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Monday, 24 November 2008
Page: 19


Senator McGAURAN (8:51 PM) —We are debating here this evening the Labor Party’s so-called economic stimulus. It is also, as other speakers have mentioned, now 12 months to the day since the Labor Party were elected to government. Symbolically the Prime Minister is not here today. He is overseas on one of his trips. The APEC meeting is probably a significant trip in itself, but when you add up all his trips, nothing could be more symbolic than his not being here at work.


Senator Mark Bishop —Yes—at work, 24 hours a day.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Forshaw)—Order!


Senator McGAURAN —You see, the interjection here—


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator McGauran, would you please resume your seat.


Senator McGAURAN —The truth of the—


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Excuse me, Senator McGauran: I have asked you to resume your seat. Please do not talk over me when I am calling the chamber to order. Senator Bishop, you were heard in, I think, complete silence. I think that Senator McGauran should be given the same recognition.


Senator Sterle interjecting—


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Sterle! Order! Senators, please do not start a conversation or a match across the chamber just after I have called the chamber to order, please.


Senator McGAURAN —I commend you on your actions, because—


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator McGauran, I would just like you to speak to the bills before the chamber.


Senator McGAURAN —Is it any wonder that the government are looking around in their budget for replacement aeroplanes for the 737, worn out as it is? But it is very significant that the Prime Minister has gone overseas or has been to some 18-plus countries within the first 12 months of his government. Some of those meetings have been necessary and significant—like the one that he is at now, ironically. The interjections from the other side were saying that they were all worthwhile. Well, they were not all worthwhile. I think your own side would admit there was a bit of indulgence in many of the trips he took. Who would want to be foreign affairs minister in this government? They are the real menservants on these trips.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator McGauran, I hate to interrupt your speech so early, but, while I know that we accept a substantial degree of latitude, we are actually debating the bills before the chamber—the social security and other legislation amendment bill and the appropriation bills. I draw that to your attention.


Senator McGAURAN —Okay. I would like to run a report card on the first 12 months of the government—in the context of these financial bills, of course.


Senator Mark Bishop —Don’t do that to me, Julian!


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Bishop, would you please restrain yourself to allow Senator McGauran to actually get started on his speech.


Senator McGAURAN —It is worthy to note that no government—not even the Whitlam government, I would venture to say—has come into office with such high expectations on them as have the Rudd government, because the people put their trust in them before the last election. Mr Rudd promised the people so much. Let us go through the things he did promise them before the election and what has been delivered post the election, in the first 12 months. There has been plenty of time to have delivered on the promises that he made prior to the election.

First of all, of course, he promised that he would fix petrol prices. He came up with the Fuelwatch scheme. Luckily for the government, the Senate voted the Fuelwatch scheme down. Not even their first appointed fuel commissioner could stay on the job. He could see there was no work to be done—certainly not meaningful work—and he quit the post. You see, the whole idea behind the Fuelwatch scheme was classic Labor price-fixing; that is all it was. It was just an old-fashioned price-fixing scheme. It was never going to work, and it was going to put out of business the independent operators that keep competition in the market. So the Fuelwatch scheme within the first 12 months went by the by.

Even more absurd and unworkable than the Fuelwatch scheme is the GroceryWatch website—and that is all it amounts to: a website. It does not work. I see that the figures now show that people are not using it anymore. There was initial interest. There were a significant number of hits in its early stages—as you would expect, since the government promoted it so that people would go onto this website. But when they got there—what a disappointment. It just names a region. It is only ever updated once a month. And it is a ‘basket’ of goods and you do not even know what is in the basket. It is a farce and a fallacy, and it is costing the taxpayers money—millions of dollars a year. So I dare say that eventually the government will put that in cold storage, too.

Take the education revolution, that we heard about in question time today. That was another commitment, a big commitment: a computer for every student between years 9 and 12. That was the election promise. And what have we got? We heard Senator Carr today talk about less than one per cent of students having received a computer. And we are not even sure whether those computers are plugged in, because the state governments will not meet the extra costs. The revolution never came about.

The blame game was another big promise prior to the election. Twelve months on, what have we got? I think we misunderstood what the blame game was. It was in fact that the states and the federal government were not going to blame each other for lifting taxes! As soon as the Labor Party came into government federally they lifted transport taxes, user charges and truck registrations. That was your first job—in cooperation with the states, I should add. I see that Mr Brumby has got his hand out for more money. And he is critical of the federal government. He is already floating the idea that the GST is just not enough—floating the idea that perhaps a rise is in the wind.

