MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
Thursday, 21 October 2010
Mr Clare((Blaxland) (Minister for Defence Materiel) (3:46 PM) —The Leader of the Opposition says this is about trust. We welcome this debate, because the Leader of the Opposition has form when it comes to trust. We all remember the 7.30 Report, where the Leader of the Opposition said you cannot trust anything he says unless it is written down.
Mr Abbott interjecting—
Mr Clare —You can’t trust anything that you say unless you’ve written it down. We will go to the 7.30 Report, and remember the question that Kerry O’Brien asked you, Leader of the Opposition. I think all members of the Australian public will remember what you said. Just in case anyone does not remember, this is what the Leader of the Opposition said:
Well, again Kerry, I know politicians are gonna be judged on everything they say, but sometimes, in the heat of discussion, you go a little bit further than you would if it was an absolutely calm, considered, prepared, scripted remark, which is one of the reasons why the statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth is those carefully prepared scripted remarks.
That is what the Leader of the Opposition said. When he was queried on his commitment that Work Choices was dead, buried and cremated, he went to an extra effort to prove it. That is why, on the Neil Mitchell program—and the Leader of the Opposition will remember this well—he wrote it down: ‘dead, buried and cremated’. But now it seems that you cannot even trust what he says, even if it is written down, because before the body is even cold, the opposition are digging it up—it is the zombie policy that you just cannot kill.
During the election we remember that the opposition said they would do nothing when it came to the Fair Work Act—they would make no changes to the legislation. But here is what the member for Moncrieff said afterwards:
We have been elected many times before embracing small business exceptions for unfair dismissal and we should be doing everything we can to be responsive to small business needs.
Senator Williams said:
I’ve always believed that small business should be exempt from wrongful dismissal …
The member for Canning said:
In my own electorate people are saying to us, ‘Can you have a look at this? This is crazy’. I plan to report back to the partyroom and the policy review …
The member for Mayo, one of the architects of Work Choices, said:
We made a mistake with Work Choices … but it’s an important time to go back and have a look at what we took at the election and looking at our economic reform over the next three years.
Only two weeks ago the Leader of the Opposition is on record as saying:
We absolutely stand by the policy we took to the election and we have no intention, not the slightest intention, not the nearest skerrick of a hint of a plan to do anything that might resemble the policy of the last days of the Howard government.
But in the Australian today we see the shadow minister for finance with a shovel, digging Work Choices back up, saying that he will ‘look at issues such as unfair dismissal laws and the reinstatement of individual contracts’. Before the election they said the Fair Work Act should be given a chance. I remember very clearly the opposition leader saying that industry—and remember, this is an MPI about industry—wanted certainty. Now, only a couple of months after the election, we are told in the Australian today that the shadow minister for finance believes that the Fair Work Act is ‘unravelling’. So, if you want to talk about trust—and the Leader of the Opposition has said that this is a debate about trust—then the government is very happy to.
The opposition told us during the election that their costings were audited by the company WHK Howarth. I remember the shadow Treasurer saying:
… we have the fifth-biggest accounting firm in Australia auditing our books and certifying in law that our numbers are accurate …
What do we find now? We find that those books were not audited at all. A letter, signed by the Director of the Liberal Party, Mr Brian Loughnane, said that they do ‘not constitute an audit … or a review in accordance with Australian auditing standards’. So, before the election, the Liberal Party says their books were audited; after the election—‘Well, not exactly; the books weren’t exactly audited.’ And what was the consequence of that? After the election the Independents asked to see the books, asked Treasury to examine the numbers, and we found an $11 billion black hole. So, if you want to talk about trust, whether it is Work Choices or whether it is the costings that you take to the Australian people when you seek their vote to form a government, then we are very happy to talk about trust.
Let us talk about what happened after the election. We all remember here the group hug. Remember the Leader of the House and the Manager of Opposition Business signing up to a document committing this parliament to parliamentary reform, and in particular the pairing of the Speaker? Signed one week; thrown in the bin the next. It was thrown in the bin only because the opposition did not get their way.
If you want to talk about trust, if you want to talk about keeping commitments, we can talk about it all day, because every day in this place the opposition seem to be changing their position on something. Yesterday it was the structural separation of Telstra. Before the election, the member for Casey said the coalition were against the structural separation of Telstra. Now, today and yesterday, the member for Wentworth tells us that they are in support of it—that he supports structural separation, the industry supported structural separation and he believes Telstra also supported structural separation. He says in the Australian:
The case for structural separation is a very compelling one …
That is not exactly consistent with what the opposition said before the election, so perhaps the member for Wentworth, the shadow minister for communications, has to explain whether the coalition’s policy has changed again since the election or whether it is just his position which has changed—whether his position is out of kilter with that of the coalition, a little like his position on climate change.
Or take water policy. The opposition said before the election that they would sign up to the draft water plan. Now they say that they are opposed to the whole thing. On defence, a few weeks ago the shadow minister for defence said there should be more troops in Afghanistan and there should be tanks. He said there should be helicopters. Now there has been another backflip. Last week, on radio, the shadow minister for defence had to make this humiliating backdown:
I’m not demanding tanks … any more. I have changed to agree with what Abbott said.
