With thanks to Open Australia here are the Hansard transcripts from 18 June on Tony Abbott’s matter of importance. Enjoy.
Ms Anna Burke (Speaker)
I have received a letter from the honourable the Leader of the Opposition proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The urgent need for stable government to build a stronger economy for all Australians.
I call upon those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
Tony Abbott (Warringah, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition)
With the standing of the government and respect for this parliament at near record lows I regret to say that this parliament, the parliament now drawing to its close, has been a low and dishonourable one.
At the beginning of the life of the current government, the Prime Minister stood and said to the Australian public that she would be:
… faithful to the trust that has been extended to us.
In 88 days time the public will finally have their chance to pass judgement on just how the Prime Minister has been faithful to the trust that was placed in her. I suspect that that will be a critical judgement because, wherever you look, this is a parliament which has let down the Australian people and a government which has betrayed the trust that the people extended to it—only just, nevertheless, they did extend to it—at the last election.
There is the carbon tax that was never going to happen, which did happen. There was the surplus—the ‘no ifs, no buts surplus’—that would happen come hell or high water and that has never happened. Instead, we have a debt that is now racing towards $340 billion. There is the mining tax, which has achieved the extraordinary outcome of damaging investment, damaging confidence and employment, without actually raising any revenue.
There was the live cattle ban, in panic at a television program—perhaps the most disastrous decision ever taken towards one of our near and important neighbours in our country’s history. There was the political execution of an excellent Speaker because it suited the political convenience of the Prime Minister. We have had three leadership challenges in three years. We have had the protection racket that has been extended towards the member for Dobell by a Prime Minister only too familiar with the operation of union slush funds—
Nicola Roxon (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party)
Speaker, I rise on a point of order. You have ruled before that that language is not appropriate to be used with regard to the conduct of the Prime Minister in relation to the member for Dobell. I ask that the member withdraw.
Ms Anna Burke (Speaker)
The Leader of the Opposition has the call but I will advise that, as the member for Gellibrand rightly points out, the language has been asked to be withdrawn. I am not going to do it on this occasion, but I will be mindful of other words in the member’s statement.
Tony Abbott (Warringah, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition)
I appreciate your forbearance, Madam Speaker. There was the Australia Day riot, which turned out to have been orchestrated out of the Prime Minister’s office. But, above all else, there was the failure that will haunt the memory of this parliament and this government: the ongoing disaster on our borders, a disaster that the Prime Minister promised to fix on 24 June 2010.
We have had almost 45,000 illegal arrivals by boat—more than the population of Gladstone, more than the population of Coffs Harbour, more than the population of Shepparton and more than the population of Mount Gambier. No-one wants to see any Australian government fail. No-one wants to see any Australian government give up on governing but that, I regret to say, is what this government has done.
We have 88 days until the election. The people will then have their chance to pass judgement on this government. They will have a choice between an incompetent and untrustworthy government and a coalition that will stop the boats, that will repeal the carbon tax and that will get the budget back into the black. That is the pledge that we make to the Australian people and that is a pledge that we will honour.
As things stand, the Australian people are frustrated and angry. They are frustrated and angry with a government that has let them down and a government that has repeatedly betrayed them. Indeed, Labor people—decent, honourable Labor people—are embarrassed and even ashamed at the performance of this government. I am pleased that the member for Hotham has stayed in the House to listen to this MPI, because the member for Hotham called it for Australia. That is what he did: he called it for Australia when he said he could no longer serve on this Prime Minister’s frontbench. I regret to say that this particular government is now beyond cure. This particular government is now past the point of no return. The poison is so deep, the division and dysfunction so deep that there is nothing that can save the contemporary Labor Party except time out to decide what it actually stands for and what it now believes.
The Australian people are an optimistic people. We know that better times can come. We know that better times are ahead of us but what we need is a government that you can trust and a government that is competent to deliver effective administration. I want to say to the Australian people: I am proud of the team that I lead. I am proud of the fact that the team I lead is representative of the breadth and depth of the Australian people. I am confident that there would actually be more former tradesmen on this side of the parliament these days than on that side of the parliament. I am proud of the fact that the first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives is sitting on this side of the parliament for the Liberal Party. I am proud of the fact that, if every coalition candidate in this election were to come to this parliament, the most common name in the Liberal Party party room would be Nguyen. It is a sign of just how much the modern Liberal Party is standing foursquare with the decent people of our country.
