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Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Page: 3637


Mr ABBOTT (Leader of the Opposition) (3:31 PM) —On the third anniversary of the election of the Rudd government, I regret to say that this has been possibly the most disappointing government in Australia’s history. It has put off decisions, it has botched programs, it has broken promises, it has completely failed to develop any vision or agenda for our country and it has embodied the dictum of Senator Faulkner that the modern Labor Party is ‘all cunning and no courage’. Above all else, it has disappointed its own members. The stream of leaks that we are now seeing from inside the government, most recently today with the full caucus minutes of 24 June, is a sign of just how betrayed by this government even good Labor people feel. I say this not in any spirit of gloating over the misfortunes of this government but, frankly, as a lament over the decline of a once great political party, which might have just held on to government after the recent election but which has obviously comprehensively sold and lost its soul. This government has not been overwhelmed by an external crisis; it has proved itself completely incapable of building on the strengths of this nation. It has demonstrated that after 25 years of good government we have now had three years of bad government, three years of drift and three years of squandering the built-up inheritance of a quarter of a century.

Three years ago we knew what good government in this country was like. Then we had a $20 billion surplus and no debt; now we have a $50 billion deficit and we are borrowing $100 million a day. Then we had three boats a year; now we have three boats a week. Then we had a government that was frugal and prudent and responsible with taxpayers’ money; now we have a government which proposes to spend $43 billion without a proper cost-benefit analysis. This government has been an exemplar of how not to run a country. In the first three years of the Howard government, we saw semiautomatic weapons banned. We saw a 50 per cent improvement in waterfront performance. We saw the independence of the Reserve Bank of Australia. We saw the $10 billion black hole bequeathed to us by the former government fixed. It was the greatest fiscal repair job in Australia’s history. And we saw the holy grail of policy that had defeated successive generations of governments—tax reform—finally begun. That was what a real reforming government looked like and that is not this government.

But lest members opposite think that I am incapable of extending credit where it is due, let me concede that the first three years of the Hawke government were three years of genuine reform. In the first three years of the Hawke government we saw the deregulation of our financial sector, we saw the allowing into this country of foreign banks, we saw the floating of the Australian dollar and we saw the substantial elimination of tariffs. These were serious reforms from a serious government. These were real nation-building initiatives by a government that did not lack courage. By contrast, what have we seen from the current government over the last three years? Well, I have a list of failures that I will shortly go through, but I want to look at the successes. Lest I be accused of not giving credit where it is due, let’s look at the successes. There is a website and there has been a modest extension of welfare quarantining in one territory of this country—two modest successes, both of which build on the reforms of the former government.

But, essentially, what this government has done in the last three years is spend money—and haven’t they spent! They have turned a $20 billion surplus into a $50 billion deficit. They have turned $60 billion worth of net assets into $100 billion of net debt and they are borrowing $100 million every single day. Millions and millions just in the course of a parliamentary session are going out the door because of the profligacy of this government. But if you listen to ministers you hear them say it was all worthwhile because the one thing you cannot take away from them is that they kept Australia out of recession. If the economic policies that kept Australia out of a recession, as in the words of members opposite, were so smart, why did they sack the Prime Minister who presided over them? If this government was so good at keeping Australia out of recession—if that is the ultimate boast of this government—why did they sack the member for Griffith, the most unfairly treated man in Australian political history? If the economic policies were so good and this government is such a good economic manager, why did the one truly economically literate and numerate person in this government, the former minister for finance, Lindsay Tanner, quit in disgust when the prime ministership changed in this country?

Let me make it absolutely crystal clear: the reforms of the previous governments, not the spending spree of the current one, have kept Australia in the relatively good economic health that we currently enjoy. What we have seen from this government is a comprehensive and complete failure to deliver on its program. We know about the modern Labor Party: they are good at politics but they are hopeless at government. Let us go through the list. There is the Home Insulation Program, an absolute disaster. In fact, it is more than a disaster; it is a tragedy. We know about the 207 house fires and we know about the four deaths but, tragically, it seems there might even be more. There is a quarter of a million Australian families living in such houses now—nearly all unchecked—that have dodgy or dangerous roof insulation because of the waste and incompetence of this government.

