The Future of Community Organisations

On ABC Radio National last night, I spoke with Waleed Aly about joining, volunteering, the health of the Country Women’s Association, and my book Disconnected. The other guest was Jennie Hill, Queensland President, Country Women's Association. You can listen to the conversation here or here.

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Chatting with Ross Solly & Gary Humphries

On ABC 666 this morning, I spoke with Ross Solly and Liberal Senator Gary Humphries. Topics included the benefits of a profits-based mining tax, why the government chose the most capable person to run the Future Fund, and the importance of not bringing into play the character of a victim of an alleged sexual assault. Here's the audio.
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A New R18+ Computer Games Classification

I spoke in parliament yesterday about the new R18+ computer games classification.

Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R 18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012
14 March 2012

It is important to say at the outset of the discussion of this Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R 18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012 that there are many terrific uses of computer games. Many Australians enjoy computer games and although I am not a big gamer myself, my two little boys, Sebastian and Theodore, love getting on the iPad any moment they can. Their favourite game is Angry Birds. It is a chance for them to work on their fine motor skills, a little breather for their parents and an opportunity for them to work together as brothers. However, there are many computer games in Australia to which I would not want children exposed and certainly not without their parents' knowledge.

This bill reflects the fact that Australia today is out of step with the international gaming classification systems. As best as I am aware, we are the only country without an R18+ rating for computer games. This bill brings the classification categories for computer games into line with the existing categories that are used to classify films. It makes the Australian classification regime more consistent with international standards. The new R18+ classification will inform consumers, retailers and, most importantly, parents about what games are not suitable for minors.

Bond University has conducted research of over 1,200 Australian households on computer game use and attitudes to those games. Ninety-five per cent of Australian homes with children under the age of 18 had a device for playing games. The average Australian gamer is aged 32 and women make up 47 per cent of computer game players. Gone is the day when the only gamers in Australia were teenage boys. PricewaterhouseCoopers has estimated that the Australian gaming industry is worth just under $2 billion. By 2015 this is forecast to reach $2.5 billion and globally the interactive game market is predicted to reach $90 billion by 2015 with an annual growth rate of eight per cent a year. The gaming industry is enjoying Chinese style growth.

Computer games are a big part of modern life in Australian families. As the member for Blaxland noted in his second reading speech, a lot of Australians are pretty passionate about this reform. There has also been research that has examined gaming and its place in Australian families. As I have noted, nearly all families with children under 18 play computer games. Almost half of parents said they play games as a way of spending time with their children. Over 70 per cent of parents used computer games for educational purposes. Most parents talked about computer games with their children. They had a great awareness of and use of parental controls on gaming devices. Sixty per cent of parents said they are always present when games are bought by their children.

There is an important need for the R18+ classification. In 2009 the Attorney-General's Department released a discussion paper on the introduction of the R18+ classification for computer games. That inquiry received more than 58,000 submissions, with 98 per cent of those supporting introduction of an R18+ classification. The R18+ classification provides a system to protect children from material that might be harmful. All parents understand how quickly children pick things up from their environment. A friend of mine told me about her 11-year-old boy who was watching a TV show and he said one of the characters was snorting coke. His mum asked, 'How do you know that?' He replied, 'I know it from Grand Theft Auto.' As a parent I want to be sure that I know what is and what is not suitable for my children, and I know many other Australian parents do too. The introduction of an R18+ classification helps prevent children and teens from accessing unsuitable material while still ensuring that adults are free to make their own decisions about the computer games they play.

Research from the National Institute of Mental Health in the United States has confirmed that a teenager's brain is still different from an adult's brain, still a work in progress. There are great changes going on in the parts of the brain in the frontal lobe responsible for self-control, judgment and emotions. Some of those changes continue appearing in the brain into a person's 20s as the brain develops, laying down foundations for the rest of the young person's life. That is good and bad news. It means we can train the teenage brain but it also means, as Jay Giedd of the National Institute of Mental Health has said, 'You are hardwiring your brain in adolescence. Do you want to hardwire it for sports and doing maths or for lying on the couch in front of TV or a console?'

