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Tuesday, 16 November 2010
Page: 2514

Mr ABBOTT (Leader of the Opposition) (3:38 PM) —This government has told many fibs, including in question time today. There was the pre-election emphatic ruling out of a carbon tax, which has been most definitely ruled in since the election. There was the statement before the election that there was no way they would be building new immigration detention centres on shore, which has been completely overturned since the election. There was the claim before the election that the mining tax issue was all solved, which has totally unravelled after the election, and then, of course, today from the Prime Minister—repeatedly—there was this claim that interest rates were higher under the former government than under the current government. She is absolutely wrong. The standard variable mortgage rate paid by homebuyers under the Rudd-Gillard government has averaged 7.41 per cent. Under the Howard government the rate average was only 7.24 per cent. So she is wrong, wrong, wrong. Sure, the cash rate, thanks to the global financial crisis, has been much lower under this government, but the spread has almost doubled. The rates actually experienced by homebuyers and small business borrowers have been higher under this government than under the former government, notwithstanding the global financial crisis.

The biggest fib of all is that this is a government which knows how to manage the economy. The great lie is that this government has somehow saved Australia from the global financial crisis. Well, let me make it absolutely crystal clear yet again that it is the reforms of previous governments which saved this country from the global financial crisis, not the spending spree of the current government. But haven’t they spent. They found a $20 billion surplus and within a year they had turned it into a $50-plus billion deficit. There is the $50-plus billion deficit for the financial year just gone and there is the $40-plus billion deficit that they expect for the current financial year. There is the borrowing of $100 million a day which is going on under this government which means that, even on the best case scenario, borrowing will peak at $5,000 for every Australian man, woman and child, after the former government had given this country a $60 billion net asset position. This government, within the space of just a few years, will deliver a $100 billion net debt position.

What have they spent the money on? Pink batts—a program which has caused house fire after house fire, a program which tragically has been linked with four deaths. This is the quality of the government’s economic management. They spend money in ways that have actually done all sorts of terrible, even fatal, damage to the Australian people. Then, of course, there is the school halls program and this idea that somehow Australia was saved from the global financial crisis—which, according to the Governor of the Reserve Bank, lasted just six weeks, other than as a North Atlantic phenomenon—with a spending spree lasting four years, which is longer than the First World War. And what about the quality of that spending? Study after study has shown that in New South Wales public schools the Building the Education Revolution structures have cost on average $4,000 per square metre, which is almost three times the industry average of just $1,500 per square metre. These are gold medal wasters of money and they have absolutely no plan to deal with the Australian economy.

I tell you how to characterise their economic planning and, yes, let us sum it up in a very useful three-word encapsulation: it is borrow, waste and tax. That is their plan for the Australian economy. And, on the subject of tax, there is the emissions trading scheme, a great big tax that was billed to raise something like $100 billion over the first 10 years of its operation, and the mining tax, billed to raise almost $10 billion in the first two years of its operation, both of them taxes that would seriously damage the long-term health of the Australian economy.

But it has been going from bad to worse since the election. The waste just gets worse. Let us look at that which they are so proud of: the $43 billion National Broadband Network that was cooked up on the back of an envelope in a flight because the only way the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy could get to see the Prime Minister was to catch a plane with him. So, on the back of a coaster in the VIP jet, they cooked up this $43 billion white elephant.

There are so many things wrong with the National Broadband Network. To start with, it replaces a competitive market with a government monopoly. Then it uses a single technology instead of a range of alternatives. Finally, and most pathetically for a government that claims to be economically conservative, there was not a single cost-benefit analysis done. It is no wonder that the one minister in the government who had any economic literacy at all, the only economically shrewd minister in this government, the former member for Melbourne and former Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner—who once said that there would be no major spending from this government without a published cost-benefit analysis first—quit in embarrassment at the government’s policy and in disgust at the kind of internal political shenanigans which resulted in the election of the current Prime Minister.

