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Thursday, 10 March 2005
Page: 102

Ms PANOPOULOS (4:19 PM) —I never thought I would see a C-grade re-run of Back to the Future. It was a very interesting performance from the member for Gorton. Fancy being so desperate that the member had to resort to quoting and harking back to glorifying Paul Keating. He also said that perhaps the current government should take a leaf out of the previous Labor administration’s book. As a member who has a rural electorate, I do remember Paul Keating being quoted as saying that Australia was the ‘arse end of the earth’ and that if you are not in Sydney you are just camping out. I am certainly not going to take a leaf out of Mr Keating’s book, and thank God that this government has not.

I was very interested to listen to the member for Brand. I have occasionally observed well-delivered speeches and commendable performances from this member of the opposition. But today, alas, I was dismally disappointed, as it was one of his most vacuous and disappointing contributions to public debate.

The paucity in the quality of members in the opposition is damning in itself and is at the root of all their problems. You can change leaders, you can reshuffle the frontbench, but they have learnt nothing from the last few years in opposition. The bloody factional wars within the Labor Party have only delivered the faceless men and women from the ranks of the trade union movement—not the real workers but Labor Party hacks, just like the previous speaker, the member for Gorton, who was a union official for 15 years before he was elected to this House. And this is the fundamental problem facing the Labor Party. They are incapable of fulfilling their very important role as an opposition because they are incapable of empathising with the values and concerns of mainstream Australia, as they do not even claim to come from their ranks.

Mr Bowen interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—The member for Prospect might find himself initiated fairly early if he is not careful.

Ms PANOPOULOS —Ask anyone in the Labor caucus: the word ‘mainstream’ is blasphemy within the Labor caucus. It matters not that the current Labor leader is the member for Brand—or again, at some stage, the member for Hotham or, if the opposition gets really down and out and desperate, the member for Lilley or someone else. Until they purge themselves of the ideological dinosaurs that are keeping that green leather warm, they will resent and mock, sneer at and belittle mainstream Australia and the concerns that many Australian families and individuals have.

People’s economic concerns revolve around financial security—making sure that their children can have a job. Australians well remember when youth unemployment rates peaked under Labor at 34.5 per cent. Labor had a $500 million New Work Opportunities program which had a four per cent success rate, costing Australian taxpayers $143,000 for every job created—and there were not very many of those. The government’s Work for the Dole program has given over 370,000 Australians the opportunity to learn real skills, interact with their community and reintegrate within their local environment. It has given them an opportunity to give something back to the society that supports them. Many have gone on to find jobs, and others have attained the confidence to pursue further qualifications.

When the Leader of the Opposition was Minister for Employment, Education and Training, unemployment peaked at 10.9 per cent. This is a figure that sticks in my mind. It will be burnt in my mind for as long as he is in this place. And he has the gall, the arrogance—perhaps, as the member for Gorton is trying to do, he is trying to mimic former Treasurer and former Prime Minister Keating—to come in here and lecture the government on managing the economy. When Labor left office, this nation faced an unemployment rate of 8.3 per cent. Under this government, economic management and the hard decisions of reform have been undertaken. I am pleased to say that in my electorate of Indi the unemployment rate is at 3.7 per cent.

Apprenticeships festered away under the Labor Party. Only 141,000 apprentices and trainees existed in 1995. This government understands the need to provide choice in education and training. Unlike the Labor Party, it does not turn its nose up at those who do not have a university education. Now almost 400,000 apprentices are learning trades and skills to secure their economic future and that of this nation. In my electorate of Indi we have had a fourfold increase in apprentices, and long may they continue. This government has invested record amounts in vocational education and training. During the recent election, it added another $1.06 billion into vocational education and training and apprentices. Satisfaction with the New Apprenticeships centres is at 90.2 per cent for employers and 92.6 per cent amongst new apprentices.

Unemployment has not been as low since 1976, when Abba had the hit single Fernando and the Datsun 280 was released. Further freeing up the industrial relations system is fundamental to maintaining this jobs growth and critical to laying the foundations of economic prosperity and economic security for all Australians. But what have we seen from the Labor Party? They have refused on over 40 occasions to support the government’s reform to unfair dismissal laws. The opposition leader is on record as saying that the Labor Party do not really represent small business, but the small business sector is critical for employing people. It is critical in providing opportunities, not only jobs but training and apprenticeships as well.

This is what we have come to expect, though, from the Labor Party. They are a slave to the spivs who run most trade unions. The Labor Party cannot stand up to the thugs and bullies in the trade union movement. How can they look small business in the face? When they enter this chamber and bleat about economic management, they have no credibility whatsoever. Just like their state colleagues, especially their counterparts from my home state of Victoria, the federal Labor Party is held political hostage by the disgraceful and often criminal behaviour of parts of the union movement. What better example than Craig Johnston, who wilfully engaged in criminal damage but was lauded as a political prisoner by some elements of the Labor Party? The cost of Federation Square, where workers were allowed a 36-hour week, blew out from $100 million to $450 million. In another deal to keep the unions happy, Steve Bracks refused Commonwealth funding of $90 million towards the $425 million redevelopment of the MCG because the conditions attached to the funding were unacceptable to the building union. The unions run the state Labor governments, and the unions still pull the strings in the federal Labor Party. Labor governments do not hold these union thugs accountable for their extortion of the business and government sectors. How can they, when they are beholden to them for campaign funds? How can they, when they are beholden to them for preselection votes?

When this government was first elected, it faced extremely serious economic challenges. It faced a waterfront that was an international embarrassment. When this government was first elected, only an average of 16.9 containers per hour were being unloaded at our five major ports, and the Labor Party and the unions bleated that it was impossible to increase the container rate at these ports. But, under reforms that were at times very difficult but were undertaken by this government, the figure has jumped to 28.2.

The single greatest investment for most Australians is purchasing their own home. Any government activity that jeopardises this investment destroys the very financial security of many Australian families. We all remember the 17 per cent home interest rates and the 21 per cent farm interest rates. Businesses shut down, families had to sell up their homes, jobs were lost, and families were devastated.

The Labor Party also decided when they left government that it was good enough to leave this government with a $96 billion debt. Australians are now paying $550 less per month on the average mortgage, and this government has paid back $73 billion of Labor’s debt. But then again, those were the days when the Labor Treasurer said it was the recession we had to have—the worst recession in 60 years. When the Labor Party talk about securing Australia’s long-term future, this is the record they should tattoo on their foreheads: the devastation caused by that recession.

One day they say the Australian economy is being managed badly; the next they say that positive economic figures are attributable to their past record. It is typical member for Brand fashion: try and walk both sides of the fence. If the figures are good, of course they must be attributable to the previous Labor government. But if they are bad, just blame it on the current government. That is what happens when Labor have no shame about their economic record. Unfortunately, the Labor Party have not changed much. Only four short months ago, the rising star, the member for Chisholm said: ‘In some ways it is the best thing that could happen to the Labor Party if interest rates’— (Time expired)

The SPEAKER —Order! The discussion is now concluded.