Perhaps the most positive vision of computer gaming is that set down by Jane McGonigal, a game designer, researcher and author. She argues in a terrific book I read over summer and which I commend to other Australians called Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World that games can make us better, that games have the capacity to change the world. I did not agree with everything I read in the book. I have been a bit sceptical of computer games and their impact on social connectedness in Australia. But McGonigal makes the most articulate case for the positive role that gaming can play our society. She proposes a bunch of ways in which games can help us be happier in everyday life, stay better connected with those we care about, feel more rewarded for making our best effort and discover new ways of making a difference in the real world. She gives the example of Lexulous, the online word game on Facebook played between family and friends. It is like Scrabble but online chat. It is a great excuse for many players to talk to their mum every day.

While playing the game there is often chatting taking place. Players might say, 'Your dad says hello.’, ‘The knee still hurts and I'm putting ice on it.’, or ‘Have you started your internship yet?'

McGonigal gives the example of the extraordinary: web and mobile phone applications designed to help people contribute to their community. The motto is: 'Got two minutes? Be extraordinary.' Players can browse a list of micro volunteer missions, each mission helping a real-life, non-profit organisation accomplish one of its goals. One mission is designed for Crystal House, an organisation helping children living in poverty get the education, nutrition, health care and mentorship they so desperately need. It asks players to write a short text message of encouragement or support to students in Mexico, Venezuela, South Africa or India, before they take important tests and exams.

So we should not turn away from the benefits that games and gaming can bring. But, as this bill recognises, at the same time we should not dismiss the risks that unsuitable material can have on children and adolescents. An R18+ classification helps better inform parents of what is not suitable.

Gaming is now a ubiquitous part of modern Australian life. Nine out of 10 Australian households now have a device for playing computer games. I know that many Australian parents share my concerns about making sure their children do not access harmful material.

It is important that the Australian classification system has parity with comparable overseas systems. Games like Call of Duty warn of blood and gore, drug references, intense violence and strong language. In the United States Call of Duty has an M17+ rating but presently only attracts an MA15+ rating in Australia. We need a quick and easy system for classifying the material in computer games. Many parents have told us just that. While the member for Mayo has written about the dead hand of government, the government can also offer a helping hand. It can amend the Classification Act 1995 and align the R18+ computer rating with the R18+film classification rating. It helps inform parents of what games are not suitable for their children as they grow and develop. It ensures that they enjoy the fun and interactive and educational benefits that computer games can and will bring to Australian families.
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Sky News AM Agenda - Thursday 15 March

Kelly O'Dwyer and I had a pleasant chat this morning on AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert. Topics included the Gillard Government's company tax cuts (opposed by the Liberal Party) and Opposition scaremongering on guns and crime.
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Growing up in Aceh

Last December, I told the story of growing up in Aceh at the Street Theatre, as part of ABC 666's Now Hear This event. The theme of the night was 'Friendship'.

It was one of the scariest and most rewarding things I've done since entering politics. If you'd like to hear the story, you can listen to it here.
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Jervis Bay Territory

I spoke in parliament today about the Jervis Bay Territory, including Wreck Bay and HMAS Creswell.

Jervis Bay Territory
14 March 2012

When Canberra was founded it was decided you could not have a capital city without a port, so one part of my electorate is the Jervis Bay Territory. It was my great pleasure last Thursday to visit the Jervis Bay Territory for the 25th anniversary celebrations of the Wreck Bay land grant. In 1987, the then Minister of State for Aboriginal Affairs, Clyde Holding, a minister in the Hawke government, held an important ceremony to grant land to the Wreck Bay Indigenous community. The Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council now has an elected executive. I would like to personally thank them for their hard work in making these celebrations such a success: Craig Ardler, Joseph Brown-McLeod, Annette Brown, Julie Freeman, Jennifer Stewart, Clive Freeman, James McKenzie, Cyril (Todd) Roberts and Darren Sturgeon.

