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Tuesday, 19 June 2001
Page: 27957

Mr ROSS CAMERON (4:30 PM) —As a not very diligent but occasional student of economic history, it is always a pleasure to listen to the member for Maribyrnong because one has this wonderful, sentimental feeling of the policies of the 1950s and 1960s. It is a lovely throwback to the past to remember a time of tranquillity which has long since passed. Listening to the rhetoric of the member for Bendigo, it takes me back to the days of the cargo cult, to the days of the massive welfare state, to the days of sit-down money and everyone saying, `What is the government going to do for us?'

He represents Bendigo as a group of helpless victims who are waiting around for some sort of messianic solution to come from the federal government. In that respect I note that his strategy is consistent with Labor policy as a whole. In terms of Labor's strategy for addressing the problems of the nation, it is going to be a bureaucracy led recovery. On 17 June, an article by Gerard McManus in a Melbourne based newspaper, the Herald Sun, reported on `Labor's red tape plan'. The article reads:

The Federal Labor Party has promised to create 43 new bureaucracies and new government offices if it wins the next election.

A study of Labor policies released so far shows the Opposition is likely to embark on a massive expansion of the Commonwealth bureaucracy, hiring thousands of public servants.

Just wait until the member for Maribyrnong gets on the treasury bench—there will be jobs for all the Labor mates. The article continues:

The 43 new bodies include advisory councils, taskforces, committees, agencies, bureaus, auditors, commissions and ombudsmen.

Kim Beazley, I do not doubt, will be remembered as the—

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl)—The Leader of the Opposition.

Mr ROSS CAMERON —The Leader of the Opposition will be remembered as the leader of task forces because this is the response from Kim Beazley to every national problem. `When we get into government we will create a task force to examine that problem.' Kim Beazley—

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition.

Mr ROSS CAMERON —The Leader of the Opposition, as I am sure you will acknowledge, Mr Deputy Speaker, is a rather likeable bloke. He is a very congenial fellow. He speaks well. When we have visiting heads of state, he has got a good command of history. It is just this one ingredient he lacks: a capacity for leadership—a capacity to make hard decisions. The Leader of the Opposition's basic approach to government is to work out what every vested interest group wants and then give it to them. He is, regrettably, a `path of least resistance' politician. I note that the member for Maribyrnong confidently predicted the demise of my colleague the member for Robertson and me.

Mr Lloyd —I think I heard that in 1998 as well. It was a good year.

Mr ROSS CAMERON —That is right. We remember, as we rose to give speeches on occasions such as this, the ALP frontbench confidently waving goodbye to us each time we stood up. It was a case of, `Bye, bye. See you later, fellas.' Of course, that sort of complacency appears to be very much in evidence here today.

It is within the realms of possibility that we could be defeated, and on this side of the House we strongly believe in the integrity of Australian democracy. We believe in the principle of one vote, one value. We believe that when we go to the polls every Australian—not just the candidates, but every Australian—ought to be confident that the outcome actually reflects the will of the people, and we are happy to accept the judgment of the Australian people. The member for Robertson nods his head in agreement. I just note that in the other chamber at present there is a matter of public importance debate taking place in which the Australian Labor Party is opposing the principle of the integrity of the electoral roll.

Mr Gibbons —That is not right, and you know it.

Mr ROSS CAMERON —Can I just say that we would urge and encourage you to help measures to strengthen the electoral roll so that every Australian can know that, if you so confidently wave goodbye to us, it reflects the will of the Australian people. Particularly after recent inquiries in Queensland, the jailing of a number of Labor figures and the resignation of a number of Labor members of parliament over their participation in electoral rorts, can I certainly encourage you to join in our efforts to strengthen the integrity of the electoral roll?

Mr Gibbons —Why don't you ask the Treasurer about the way—

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Why doesn't the member for Bendigo be silent and observe standing orders. The member for Parramatta has the call and should not provoke the gentleman on my left.

Mr ROSS CAMERON —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I want to particularly acknowledge the member for Bendigo who was critical of the government in terms of lack of spending on transport infrastructure. I cannot allow such a comment to pass in the presence of my colleague without acknowledging his personal role, as the member for Robertson, in securing $80 million to build a third lane on the F3 freeway between the Hawkesbury River and Calga. Furthermore, people said occasionally to me, `Well, you are just a backbencher. Your task is simply to put up your hand at the right time. You will not be able to change anything.' If anyone ever says that, I just say that the member for Robertson, after years of sustained campaigning, has virtually single-handedly through his tenacity and persistence and by the irritation he has caused to Telstra, forced them to back down and create a whole new pricing structure that will give virtually every person in his electorate a local call cost from Gosford back to Sydney. That is an example of the inspired commitment of one local member making a difference to his constituents, and that is the sort of representation that we believe in here in Parramatta.

Mr Sercombe —What have you done for Parramatta?

