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Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Page: 4185

Senator STERLE (4:25 PM) —I am happy to get up, because one of the last words I think I heard come out of Senator Bernardi’s mouth was ‘fraud’. That is a very strong word for you lot on that side of the chamber to throw around. On a more serious note, I am happy to stand up and contribute to this debate. Before I do, I note that it is quite frustrating and annoying that those on the opposite side of this chamber and the other chamber are doing absolutely everything they can—crossing their fingers—in the hope that Australia does not come out of this global financial crisis, the worst financial crisis the world has seen since the 1930s. They are in absolute denial. The global financial crisis is all over every newspaper and every television station. It is not something you can hide, yet they have their heads in the sand.

The most important thing about the Rudd government’s stimulus packages and their spending was to save jobs. I know ‘jobs’ is a four-letter word that that lot over there have a problem with, but I am proud to be part of a government that will do whatever it can to save any number of jobs it can for working men and women in this country. I really welcome the opportunity for one of that lot on the other side to interject on me now when I start talking about jobs—

Senator Bernardi —Unemployment’s going up. What’s your joke on that?

Senator STERLE —because in my past life I was proudly not only a truck driver delivering freight around this fantastic country for 11 years as an owner-driver and for four years as a company driver before that; I was organising with the Transport Workers Union. But it was not only me; it was also other great representatives of working people such as Senator Cameron, Senator Evans and, of course, Senator McEwen. There are wonderful things to be said for the opportunity to represent workers, but I have to tell you there is a damn downside. It is when a man or a woman comes up to a union organiser and says, ‘I have just lost my job.’

To the children up there in the galleries: there is no greater pain than to see a parent—a grown man—cry because he has lost his job through absolutely no fault of his own. I use the word ‘he’ a lot because the trucking industry is predominantly male, but I have had it from females as well. To have a grown man come into my office and break down in tears because he has lost his job through absolutely no fault of his own is demoralising, Senator Bernardi. Those of you who are born with silver spoons in your mouths have never had to sit there and watch a grown man cry because his job is gone. This is what the whole thing is about. You lot over there have no conscience. You are quite happy to see jobs go. As Senator O’Brien has made very clear, two MCGs full—200,000 workers—have had their jobs saved. Do not make me feel any sicker than I feel listening to the rhetoric and the rubbish that come out of you lot over on that side when we start talking about jobs and employment. You are an absolute disgrace. You are a disgrace to the people of South Australia, Bernardi, and you, Senator Williams, should hang your head in shame. I am waiting for your contribution from that great state of Tasmania, Senator Bushby; that will be very interesting. You won’t say a word, will you?

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator STERLE —Get out there and tell people that you voted against every chance for Australian jobs to be saved. To have to listen to that rubbish—you sicken me.

I want to talk about the spending. As Senator O’Brien said, half of the spending is going into schools. That lot on the other side do not want to see one single cent spent in a school, but they have their boofheads in every photo they can. They cannot wait for the opportunities to get to the ribbon cuttings. I can just imagine the ‘Bernardi Bugle’ or the ‘Wacky Williams Weekly’. If we see some photos of you anywhere near a school, look out. And do not take that lightly; it will be in this chamber that quickly. It is absolutely shocking opportunism.

What you should be out there doing is going to all those schools in that fine state of South Australia, Senator Bernardi, or New South Wales, Senator Williams, and saying, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I voted against you having this gymnasium. I voted against you having this library. I voted against you having this undercover area.’ You wouldn’t do that would you? You would not go to one school and own up to that. You are all heroes in here. Take 30 steps out to your right and make those statements. They are disgraceful, that is what they are. I want also to touch on some of the figures that have been bandied around, apart from the 200,000 jobs that have been saved so far—and I hope there will be a heck of a lot more. We are talking about $14.7 million—and if that saves jobs we should be crucified! We should be embarrassed because we have saved jobs!

Another wonderful initiative I want to talk about that is part of the stimulus is the $22 billion national building infrastructure plan.

Senator Williams interjecting—

Senator STERLE —Senator Williams, pull your fingers out of your ears and listen very carefully. If you miss a bit, I will send you an email. But mine you can show. Feel free to flash it around. And I will write it myself; I do not need any moles to write it or flash it around for me. I will actually write it and send it to you, Senator Williams. Part of our national building infrastructure plan goes out to rural and regional Australia. This is where I also have a lot of frustration because in this chamber there is a little war that goes on all the time. You get the doormats in that corner there who stand up and say, ‘We are the ones that represent regional Australia.’ Then you get the other side, their coalition partners, who have been tickling their tummies every time they need something, saying, ‘Don’t worry about the doormats. We represent regional Australia.’ So you can come in here and listen to the rubbish that gets put out, but I want to talk about what a wonderful opportunity this nation building infrastructure package will be to save jobs in rural and regional Australia.

This government knows only too well the fine contribution rural and regional Australia make to Australia’s economy, and I am happy to say that, despite all the gloom and doom in the last 12 months, the agricultural industry is heading upwards. The National Farmers Federation told me the other night in Brisbane just how happy they are that agriculture is on the rise. They are making a wonderful contribution. We are helping them too, because $26 billion will be spent over six years in rural and regional Australia. It is going to be spent on some really worthwhile projects that, lo and behold, will even save jobs—projects like the interstate transport network. For 11 long years that lot on that side did everything they could to ignore the valuable infrastructure of ports, hospitals, roads and railways. What did they do? They did one railway line, and unfortunately it is losing a lot of money. They did nothing else. They sat on the greatest commodity boom in history, with billions and billions of dollars coming from those mines and commodities, and they did nothing with it. They did absolutely not a thing. They call themselves fiscal conservatives, and they are very happy to come in here and lecture us, because we are doing our best to save Australian jobs. We should be applauded for it—not like you lot. Put your head back in the sand; that is the best place for it.

In 2008-09 and 2009-10, $800 million will be going into the Community Infrastructure Program. This will provide critical local infrastructure such as community centres, town halls, parks, playgrounds, pools and sports facilities, and a lot of them will be in rural and regional Australia. That lot over there, the tummy ticklers and the doormats, between them pretend to represent rural and regional Australia. What an absolute joke. In fact, it is not a joke; jokes are normally funny. This is not funny. This is disgraceful.

There is $650 million in the Jobs Fund. There is that four letter word again that I keep repeating: jobs. I am sorry, but that is what it is all about: jobs. It is about keeping Australians employed. Not only that, but there is broadband—$43 billion over eight years. How many jobs will that create in rural and regional Australia? How many small businesses in rural and regional Australia will still be able to keep their doors open?

Senator Williams interjecting—

Senator STERLE —Come on, Senator Williams. You tell us you come from a small country town. I know from when I was truck driving that if the grader driver who had four kids left town—and this happened once—the school closed down. What did the baker do when the school closed down? The baker struggled and the roadhouse struggled. So don’t come in here, Senator Williams, with you and your lot pretending to be the saviours of the bush. Don’t come in here and condemn us for saving jobs— (Time expired)