At the local celebrations some of the Indigenous kids performed rap music they had written themselves. The whole community came together to celebrate what has been achieved over the past 25 years. At the core of the success of the Wreck Bay Indigenous community is education. I am very pleased to be able to report to the House the investment by this government in regard to the Gudjagahmiamja Multifunctional Aboriginal Children's Service, an early childhood centre which is providing great educational opportunities to children in the Wreck Bay community.

The Jervis Bay School, under the leadership of Bob Pastor, goes from strength to strength. It is performing well on its NAPLAN scores on a like-schools basis. It has a splendid new BER building, which is being used very effectively by the school. It is working on cultural awareness training and students will soon be learning the local Dhurga language. I chatted with Dawn, one of the Indigenous elders , who spoke with some sadness about how when she was a child did not get to learn Dhurga but is delighted that the young children in the community will.

There are new jobs at Booderee National Park, which in the Dhurga language means 'bay of plenty' or 'plenty of fish.'  The opportunities available through the Booderee National Park are important to the community.

I also had the pleasure of visiting HMAS Creswell. That was my first visit to the naval base, though I have made three visits to the Jervis Bay Territory. I was grateful to Captain Brett Chandler for showing me around.

I also learnt that there is a building on HMAS Creswell which could house the parliament, were this building to become unusable. I therefore urge the parliament to consider perhaps taking a holiday sitting in the gorgeous territory of Jervis Bay.
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Ride for the Little Black Dress

I spoke in parliament last night about 'Ride for the Little Black Dress', a fundraising event organised by the Jodi Lee Foundation to raise money for and awareness of bowel cancer. The ride is named because Jodi Lee - who died two years ago - loved to wear little black dresses.

Ride for the Little Black Dress
13 March 2012

Last Saturday, it was my pleasure to join a group of men who were riding for the Jodi Lee Foundation's ‘Ride for the Little Black Dress’ from Canberra to Melbourne. The ride set off from the forecourt of Parliament House and among the leaders were Nick Lee, husband of the late Jodi Lee who died two years ago; his friend Andrew Poole; cancer doctor David Rangiah and ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher. It was a sunny day but we were speaking about one of the darkest topics in Australia.

One of my favourite writers, Christopher Hitchens, died of cancer recently. Before he died he did a couple of extraordinary interviews with Lateline's Tony Jones, and in one of them he described his cancer. He said:

'Well, obviously it can't have emotions and as far as we know it can't see. It is a being. The thing is, it can't have a life of its own, but it is an alien and it is - it is alive as long as I am. Its only purpose is to kill me. It's a self-destructive alien.'

He went on to say:

'… having something living inside you that is entirely malevolent and that wishes for your - doesn't wish for, but is purposed to encompass your death. And keeping company with this is a great preoccupation. Once you think about it like that, it's hard to un-think it.'

Christopher Hitchens's experiences are, sadly, so common for Australians across the country. Bowel cancer claims 5,000 victims a year—one every two hours. Each of them is someone's loved person—a wife, a mother, a friend, in the case of Jodi Lee.

For many of us, I think, the natural inclination would be to retreat into our own inner sadness. But there is something wonderful about a group of blokes who, when faced with the scourge of bowel cancer, decide that the best thing they could do would be to put on little black tutus and ride from Canberra to Melbourne. There is something funny about it, and there is something that fits the spirit of those who downed weapons on a Christmas Day in World War I to play a game of soccer with the other side.

The Ride for the Little Black Dress by all accounts is going well. I confess to this House that my participation was limited to two laps of the parliament. I am sure that Parliamentary Secretary Dreyfus, who is at the table, would have gone a little further. But I, unlike him, am not such a cyclist. They have, however, now ticked off day 4, according to their Twitter feed: 145 kilometres finished in 29-degree temperature. They are tired lads. But they are tackling Mount Buller tomorrow, because they have decided that, if you are going to ride from Canberra to Melbourne, you should not take the Hume Highway; you should go over the mountains.