I know that our team is ready to form a stable and competent government. My team does not need to learn on the job, because my team has done the job before. Sixteen members of the shadow cabinet were ministers in a government that did stop the boats, that did bring the budget back into the black, that did get taxes down, that did abolish unnecessary taxes. We have done it before and we will do it again. We understand in the marrow of our bones that you cannot have a strong society, you cannot have strong communities without a strong economy to sustain them, and a strong economy pivotally depends upon profitable private businesses. We understand this. We get this. We know that it is not government that creates wealth; it is business that creates wealth. No government has ever taxed a country into prosperity. Plenty of governments have taxed a country into the ground. Not one has ever taxed a country into prosperity.
So our economic plan starts with abolishing the carbon tax and the mining tax. We will cut red tape. We will boost productivity so that the creative businesspeople of this country can get a fair go to survive and prosper, and so the workers of Australia can get a fair go to keep their jobs and to prosper. A strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia—that is how this coalition will deliver hope, reward and opportunity should we be entrusted with the government of this country in 88 days time. We will relieve the pressure on families. We will relieve the pressure that we know the families and households of Australia are under. Under us they will keep the tax cuts and pension and benefit rises, but they will most assuredly lose the carbon tax.
This is not just about creating a richer country; it is about creating a better country too. What I want to achieve—what my team wants to achieve—is giving the Australian people confidence that we can come closer to being our best selves. We are all conservationists now. That is why I want direct action to improve our environment, not a great big new tax that will clobber the economy without actually reducing our emissions. As well as an emissions reduction fund for more trees, better soils and smarter technology, there will be a green army 15,000 strong marching to the help of our degraded land and waterways. Anyone who looks at our country knows that land care needs more than the largely volunteer efforts of farmers and of understaffed local councils. We will give our country the workforce it needs if our remnant bushland is to survive and if our creeks are to run clean. We will give idealistic young people and older people a way to turn their environmental commitment into practical action so that our gift to the future will be a country in better shape than that which we inherited.
Should the coalition win the election, I will continue my practice of spending a week a year as a volunteer in a remote Indigenous community. If people are expected to live there, a Prime Minister should be prepared to stay there and senior public servants should be prepared to stay there too. Nothing would focus people’s minds more on the issues of remote Australia than conducting the government from there even if it is only for a week. I do not underestimate the challenges of crafting an Indigenous recognition amendment that will be an advance for Aboriginal people without creating two classes of Australian. No, I do not underestimate the difficulty of this challenge; but, should there be a change of government on 14 September, we will persevere and get this right. In so doing, this nation of ours—this great nation—will finally be made whole.
Everyone knows that I am a late convert to the cause of a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme. I am a late convert, but I tell you I have a convert’s zeal. Why should people get their full pay while on holiday and on sick leave and just a welfare wage while on parental leave? If blokes had babies, this never would have been tolerated. I did not always understand this, but I do now. A fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme is an important economic reform. It is good for population, it is good for productivity, it is good for participation—in fact, all three of the Ps which economic strength requires. Most of all, a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme is an issue of justice—justice for the women of our country that will finally be delivered under a coalition government.
I know I surprised people three years ago with this commitment to a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme, but serious people do have the capacity to grow and I am pleased to say that I understand this issue much better now than I did a decade ago. I have learnt from watching the example of good leaders—people like Bob Hawke as well as John Howard, who made the transition from tribal chief to national leader. I understand that a Prime Minister should never set out to deliberately divide one Australian from another, as we have seen in this current parliament. A Prime Minister should never think that he or she is somehow bigger than the party or the country. Prime ministers must always be the servants of their party and, above all else, the servants of their country.
Finally, should there be a change of government on 14 September, this parliament must be a better place. There has been too much venom and too many baseless accusations of bad faith—and I suspect we might even have a few in a few moments. We are better than that, and I hope to have a chance to demonstrate that we are better than that. After 14 September I am confident that the people of Australia will be able to have more pride in their parliament. (Time expired)
A government member: Who said that?
