MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE;Gillard Government – 08 Nov 2011

I rise today to speak on the matter of public importance put forward by Senator Bushby. I presume it is just another little furphy that those on the other side have put up so that they can all keep going on and on and on about the carbon tax, about the clean energy bills. I have news for them: the vote happened, you lost—deal with it. Move on. What I do want to talk about are some of the things we have done with regard to acting in the national interest. Of course, those on that side may be a bit surprised because they are in denial about anything we do that is positive. They just do not acknowledge it. We have increased the age pension, and that is obviously of significant importance to a number of people, and we are looking at ways of improving aged care so that older Australians can have more choice and more control about their future. We have introduced paid parental leave—I will not go into all the issues in detail, because I would be here all day and I have limited time—and, once again, those on the other side did not want to support that.

We have also laid the foundations for the nation’s first National Disability Insurance Scheme. I would declare that that is also in the national interest. We have put many, many dollars into health. We put money into more hospital beds, more doctors and more nurses. We put $2.2 billion into achieving mental health services, which is, once again, of national interest and national importance.

That is unlike those opposite. Mr Abbott, as health minister, took $1 billion out of the health portfolio. I do not know that doing that was necessarily working in the national interest. It is all about a contest. It is a contest between being stuck in the past under the coalition, listening to their stunts and letting them run their negative scare campaigns all the time or advancing Australia under a Labor government. I know which side of the fence I would rather be on.

There are a couple of other things we have done. As a senator from Tasmania—and Senator Carol Brown is here and I know that she will agree with this; unfortunately, I do not think Senator Bushby, who is also from Tasmania, will—there was the rollout of the NBN in Tasmania. Eventually it will be rolled out across the rest of Australia, which will improve access for all Australians and will move Australia forward.

Senator Bushby interjecting

 Senator BILYK: Senator Bushby, we know that it has been said that your side will roll back the NBN. I am just waiting for you to come out with a policy on that before the next federal election. As you know, that was one of the downfalls of the Liberal Party in Tasmania in the last federal election. The NBN is really important, not just for entertainment, which is what those on the other side often purport; it has very practical uses and benefits for the whole nation. One of the areas I am particularly interested in is e-learning, or remote learning. To rural and remote students that is of great significance. Students in the city will benefit from the rollout of the NBN as well. Another area where the NBN will be of benefit is with regard to smart homes. Then we have the tele-health area, or e-health, which will obviously be of enormous benefit to everybody, especially for consumers who are aged or housebound and also for the medical profession when they want to talk to each other or videoconference to consult about patient care. And there will be increased benefits with regard to e-commerce, which will allow Australian businesses to partici­pate in the global market in real time. With even those few things, I suggest that we are certainly working in the national interest, which is contrary to what I believe those on the other side are doing. Their rank hypocrisy is amazing; it disgusts me a lot of the time. They are fairly disingenuous because they have a policy-free zone.

Senator Brandis interjecting

 Senator BILYK: Senator Brandis always has to interject when he knows I might be making a point.

 Senator Brandis: No, you’re not making a point at all. You’re making a fool of yourself.

 Senator BILYK: He is just like a little rude child. Senator Brandis, you must have had an awful childhood.

Senator Brandis interjecting

 The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: First of all, order on my left! Cease interjecting. Senator Bilyk, please direct your comments to the chair and not across the chamber.

 Senator BILYK: My apologies, Mr Deputy President. I would suggest that maybe Senator Brandis had a not-so-pleasant childhood. As somebody who worked in early childhood education for 12 years, let me tell you that I have seen bullies, people who have to interrupt, people who are attention seekers, and all the rest. Senator Brandis, you top the bill. You are like a two-year-old a lot of the time.

 The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Bilyk, to the chair; not across the chamber.

 Senator BILYK: I would allege that Senator Brandis acts like a spoilt little two-year-old a lot of the time, constantly seeking attention and not really being interested in what anybody else has to say—his way is the only way. I think it is fairly childish. It is a bit like a whiny little child, trying to get attention from their parents so that they can win one on their siblings. It would be laughable if it were not so sad.

I would also suggest that the opposition know nothing about the national interest. They know nothing about integrity. We hear Mr Abbott saying, ‘You can’t believe anything unless it’s written down.’ I laugh at that one; I still remember that one. How can we take seriously questions about integrity from an opposition that fabricate myths? I will not say ‘lies’, because I do not think that is a very nice word, but they do fabricate great myths about the government’s policies, the government’s achievements and the economy and science—and they dare to talk to us about integrity! You want to know about national interest? I will tell you about the national interest. The global financial crisis was the greatest economic shock to hit our economy in three-quarters of a century. While the banks collapsed around the world and unemployment rates in wealthy advanced nations hit double digits, Australia survived relatively unscathed. The Labor government bullet-proofed the Australian economy and kept it out of recession during the worst economic downturn in three-quarters of a century. The most affluent nations across the world are all suffering under levels of debt that are many, many times greater per capita than in Australia. The debt of the United States of America is currently over $14 trillion—that is, around $50,000 for every American man, woman and child. Similarly in the United Kingdom, where I note Mr Abbott is currently visiting his pal Prime Minister David Cameron, public debt is around one trillion pounds. Public debt in Australia is a tiny fraction of that amount. Thanks to this government, our economy’s fundamentals have remained strong with outstanding employment growth, a record investment pipeline and a budget position that is the envy of our peers. We have created 750,000 jobs since we were first elected and 120,400 more Australians are employed today than 12 months ago. I think that is in the national interest.

I was reading a quote the other day from the world-leading economist, Joseph Stiglitz. When he was asked about debt in Australia, he replied:

For an American it’s totally befuddling. The fact is, your deficit, your debt is very low.

Senator Brandis interjecting

 Senator BILYK: He continued with this, Senator Brandis:

For me, what I find so ironical, is you have the same people saying we need to worry about the deficit and saying but by the way we shouldn’t get the full value of our resources for our future children. It doesn’t make any sense to me.

Who are those people he was referring to? It is those people opposite. They do not make any sense. They say that putting a price on carbon is not in the national interest, but we have to remember that the Prime Minister of the UK disagrees, and I hope that Mr Abbott listens to him while he is over there. Prime Minister Cameron has come out overwhelmingly in pricing carbon. He said recently:

We have put a carbon floor price in through our budget and I think other countries are looking at this. If you want to get control of global emissions, if you want to deal with this issue, then the market is an effective way of doing that. It’s often not enough on its own.

(Time expired)