This is an extraordinary bunch of blokes. There are 21 of them making the second ride this year. The first ride attracted 14 men last year. They are riding to raise money to fight bowel cancer but also to raise awareness. We know that early detection does save lives and that, if diagnosed, early bowel cancer is 90 per cent curable. We know that testing is important. The government currently funds the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program to check on people aged 50, 55 and 65. Individuals who want to do a test can obtain one from a community pharmacy for around $37, and that includes the cost of analysis. It is also important for those considering getting tested to know—and there is no other way of putting this—that getting tested for bowel cancer does not involve having anything put up your bottom. And this is important if we are to raise screening rates for bowel cancer.

I commend the Ride for the Little Black Dress, the enthusiasm and energy that those who have organised it have put into the activity, and their commitment to making sure that research and early detection of bowel cancer are priorities and that we as Australians do everything we can do to reduce the impact of bowel cancer on our community.
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Road Safety

I spoke in parliament today on road safety.

Road Safety Remuneration (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill 2012
13 March 2012

We have all seen horrific images of fatal motor vehicle accidents, the twisted and torn remains of cars, the spray of shattered glass that marks the sites and that look of shock, anguish and disbelief on people's faces. Every death that occurs on the roads is not just the tragic loss of one person's life. Rather, it spreads ripples right through the community. It is children who grow up without a parent; it is family birthday celebrations without an aunt or an uncle; it is the distinctive laugh of a friend no longer heard at Friday night drinks. That is why the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011 and the Road Safety Remuneration (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill 2011 are so important. These bills address the heartbreaking loss and tragedy of the road toll and its far-reaching cost to the nation.

Workplace health and safety reform has been a core part of the work of this government. No matter what job you do, when you go to work you should expect to come home at the end of the day. The men and women who are our valued transport workers deserve that peace of mind. And their families deserve it do. I am proud to represent in this place the Australian Labor Party, a party that was formed to represent the interests of working people 121 years ago. That is our heritage. It is a heritage that we do not shy away from. We will defend it at every turn. This legislation is 21st century Labor values in action, protecting the interests of workers on the road.

The statistics of the road toll are chilling. The road toll has declined substantially over recent decades but it is still the case that in an average week four people are killed and another 80 are seriously injured. Last year, 1,368 Australians lost their lives on the roads and many more were hospitalised. The road transport industry has the highest incidence of fatal injuries. In 2008-09, that industry had 25 deaths per 100,000 workers. That is an astonishingly high death toll for any industry. It is 10 times the average. According to the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, that imposes a cost on the Australian economy of $2.7 billion a year.

Substantial work has been done on the relationship between remuneration and safety. In the case of R v. Randall John Harm in 2005, Justice Graham found that the truck drivers had intolerable pressure placed upon them to get produce to the markets or goods to their destination. In 2008, the National Transport Commission reviewed remuneration and safety in the Australian heavy vehicle industry. It found that commercial arrangements between parties about the transport of freight have a significant influence on road safety. Drivers often find themselves at the bottom of the contracting chain. They do not have the commercial ability to demand rates that would let them perform their work safely and legally. Owner drivers are often forced to accept work at the going rate or end up with no work at all. Remuneration for owner drivers tends to be low and working hours can be extraordinarily long.

A major issue for owner drivers is unpaid queuing times. The National Road Transport Operators Association estimates that distribution centres regularly require drivers to wait up to 10 hours before loading or unloading.

Many are not paid for the waiting time—cannot even claim the waiting time as an official rest break—and that impacts on their income and it impacts on their fatigue management. That means that these drivers are losing 10 hours of driving time and that creates a perverse incentive for them to make up for lost time either by driving additional hours, speeding or contravening mandatory fatigue management systems.