It was actually Professor John Hewson and Peter Costello. They would know a thing about it because they have been in shadow cabinet with the guy. He was employed by Professor John Hewson. He knows the form of the Leader of the Opposition very well. I will tell you who knows it even better and that is former Treasurer Peter Costello. They described the Leader of the Opposition as economically illiterate and innumerate. But his diagnosis is that the economy is in an emergency situation. Why? Because of flatlining at trend. You cannot believe the economic incompetence of these people in the coalition. So they say, ‘We need a commission of audit.’ But we have been able to ascertain a few of the decisions that they have made.
We have coalition members of parliament writing to our minister for families saying: ‘Some of our families are missing out on the schoolkids bonus. What are you going to do about it?’ For goodness sake, write to the Leader of the Opposition and ask him what he is going to do about it. He has a sense of equity. There will not only be a few who miss out on the schoolkids bonus. He is going to be fair. Everyone misses out on the bonus because it is going to be axed. That is $15,000 for two kids over the lifetime at school of those kids. That is $15,000 ripped out of families trying to send kids to school and getting a bit of support from us to do so.
Wait, there is more! We have had a debate about superannuation in this parliament for about 20 years. The defining feature of superannuation is that Labor introduced compulsory superannuation to extend it to the men and women of Australia for universal retirement income. The defining feature of this coalition is they have opposed every single increase in superannuation that has been implemented by a Labor government. The shadow Treasurer went public and said, ‘We support the legislation to increase superannuation from nine to 12 per cent.’ That is blatantly untrue. They came in here and voted against it. Worse than that, not only did they oppose abolishing the superannuation contributions tax for people on low incomes, part-timers, students—mostly women—but they have promised to reimpose it. We have here in the parliament a speech by the Leader of the Opposition saying: Look at us. We are the party of lower taxes.’ The party that has a policy to increase taxes is the Liberal Party. It has promised to reimpose a 15 per cent contributions tax on 3.6 million low-income, vulnerable Australians—casuals, part-timers, mostly women—and it says it is the low-tax party!
What else are they doing on the tax front? They actually opposed the reduction in the company income tax from 30 per cent to 29 per cent, which ended up, because we could not get it through, funding the schoolkids bonus, which they are going to axe if they get elected. What else are they doing? There is that great big new tax on everything you buy, their paid parental leave. Their gold-plated paid parental leave: a 1½ per cent increase in the company tax rate and the Leader of the Opposition said: ‘Coles, Woolies, the banks and the petrol companies will absorb that. They won’t pass that on. They’re the good guys; they won’t do that.’ Of course they will. In fact, the banking industry is complaining because they are saying they will pass it on, so everyone will pay for this gold-plated paid parental leave scheme with increased taxation. And the Leader of the Opposition said, on climate change, ‘We’ll get rid of the carbon price and we’ll put in this kind of like costless direct action plan.’ Costless? At $1,300 per household! That is an increase in taxes. No wonder they call him economically illiterate. That is an increase in taxes.
The truth is it is not just a philosophical divide between Labor and the coalition; it is a chasm. You have Labor, which has presided over a resilient economy, which has reached out to people, making sure that no-one is left behind—a middle of the road party—and you have an opposition leader, who has dragged the Liberal Party to the hard Right, a party which has promised, with great zeal, that if it got elected it would scrap the national school improvement plan because it does not believe that every young Australian deserves a great education. From our hearts, that is what we believe in, that is what we have fought for. And the coalition is saying to state premiers, ‘Don’t do that, because our ambitious, our plans are more important than theirs.’ It is a complete disgrace.
Warren Truss (Wide Bay, National Party, Leader of the Nationals)
Just 88 days to go. Just 88 days for the people to decide whether this government deserves another term or whether they have had enough. It seems to me, as I walk around Australia and talk to voters, they are looking forward to 14 September just like children are looking forward to Christmas. They have had enough. For almost three years this government has fallen further and further into the mire and the moral abyss. The Prime Minister drank the Kool-Aid that the Greens had served up, and she accepted the poisoned chalice of the new paradigm from the members for New England and Lyne, and set about establishing this government. These colleagues, the Greens and the Independents, have been with Labor through every stumble, through every misstep along the way over the past three years. As this incompetent government lurched from one disaster to another, the Greens and the Independents were there with them, propping them up. Their full-throated support for the carbon tax and all of Labor’s legacy fiascos has reduced them to an echo of this Prime Minister and the people have stopped listening to all of them.