Let’s make it absolutely crystal clear: this government does not have a plan for faster broadband; this government just has a plan for more fixed lines. It is not faster broadband; it is just more fixed lines when everyone in this country who actually uses telecommunications knows that wireless and mobility is the way of the future. This National Broadband Network is based at the very beginning on an $11 billion waste. That is the $11 billion that they are going to hand over to Telstra to buy a perfectly functioning copper wire network and close it down. They are going to spend $11 billion on Telstra’s existing network to close it down. In the whole history of this country, has anyone spent $11 billion on something just to wreck it? That is exactly what this government is doing.

The $43 billion that they are going to spend for starters on the National Broadband Network amounts to some $4,000 for every Australian household. That is just for starters, because then there is the cost of actually using this network. There is one cost that they are very embarrassed about. Because the copper system is going to be closed down, the monthly rental for all those struggling families and pensioners who just want a standard fixed line phone is going to go up from $30 to $60 a month. That is a $30 a month hit on the cost of living and the standard of living of the pensioners and struggling families of this country.

Not only is the National Broadband Network a shocking waste, not only is it going to be more expensive for struggling families, but it is not even going to be all that fast. They are putting in this great big new network to increase speed and then they are going to put in this great big new filter to decrease speed. What kind of madness are we getting from this government, which claims to be economically conservative? The fact of the matter is that, as is increasingly obvious, the Prime Minister and her economic team are out of their depth and they are obviously clueless when it comes to dealing with the Australian economy and with so many other important aspects of government.

Do not just believe me. Already seeping out from behind closed doors are the true feelings of senior members of the Labor Party. There was the comment of former Minister Faulkner that this is a political party which is ‘very long on cunning but very short on courage’. There was the comment of senior Senator Cameron that to get into the caucus these days you just about have to have a lobotomy first. ‘We are zombies,’ he said.

Mr Mitchell interjecting

Mr ABBOTT —A programmed zombie—he recognises himself in this description! Then of course we had the former leader of the Labor Party, Mark Latham—the man who members opposite asked the Australian people to make Prime Minister of this country, who the current Prime Minister thought was absolutely the best placed person in the whole of the Labor Party to become Prime Minister. What did he say of the current Prime Minister? He said, ‘She is already in the transit lounge out of her current job.’

The coalition, by contrast, has a clear plan. It is a clear plan that gets under the skin of members opposite. Because it gets under their skin, let’s repeat it. The coalition will end the waste, repay the debt, stop the big new taxes and, above all else, stop the boats. We will end the waste by paying school money to school communities, not to out-of-touch bureaucrats. We will end the waste by not proceeding with the $43 billion white elephant and instead investing some $6 billion in improving broadband services in the areas where the market will not do it. There would have been $11 billion less spending over the forward estimates period under us. There would have been $30 billion less debt under us. There would have been no mining tax. And still, if we have our way, there will be no mining tax, because it is a dagger aimed at the heart of the Australian economy. No responsible economic manager would ever put the most important sector of our economy at risk the way this government is doing. And there will be no carbon tax. There will be no carbon price under this side of the parliament. There will certainly be no carbon price for consumers, because the Australian people are suffering enough cost-of-living pressure as it is under the mismanagement of this government without the additional hit of a carbon price.

What the Australian people will get from this side of parliament when we get our chance in office is real tax reform—lower, simper, fairer taxes; real welfare reform, which will try to ensure that people have a real chance to show what they can do, not just what they cannot do; and real people power, with local communities involved in the running of school hospitals. That is what people will get from this side of the parliament, and unlike members opposite we were upfront and honest about these things before the election. What we say after the election is exactly the same as what we said before the election, unlike members opposite.

We know what is happening on the other side of parliament. This is a government which is paralysed. It is beholden on the one hand to rural Independents and on the other hand to urban Greens. It is torn between the pragmatic operators on the one hand and people who would really rather be in the Greens on the other hand. And the shadow behind every policy change of this government since the election is in fact the Greens. Lurking behind the Prime Minister’s circumlocution are the convictions of Senator Brown, the most powerful man in the Australian parliament now. Let me say in conclusion: Labor might be in government but, as the Australian people are increasingly becoming aware, the Greens are in power.