Mr ROSS CAMERON —The member for Maribyrnong interjects, `What have you done for Parramatta?' and I want to respond to that right now. The member for Bendigo also spoke quite a bit about unemployment and what this government had or had not done for the unemployed and what we should be doing to have a strategy to lift unemployment. I just want to draw to the attention of the chamber the fact that when I was elected as the member for Parramatta in March 1996, unemployment for the March 1996 quarter stood at 12.3 per cent. Today, according to current data, national unemployment rates are seven per cent, an improvement of four percentage points on the national rate. In fact, in Parramatta the rate was over 12 per cent. In Parramatta today, at the end of the March quarter 2001, unemployment stands at 2.9 per cent.

To the member for Bendigo, I say that is what we have done for the unemployed. We have gone from, in fact, 12.3 per cent in Parramatta to 2.9 per cent, because we have this idea that the way to create employment is not to create 43 new federal bureaucracies. That is not the way to create employment. We are not like the cargo cult sitting around waiting for the Commonwealth to dump a call centre on Bendigo; we actually believe in encouraging small businesses. We believe that the 850,000 Australian small businesses are the ones best positioned to employ new Australians and give them real jobs, not this kind of make work bureaucratic blow-out, which is Labor's employment strategy. So it is that we have seen this fantastic reduction, which represents about 6,000 people in my electorate who were formerly unemployed but who are now in jobs.

In fact, I ask the Australian people to make a judgment, as they will later this year, about the performance of the two parties. They will be making a choice between two leaders, between two parties and between two philosophies. I want to highlight some of the differences in performance because we do have some data—not just my opinion or the deputy chair's opinion or the member for Robertson's opinion—about the performance of Labor while they were in office and the coalition while we were in office. I want to begin, since we are on the Appropriation Bill today, with budget deficits.

Let us start with the fact that, in spite of the confident assurances given to the Australian people that the budget was in surplus in 1996 when we were elected—we were swept into office in the Howard landslide—we found that, in fact, the budget deficit was $10.3 billion. That is an annual deficit; that is the deficit in just one year of expenditure over receipts for the Commonwealth government. That was not a one-off, it was not a freak, it was not an aberration—it was part of a six-year racking up of $80 billion in debt by the Commonwealth government under Labor. This is Labor's view of the doctrine of fairness: you just rack up billions and billions and billions of dollars for future generations of Australians to pay. This is fairness. This is about building a fair society: just keep racking it up. Whenever you have an idea about building a new bureaucracy, whenever you want something new, you just spend more money because someone down the track, some unborn Australian citizen, is going to wake up one morning and find that they are the ones carrying the can for this profligacy.

We had $80 billion debt in the last five years of Labor. What has been the coalition's record? In fact, we have paid off $60 billion of Labor's debt, and we have delivered five consecutive budget surpluses. We have this idea that, like the Australian families in my electorate of Parramatta and the member for Robertson's electorate, we are under some kind of obligation to match revenue and expenditure. We do not believe that these nice sounding concepts like social justice allow you to run roughshod over future unborn Australians. We believe there is some discipline to be applied on government when spending taxpayers' dollars because most of us, like the member for Robertson, come from small business backgrounds. We have an understanding of what it means to actually put your home at risk to earn a dollar to employ yourself and the people around you. We have not all been drawn from the sort of sinecures paid for by large collectives which basically bear no correlation to the risk involved in creating a dollar by small businesses.

Their record is $10 billion debt in the first year we came to office and $80 billion over five years. Our record is five consecutive budget surpluses and the paying off of $60 billion of Labor's debt. That involves a saving in interest alone of $4 billion, which we are putting into transport infrastructure, to improving the public health system, to record increases in education spending and to rebuilding Australia's defence capability. That is what we are doing with the $4 billion in interest savings that we have made by paying off Labor's debt. Secondly, look at taxes being paid. We have done that by not increasing taxes but by actually reducing them. A worker on average earnings under Labor was paying up to 43 cents in the dollar income tax. This is not Kerry Stokes, this is not Christopher Skase, this is not Alan Bond, this is not Jodee Rich; this is a worker on average earnings paying 43 cents in the dollar. Under John Howard and Peter Costello, 80 per cent of Australian taxpayers pay no more than 30 cents in the dollar tax.

This massive racking up of Commonwealth debt under Labor put huge pressure on interest rates. We saw interest rates peaking in the 1980s at 17 per cent. Today, under the coalition, interest rates have reached historically low levels, around 6.8 per cent. The average home mortgage payer on, say, $100,000 a year is saving between $300 and $350 a month of after-tax dollars because of the discipline that this government has demonstrated—

Mr Lloyd —That is almost $100 a week.

