Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011; Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2010-2011 - Second Reading

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (12.21 pm)—Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2010-2011 are more proof of everything that is wrong with the Labor government’s ability to manage the economy. They include wasteful spending and poor management leading to structural deficits which will result in families being unfairly hit by higher costs of living.

This Labor government stress that they are helping workers and assisting families and—wait for it—regional Australians. Nothing could be further from the truth. They do nothing of the sort. 

Since coming to power in 2007 Labor has been a government of waste, a government of spending—so much so that it has forfeited the $20 billion surplus it inherited from the fiscally responsible Howard-Vaile coalition as well as two funds that were established for the nation’s future. We have another coalition on the Treasury benches now. We have Labor in government, but the Greens are in power. Make no mistake about it: come 1 July, just 126 days away, when the Greens take control of the Senate, every piece of legislation will have a Greens tinge to it. This is why Labor, and particularly the Prime Minister, is pushing so hard for a carbon tax, a carbon tax in relation to which the same Prime Minister said pre-election—the day before, in fact—‘I rule out a carbon tax.’ Now, according to the Prime Minister, Australia cannot do without a carbon tax. It is good for business, she says. It is only going to hurt businesses, because every one of their inputs will have its price pushed up by having this carbon tax in place. It is going to push up petrol prices. In fact, the carbon tax— 

Mr Adams—What about climate change? We don’t have to worry about it? 

Mr McCORMACK—I can hear the member opposite deride me for saying this, but a carbon tax should really be renamed an ‘electricity tax’, because that is what it is. It is just going to push the price of electricity up. I was most interested at the luncheon yesterday for the Mongolian Prime Minister, Sukhbaatar Batbold, who mentioned in his speech that he had visited the Hunter Valley coalmines, the same coalmines that this Labor government with the Greens tinge so desperately want to stop operating. They do not want coalmines; it is not in their interests. All they want to do is have a carbon tax foisted upon the families, the businesses and the people of Australia. 

This government always say and maintain that they are there for a fair go for the battlers, but they are proving anything of the sort. How can they say that they are there to give everyone a fair go when all they are doing is increasing debt? They are borrowing $100 million every day, and we are going to be left saddled with that debt— our grandchildren are going to be left saddled with that debt, particularly with the rollout of the NBN. A National Broadband Network, I might add, is not going to be available for towns with fewer than 1,000 premises—and there are many of those in my electorate of Riverina; there are many of those right across regional Australia. 

Mr Adams—They’ll get wireless! 

Mr McCORMACK—He says, ‘Get wireless.’ Indeed, America is rolling out a wonderful wireless network. Ninety-eight per cent of Americans are going to have access to that high-speed internet wireless network. If it is good enough for 98 per cent of Americans to have it—I think at a cost of $17 billion—then surely it would be good enough for Australia, which is roughly the same size as mainland USA. As I said, 98 per cent of Americans are going to have access to it, but here in Australia not quite that many—in fact, far fewer—are going to have access to Australia’s expensive NBN. All it is going to do is saddle our grandchildren with a huge cost that they will be struggling to meet. Hopefully, future coalition governments—and, hopefully, that will not be too far away —because we are fiscally responsible, will be able to service that debt, because we will have to. 

Another classic example of Labor’s waste is the Building the Education Revolution, which has brought about so much heartache and so much debt for the Treasury. 

Ms Rowland interjecting— 

Mr McCORMACK—It is a great idea in principle, and your electorate may well have benefited from it. There certainly have been places in my electorate—and Ungarie is a great example—that got basically a tin shack and it cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. The acronym BER means Building the Education Revolution, but in some parts of my electorate it stood for ‘builder’s early retirement’ fund because that is what it was. There was so much waste and mismanagement. A classic case was at Hillston, where they already had the steel girders up and it cost $1 million to put the bricks up. Quite frankly, it was a complete waste of money. As I said, it is a good idea in principle. There have been so many fanciful projects that are thought up in some prime ministerial thought bubble or some Labor caucus focus group. They have good ideas but they are not actually able to roll them out in an economic, sensible and practical way, which is what most everyday Australians have to do. 

I have to reiterate that not many of those on the Labor side have run businesses—a few, but not many, and certainly not as many as on our side of the chamber. If you run a business you cannot spend more money than you bring in. If you do, you are going to have to pay it back. The trouble with Labor is that someone will have to pay it back but it is going to be the Australian public who have to pay it back. It is going to be a fiscally responsible Liberal-Nationals government which will end up paying it back. With power bills set to rise, petrol going up and everyday costs of living, the pressures are just enormous. 

Yesterday we heard that this Labor government cannot even find $5 million—it cannot even write a cheque for $5 million—to provide the Australian War Memorial with the additional funding it requires to keep its doors open. I think that this might be some way of forcing people to pay admission. I think that is the modus operandi here. That is the ulterior motive. But to not be able to find $5 million in a budget of $350 billion to me is quite extraordinary. The War Memorial stands as a shrine to our fallen, our heroes, our bravest of the brave. If the War Memorial needs $5 million the War Memorial should receive $5 million. Just write the cheque, put it in the post or, better still, go down and present it to General Cosgrove, the Chairman of the Council of the Australian War Memorial. There should be no question about this. The Prime Minister says this is the year of decision and delivery. She has got the Ds right, but it should really be ‘debt and delay’. Just think about that. Everything with this government is about debt. Everything is about delay—putting it off to a review committee or putting it off to a focus group. It is unbelievable. If the War Memorial requires $5 million in additional funding, I say, ‘Write the cheque.’ This is a no-brainer. It should not even be questioned. 

We also see that we have another rollout of tenders for buybacks in the Murray-Darling Basin. That was announced by the water minister after the interim findings from the inquiry by the Standing Committee on Regional Australia into the impact—how this is going to hurt the social and economic welfare of the people who live in the basin. 

The chair, the Independent member for New England, Tony Windsor, announced three interim findings. The very first one was about putting more strategic buybacks in place and reducing that Swiss cheese effect. The second one was about putting in place measures to help the taxation needs of the irrigation corporations, because if they were to put some of the infrastructure in place they would be slugged with a huge tax bill, which of course nobody wants. The third finding was to focus on not wasting water in overbank flooding of wetlands and icon sites which require environmental watering. 

I go back to the first finding, relating to the Swiss cheese effect of the small strategic buybacks. The finding came about because we were discovering that too many farmers were being forced to sell their water because of debt pressures, and here we had stranded assets—you would see a patch of green and then three patches of brown. A lot of the irrigation companies were worried that they would not be able to service their customers because they had a bare paddock here and a rice paddy there. Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to continue my remarks later. 

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

Cristy Houghton