Matters of Public Importance – National Interest
17 August 2006
Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (3.27 p.m.)—This is a government that has surrendered the national interest for its own political interests. What we have seen this fortnight is a government that has had an absolute shocker: bungling incompetence followed by embarrassing retreat; one humiliating withdrawal after another.
This week we have seen a modern physiological feat, a man without a backbone performing backflip after backflip after backflip: the Prime Minister—no backbone but plenty of backflips. Since the Prime Minister had his big win over the great pretender all we have seen is the great surrender: surrendering our borders, surrendering on conscience votes, surrendering on petrol prices, surrendering middle Australia, surrendering on climate change—simply surrendering our future. In fact, ever since the Prime Minister said that he was sticking around, it has been all downhill, and not just for the Treasurer.
Every day we have seen one blackflip after another—no agenda. The Prime Minister’s daily walk is really a warm-up for his daily backflip. And while this government frays at the edges, the needs of middle Australia are surrendered. Their hopes and aspirations are left out in the cold by a government more obsessed with itself than with the needs of families. It has been an extraordinary fortnight, with surrender after surrender and one embarrassing retreat after another.
We had the Prime Minister surrendering on petrol and then coming up with an on-the-run, cobbled together plan pinched from our fuels blueprint; he took some of it but not all of it. His colleagues, including Senator Boswell, went out and bucketed the plan straightaway. We saw the surrender on interest rates as we blew out of the water the government’s claim that it would keep them low. We saw an absolute surrendering and humiliation of the member for Menzies when he was given a support minister to ramp up the spin. But it is not about spin; it is about cutting the wages of Australians, giving them the choice of that or having to face the sack.
We have seen a surrender on the promise that there would be no $100,000 degrees. There are 96 degrees that cost more than that, there are five that cost more than $200,000 and one, at least, that costs more than the average mortgage. We saw an absolute surrendering on the immigration bill, when he could not even convince his own party that border surrender was in the national interest. And then we saw a surrender on parliamentary procedure because the vote was not even allowed to be held in the Senate, showing contempt for our democracy. We saw a surrender on the conscience vote for government MPs after trying to dictate a cabinet view. We have seen a surrendering of the Treasurer’s view, held also by the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, by the department of the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, if not by the minister himself, by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and others supporting a national emissions trading scheme.
They have been left grasping for an alibi since we raised that question yesterday. We have seen a retreat to the same old tactics of playing the man rather than playing the issue, promoting fear rather than hope in the community.
One of the biggest issues in the community is petrol prices. The Special Minister of State belled the cat on that. He wrote to the member for Throsby and said, ‘We think it is a pretty bad idea for the government fleet.’ It is all right to have rhetoric out there, but when it comes to real action we see that he withdrew and the member for Throsby clearly finished off, in a day, the weakness of the government’s position on petrol.
We need to look at how many Australians will benefit from this announcement. We reckon it is about three per cent. We have asked and asked and received no answer. That leaves 97 per cent of Australians getting nothing—not today, not next week, not next month and not next year. They will have to wait for a Beazley Labor government to do something about these issues.
Then we come to interest rates. The Prime Minister says, ‘I never promised interest rates would not go up.’ We all know what the government campaigned on at the last election. The ads were still on the website last week. Perhaps the person who belled the cat on that was the member for Wentworth, the man born with a silver foot in his mouth! He gave it all up. This member has never seen an interest rates hike that he did not like—how arrogant and out of touch. It might be okay campaigning with the people he goes on his yacht with, as the Liberal candidate for Wentworth, wearing their ‘Malcolm for Wentworth’ T-shirts. It is not too far to drive out to Marrickville.
The people in my electorate are struggling big time with their mortgages. I reckon the member for Wentworth will get a bit of a shock. I reckon lots of people in Kings Cross, Paddington and Woolloomooloo, fine constituents of the member for Sydney, are about to go over to the member for Wentworth. I reckon they will give him a message about whether this interest rates rise really is no big deal, which is what the member for Wentworth thinks.
We have seen from the Prime Minister arrogance, indifference and breaches of trust. This Prime Minister has changed. He has been in office simply too long. It happens. It happens in politics and in lots of forums. Last week he went for a walk with Georgie Gregan around the lake. Sometimes it is just time to move on.
