. Look to the policies that have destroyed so many things that people wanted, believed in and trusted but did not get. To say `never ever' or `anything like a GST will ever be introduced' is a pretty strong way to phrase something. I want to keep going on about the GST; it is very significant. But it is one small part of the total impact, the total formula—there is a whole range of other things. So short-term solutions such as grudgingly giving back the Ryan rebate of 1.5c a litre on petrol will not fool, and has not fooled, anyone who has been hurting under the Howard government for the last five years. Rather than doing that, something a bit more constructive should have been done.

The Howard government thinks the potential loss of Ryan is a knee-jerk reaction to petrol prices. But, again, they are wrong—it is not. It is not a knee-jerk reaction; it is the slow burn. It is the answer to the questions—and if you do not know what the questions are, you have missed the boat. Not only is it the slow burn on petrol prices for Prime Minister Howard and for the GST monarch, Mr Costello, who is out of touch with all Australians; they are also in denial because they do not even know what the questions are, let alone what the answers are anymore.

Maybe Mr Tucker should call me to discuss what the true issues are for the people of the electorate of Ryan. In fact, I encourage Mr Tucker to also contact the members of other bordering electorates, such as the member for Dickson or the member for Brisbane, to get an honest understanding of how much people are hurting under the Howard government. In the electorate of Ryan they have been hurting for a long time because most people do not know that someone called, I think, John Moore, might have actually been their member for many years.

As the member for Oxley, I have met an extremely wide range of people from my electorate. The people of Oxley are honest and hard working, they have a great sense of community pride and they are always willing to help others. In particular, they are willing to help each other. But there are some things that they just cannot do alone, and this is where we come in. I get a real sense that many people are fighting a losing battle when it comes to trying to maintain a safe and sound lifestyle under the Howard government. But I will qualify that phrase `lifestyle under the Howard government', because it is probably not the lifestyle that government members are thinking about. I am thinking about the lifestyle where you have an honest job, you go to work, you might or might not own a home, you can afford to send your kids to a state funded school—I am not even going over the top here with a private school; just a normal state school—and afford all the things they need like books and uniforms, maybe afford a second-hand car and, most of all, afford the petrol to run it. I am not talking about family trusts, multiple property ownership, overseas holidays to the Bahamas or fees to King's College of $15,000 under the `choice' options.

People in my electorate are insulted when you throw in their faces a `choice' of going to King's, when you say, `We'll give King's an extra $1 million and you can have a choice of sending your child there.' You go and ask a family who earn under $20,000 and have three kids how they can afford the choice of paying $15,000 in base fees. It is an absolute disgrace and an absolute insult. But don't take my word for it. Go out and talk to people in the electorates and ask them what they are thinking about kids and school and education and about fees to King's School. I know it is painful. It hurts me, too—it hurts me to think that even the wealthy parents would think it is a joke that their fees get reduced by a few hundred dollars only to be upped the next year by maybe over $1,000.

Government members interjecting—

Mr RIPOLL —Oh, now we are upset! There are government members upset because the truth is resounding in the empty hollow that should be their moral fibre. The increase on food, on tax and on everything else is just another small part of where this government has gone wrong, but they still do not understand because they still are not listening. Pensioners and families are being slugged by the GST at the cash register, the post office, the motor registration office, the electricity company; people are being slugged by the banks with increased management and account keeping fees, and the service they using to get is gone now. What we are facing is a whole range of new ways of doing things, with multinational corporations, banks charging more fees, and oil companies greedier than ever. As soon as we see a 1.5c reduction in the fuel price at the bowser, allegedly, what happens in Melbourne? It goes up by 10c. So in that 10, minus 1.5, plus 6.7, minus whatever they did with the GST spike, you tell me how much we are actually saving? Nothing at all.

The past five years have, as I said, been a very slow burn. People from every corner of the country have been hurt by the policies of this government. Whether they are in the country, the city or the urban fringe, it really does not matter. Government members can take their pick of where they want to look, and the message is the same and it is loud and clear. And I think all those messages are now coming home to roost. Whether you are going to be slugged by the extra costs of education or the changes to social welfare, or whether you are a single or a married person, you have been hit by the extra cost of living. If you are a growing family you have been through the extortionate process of having to take out private health insurance. If you are middle aged and find yourself made redundant, you have been forced to rely on a failed national employment service for assistance. If you are elderly you believed you would actually get $1,000 from the government—and that is what they all thought because that is what they were all told. If you are a self-funded retiree you have been slugged by the extra cost of the GST—and, boy, they hate that more than anything! If you are a resident in a caravan park, you unfairly pay more GST than anybody else. Why? Because you are living in what the minister at the time thought was a holiday camp, failing to realise that some people have no choice but to live in caravan parks. If you are a small business you have been highly damaged by the BAS nightmare of paperwork and then you find that the government has finally adopted some Labor Party policy to simplify it. You might be a single mum struggling to get by and hoping not to get breached by Centrelink. Or perhaps you are an ordinary motorist who believed the Prime Minister when he said that the price of petrol would not go up as a result of the GST, so you would be pretty upset.

If you are one of those people, or someone else who has had to endure the backward thinking, backward looking government of the coalition, you will know what I am talking about. So do all other ordinary Australians out there. This is not us saying these things: we are just passing on the information. My job out there as the federal member for Oxley is to relay to this parliament what my constituency is telling me—and this is what they are telling me. But it is not only in my electorate. Everywhere I travel around this country, on committees or on the other work I do, I get the same message. It is clear to me, so why is it not clear to the government? When you think about it, maybe the election results in WA and Queensland are not so unusual at all. Maybe the people are actually speaking. If you look at it really hard, it all starts to make sense.

All governments and, I believe, all countries face the same problems we do from globalisation and the effects that it is having on their economies. But few governments could claim such enthusiasm in their approach to embracing the forces of globalisation as has the Howard government. Let me reassure you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that in the electorate of Oxley we are prepared to take on this and any other issue. With the effects of globalisation being felt by everyone, it is a force we must learn to control and use to our benefit. The Oxley electorate is based on a rural city, Ipswich, but it is also very close to the capital city, Brisbane. For want of another term, it could be called an outer urban fringe. It is these types of places in Australia that are most at risk and that have suffered the most under this government. My electorate suffers from having some low income areas and areas of high unemployment. It suffers also from the lack of commitment by this government to do something about the problems people in my electorate face. (Timeexpired)