At what point during these three years did it first occur to the Prime Minister to go back on her solemn promise to the Australian people that there would be no carbon tax under a government she led? Was it seconds or just milliseconds? Was it even a consideration? Did her word ever matter to her? She lost the trust of the people of Australia in her very first days after the last election. Did she ever give a thought to the rank betrayal that she was inflicting on the entire nation? No, her political survival was always at the top. Honour and integrity have had no role in the life of this government and the Australian people have endured an endless chain of bungles, scandals, backroom deals and lost opportunities.
The national accounts show that this government has squandered the resources boom. Labor headlined its previous two budgets as spreading the proceeds of the boom and then set about spending the money that it expected to be raised over the years ahead. But in fact the boom has not come. Labor busted the boom before it even existed with its ill-considered new taxes and incompetent policies. This budget was something different. It forgot about sharing the proceeds of the boom. We were told it was a budget that was about growth and jobs, except it was predicted to have lower growth than the previous year and higher unemployment. So the very objectives that the Labor Party set for itself in its budget were in fact shattered by its own predictions for the year ahead. The truth is businesses are cutting investment, and that means lost opportunity. Consumers are not spending, and that means fewer jobs.
Our domestic economy is going backwards with just paper thin growth, just over 0.6 per cent—and, frankly, we would not have had that if confidence was not so low that imports have been declining. At the heart of what is afflicting our nation is a debilitating case of despair. I think of the words of Cameron Clyne, chief executive of the National Australia Bank, when he said that there is a ‘bias towards pessimism’ among the business community. He said:
We have a national mood of gloom …
Well, if the head of a bank thinks things are gloomy, what do their customers think? If the banks are worried, how can small businesses ever hope to succeed? We could call the Treasurer’s Fix-o-Gram to find a solution. You will not find any fixes in the budget; you just have to subscribe to his app Fix-o-Gram. Unfortunately, this government has been too much about fixes over the years—deals, fixes—but no solutions to the issues confronting the Australian people.
The lack of confidence that this government inspires spreads throughout the business community and households really like a cancer. Their record is of failure and of ineptitude, of a people incapable of governing let alone in the national interest. They are unable to govern themselves. Here we are, only 88 days away from an election, and we still do not know who the Prime Minister is going to be on that day. Is it going to be the Rudd-Gillard government or is it going to be the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government? We have another few days and so it might be the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd-Gillard-Rudd-Gillard government. This is because Labor cannot even make up their own minds about who should be their leader. How can the public have any confidence in that kind of rabble?
Is it former Prime Minister Rudd who failed on border protection or is it Prime Minister Gillard, who on election promised to fix it? Should we be holding former Prime Minister Rudd to account for the failed mining tax or should we be holding to account Prime Minister Gillard, who promised to fix it and did not do it? Should we be holding the Prime Minister to account for the carbon tax that she promised to fix? Or do we hold the inventor of the tax, former Prime Minister Rudd, to blame for all of these debacles?
An opposition member: Both!
Yes, as I have just heard, they have both failed. They have both failed their party and, more importantly, they have both failed the Australian people. There are so many examples of failure: the carbon tax that the Prime Minister said in government she would not deliver; the supposed community consensus before any action would be taken on climate policy; a people’s assembly to build that consensus. These are all government election promises and they have just disappeared. There are the secret deals with the big three miners, who carved themselves out of the mining tax and left the small miners to carry the can; the roof batts program that burnt down people’s houses; the overpriced school halls; and GroceryWatch and Fuelwatch that never got off the ground. Now we have, of course, ‘asbestos watch’ while the NBN continues to squander the nation’s savings. The NBN itself is an example of a $90 billion white elephant which no-one is signing up to. Clearly, there are more years of costly delays ahead. They gave Telstra $11 billion to stop using their own perfectly functional network and they have got nothing much to replace it with.
