The Gillard Government

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Defence Materiel) (15:20): Mr Speaker, I congratulate you on your election as Speaker today.

I have to say the thing I like about the Leader of the Opposition is that you always know what he is going to say in these debates. He is a bit like McDonald’s: wherever you go to McDonald’s, you always know it is going to be the same. Whether it is Manuka McDonald’s, Bankstown McDonald’s in my electorate or the Caloundra McDonald’s in the Speaker’s electorate, you always know what you are going to get. A Big Mac always tastes the same. The thickshake always tastes the same. The fries always taste the same. It is a bit like that with the speeches of the Leader of the Opposition. Just like McDonald’s, they are always cheap and nasty, and if you swallow too much of it then you get that negative feeling in the pit of your stomach. He is the Ronald McDonald of Australian politics: just cheap and nasty insults, and if you hear too much of him then you might just throw up. There is nothing positive, no ideas, no plan for Australia’s future—just oppose everything that moves. It is just rancid, unrelenting negativity. Imagine what would happen if one day he said yes to something. Streamers would fall from the public gallery, confetti would rain in this place, a mariachi band would come from the press gallery, and I would probably have to order some Super Hornets to fly over Canberra to celebrate the great event. But the chances of that happening are not very high.

He is so negative that he even opposes a mining tax that the big miners support. He is so negative that now he opposes not only this government’s policies but his own policies. He has a policy of cutting carbon emissions by five per cent by 2020, and a couple of months ago, when he was in Queensland, he said that policy is crazy. So he is so negative now that he thinks his own policies are crazy. His policy on asylum seekers is to place asylum seekers in Nauru. There is legislation before this parliament that would allow him to do that if he ever became Prime Minister, and he is opposing that. So he opposes not just government policy but now even his own policies.

He is so negative, Mr Speaker, that he even opposed you and issued an order that no-one from the coalition should stand for the position of Speaker, and he had no-one on that side of politics support your nomination or your election as Speaker of this parliament. He is that negative. He opposes our policies, he opposes his own policies and he even opposes you.

The Leader of the Opposition comes here and talks about the importance of good policy. I will tell you what good policy is: good policy is making sure that we stop Australia going into recession, and good policy is making sure that we do not have an unemployment rate such as you find in the United States or in Europe, of 10 or 20 per cent. It is about making sure you do not have a million people on a dole queue and all the strife that you see in other parts of the world. That did not happen here in Australia, because of the action that this government took, because we made the right economic decisions with the right policies—policies that were opposed by the Liberal Party and by the National Party and criticised by them all along the way. That is the difference that a Labor government makes.

There are five pillars that this country is built on, and each of them has been built by the Australian Labor Party, and this government is building on each and every one of them. The first pillar is the US alliance. Our alliance with the United States might have been signed by a Liberal Prime Minister, but it was built by a Labor one. Prime Minister John Curtin forged it in the darkest days of World War II. This relationship not only turned the tide of war in the Pacific but has underpinned Australia’s security ever since. It was built by the Labor Party, and it is this government that is building on that with the announcement that we made with the President of the United States here only a week ago.

The second pillar that modern Australia is built on is our open and competitive economy, responsible for more than 20 years of uninterrupted economic growth built by the Hawke government and the Keating government. They are the ones who floated the dollar, opened our banks to competition, cut tariffs, developed competition policy and introduced superannuation for the first time for all Australian workers. It is this government that is building on that pillar. We are doing that by rolling out the NBN, by introducing a price on carbon and by increasing the superannuation that all Australian workers will receive from nine per cent—where the Howard government chose not to implement what the Keating government had promised—to 12 per cent. This makes sure that the average Australian worker out there—someone who is 30 now and on 50 grand a year—will have an extra $108,000 in their pocket when they retire.

The third pillar on which Australia is built is fair industrial relations. This is the party that helped to establish workers compensation, the old age pension and the disability pension, and we are building on that by getting rid of one of the worst pieces of legislation ever introduced into this parliament, Work Choices. The member for Mayo knows it well because he is the architect of it. He is the guy who drafted it. He is Dr Frankenstein, the man who created the monster that killed his own boss. We are the party that is building on that pillar, building a fairer workplace by getting rid of Work Choices and introducing the Fair Work Act.

Mr Briggs: It’s going very well!

The SPEAKER: I remind the honourable member for Mayo that he is under warning.

Mr CLARE: The fourth pillar on which modern Australia is built is access to health care. The Whitlam and Hawke governments built the Medicare system, and every step of the way the Liberal Party tried to destroy it. They opposed it when Fraser was in opposition, and then when Fraser got in they got rid of Medibank. We introduced Medicare under the Hawke government. They opposed it at every election ever since. It is this government that is building access to health care, and we are doing it now, building on that pillar. We have increased hospital funding by 50 per cent and provided the biggest increase in mental health funding in Australia’s history, and we are now developing the National Disability Insurance Scheme that is underway.

