MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE;Gillard Government – 30 Oct 2012

I have to say that I am fairly concerned today by the matter of public importance—and I am concerned because the opposition have fallen into this inescapable pit of negative language that they cannot crawl their way out of. Coming into this place, the only words that are uttered by those opposite are criticisms and pejoratives, and the same hollow catchphrases and the same empty, shallow rhetoric goes on day after day and week after week. The words fly out of the mouths of Senator Fifield, Senator Abetz and others opposite, and they do it in quite an authoritarian way. They speak of doom and destruction and of faceless union boogeymen that live under the bed. I have to say that it reminds me of that great poem ‘We’ll all be rooned’, said Hanrahan. It is a great poem. To listen to those opposite, that is exactly how they go on.

They talk about waste and the way the government have allegedly wasted money. I remind all those opposite of Work Choices. How much did you guys waste on Work Choices? I am reminded about those mouse pads that were put out that were not even able to be used as landfill. So when you come in here you have to be careful about what you start carrying on about. Those opposite talk about Whyalla being wiped off the map by cobras, pythons, or octopus or whatever animal the Leader of the Opposition wants to use to mix into his metaphors. There are also quite a few three-word catchphrases the opposition’s tactic committee has decided upon to try and impart a bit of fear in their fellow Australians, and those opposite come in here and repeat them robotically and ad nauseum—in fact, sometimes it is quite nauseous.

Why do they do that? We on this side know why they do it. They do it because they have no plans, they have no vision and they have no policy—and the only strategy they have is to oppose. They are still fairly embittered that they failed to form government in the other place and they come into this place and scream like banshees about waste and incompetence. I think that is why the Australian people are starting to switch off to them.

This government has made significant achievements in helping to support Australian workers and Australian families. Despite the assertion in today’s MPI, the government’s signature programs have not failed. We have introduced Australia’s first national paid parental leave scheme, allowing working parents the financial security to spend much more time at home with their new child. From 1 January next year, two weeks of Dad and Partner Pay will also be paid in addition to paid parental leave. We know how important it is to support Australian families, especially in those first few weeks and months after the birth of a new child.

We have introduced tax cuts for all Australian workers earning less than $80,000 a year, by lifting the tax-free threshold to $18,200. We have delivered around $47 billion in personal tax cuts. So a worker earning $50,000 is now paying over $2,000 less in income tax than they were before Labor came to office in 2007.

Previous speakers mentioned the roll-out of the National Broadband Network. Coming from Tasmania, I know it is a great thing, and I have yet to hear any Tasmanians grizzle about it—except those on the other side. The complaint I hear, if one can call it a complaint, is that they just want the rollout program to go a bit faster and to get to their areas a bit faster and to get the plan going a bit faster. I have to say that they really love it in Tasmania. Within three years Tasmania will be the first state to have the rollout completed.

The NBN is rolling out fibre optic cable to communities that until just recently have only had access to slow ADSL or even slower dial-up. We all know—even though those opposite deny it—that the NBN is allowing businesses, local governments, schools, hospitals and individuals in the home to connect, interact and conduct business in a way that has previously been impossible. And that will only improve over the years. We all know how fast technology is changing and, as that progresses, there will be more and more that people will be able to do with the NBN. The NBN is a nation-building project which will allow all Australians to take advantage of an increasingly interconnected future.

Despite claims by those opposite that the carbon price would have an ‘unimaginable’ impact on prices, the implementation has occurred as modelling predicted. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that the Consumer Price Index rose by 1.4 per cent in the three months to September—compared to a 3.8 per cent increase when the coalition’s GST came into effect in the September quarter of 2000. The opposition’s climate action spokesman, Mr Hunt, has continued with the scare campaign by claiming the September quarter CPI increase was largely due to higher electricity prices. In fact, higher electricity prices contributed 0.3 percentage points of the 1.4 per cent CPI increase, less than a quarter of the CPI rise—and, of course, not all of this was due to the carbon price.

Treasury modelling shows the impact of the carbon price on household electricity bills averages around $3.30 per week—and the Gillard government is providing households $10.10 a week on average. The clean-energy future program is cutting pollution, investing in clean energy and protecting the environment by putting a price on carbon—without a wrecking ball, a python or a missing Whyalla in sight!

The new schoolkids bonus, which replaces the education tax refund, supports families at a rate of more than $400 for each child in primary school and more than $800 for each child in high school from 1 January 2013. This will make life so much easier for parents to meet the education costs of their children. We on this side understand the role that education plays in improving outcomes for our next generation. Despite the importance of this payment to Australian families, the Shadow Treasurer, Mr Hockey, has confirmed that a coalition government would scrap the schoolkids bonus. That is right: they would scrap the schoolkids bonus; they would slap in the face thousands of parents of school-age children.

The government have also delivered greater justice for Australia’s lowest paid workers in a number of sectors. The government have issued new guidelines that will ensure cleaners working for government agencies will have their wages and conditions protected; we have delivered greater rights and protections for vulnerable textile, clothing and footwear outworkers; we are securing the future of shipping in Australia with greater opportunities for Australian seafarers and an increased number of Australian flagged vessels; and we have delivered a new road safety remuneration system for Australian trucking.

The Gillard government is committed to delivering 100 per cent of our share of the historic Fair Work Australia increases for social and community services workers. SACS workers will receive pay rises of between 23 and 45 per cent in nine instalments from December this year. This means that 150,000 of Australia’s lowest paid workers, 120,000 of them women, who have been underpaid for years will finally get fair recompense for the work they do. And who has done that? We have done that—not those on the other side but people on this side.

The Gillard government is investing $1 billion to deliver the first stage of a National Disability Insurance Scheme, beginning from July next year. The first stage will benefit about 20,000 people in five locations across the country, including in my home state of Tasmania. We are also working closely with state and territory governments and people with disability and their advocates to work out key issues such as assessment and eligibility. This will help prepare us as we work to make an NDIS a reality for all Australians. This is a vital program for all Australians, in particular those with disability, their families and carers.

In the minute or so that I have left, I would like to point out that the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook shows the Gillard government is on track to return the budget to surplus, and it shows again that the fundamentals of the Australian economy are strong, despite global turmoil. The responsible savings we have made since we were elected have also made room for true Labor reforms like the biggest increase to the age pension and paid parental leave. We are returning the budget to surplus despite global turbulence ripping almost $22 billion from government revenues. The ongoing tough times abroad reinforce that there is not a country in the world you would rather be in than Australia—something we can all be extremely proud of.

We have continued to find savings in a balanced and responsible way, doing everything we can to protect low- and middle-income families and the community’s most vulnerable. The economic disturbances mean that we will have to find substantial savings to return the budget to surplus, but we remain committed to doing just that, because it is our best defence against global economic turbulence. Those on the other side know that. This government has delivered solid growth, low unemployment, strong investment and it has contained inflation—showing that our economy stands tall in the face of global economic challenges.