Take the private health insurance rebates that Labor swore were part of the family budget and as such were guaranteed would remain untouched. In almost every budget Labor have sought to reduce the private health insurance rebates. They have offered to take five asylum seekers from Malaysia for every one person sent by them: ‘Hey, we’ve got 44,000! How many are you going to take?’
Opposition members interjecting—
Yes, this is a good deal for Tom Waterhouse! Of course, there was the mining tax that collected only 10 per cent of what was expected and the near destruction of Australia’s northern beef industry because of a panicked overreaction to a television program. On this government’s watch a manufacturing job in Australia has been axed every 20 minutes. How is that for the party for jobs? Now we have got Ford, after being given $34 million to save jobs, closing its plant down. What about the future of Simplot and SPC, the last of our major food-processing establishments in this country? Labor has no answer. It is doing nothing for employers and it is doing nothing for employees as factories close down one after the other.
There has to be a change. We do need to have a government that has actually got a plan, a vision, for our country. All this would be laughable if it were not so insulting to the people of Australia. In 88 days the people will decide whether they want this tragic soap opera as a rerun or they want a change, a coalition government that has a plan to bring the budget into balance and to start paying down Labor’s runaway debt. Abolishing the carbon tax is a positive action to reduce costs for families and businesses, as is abolishing the mining tax, cutting red tape by $1 billion a year to give small business the relief that they need, or creating two million new jobs. We will cut the green tape and will have a no-nonsense, one-stop shop to fast-track approvals. Our plan provides families with the surety that they need to be confident for their future. We have the experience. We have the record. We have done this before. We have created these jobs and we will make sure that Australia grows— (Time expired)
Graham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party)
I rise to speak on this MPI, having listened to the member for Wide Bay‘s contribution—and, unfortunately, it is a bit of my life that I will never get back—but I was looking for him to be a bit fair dinkum. As he is a Queenslander, I thought he might have touched on a couple of the significant things about stable government. I thought that, rather than talk about his dream of two million jobs, he would have spoken about the 960,000 jobs that have actually been created since he has been sitting on that side of the chamber. So I thought he would have spoken about that. I thought that perhaps he, as a world-travelling man—and I have travelled overseas with the member for Wide Bay—he might have touched on what conditions were like around Europe. We have 5.5 per cent unemployment—and it went down last month—but you can look at places in Europe where it is 11.9 per cent. There are places in Spain where one in two young people are unemployed. I thought he might have mentioned that because he does come from a part of Queensland that has higher unemployment. So I thought that as a Queenslander he might have mentioned that.
I thought he might have mentioned how proud he was to be in a nation that has a AAA credit rating from all three ratings agencies. I thought he would have been bipartisan enough to say that that is a good thing, but he forgot to mention it. Only eight countries of 200 particular countries around the world have this status. That is an empirical fact. That is not a press release; that is an empirical fact from the ratings agencies. Since he moved to that side of the chamber, how have we performed in terms of the size of our economy? He talks about doom and gloom and the need for stability. We have changed from being the 15th biggest economy in the world. We have moved up to being the 12th biggest economy in the world. I thought he would have said, from pure pride as an Australian, that he is proud—but no mention of that. And it has happened six times faster than those powerhouse countries like Germany or the megacountries like the United States.
He did not mention the global financial crisis. That two years has been taken out of the LNP history books. It is almost a Goebbels-type experiment in removing things from history: ‘This did not occur.’ The reality is we did have a global financial crisis. You look around the world and see the results of that and how they are still flowing through—how homes have been destroyed, how jobs have been destroyed, how whole communities have been destroyed by the impact of the global financial crisis. Under the Labor government, under Prime Minister Rudd and Prime Minister Gillard, we have steered through with a focus on jobs. That is the reality that I thought the member for Wide Bay would have touched on. That is the reality I thought the Leader of the Opposition would have touched on. The Leader of the Opposition understands these facts. I think he has a degree in economics. I thought he would have been aware of this.
The reality is the world has changed for those on that side of the chamber on two significant dates. Obviously, 24 November 2007 was a tough day for many of them when they got thrown out of government by the people of Australia. That was tough and some of them have never recovered. We churned through a couple of leaders—not deputy leaders, we still have a deputy leader who has loyally served three different leaders. We went through Brendan Nelson and the member for Wentworth and then moved on to the member for Warringah.