The fifth pillar on which Australia is built, of course, is an education system that gives access to everyone. The Whitlam government made university available for many Australians for whom it would never have been available before. During the Hawke and Keating governments, the number of people that finished high school jumped dramatically, from the 50s to the 70s per cent. It is this government that is building on that as well by making sure that more people get access to university and more people finish school, increasing participation rates at school from 75 per cent to 90 per cent. What drove all of these Labor governments in the past are the same things that drive the men and women behind me now. It is the purpose that has always driven the Labor Party to improve the lives of ordinary working people and to build a stronger society, a stronger economy and a fairer country. That is what this Labor government is about. That is what Labor governments have always been about.

The Leader of the Opposition, in his constant stream of bile and unrelenting negativity, talks about policies. Maybe we need to talk about not just better policies but better judgment. In the Australian last month the Leader of the Opposition said:

Napoleon said that one quality he wanted in his generals was luck. Well, I think the one quality the public want in their Prime Ministers is judgment.

Too right. The problem is that the Leader of the Opposition does not have any. In particular, he does not have any economic judgment. Remember: this is the bloke who in his first big speech on economics a few years ago said that the stimulus that stopped us from going into recession ‘wasn’t necessary’. This is the bloke who said Work Choices was ‘one of the greatest achievements of the Howard government’. This is the bloke who made Barnaby Joyce his chief financial adviser. It is like putting Homer Simpson in charge of the nuclear power plant. And this is the bloke who still opposes the mining tax even though BHP and the other big miners support it. His economic judgment is worse than that of Herbert Hoover. At least Herbert Hoover was awake. At least Herbert Hoover was not asleep when he made the worst economic decisions that caused the Great Depression. When the greatest economic crisis since the Depression hit, where was the Leader of the Opposition? He was not on this side of the chamber voting for the stimulus that stopped a recession. He was not on that side of the chamber voting against it, which would have caused a recession. He was upstairs in his room asleep, sleeping through not one division but five. He topped it this week by almost sleeping through 32 divisions. As the Leader of the House said, he only woke up to vote no and that is all he did.

His judgment on other things is no better. Look at health and education. When he was Minister for Health and Ageing, he ripped $1 billion out of our hospital system. What was his promise on education at the last election? He promised to rip $2 billion out of education. His personal judgment is not much better either. Remember: this is the bloke who told people to donate to the Liberal Party during the Queensland floods instead of donating money to help the people of Queensland. Remember: this is the bloke who attacked Bernie Banton during the 2007 election just weeks before he died of asbestosis. This is the bloke who tried to stop an expectant father from being at the birth of his own child only a couple of months ago. The Leader of the National Party may not like it, but he knows it is true and he must pose in his own mind—like the member for North Sydney, a man who did not agree with that action—what sort of a man would try to stop another man from being at the birth of his child.

The problem that the Leader of the Opposition has as well is he also stands for nothing. Remember John Howard used to say, ‘Love me or loathe me, at least you know where I stand.’ You cannot say that about this Leader of the Opposition because he flips and he flops. He changes his position on everything. One minute climate change is crap; the next minute it is real. One minute he has a policy that says he will cut it by five per cent; the next minute he says that is crazy. One minute he says Work Choices is one of the greatest achievements of the Howard government; the next minute he says it is dead and buried. Apparently, one of the Leader of the Opposition’s favourite quotes is from Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great American essayist. Emerson said:

… consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

His former boss John Hewson used to say of the Leader of the Opposition that he was all over the place—black one day, white the next. He got that right. The Leader of the Opposition said that superannuation is a con job 15 years ago. Now he says he is going to support it. He said paid parental leave would only happen over his dead body. Remember that one! Now he says he has his own scheme. He bags the Australian economy here in this place and then he goes to London and says that we are the envy of the world. He calls on the Australian government to establish the Nauru solution and then when we put legislation in that would allow him to do that he votes against that too.

How has this disciple of John Howard ended up opposing the policies of John Howard? Because he is a man who does not believe in anything. When you do not believe in anything you get things wrong. He has come into this place and said that the carbon price would be the death of the coal industry. He said the mining resource rent tax would kill the mining boom stone dead. Last time I was here I reminded the House that one in six members of the opposition have bought shares in coal and resource companies over the last few months since we made that announcement. I have had the Stasi in my office check. There is a sudden silence from the opposition about buying shares. I wonder how that happened. (Time expired)