Mr ROSS CAMERON —That is almost $100 a week. Exactly. In terms of company tax: under Labor every Australian company was paying tax at 36 cents in the dollar; under the coalition, the company tax rate was reduced to 30 per cent. I have already mentioned that the national unemployment rate under Labor was over 11 per cent. Today, unemployment is standing below seven per cent. And remember, that four per cent represents literally tens of thousands of Australians who had a chance to get off welfare and get into work because of the policies of this government. Under Labor we saw the introduction of petrol excise indexation, linked to CPI, in August 1983. Under the coalition, fuel excise has been cut by 1½c and indexation of fuel excise has been abolished.

If we look at private health insurance, Labor ignored the private health system because philosophically they are opposed to the idea of people looking after themselves. They believe in the cargo cult. They believe everybody turns up in front of the big government, with the bowl out, like Oliver Twist, saying, `Can I have some more?' We have decided to protect and maintain the public health system in part by taking the pressure off it so that people who are able to look after a greater share of their own health requirements have an incentive to do so. So we gave a 30 per cent private health insurance rebate. We saw private health insurance coverage go from 30 per cent of the population under Labor to 45.1 per cent today. That is a 15.1 per cent lifting of the burden on resources that were flushing through Medicare without discrimination under Labor's policy. Health is one of the areas that has enjoyed the most rapid expenditure increase by this Commonwealth government within the context of consecutive surpluses. We are about to witness a 28 per cent increase in real terms over the next five years.

The ALP like to portray themselves as a party for the workers. The thing about Tony Blair is that he has had the guts as a leader to take on his own constituency. That is what Paul Keating said. Keating said, of Bob Hawke, that political leadership is not a matter of tripping over television cables in shopping centre arcades. He said that political leadership involves the courage to take on your own constituency. As much as I like the Leader of the Opposition as being an affable, engaging, likeable bloke, he just lacks that one quality. He is the `trip over the cables in the shopping centre' kind of leader. He is the bloke who says, `Work out what people want and give it to them; worry about the cost later on.'

Mr Lloyd —He is a populist.

Mr ROSS CAMERON —He is a populist. Under 13 years of Labor government, if we look at real wages for the blue-collar worker, there was basically zero movement in weekly ordinary time earnings—minus 0.3 per cent. In some years the figure was negative; in some it was positive. Under the coalition, there has been annual growth in weekly ordinary time earnings of 4.3 per cent over the last five years. That is the way you look after the workers—by building a productive, competitive industrial relations and microeconomic reform environment so that a small business person has a chance. You lower taxes so that they are not getting slugged every time they turn around. You lift productivity. We understood this, as Tony Blair did. The penny dropped for Blair and he said to the British trade unionists, `You've got to come in from the cold.' He said, `It's all very well to talk about job security, but in the same breath you've got to talk about job productivity.' He said, `Unless we are productive and competitive as an economy, we can offer nothing to the workers.' What we have offered is 4.3 per cent growth in wages because Australian enterprises are more productive under the coalition government.

I have already mentioned the Commonwealth government's efforts to reduce our exposure to debt and those crippling interest bills which we were paying under Labor—dead money, just flushing it down the toilet, often to foreign bankers. Commonwealth generated government net debt under Labor in 1995 was 17.6 per cent of the economy as a whole. Under the coalition, in 2001, at the point of these appropriations, the figure is 6.4 per cent of gross domestic product. So it has fallen from 17.6 per cent to 6.4 per cent.

I want the Australian people to see this fundamental, stark contrast between the Labor rhetoric of fairness and social justice, which means a bureaucracy led recovery, massive increases in taxes, high interest rates and burgeoning government debt, and a coalition approach of having fiscal discipline, which means placing a value on each tax dollar generated by small businesses in my electorate and in the electorate of my colleague the member for Robertson. It means pushing down business costs, cutting company tax and personal tax; it means being prepared to take the hard decisions.

Tax reform was not easy; it was never going to be easy. One of the reasons why our productivity has consistently increased under the coalition is that we have taken on the hard issues. Waterfront reform: everyone has known for 25 years that it desperately needed to be done. The Maritime Workers Union was the most corrupt organisation in Australia, with the exception of the Builders Labourers Federation. As a former ticket holder of the Builders Labourers Federation, I know what claim I am making. We have tackled the hard issues. We have not sat around waiting for somebody else to provide solutions. We have not just hoped that the world economy would deliver some sort of benefit to us that we had not earned or deserved. I note that while the Australian economy has been posting these record growth rates, many of our Asian trading partners have been in recession or depression, whereas the Leader of the Opposition racked up massive debts while our trading partners were all surging ahead, which highlights the extent of the achievement.

The Prime Minister is criticised at times for not being flashy enough for the ALP, not trendy enough or not fashionable enough. He is not seen with a host of celebrities at A-list social events. He may not be leading the sartorial fashion trends, but the Prime Minister of Australia has this one quality which I will always respect: courage. Whatever other things people may say about him, he is a leader. That is why I am very proud to say that I am a member of his government and to endorse and support the appropriation bill that is before the chamber.