Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (16:02): There is an urgent need for the government to protect the jobs of Australian workers. Workers and the families they support across the nation are hurting. They are hurting because Labor does not grasp the everyday reality of just how hard it is for long-suffering families to make ends meet.

They are hurting because Labor is persisting with its plan to impose an economy-wide carbon tax, the biggest in the world, which will push prices up across the board, especially for the everyday essentials: electricity, groceries and petrol. They are hurting because they know that, more than likely, they have to put up with a government beholden to the Greens and their radical, unrepresentative ideals until possibly later next year when the next election is due. An election cannot come soon enough. We know it. The Australian people know it. 

Labor cares more about political spin and retaining power at any cost than it does about the things which matter most to the man and woman on the street. That is palpably obvious to anyone with only the remotest interest in politics. Workers and families have every reason to be scornful of a Prime Minister who dismisses job losses such as those already announced this year from the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd, BHP, Don Smallgoods, Holden, the Macquarie Group, Manildra, Norsk Hydro, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Reckitt Benckiser, Thales, Tomago Aluminium, Toyota and Westpac and threats to 600 Alcoa workers as 'growing pains'. The best thing the government can do to protect Australian jobs is scrap the carbon tax. 

More than 4,000 Australian jobs have been lost already this year, and it is only the third week of February. Four thousand jobs are gone, and it is only the third week of the second month of the year. What a disgrace. And what is the Prime Minister's response? 'Growing pains.' Other popular terms trotted out by the Gillard apparatchiks for the fact that they have bled the nation's coffers dry and are destroying confidence and ruining prosperity are 'transitioning', 'structural readjustment' and, as we heard from the Prime Minister in question time today, 'days of change', 'days of pressure'. This is 'moving forward' the Labor way, which is code for one step forward and three steps back. 

Families have every reason to be angry about a Prime Minister whose office engages in dirty tricks such as the Australia Day affray, when what the Australian public so desperately needs is leadership—real leadership. It is a matter of trust. At the moment and for most of the four years since Labor took over, certainly for the entire time the current Prime Minister has been in the role, that is the major thing where the government has failed dismally: building trust. 

The government harps on about the coalition opposing its policies, about being negative. It is, I must say, difficult to be positive about a government which wastes taxpayers' money like there is no tomorrow, which continues to borrow money like it does not have to pay it back, ever, and which puts a higher priority on the 24-hour media cycle than it does on providing meaningful and lasting assistance to workers worried about job security—to struggling families. 

It is not the opposition's job to give carte blanche approval to a reckless and frivolous government which has no grasp of the meaning of the terms 'budget surplus' and 'fiscal responsibility'. The coalition's role is to hold the government to account, to ensure, as much as possible, that taxpayers' dollars are being prudently, responsibly and wisely spent and to show the public that we are a worthy alternative administration if and when we are given the opportunity—hopefully soon. 

We are fulfilling those objectives, admirably and competently. Mums and dads know we care about what is important to them: the cost of living, being able to afford to give their children a good education and a decent holiday, affordable interest rates to enable them to pay off their home, and job security. Workers know we are committed to ensuring they have a future. 

Small business, the engine room of the Australian economy and invariably family owned and operated, knows that the coalition has policies to provide welcome relief from the high-taxing, high-compliance, red-tape-enforcing rabble opposite. That is because we understand farms. We understand small business. Many of those on our side have run them successfully. We know what it takes to make the books balance and to work hard to keep the doors open, the paddocks cropped and the workers employed. We have the acumen, daring, entrepreneurship and vision to make things happen, to profit and to produce, which is in direct contrast to those opposite, many of whom are ex-union hacks who worked their way up through the party system. 

Getting your hands dirty in Australia used to be about rolling up your sleeves and producing something. It was about using a bit of elbow grease and sweat, not making phone calls on Australia Day to cause a commotion to gain cheap political points. Robert Menzies talked of the forgotten families. 'Black Jack' McEwen felt that nothing was more important to Australians than jobs. Let us start to do things the Menzies way and the McEwen way, not the Sussex Street way. 

When Julia Gillard gained the top job by knifing a first-term Prime Minister in the back she said Labor had lost its way. However, as Janet Albrechtsen wrote in the Australian just last Wednesday: 
The Rudd government didn't lose its way. The Labor Party lost its way, and well before Rudd became leader. 

She continued: Choosing Rudd as leader was a symptom of a deeper existential problem: the party that started out in 1891 imbued with working class values now attracts votes from urban elites who think they understand the working class because they drank VB or Tooheys at university. 
Kevin Rudd might have lost the way but, as the Nationals leader has said many times in the past, if that is so then Julia Gillard lost the map—in fact, she has lost the atlas.
Workers know how important it is to live within their means: you cannot spend more than you earn. It is a shame the government cannot adopt the same thinking. All the while, families are bearing the brunt. In my Riverina electorate there is so much despair and uncertainty among families in irrigation communities while Labor makes a mess of the Murray-Darling Basin process. Investment is on hold, real estate prices have fallen, businesses are not hiring staff, those with a job are rightly concerned and farmers, who just want to be able to do what they do best by growing food to feed this nation, do not know if they will have water in the future. Water security equals jobs in regional Australia. Water security equals food availability. Water means life. It means everything. 

Farmers are among this nation's hardest workers. They are among this nation's most unrecognised. Indeed, in this the Australian Year of the Farmer it is interesting to reflect on just how many times our Prime Minister has mentioned farmers in this the 43rd Parliament. She has talked about carbon farming, wind farms, farms damaged by the Queensland floods and even Pat Farmer, the former Liberal member for Macarthur and indefatigable Pole-to-Pole marathon runner. But how many times has the Prime Minister praised farmers and the fantastic job they do in the national interest despite the vagaries of the weather, the volatility of markets, the high Australian dollar and the requirement for them to put in more and more hours for less and less return? Not once. That is because the Prime Minister and Labor neither know nor, worse, care about farmers. 

The fact that not one Labor cabinet minister lives in regional Australia is no excuse for the government to show such contempt and complete disregard for our hardworking farmers, who are the best in the world. Workers and families throughout regional Australia and, indeed, in the western suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, many of whom are the working poor, are doing it tough, and federal Labor has not helped, is not helping and will not help these good, fair dinkum, true blue Australians with its Greens tinged policies and its unnecessary, unwanted and undemocratic carbon tax. 

This is the worst possible time to be hitting the Australian economy, our workers, our farmers and our families with the world's biggest carbon tax. With Europe in financial meltdown, uncertainty in the United States of America and our own debt and deficit levels far greater than they ought to be, now is not the time to be imposing an economy-wide carbon tax which will cost many Australians their jobs. It will not decrease the sea levels and it will not decrease the temperature. 

Every day newspapers report more job losses. A thousand domestic jobs will go from ANZ Bank, about four per cent of its local workforce. Banking is one of the most profitable sectors at present, so if it is shedding jobs at that rate you just know a carbon tax from 1 July is not appropriate. While the big companies, which Labor would probably label as 'big polluters', are cutting staff, small businesses across the country, especially in regional areas, are laying off workers—one here, two there. These cuts do not make front page news in the Australian or the Sydney Morning Herald, but they all add up. 

In reference to the economic debate, the Prime Minister said during the first question time for 2012, 'Bring it on.' Yes, bring it on—the economic debate as well as an election—and sooner rather than later, for the sake of Australian workers and families, for the sake of Australian jobs.

Cristy Houghton