We are seeing a Prime Minister who has surrendered middle Australia. We have now seen seven consecutive interest rates rises since 2002 and just this morning we found out that average home loan repayments for a first home have exploded past $2,000 a month for the first time ever. We know that Australians now are paying more as a proportion of their income on interest rates than ever before.
We know that the government was elected on the basis of a falsehood—that they would keep interest rates low. We know that interest rates are near to the point where the Housing Industry Association calls it a no-go zone because people are paying 28 per cent of their income. That has an impact on them and on the economy, but today the Treasurer is wandering around trying to shift the blame.
Blaming the states is much easier than taking it on the chin, although maybe he has given up because today we had the extraordinary feat whereby, when the Treasurer was asked a question, he said, ‘Pass. I won’t answer that.’ The Prime Minister simply does not have answers.
Mr Rudd—He loved the history question.
Mr ALBANESE—The history question which was asked by the leader was a ripper. It pointed out that interest rates in 1982 were 21.39 per cent.
Ms Macklin—Who was the Treasurer?
Mr ALBANESE—We asked who the Treasurer was. The Prime Minister has lost it, because he did not know. He did not take responsibility because he simply never does. Then we come to the issue which above any other will see us win the next election and that is the attack by this government with its extreme industrial relations legislation.
This government wants to impose on our kids American style degrees where you have to pay $100,000 and American style working conditions where you work simply for tips. We know that this Prime Minister is presiding over a system of a wages race to the bottom. The great surrender: the Prime Minister’s surrender to China and India. Let us not compete on the high-skills, high-value, high-economic growth road. Let us go the low-wage, low-skill road, a surrender of our children’s future.
What the Prime Minister is saying is that we will not try to compete with those economies on exports and our intellectual capacity; we will try to compete with them on wages. I asked the Prime Minister last week about the Tristar steering factory in my electorate, where 60 fine Australian workers, with an average service of about 25 years, are facing redundancy after 30 September. Why after 30 September? It is because that is when their enterprise bargaining agreement runs out. Instead of receiving four weeks pay per year of service, the company is waiting until 30 September and then, when the workers are made redundant, they are likely to be entitled to just 12 weeks pay instead. The fine people I have met have up to 40 years service and therefore would be entitled to 160 weeks pay. That is what we will see: as agreements run out, this government will use this extreme legislation. It is a surrender of everything that has made this country great—the idea of a fair go and the idea of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. That is what we are seeing under this government.
We have seen a complete surrender on climate change. It is just too hard for the government to make the tough decisions that are needed, for example introducing a national emissions trading system, ratifying Kyoto and being part of the global effort. There is a complete surrender on water. Today there is less water in the Murray than there has been for 100 years. And what has the government done about it?
Mr McGauran—It is a drought in 100 years.
Mr ALBANESE—It is called ‘climate change’, you fool. This government does not even acknowledge that that is the case. On these issues, the Prime Minister is running not so much a government but a farm. Without a doubt, the parrot on the farm is the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. The minister for the environment made a decision that, because one theoretical parrot every 1,000 years might be endangered, he would stop a $220 million development. But of course, once they took legal action, he surrendered. He backflipped again, which characterises this government.
The Prime Minister is a rodent according to the Liberal Party’s eminent QC, Senator George Brandis. Senator Brandis actually signed a statutory declaration that he only described the Prime Minister as a rodent, not as a lying rodent. That was his defence. So I am glad we have cleared that up. And, of course, there is one person who has been unfairly called a dog from time to time by his party colleagues.
But we have seen a transformation: the dog has become a chicken. The Treasurer used to stand up and talk about roosters over and over again. People in the gallery found that very funny, and his colleagues would chortle away: ‘Ho, ho. Isn’t it funny? The Treasurer’s talking about roosters again.’ But you do not hear that anymore. I wonder why that is. Maybe it is because he knows what roosters do to chickens! Maybe that is why the Treasurer has not uttered the word ‘rooster’. He simply will not make that statement.
So on old John Howard’s farm, we have the parrot, the rodent, and the dog that became a chicken. It is time that this government moved on. This government keeps one eye on middle Australia—or it used to—but now there is just bungling and backflipping.
Today we had questions about the Epping preselection, which saw the internal contradiction within the government—once again, it is a government obsessed with itself. We will chase the Prime Minister.
We are going to hound him and hunt him every day until the next election, because Australia needs bold, nation-building plans for the future, not the arrogance and incompetence that the Howard government keeps serving up to middle Australia as it surrenders every single day all the values that make this a great country.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.