The Building the Education Revolution program should have been called the botching the education revolution program, a monumental waste of public money to be eclipsed only by the coming National Broadband Network disaster or school halls on steroids. There is the border security disaster. Since members opposite changed the laws that were working, we have had 9,188 illegal arrivals on 190 boats. There is the mining tax, the dagger aimed at the heart of the most productive sector of our economy. There is the emissions trading scheme. First of all, it was delayed because of the deep loyalty of the former Deputy Prime Minister who is the current Prime Minister—such loyalty and solidarity amongst that group—and now it seems to have been dumped by the uberloyal former Deputy Prime Minister, who is also uberhonest. The Prime Minister was telling us before the election that there will be no carbon tax under any government that she leads and is now telling us that there will be. There is the East Timor processing centre that is never going to happen. There are the domestic processing centres that are bursting at the seams. There is the takeover of public hospitals that was supposed to happen in 2009 but which is now bogged down in the kind of bureaucratic mess that we have come to expect from this government. It is typical of the work of this government that, after spending billions in its first year, I think there are 11 extra hospital beds in New South Wales as a result of all that extra federal spending. There are the GP superclinics: 36 were promised; four are fully operational. There is the Indigenous housing program whereby $45 million was spent without any actual work on the ground being done. There was the computers in schools program: a million were promised; 340,000 have so far been delivered. There are the trade training centres: 2,650 were promised; only 22 have been delivered. There is the Fuelwatch that never happened. There is the GroceryWatch that never happened. There were the 260 childcare centres that were scrapped after just 38 were built. There were the green loans: only 1,000 were ever made although 140,000 assessments took place and thousands of assessors are $3,000 out of pocket. That was a $275 million complete waste of money, and then there was the citizens assembly, which lasted perhaps three weeks before being dumped.

It is a bad government getting worse. If we think they were indecisive with a majority, they are now absolutely incoherent without a majority. Let us pause for a moment to think about the absolutely shambolic nature of this government. We saw a slight window of it in the Financial Review this morning in an article by Laura Tingle, who said not only is there no published business case for the National Broadband Network but there has been no cabinet submission on the National Broadband Network and there has not even been a proper cabinet briefing. What we have instead are these duelling cabinet subcommittees competing with each other to stymie proposals because the senior members of this government do not trust each other. That is the truth: they do not trust each other. And why would they trust each other now that we know how it all works, because we have been told thanks to the leaker of the caucus minutes and thanks to the lament of the former Prime Minister, perhaps the most unjustly treated senior politician in recent Australian history.

But let us consider what has happened since the election. We have had the mining tax, which has been made less favourable to the mining industry. We have had the emissions trading scheme, which has been replaced by the carbon tax. We have had the detention policies, which have been dramatically watered down. We have had the privatised National Broadband Network, which has now been replaced by the permanently nationalised national broadband network, some kind of latter-day Postmaster-General’s department. Imagine that: the Postmaster-General’s department trying to deliver faster speeds! But that is what we have got.

What is the common ingredient in all of this? It is the fact that Labor are in government but the Greens are in power. Every policy change since the election demonstrates the Green-lean which the Deputy Prime Minister alluded to today and said that Labor have to reject it. How can they possibly reject the Greens on whose votes their government crucially depends? Then, of course, there is the gay marriage distraction which is going to rip the Labor Party to pieces over the next 12 months precisely because of the influence of the Greens.

It is just not good enough. The Australian people want a political party in government which knows what it stands for. Here on the coalition side of the parliament we stand for lower, simpler, fairer taxes. We stand for moving from a welfare state to a society of opportunity. We want to see genuine people-power in our schools and hospitals and we want to see a new standing green army to give our land the care that it really deserves.

We are Liberals who believe in smaller government, lower taxes, greater freedom. We are Australian patriots who want to see strong families and respect for values that have stood the test of time. Unfortunately, what we have is a government which has comprehensively let the Australian people down over the last three years. There are two questions the Australian people should contemplate over the summer. Is your life better? Is our country stronger? Thanks to this government the answer is a resounding no. (Time expired)