Then there was 1 December 2009—and didn’t the world change for that side of parliament from that day onwards? I have only been a member of parliament since 24 November 2007, so I can only see it through that prism. I have had two parliaments to see it through—the 42nd Parliament and the 43rd Parliament. That is what my observations are based on. Remember 1 December 2009, when the Leader of the Opposition was wholeheartedly endorsed by his party room by one vote, with one spoiled ballot and one absent vote? But for that moment in history, the history of Australia could have been changed perhaps.
Then we go through to the election day and those 17 days of desperate negotiations from the Leader of the Opposition, where he was prepared to do anything. He made that clear. He made the call to the member for New England, saying, ‘I will do anything.’ I think he made it very clear as to what he would do to grab power. He was happy to have power without glory. That has been the journey ever since.
Let us look at what has gone on in the 43rd Parliament in particular. As I said, I am comparing the 42nd and 43rd parliaments. Let us look at some of the little things that have happened around this place under the Leader of the Opposition. First a simple little thing. Apparently the Leader of the Opposition when he was in government used to play touch football every morning. The member for Rankin used to play—
Dr Emerson interjecting—
I think the member for Rankin might be misleading the parliament there!
Craig Emerson (Rankin, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Trade and Competitiveness)
But not deliberately!
Graham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party)
But not deliberately. It was a very harmonious place, where people, irrespective of the party they came from, would go down and play touch football together. From 24 November the member for Warringah said he would not play touch football anymore. Then in the 43rd Parliament it changed again. He has actually frowned upon people even playing touch football together. So that has evaporated.
What are the other things? I notice a member from the Labor Party on the Speakers’ panel. The member for Warringah said, ‘No member of the Liberal and National parties will be a member of the Speaker’s panel, apart from the member for Maranoa.’ He ordered that they would not contribute to the democratic process, thus on one level saying, ‘We support the democratic process,’ but on the very other giving specific direction that undermines the political process.
Let us look at some of those other white-anting processes—not just removing people from the panel and not just removing people from participating in sports but saying no to everything in the legislative program. If you look at the percentage of votes in the 42nd Parliament where we had unanimous support from the parliament compared to the 43rd Parliament, it has gone down 10 per cent to 15 per cent. All those common-sense pieces of legislation that parliament just grinds out, irrespective of who is in power—which parties are on which side of the chamber—the member for Warringah has made it specific, has made it clear, has given directions to the Liberal and National parties that ‘No!’ is the starting point for any piece of legislation and then negotiations occur from there. What are the ramifications of that? That means that someone who has a sick child cannot even get a pair to go and see their kid. He has been white-anting democracy throughout—ever since 1 December but particularly since that election in 2010.
Why is that so? Maybe he has to examine his own soul in terms of the trap that he has laid for Australian democracy. Because he has such a naked desire to grab power at any cost, he has betrayed Australian democracy. Maybe that is something that happens. We are not dissimilar in age. Maybe as he is getting on in years he thinks: ‘This is my chance. This is the time for me to make a mark on the world stage or the Australian stage’—or whatever stage he thinks he is strutting on. The reality is that he is prepared to do anything and bring down Australian democracy in that process—and to do so in a way which is so hypocritical. On the one hand he says, ‘Oh, no, we are very bipartisan,’ but at the very same time he is putting dog whistles out there in the community, sending out his spear throwers to attack great Australian institutions like the Public Service. Things that are normally supported in a bipartisan approach, this member for Warringah has undermined. He has undermined those democratic processes.
We all know that saying about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. That is what we are staring at—the fact that we might be contemplating on 14 September. Imagine a leader of the government, a leader of this nation, who is prepared to do anything to gain power. If you do not have the moral compass, if you do not have a soul that dictates what you do, then you are a rudderless person. You are unable to make the correct decision, the moral decision, the right decision—the decision in the nation’s interest. This ‘hate song of J Alfred Prufrock’ that we have been hearing since election day from the member for Warringah has, I think, created a festering in Australian democracy, and it will come home to roost if on 14 September the Leader of the Opposition is made the leader of the government—and heaven help us if that does take place. (Time expired)