Rudd Government

I was surprised that the opposition consider that the matter of public importance that the Australian parliament should debate today is the history of the last 25 years. I would have thought that a recitation of history would be best placed somewhere else. What it shows is that the opposition have given up the policy debate and they just want to look backwards. Well, if you want to look backwards, if you want to have a look at the last 25 years, then let us have a look at Paul Kelly’s book. At page 266, he says:

The origins of the economic model that defined Australia’s long expansion from 1991 to 2008 belong with Hawke and Keating. John Howard did not create the model; he adapted the model. Its creation lay with Hawke and Keating in the post-1983 reform era and this creation is one of Labor’s epic monuments.

What Kelly is talking about there are things like universal superannuation, floating the dollar, deregulating the financial sector, competition policy and reducing tariffs.
To be fair, the Howard government did have its own reform agenda-though we did not agree with most of it. Kelly’s major criticism in his book is a criticism of the Howard government’s failure to tackle reform in its last term. At page 268 he says:

Howard’s most serious economic failure [was] his refusal to maximise the boom year revenues in the cause of long-run reform and productivity gains.

At page 4 he says:

Howard had failed to value sufficiently investment in education and in human capital; he had been too slow in responding to global warming and too reluctant to better coordinate infrastructure investment.

There are three things there: education, climate change and infrastructure investment. It was the failure of the Howard government to invest in skills and infrastructure that caused 10 interest rate rises in a row because of capacity constraints in the economy. And it was the failure of the Howard government to do anything about climate change and its overzealousness when it came to reform in workplace relations that were the reasons that it was ultimately thrown out. It is these three areas-education, climate change and infrastructure-which form the cornerstone of the reforming agenda of this government.

Let us take them in that order. First, climate change. This is one of the biggest reforms that any government will embark upon in the next decade. It is certainly the biggest issue that the 42nd Parliament of Australia has to grapple with. It has been developed over the last 18 months. And the opposition still do not have a position on it, not because they do not have a view but because they have 55 different views. I feel sorry, in a sense, for the Leader of the Opposition.

Well, I do. He has a tougher job than Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. It will be easier to get the countries of the world to agree on climate change than it will the Liberal party room. That is the problem that he has. They voted against the climate change legislation a couple of weeks ago because to do otherwise would have meant that the climate change sceptics would have attacked him in the party room and threatened his leadership. And they will vote for the same legislation when it comes back in a few months time because they are worried about a double dissolution. It has nothing to do with policy. It has nothing to do with long-term reform. It has nothing to do with the environment. It has nothing to do with the economy. It is all about saving the Leader of the Opposition.

Let us look at the second issue that Paul Kelly criticises the Howard government for, which is education. He says that the Howard government failed to invest sufficiently in education. Over the next four years this government will invest $62 billion in school education. That is double the amount that was spent on school education in the previous four years. Not just are we building infrastructure; we are building skills. And this is the key point here. This is what is going to drive the reform and drive productivity-the sort of productivity that Paul Kelly was talking about in his book. The sorts of things that I am talking about here are universal access to education, universal access to preschool for children aged four, 90 per cent of students finishing high school by 2015, halving the number of adults without a certificate III qualification or higher by 2020, increasing the number of 25- to 34-year-olds with a university degree to 40 per cent by 2025 and making sure that 20 per cent of university students come from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds by 2020. These are bold objectives and they are needed to reform the economy. They are needed to drive the sort of productivity that Paul Kelly talks about in his book.

The third issue of reform that he says the Howard government failed to deliver on was the coordination of infrastructure investment. How does what the Howard government did compare with what this government is doing? As soon as we came to office we appointed an infrastructure minister-the first time an infrastructure minister had been appointed. Within a few months we set up Infrastructure Australia, a new national body whose job it is to identify and implement projects that will benefit the whole Australian economy, not just a few marginal seats. And anyone who knows how the Australian economy operates knows just how important investment in our cities is. Seventy per cent of Australians live in our cities. They are responsible for about 80 per cent of economic development. But they were ignored by the Howard government. Cities are the engine room of our economy, which is why we are investing in infrastructure in our cities. That is why they form part of this government’s reform agenda.

How does all of that compare with the reform agenda that is being proposed by those opposite? We did not hear anything about that. We did not hear anything of that from the member for Warringah today. There was nothing on education, nothing on climate change and nothing on infrastructure. That is the great hypocrisy of this debate. We are apparently being criticised for not having a reform agenda when none exists on the other side. The only big reforms that the opposition have offered up are a tax on cigarettes and a discarded tax cut on fuel excise. Oh, and there is one more: a secret plan for a flat tax. Now, remember this one. Back in the eighties, Joh Bjelke-Petersen had this plan to become prime minister and he campaigned on a flat tax. And in the nineties we had Pauline Hanson here and she was campaigning for a flat tax. Now, in the 21st century, the Leader of the Opposition has a secret plan with a secret report, commissioned last year and due to be finalised at the end of last year by Henry Ergas, which includes a flat tax. The policy love child of Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Pauline Hanson is alive and well and living in the bottom drawer of Malcolm Turnbull’s desk.

I know it is a scary thought, member for Fowler, but we know it exists. We know that that is the only policy, the only reform agenda, that exists on the other side of the House-that plus an ongoing love affair with Work Choices.

Paul Kelly is right. The Howard government in its final term failed to reform, and now this opposition are frustrating this government’s efforts for reform. They failed to reform in the areas of education, infrastructure and climate change and now they are frustrating our attempts to reform. They are frustrating our attempts to implement a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. They are frustrating our attempts to implement the stimulus package and they are opposing the Education Revolution. All they have left is a love affair with Work Choices and a flat tax. Next time you bring an MPI to this chamber, before you bring an MPI about an apparent failure by the government to have a reform agenda, get one of your own.