May 10, 2011

Suspension of standing orders

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (15:14): I rise to reject this proposed suspension of standing orders moved today by the Leader of the Opposition. I state to the House that today we have made a little bit of history, because today is the budget day. Today is the day when, for every year since Federation, the opposition have come into this chamber and raised questions about the macro economy; they have raised questions about employment settings; they have raised questions about spending; they have raised questions about revenue; and they have raised questions about the fiscal state of the economy. But we have seen today for the first time in our history an opposition come into this chamber on budget day and not ask a single question about the economy. They have abandoned the debate about the economic future of this nation, and it is not surprising, because essentially they have nothing to say about the future of this country. They regard the economy as something boring. How do we know that? Because Peter Costello in his book nailed the Leader of the Opposition when he said that the Leader of the Opposition was—

The SPEAKER: Order! The Leader of the House will resume his seat. The Leader of the Opposition on a point of order.

Mr Abbott: Reluctantly, Mr Speaker. I would imagine that this is way outside the standing orders. It has nothing to do with the subject matter of the suspension and it has nothing to do with why it is urgent.

The SPEAKER: Order! The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. I will take a little bit of time and I apologise to the Leader of the House. I can tell you that this is the last suspension of standing and sessional orders where I will allow the purpose of that suspension to be the debate. From now on I will draw both the proposer and the seconder back. On that basis, that is why the Leader of the House is in order.

Mr ALBANESE: Hypocrisy, thy name is Abbott!

Honourable members interjecting—

The SPEAKER: Order!

Mr ALBANESE: They come in here and they refuse to debate the economy. They come in here and every day at 10 minutes to three they move a suspension, because this is the first opposition that have chosen not to even try to hold the executive to account. That is the purpose of question time. The purpose is to come in here and ask questions of the executive about the functioning of the government. But those opposite have given up on that. Perhaps Play School was not on today, because the Leader of the Opposition was 10 minutes late in his motion for suspension. And they are not fair dinkum, because they did not even ask for leave to move a motion. They just went straight to the moving of a suspension and, then, between the mover and the seconder of the motion, neither of them addressed why the suspension should occur.

There are two fundamental reasons that the suspension should not occur. The first is that today is budget day. Today is the day when Australians want to know about the economic future of this country. They want to know about employment settings and they want to know about how the economy will be set for this year and years into the future. They want to debate those issues.

Mr Morrison interjecting—

The SPEAKER: The member for Cook.

Mr ALBANESE: The second reason it should be rejected is that the member for Cook has lodged an MPI about this very issue. So, straight after question time today we will have a debate on this issue and the member for Cook will have 15 minutes to add to his five minutes and the minister will be responding to that MPI debate.

But those opposite will do anything rather than debate the economic future of this country. And it is not surprising, as we know from last year’s budget reply, where they handballed off the costings of their budget response from the Leader of the Opposition to the shadow Treasurer to the shadow finance minister and to that great moment with the staffer. I wonder if that staffer is still around. I suspect that might be one fewer person employed by the those opposite after that event.

The Leader of the Opposition has a big challenge on Thursday night, which is to actually put forward an alternative strategy on the economy—put it forward without the $11 billion black hole that was in their costings during the election campaign. It is extraordinary. They oppose all of the savings measures made by those on this side of the House. They did everything they could to stop savings measures in the area of health to create space for the reform of the program and the national reform of health undertaken under the leadership of the minister for health. They did everything possible to block that, but at the same time they go around the country and make promise after promise. Barely anyone on their back bench has not made a promise in my portfolio of transport, from a local road to a local railway line. But they never actually say where the money will come from.

Their fiscal credibility was blown apart after the election, and today’s performance in question time and in moving this suspension shows that they have learnt absolutely nothing when it comes to dealing with the economic future of this country. Indeed, when the government put forward our economic stimulus plan two years ago in the 2009 budget, the Leader of the Opposition said: “I think what we are going to get is massive debt and a deep recession.”

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said: “It will certainly not ward off recession.”

The fact is that our economic management of this country did prevent a recession. It did help to create 500,000 jobs. We have an unemployment rate in this country with a four in front of it—the envy of the industrialised world. We are continuing to build the infrastructure that the economy needs to run faster and smarter. Tonight’s budget will see the Treasurer continue with that good and sound economic management to deliver for the Australian public. Thursday night is the time for the Leader of the Opposition to put his money where his mouth is. They have gone round the country making promises about the inland rail line, the Pacific Highway, the Bruce Highway—it goes on and on. Will they deliver this on Thursday night? We know that last time there was an $11 billion black hole. We have to see from the opposition leader serious, credible and properly costed proposals in the budget reply on Thursday.

Let us take just one issue that has been the subject of some debate in today’s newspapers: the issue of the provision of support for pensioners to deal with the transfer to digital TV.

Dr EMERSON: They are against that.

Mr ALBANESE: The minister says that they are against that. Actually, the member for Mayo had this to say on 25 May 2009 in this House when speaking on legislation: “It is right that the government does help Australians, particularly those at the lower end of the income scale, to switch over to digital TV.”

Indeed, Senator Minchin, the mentor of the Leader of the Opposition—or one of them—had this to say in the Senate on 18 June 2009: “The coalition supports this amendment … For eligible households in Mildura, such as pensioners, this measure will provide some certainty about their capacity to access and utilise the equipment needed to view a digital picture.”

But on Sunday when asked about the government actually doing something about it, the shadow Treasurer said, ‘We wouldn’t be spending so much money.’ Does that sound familiar? We can go back to the comments by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. They were talking about us having a transfer agreement, but when it is actually real and happening it suddenly becomes bad and so they oppose. They are caught up in that.

One thing that I learnt growing up in a household with an invalid pensioner as a mum—one thing that was taught to me every budget day and every day of my life—is that it is only Labor that looks after pensioners and low-income earners, and we will see that again because those over there are only interested in looking after the entrenchment of privilege. Those opposite continue to oppose the sort of reform that has seen our economy looked after in the interests of all Australians.