A study funded by New South Wales WorkCover found that truck drivers were frequently forced to break driving regulations in order to make a living. It found that 60 per cent of drivers admitted to nodding off at the wheel over the last 12 months. Drivers in that study were working an average of 68 hours a week. Almost a third told the study—anonymously, though, of course—that they were breaking driving laws and doing more than 72 hours a week. Only 25 per cent of those drivers reported to be paid for waiting times. Almost 60 per cent of drivers were not paid for loading or unloading.

This bill ensures that we have safer roads not only for drivers but for all Australians. The economic and social cost of unsafe roads is massive for drivers, their families and the general community. The road transport industry knows this. They know that their industry is one of the most dangerous in Australia. That is why the Gillard government is committed to introducing a safe remuneration system for drivers. I commend the minister at the table, Mr Shorten, for his hard work in making this happen.

This bill addresses the root causes of unsafe driving practices. It addresses the underlying economic factors that create an incentive for unsafe road practices or inadvertently encourage them. It will establish the National Road Safety Remuneration System, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and a separate education and compliance framework. The tribunal will include members from Fair Work Australia along with independent work, health and safety experts. We have determined that a sector of the industry that has poor safety outcomes as a result of low remuneration will be able to make a road safety remuneration order to improve the onroad safety outcomes for drivers operating in that sector. This system is scheduled to commence on 1 July 2012.

Michael Belzer, in his paper to the Safe Rates Summit in 2011 titled 'The Economics of Safety: How Compensation Affects Commercial Motor Vehicle Driver Safely', said the following:

'Higher driver pay is associated with safer operations. Clearly the more drivers are paid, and the more they are paid for their non-driving time, the less likely they are to have crashes'

He went on to say:

'If the fundamental exigencies of markets work at all, then a cargo owners' need for lowest price will lead to a race to the bottom and safety will suffer. Because economic forces are involved, economic solutions must be considered.'

I want to speak to some of the objections that have been made to this bill. The Australian Logistics Council is opposed to the measures in this bill. Their managing director, Michael Kilgariff, has said that rather than improving safety the bill merely adds another layer of regulation. He has claimed that it will impede industry efforts to improve safety. I acknowledge the work that the ALC has done in their Retail Logistics Supply Chain Code of Conduct. That is a code that covers safe scheduling, loading of vehicles, securing loads and driving plans. I very much appreciate the work that has been done by Michael Kilgariff and other members of his staff, such as Alicia Hewitt, but I do believe that this bill is an important step in contributing to safer roads.

Evidence demonstrates we need a different approach to get safer practices in the road transport industry. Michael Belzer, who I quoted before, has a 2006 study that demonstrates that every 10 per cent more that drivers earn in pay is associated with a 19 per cent reduction in the chance that they will have a crash. Every 10 per cent more paid days off reduces the probability of driver crashes by six per cent.

New South Wales Deputy Coroner Dorelle Pinch's findings into the deaths of drivers Anthony Forsythe, Barry Supple and Timothy John Walsh found:

'As long as driver payments are based on a (low) rate per kilometre there will always be an incentive for drivers to maximise the hours they drive, not because they are greedy but simply to earn a decent wage.'

A 2011 survey by the Transport Workers Union of Australia found that 48 per cent of drivers have almost one day a week in unpaid working time. It found 56 per cent of owner-drivers have to forego vehicle maintenance because of the need to keep working; 27 per cent felt they had to drive too fast; and 40 per cent felt pressured to drive longer than legally allowed.

Andrew Villas, a former driver, testified to the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission:

'When I was required to perform excessive hours I would sometimes experience a state of mind that I can only describe as hallucinations, which I considered to be due to sleep deprivation. I would see trees turning into machinery, which would lift my truck off the road. I saw myself run over motorcycles, cars and people ... I estimate that I had experiences like these roughly every second day. They were not an uncommon thing for me ...'

If ever there were dangerous and unsafe working conditions they are the ones which Mr Villas has described. This government is not prepared to sit back and ignore such risks to transport workers, their families and the general public.

