MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE;Gillard Government – 07 Feb 2012

I find it rather ironic that, on the first day of sitting for the new year, we instantly get this MPI pulled up. The opposition has brought this forward today, and who can say what the reason is? They constantly go on at us on this side about our economic achievements and our ability to put focus on the core function of government, and I am going to explain to them today why I think this is such a time-wasting MPI. This government understands very clearly just how serious governing is; even the crossbenchers understand how serious governing is, and I thank them for their continued efforts they make to help negotiate the passage of government legislation. The opposition, on the other hand, do not understand at all how serious governing is—they have no idea at all. This MPI is just another petty circus—a carnival—from an opposition who for the last year and a half have been an absolute sideshow. They have been a shambles; they have been a shemozzle.

If you want evidence of the government’s ability to focus on governing, you need go no further than looking at the record of the government in this place and in the other place. More than 250 bills have been passed through the House of Representatives and over 200 through this parliament despite the negative, harping approach of the opposition. Among these bills are some of the most important reforms that Australia has ever seen. We will be delivering broadband infrastructure to every home, business, school and hospital premises in the country. Ninety-three per cent of premises will be connected to optic fibre with speeds of up to one gigabyte per second, and the remaining seven percent will be connected through wireless and satellite with speeds of up to 12 megabits per second. That is historic. That has not been done before. That is important to the future of Australia.

We have implemented income tax cuts, and, through the minerals resource rent tax, we will fund a tax cut for small business and a boost to the retirement savings of Austra­lian workers through an increase to the supe­rannuation guarantee. We have put in place a price on carbon. We are rolling out a national curriculum to schools across the country. We are providing 9,500 schools with 21st century infrastructure through the Building the Education Revolution program. What did those on the other side do for education in the 12 years they were in government?

We are building 64 GP superclinics and 288 trades training centres because we know on this side how important skills develop­ment is to the future of Australia. We have passed through parliament historic reforms which make Australia the first country to have plain packaging on tobacco products, and this will help to reduce the attractiveness of and harm done by cigarettes. We have implemented the nation’s first paid parental leave scheme, ensuring that parents can afford time off work to spend quality time with their newborn children. No objective commentator can look at our achievements in government or our plans for the future and say that we are not focused on governing in the best interests of all Australians.

You cannot avoid a recession and have an economy that is the envy of the developed world without a focus on governing. You cannot create 750,000 jobs without a focus on governing. Those opposite cannot seem to fathom that governing Australia requires a unity of purpose, but there is no question on this side of the chamber about what our plan is for Australia’s future. Every senator here and every member in the other place on our side is committed to that plan.

We will deliver a surplus budget by 2012-13, but those opposite have no idea where they stand on the surplus. When the shadow finance minister, Andrew Robb, was asked on ABC News 24’s Capital Hill program whether the coalition would deliver a surplus in their first term, his answer was, ‘Well, it just depends. As I say, there’s so much uncertainty around the numbers.’ Last night, I saw shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey, when confronted with the question on Q&A, refuse to say whether the coalition would deliver a surplus. The deputy opposition leader, Julie Bishop, on ABC Radio National’s Breakfast this morning also refused to commit the coalition to delivering a surplus. Bizarrely, Ms Bishop claimed that the coalition would improve Australia’s debt and deficit position. How can you claim to be able to improve the debt and deficit position of the country if you cannot commit to delivering a surplus in your first term and have a $70 billion black hole in your costings? This government will deliver a surplus in 2012-13.

How much confidence can Australians have in the coalition to govern the country when they would have the equivalent of the Three Stooges in charge of the nation’s finances? How much confidence can Australia have in the opposition’s alternative budget when they need to find $70 billion of savings to get their budget back into the black? How much confidence can we have if they cannot even tell us whether or not they would deliver a surplus in their first term? The federal opposition are not fit to govern because, apart from saying no to every positive proposal we have put up, their only focus seems to be the leadership of the Labor Party. The opposition and the media may have an obsession with our leadership, but on this side we do not—it is not an obsession that we share. We have a leader, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and she will lead us to the next federal election.

 Senator Bushby: So you’re in Julia’s camp?

 Senator BILYK: If you are referring to the article in the Australian, Senator Bushby, how they come to those conclusions out of no comment absolutely amazes me, but it does not surprise me with the Australian whatsoever. I am happy to take your interjection, but once again your research newspaper is a little bit wrong on a whole lot of things and a whole lot of people—so there we go.

The only leader in this parliament who should be worried about his position is the Leader of the Opposition. Mr Abbott’s colleagues are starting to see that his relentless negativity and his lack of vision for Australia are demonstrating to the public that he is not fit to be the Prime Minister of this country. There is no better example of the approach that Mr Abbott would take to governing Australia than his address to the National Press Club which I watched last week. It was supposed to be a speech in which he would outline his vision for the nation; instead he delivered more invective and more relentless negativity against the government and our positive plans for Australia’s future. Yet I did not notice any indication of his alternative vision for Australia—no new policies, no plans for the future.

The best summing up of his address to the Press Club came, however, not from me but from social researcher Hugh Mackay on ABC’s 7.30 program. He said:


meaning Mr Abbott—

has now dug himself in this trench of negativity from which he doesn’t seem to be able to emerge. So, it’s always about what’s wrong with the Government, the negative line, oppose, oppose, oppose.

What Mr Mackay picked up about Mr Abbott was not just his relentless negativity about the government’s plans for the future but also his lack of a coherent alternative. Here is what he said:

Also, I think there’s the problem of a kind of opportunism about Tony Abbott which is going to be hard for him to address; a lot of people have judged him as a man who sounds strong, tough—the classic conviction politician—but the convictions seem to change.

I read from that transcript because it goes to the heart of something that the Australian public expect from people who put themselves forward to take on possibly the toughest job in Australia: governing this great country of ours. They just do not want to know what you are against, what you are going to oppose. They want to know what you stand for and what you are going to do. For example, would Mr Abbott deliver a surplus in the coalition’s first term of government? Does he believe in the science of climate change or does he still think it is ‘absolute crap’? Is he in favour of putting a price on carbon? Is he still in favour of an emissions trading scheme? Does he stand by his statement in 2009 of ‘Why not do it with a simple tax’? Which of the coalition’s 18 failed broadband plans does Mr Abbott support, or is he planning to come up with even more? Does Mr Abbott support unfair dismissal protections for workers or will he bring back Work Choices?

If we are going to talk about governing Australia, then the last word should come from a Prime Minister who undertook some of the most substantial economic reforms in Australia’s history. In the run-up to the 1990 election campaign, Bob Hawke said about the federal coalition, ‘If you can’t govern yourselves, you can’t govern the country.’ The federal opposition cannot govern themselves. They have shown their consistent failure to present as an alternative government, their consistent failure to put forward a coherent policy and a vision for Australia. No-one in Australia knows what the federal opposition stand for other than saying no, no, no.