Another great commitment of Mr Rudd, as he looked down the barrel during the election period, was that he was going to tell it straight to the Australian people. Mr Rudd was going to tell it straight. Anyone who has been in politics long enough knows what a fake commitment that was, particularly from the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, the Australian people put their trust in him. That is something, Senator Sherry, you ought to cherish.


Senator Sherry —And they were right.


Senator McGAURAN —Well, the report card is very poor.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Would you please cease interjecting, Senator Sherry.


Senator Sherry interjecting—


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Sherry! And, Senator McGauran, you should direct your remarks through the chair and you should not have conversations directly across the chamber.


Senator McGAURAN —Mr Acting Deputy President, I do not think the Prime Minister has told it straight as he promised he would. As recently as the last few weeks, he had a private conversation with Mr Bush and that conversation leaked out. What was leaked was false; nevertheless, it leaked out. And we all know exactly—as President Bush, I should add, knows exactly—who did the talking, who did the boasting at the dinner party with the editor of the Australian. It is as clear as a bell. He does not tell it straight. It is all about Mr Rudd.

Mr Rudd did not tell it straight when he made one of the biggest financial decisions in the midst of this crisis, that of guaranteeing bank fund deposits. That had the cascading effect of freezing non-bank funds. People had their money frozen. Did anyone ever think that in this country you could not access your savings or the funds that you need when they were with organisations such as AMP and AXA? That is what has happened, and it happened because of a Prime Minister who never told it straight to the Australian people and who made a knee-jerk decision in reaction to Mr Turnbull’s suggestion. Mr Rudd did not consult the Reserve Bank, as he told us that he did.


Senator Sterle —Mr Deputy President, having to sit through this is cruelty to dumb animals.


Senator McGAURAN —You might get him to withdraw that. No? Okay.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I am sorry, Senator McGauran, are you taking a point of order or are you standing on your feet continuing?


Senator McGAURAN —No, I will let it go. I mean, talk about dumb animals.

The Prime Minister does not shoot straight. His own side knows that. They know the vainglorious manner of this Prime Minister. When he first ran for leader of their party, Mr Rudd got one vote and that was his own. Of course, circumstances, fortune and fate came together and he is now Prime Minister. Yes, Senator Sterle, you may be connected to the man but there are a lot of people on your side, particularly in the ministry, who are not connected to this centralist Prime Minister who, after 12 months, holds all power and decisions within his own department. That is no way to run a government. He fails on that score. That is the report card to date. But before I get on to the economic report card, I should add that the Australian people are waking up to the all talk, no substance, no action spin. You will get a committee, you will get a green paper, you will get a white paper and you will get a draft. You will get an interim report and a final report. There are discussion papers, scoping studies and summits out there. What happened to the 2020 summit? What a farce that was. They will always set up an inquiry for you and commissions with commissioners, bodies to oversee and bodies to advise, but there will never be much action on the ground.

The Prime Minister is always declaring war, either on drugs—it is all big talk on drugs—on cancer, on inflation, on unemployment or on global unemployment. He has declared war on whalers—whatever came of that? Nothing. Aboriginal disadvantage—


Senator Sherry —Do you want to talk about poker machines?


Senator McGAURAN —He has declared war on poker machines, on porn, on doping in sport and on bankers’ salaries. He is fighting everyone but there is no action. That is the type of government we have running our economy, and it is really starting to show. The bungles are all there, and they came very early. Mr Rudd claims that Gough Whitlam is his political hero and that he models himself on him. Well, he is doing a fine job, because there has not been a worse bungler since Gough Whitlam.

Mr Rudd’s first mistake was to make Mr Swan, his old classmate, the Treasurer. This is the man who, when people had their life savings frozen indefinitely—and they are still frozen—notoriously made the comment that they should go to Centrelink. That is the Treasurer we have up there, who we all know is out of his depth. In the first months of this government they launched a political attack on the previous government. For sheer political reasons and with no interest in running the economy soundly or taking up the reins of national responsibility, they talked up inflation. To that end, the Reserve Bank reacted. The government egged the Reserve Bank on to lift interest rates. Within the first three months, by February, interest rates were going up and working families were being hurt badly. It was around February-March that consumer and business confidence plunged. That was prior to the major effects of the global subprime crisis hitting our shores. We already had a crisis in consumer confidence. We already had interest rates notching up and inflation being talked up. That was their second mistake.