Many members and employees of the Transport Workers Union live in Fraser. They include ACT bus drivers, truckies and paramedics. I would like to especially thank Klaus Pinkas, the Secretary of the ACT sub-branch of the Transport Workers Union and his team. I know he has worked with community transport workers for fair and safe conditions. He has been a strong advocate for their rights and for their workplace needs. I would like to thank Klaus for the conversations that we have had about this bill and his hard work in making it happen.

One of the duties that I am pleased to have as the member for Fraser is to chair the ACT Black Spot Consultative Committee, a federally funded program which each year spends $1 million making ACT roads safer. It is a terrific program because we ensure that every dollar spent produces at least $2 of public benefits.

We cannot fund the black spot remediation program unless the cost-benefit study comes back with at least a two-to-one return. So it is always a pleasure, as part of that committee, to be able to see federal government funds go where they are needed most, whether that is fixing up signage, adding line markings and frangible posts, or ensuring that roads are safer for motorcyclists and for bicyclists. All of the programs that we fund through the Black Spot Program go to making sure that the ACT's roads are safer.

As the Prime Minister has said, ‘Australia's truck drivers work hard to make a living. But they should not have to die to make a living.’ We on this side of the House have the interests of workers in everything we do. The Labor Party, as its name suggests, is the party of work. We are the party of workers. That is why we want transport workers to go to work, come home safely and receive fair pay for their day's work. And, for those who are opposing this bill, I have one question: would you let someone, a worker, near you, who might injure you, who had not slept for long enough? Would you, for example, let a surgeon operate on you who was beginning to hallucinate because they had been working for too long? Driving up to 62 tonnes of heavy vehicle is a position of equal responsibility and skill.

For the first time, under this bill, we will have a proper national approach that can examine all of the factors that contribute to the carnage in the industry, and the power to enforce solutions. This government is looking after those at the bottom of the contracting chain so they receive a fair day's pay to do their work safely and legally. There is too much death and too much injury on our roads and in the road transport industry. I sincerely hope that this bill can make a difference in bringing down the road toll. I commend the bill to the House.
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Helen Fraser

I spoke in parliament today about the passing of Helen Fraser.

Helen Fraser
13 March 2012

On 4 March 2012 Helen Whitton Fraser passed away, aged 91. Helen Fraser was the wife of the late Jim Fraser, after whom my seat is named. At the memorial service for Helen Fraser her son, Andrew Fraser, said that hers was a life of ‘strength, love and fun’. She met her husband to be on a tennis court when she was aged 16 and he 29. They did not get married for another 22 years. By that time Jim Fraser was already the local member for the ACT. This was well before self-government, so he was the only political representative for the ACT and looked after more electors than anyone else in the parliament.

Andrew Fraser told us that when Helen married Jim she was 'on call and on show'. She attended events on her husband's behalf, regularly giving speeches at local fetes. She was the patron of many local clubs, including bowls, netball and football. It was not done for show. Over a decade after her husband's death, Helen still held some of those positions.

Andrew Fraser told the story of when his mother received her MBE for community service from then Governor-General Paul Hasluck. Because he was the patron of the Scouts and she the commissioner of the Girl Guides, he decided he would play a trick on her. He put out his left hand for the official handshake. Without missing a beat, Helen flicked her handbag across to her right hand and courteously shook Hasluck's hand to accept the MBE.

Jim Fraser's death was utterly unexpected. He passed away in 1970, while still in office. The electorate of Fraser, which I have the honour to represent, was formed in 1974. I am the fifth member for Fraser. At the memorial service Meg Fraser read from the splendid Henry Scott Holland sermon 'Death is nothing at all'. It is one of my favourite pieces for funeral services as it reminds us of the importance of continuing to remember and speak often about those who have passed. It reads in part:

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.

Helen Fraser outlived her husband by more than four decades, and Andrew Fraser spoke of how, in her final days, she would talk about looking forward to seeing Jim. In the words of one of Jim's caucus colleagues, Andrew said, Helen had decided, 'It's time.'
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Market-based reforms and transparent budgeting

Parliament this afternoon chose to debate a Matter of Public Importance that I'd proposed.