So, whether it is defence, whether it is water or whether it is the structural separation, we see a commitment one day and a change of position the next. So, if you want to talk about trust, if you want to talk about commitments, we can talk about that.
The opposition have now got to the point where they are attacking each other. We saw that on display on the doors today. The shadow Treasurer was saying that we should remove the RBA’s independence and re-regulate interest rates. When asked about this by the media this morning, the member for Canning had this to say:
This is one of their lunatic fringe type ideas but that’s the problem …
‘That problem’s for the Gillard government now.’ There you go. That is what their own side thinks of their ideas. You have the member for Canning criticising the shadow Treasurer’s position.
Ms Julie Bishop —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. As the member well knows, there has been a personal explanation—indeed, two personal explanations—by the member for Canning, and I ask that the member at the table not continue with the lie that the member for Canning was referring to anyone other than the Greens.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—I think it is important to recognise that the honourable member for Canning did in fact make a personal explanation, and I ask the minister to be cognisant of that fact as he proceeds with his contribution.
Mr Clare —This MPI is also about commitments. Well, when the global recession hit, when the greatest economic crisis in 75 years hit, we made a commitment. We made a commitment to keep Australia working. That is why we stimulated the economy, and we did it at a time when the other side opposed us. The action that we took protected the jobs of 200,000 Australians and kept this economy out of recession. The eminent economics professor, Professor Joseph Stiglitz, said this about the stimulus package:
I did actually study quite a bit the Australian package, and my impression was that it was the best—one of the best-designed of all the advanced industrial countries.
As a result, unemployment in Australia today—for which we all should be thankful—is 5.1 per cent. In America, unemployment is 9.6 per cent. In Europe, it is 10.1 per cent. Go back three years to when this government was first elected, in November 2007. Unemployment in Australia and unemployment in the United States were both under five per cent. Now, unemployment here is 5.1 per cent and unemployment in the United States is double, proof of the action that the government have taken and the commitment that we made to keep Australia working.
The Leader of the Opposition in this debate had something to say about the mining resource rent tax. The facts on this are pretty clear. We have said all along that we will credit existing and scheduled increases in royalties. We said that the Policy Transition Group will discuss with relevant companies how this might best occur, ensuring long-term certainty for industry. We are not going to write blank cheques; that is the responsible thing to do. We should not sign taxpayers up for things that state governments decide to do, but let us not forget what the MRRT will go towards: tax cuts for 700,000 Australian businesses, $6 billion that will be invested in infrastructure for regional communities and an increase in superannuation for every working Australian.
What does this mean? It means that, if you have constituents in your electorates—and I am sure you do—who are 30 years old and on an average wage, they are going to have an extra $108,000 in their superannuation when they retire. I ask some of the new members here to consider this as you are asked to vote on legislation about increasing the superannuation guarantee from nine per cent to 12 per cent, because, for a 30-year-old on an average wage, it is going to mean more money in their pocket when they retire and will make an easier, more secure retirement for them—an extra $108,000 in their pocket when they retire.
The word is that the Liberal Party are planning to vote against this. That would be very, very disappointing. It would be a repeat of what happened in the past, 20 years ago, when we did this. The Liberal Party voted against it then. They said that it was ‘little short of lunacy’. They said it would kill small business and destroy jobs. What happened? Superannuation proved to be one of the most important economic reforms of the last century. It spawned a whole new industry that now employs 60,000 people and manages a trillion dollars in managed funds. It also helped to get us through the global recession. When Australian industry could not get access to funds overseas, it was our superannuation that saved them, allowing them to raise $90 billion. The point is this: the Liberal Party was wrong two decades ago; do not let the Liberal Party be wrong on this again. This is an important reform to the Australian economy and it will be important to the people that you represent.
This is a debate that has been framed by the Leader of the Opposition as being about commitments and about trust. Well, if you want to have a debate about trust and commitments today, tomorrow or for the next few years, we are very happy to have that debate, because from all accounts the opposition cannot seem to keep a commitment from one day to the next, even if the Leader of the Opposition writes it down. The Leader of the Opposition made a written commitment at a radio station to scrap Work Choices. He said it was ‘dead, buried and cremated’, but now it seems like the zombie policy that you just cannot kill.
Mr Briggs interjecting—
Mr Clare —It is good to see the architect has arrived in the chamber. It is good to see Dr Frankenstein here—the man who created the monster that killed his boss. It is good to see him here again.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—Order! The minister ought to be aware that under the standing orders it is inappropriate to refer to other honourable members in that way.
Mr Clare —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. This is a debate about trust and commitment. The Leader of the Opposition has told us that you cannot trust anything he says unless it is written down. We thought, ‘At least if he writes it down, we will know that we can trust it.’ But he wrote down that Work Choices was dead, and now all we see in the paper is that that is not good enough either. Even if it is written down, you cannot trust a thing that the Leader of the Opposition says.