Let us go through their bungles: they appointed the wrong treasurer and then they started to talk the economy down and inflation up. And they got the reaction that hurt the very working families they said that they represented. What were the immortal words of the Treasurer when their first budget came along? He said, ‘This is a classic Labor budget.’ All of a sudden we saw about $19 billion of taxes that were not talked about before the election. I do not remember them being talked about before the election. They did not say that they were going to lift taxes by $19 billion. They called their first budget a classic Labor budget, and that is what the Australian people got—taxes on alcopops, luxury cars, condensate and passenger movement. A whole array of taxes, unannounced prior to the election. That is a classic Labor budget, and then consumer and business confidence plunged even more.

Post budget, the full effect of the subprime crash hit our shores. Before I get on to the—


Senator Sterle —To the bill!


Senator McGAURAN —This is all about the bill. Before I get onto that issue yet again, what really benchmarks the incompetence of the first 12 months of this government is the blanket guarantee of bank deposits. I see Senator Sherry sitting there. He has some responsibility in this, but I would say that more than anyone it finds its way back to the Treasurer and the Prime Minister. Before that decision was made, a decision to ban short selling—


Senator Sherry interjecting—


Senator McGAURAN —Another knee-jerk reaction—the first point, Senator Sherry—was made over a weekend. The rules were changed about three times on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. By Monday the stock market had no idea what the rules were, and for the first time in its history the Australian stock market, which was already red raw, did not open its doors until the afternoon. In the morning, it was shut.


Senator Sherry —Rubbish!


Senator McGAURAN —It did not open up on time, Senator Sherry. That has never happened in Australia before. So not only do we have a stock market that does not understand the instructions handed down by the regulators—via the government, I should add, who are in constant contact with the regulators; and you have some responsibility in that—but we have never had the stock exchange be late in opening. It happens under a Labor government. But, worse than that, as I said, the real benchmark in the first 12 months of this government, the real effect upon hundreds of thousands of Australians, is in fact the knee-jerk reaction in placing a blanket guarantee over bank deposits. Blind Freddy could have seen, with bells and whistles, what was going to happen once you made that decision—and it did happen. Of course people moved, or attempted to move, their own savings and deposits into the more secure deposits, the banks. The non-bank sector was severely affected and had to bring down a freeze. I do not know how long that freeze is going to last, or what legality there is behind that freeze lasting anything more than 12 months. And once it is lifted we do not know what the reaction is going to be. But what we do know is that the decision was a mistake and it ought to be adjusted. It should have been adjusted within days, but it still stands today because of the pride of the Prime Minister. Senator Sherry ought to march in there and say, ‘The damage this decision—’. No, of course you would not; of course you are laughing. It is an absurd suggestion to think you would ever have that sort of courage. You would not get past the receptionist, Senator Sherry. But someone with courage, someone in the caucus, someone in the party room, ought to have that decision reversed, because hundreds of thousands of Australians cannot access their property, their rights. What right has a government to cause that sort of effect? Of course, the banks themselves have made the suggestion to the government that the guarantee ought to be capped. The Reserve Bank gave advice that the guarantee ought to be capped. But we have a Prime Minister determined to stick to the decision he made, come what may, whatever the cancerous effect that it is having in the financial world.

And we have the mid-year review. Who is believing that? No-one. It is already out of date. It was fiddled with so as to give a two per cent growth rate that not even the IMF, the OECD or the Reserve Bank could agree with. Only the government would come up with that figure, produced by Treasury, and we already know it is a fallacy and is not to be believed. You cannot work off that figure, but the government is working off it. We all know—Access Economics on the 7.30 Report tonight were quite adamant—that this is a budget that is going to plunge into deficit. So, within the first 12 months of this government, there goes the surplus—blown. Blown on what? On this bill that has no modelling at all. It is just a knee-jerk reaction to throw money out there—and they call themselves economic conservatives. I guess that was another commitment that the government made, that they were economic conservatives. They are far from being economic conservatives. This is classic Labor after 12 months. I had no idea you would rush to being such a Labor Party within the first 12 months. This is quite stunning. I would have thought that maybe by the third year we would have seen you reveal yourselves as Labor being Labor. But nothing has become more sure in 12 months than that this is a Labor government, incompetent in their management, who have made a bad world economic situation worse. Yet they came in with a legacy that other governments would kill for. That is actually a quote from the Reserve Bank governor. He said other countries would kill for the fundamentals that Australia has. Labor has failed the report card. (Time expired)