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Thursday, 5 April 2001
Page: 26602

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business) (3:49 PM) —The Leader of the Opposition began his speech today in effect complaining about the fact that he is constantly losing question time; I fear that he lost the MPI as well. I have quite a bit of respect for the office of Leader of the Opposition. The unfortunate thing is that this Leader of the Opposition has found that the gifts he showed as a follower have completely deserted him as a leader, because this Leader of the Opposition is incapable of making the decisions which are necessary for someone who would be a Prime Minister of this country. What the Leader of the Opposition has raised to an art form over the last few months is running around this country trying to make decent, honest Australians feel miserable about themselves and about their lives. Today he came into this House crying crocodile tears about a goods and services tax which he has pledged to keep. The fundamental fact that every Australian must know every time members opposite complain about the GST is that the GST will be their tax. They will keep a GST if they ever get into government. The basic difference between members opposite and members on this side of the House is that we have trust and faith in the Australian people. We believe that the Australian people are good enough to have a go at things and to come out on top. We are not constantly running down the Australian people. We are not constantly telling them that they are failures and that they cannot make it, which of course is the constant message from the Leader of the Opposition, who is Australia's `roonist' in chief, constantly running down what we all know to be the greatest country on earth.

I am very proud to be a member of a government which has an excellent record in all the things that count. This government has created nearly 800,000 jobs in the last five years. Half of those jobs have been full-time jobs, compared with the record of members opposite. In their last six years of government, they created less than half that number of jobs and nearly all of those jobs were part-time jobs. Under this government, wages have increased substantially for the first time in years. Average weekly earnings are up by 12 per cent under this government, after increasing by just four per cent in the previous 13 years. Basic award earnings are up by nine per cent under this government. Under the former government, they actually fell by five per cent. A government which said that they were of the workers, by the workers and for the workers actually boasted repeatedly in this House—I have heard them—about cutting workers' wages. Growth has been good, interest rates have come down and the average mortgage holder is about $300 a month better off, thanks to this government. This government has done all of this while maintaining Australians' traditional egalitarianism. The gap between the rich and poor has not grown. The numbers of the poor have not grown vis-a-vis the numbers of the rich, according to ABS statistics.

What is more, the government have been able to do things that we never thought we could. We never thought that we could reform the waterfront, but we have. Members opposite kept saying, repeatedly, that 25 lifts an hour was impossible, that the workers of Australia could not achieve these heroic feats of performance, but they have. Not only are we achieving 25 lifts per hour but on occasions, at Patricks and elsewhere on the Australian waterfront, Australian waterside workers are breaking world records. This is what the workers of Australia have been able to achieve because of the policies of our government, because of the structures that our government have put in place.

It was always supposed to be impossible to reform the gun laws of this country. That was supposed to be too hard, and yet this government, this Prime Minister, seized an opportunity and turned a tragedy into a triumph of the commonsense of the Australian people.

For 25 years Australians sat on the sidelines, wringing their hands impotently over the ongoing tragedy in East Timor. But thanks to this government, thanks to this Prime Minister, East Timor is free. For the first time in our history, Australia led an international military expedition for the freedom of another country. We did not go in there as someone else's ally. We did not go in there as someone else's sidekick. We did it ourselves, and our near neighbour is free for the first time in hundreds of years. It is a great triumph. It is one of the proudest boasts of modern Australia that East Timor is free, and it only happened thanks to this government. This government and this Prime Minister have surprised the Australian people because they have shown the flexibility, the imagination and the determination that was not supposed to exist amongst so-called conservatives—so-called right-wingers. This Prime Minister has stamped himself—his personality and his character—on this country in a way that no Prime Minister has since Bob Menzies.

Let us take tax reform. Tax reform was something that everyone who studied policy making in Australia knew was absolutely necessary. Members opposite knew it was necessary, employers knew it was necessary, unions knew it was necessary—everyone knew it was necessary. But the one government which has had the guts to do what was necessary—not necessarily popular—in the long-term national interests was this government led by John Howard. Tax reform was the policy Rubicon before which Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and others had halted, hesitated and failed. This Prime Minister has given Australia what we needed, and the fact that Australia does need it, must have it and will have it is revealed by the fact that not a single member opposite is prepared to say anything other than, `We will keep tax reform.' Yes, tax reform has been hard. It is not easy to replace an archaic, out-of-date tax system with a tax system designed for the 21st century. Inevitably, there were going to be some problems in transition. But this government has listened; we have learned and, where necessary, we have acted. Tax reform has left the average family $50 a week better off, and the changes that this government has made over the last few months to try to make tax reform more user-friendly are going to ensure that the small businesses of this country can make the most of the opportunities that they have.

On the subject of backflips, members opposite like to loudly demand something and, when it is done, say, `Oh, isn't that terrible; it is an evil backflip.' My former leader John Hewson once said that accepting the will of the people is not weakness, it is democracy, and refusing to respond to what people want is not leadership, it is dictatorship. Over the last few months the Prime Minister has given a fine example of a government which is in touch with people and which will do what people reasonably expect to ensure that policies work out for the best for all Australians.

The Leader of the Opposition said that he was on the side of the Australian people. He came in here today saying that he would not break faith with the Australia people. Let us consider not what the Leader of the Opposition says but what he has done. He was the worst ever Minister for Defence, the worst ever Minister for Transport and Communications, the worst ever Minister for Employment, Education and Training and the worst ever Minister for Finance—and now he wants to be Prime Minister.

This was the defence minister who presided over the Collins class submarines and the Jindalee over the horizon radar. This is the commuications minister who authored the $4 billion wasteful comparative roll-out of Telstra and Optus cables. This is the unemployment minister who started complaining about the poison chalice that he had been given while unemployment hit 11.2 per cent, and this is the finance minister who racked up $30 billion worth of debt in just two years. The Leader of the Opposition talked about the 64 policies that exist on his web site. The reason no-one knows about the Leader of the Opposition's policies is that frankly they are not worth knowing about. The Leader of the Opposition does not have words, he just has waffle. What is quite clear is that the Leader of the Opposition believes in four things. He believes in higher spending, a higher surplus, lower tax—simultaneously—and the fourth thing he must believe in is the tooth fairy, because it is impossible to square all of the various things that the Leader of the Opposition says he wants and says he believes in.

It is quite clear that if Labor wins government the one thing we can be absolutely certain about is that the unions will have more power, there will be more regulation in the system, there will be more strikes and there will be lower pay for all Australians. I was able to tell the House earlier in this sitting fortnight, based on information from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, that workers on Australian workplace agreements have an average pay of $895 a week. By contrast, workers on federally registered collective agreements have an average pay of $711 a week. The only direct comparison between Australian workplace agreements and certified agreements showed that workers on Australian workplace agreements are nearly 25 per cent better off—$184 a week better off. Australian workplace agreements are the Rolls Royce of deals for Australian workers.

It is true, if you include with Australian workplace agreements unregistered individual agreements, the average goes down. But Australian workplace agreements are registered, they are vetted by the Office of the Employment Advocate and they are the agreements we have put in place. The individual agreements that members opposite support are the very unregistered individual agreements under which workers do not get paid what they are paid under Australian workplace agreements. If workers want more pay, stick with this government and stick with Australian workplace agreements because more pay is precisely what workers on Australian workplace agreements are getting.

Members opposite will try to say that the only people on Australian workplace agreements are executives. The member for Dickson's former colleague Senator Andrew Murray made a speech last week where he produced figures showing that 51 per cent of people earning more than $2,000 a week, or $100,000 a year, are on awards or collective agreements. This idea that only executives are on Australian workplace agreements is simply wrong. When the Prime Minister said some years ago that he wanted Australians to be relaxed and comfortable, he meant that he wanted Australians to believe in themselves. He wanted Australians to take pride in who they are, what they can achieve and what their future holds. That is what the Prime Minister wanted. That is what the Prime Minister meant.

What the Prime Minister and this government have achieved is that we have got rid of the defeatism. We have got rid of the sense of despair proliferating in Australia under members opposite. The Prime Minister believes, above all, in the Australian people. He believes they can do it. He believes that we are capable of succeeding and achieving, and that is why members opposite are engaged in nothing but group defamation of the Australian people every time they pretend that there is nothing worth supporting in modern Australia. I am very confident that when the voters of Australia have their chance later in the year, they will not reject the best government since Menzies and the worst opposition since Calwell. (Time expired)