My MPI was 'The urgent need for market-based reforms and for strict and transparent budgeting'. Here's my speech.
Matter of Public Importance - 'The urgent need for market-based reforms and for strict and transparent budgeting'
13 March 2012

Today's matter of public importance is on the need for market based reforms and the need for strict and transparent budgeting. I want to start by talking about market based mechanisms in dealing with environmental challenges. This used to be a pretty controversial area, and in fact the first person to raise it was none other than George HW Bush, who suggested that we might deal with environmental challenges by putting a price on the externality. He faced objections, but the objections at that time came from the Left. It was those on the progressive side of politics who took some time to come around.

But, from the very beginning, as you can see in such important documents as the honours thesis of the member for Flinders, the Right was signed on. The Right understood intuitively that this was a good way of harnessing market based mechanisms, that the choice of market based mechanisms would provide a more effective way of dealing with environmental challenges. That view still holds sway among conservatives in many countries. If you go to the United Kingdom, you will find a conservative party committed to the use of market based mechanisms to deal with climate change. If you go across the ditch to New Zealand, you will see the same thing: conservatives who understand that price mechanisms beat direct action. It was true in Australia when those opposite went to the 2007 election promising to put a price on carbon pollution, and it was true until that famous tipping point in Australian politics, the one vote in the coalition party room that tipped the coalition from good economics into populism.

When it comes to water pricing, the coalition rejects the use of water markets. But, of course, it was not always this way. Moves towards water markets were enhanced when the member for Wentworth was the relevant minister under the Howard government and when he was the Leader of the Opposition he supported carbon pricing as the most efficient way of dealing with climate change. But it is not just in the area of market based reforms that this side of the House are the free marketeers. When it comes to listening to economists it is the Gillard government that takes economic advice when it comes to preparing our budget. And when it is pointed out to the Leader of the Opposition that he cannot find a single economist to back his direct action scheme, he attacks Australian economists. When he finds that he cannot find a single Treasury official who is willing to back his election costings, he goes and attacks Treasury.

Let us go through what happens with the coalition's 2010 election costings. When they went to the last election the coalition used a private accounting firm, WHK Horwath and the member for North Sydney said at the time that the two accountants from that firm had certified 'in law that our numbers are accurate'. He told ABC Radio in November 2010:

'If the fifth-biggest accounting firm in Australia signs off on our numbers it is a brave person to start saying there are accounting tricks.'

And he said:

'I tell you it is audited. This is an audited statement.'

The member for Goldstein strongly vouched for the costings, saying they were 'as good as you could get anywhere in the country, including in Treasury'. But, in fact, we now know that that document was a one-page report produced two days out from the election and it was the result of a carefully worded agreement between the accountants and the coalition to produce work that would be primarily not of an audit nature. As Peter Martin pointed out in the Sydney Morning Herald last December, that led to two $5,000 fines plus cost orders for the accountants that had prepared these dodgy costings for the coalition. So you would think that, after all of that, the coalition would take a deep breath and would say, 'Well, clearly, using private accounting firms didn't work for us last time and we have the $11 billion black hole.' For a little while it did actually look as though the coalition were going to learn. A bipartisan parliamentary report on the Parliamentary Budget Office backed it in. It was backed by the member for Higgins and Senator Joyce. But it was only when they realised that they had a hole in their costings—a hole that emerges when you are the kind of opposition leader who says yes to every special interest and no to every tax increase—that the coalition decided they had to back away from a parliamentary budget office. So they backed away from having a parliamentary budget office in what I have to say was one of the most extraordinary late night debates in this place that I have been involved in. The members for Goldstein and Mackellar began attacking the institution of Treasury and Treasury secretary Ken Henry, who, as members know, was appointed by Treasurer Costello to that position. The member for Mackellar said:

'This Parliamentary Budget Office is something that is simply linked to the coattails of Treasury.'

She went on to say:

'I made the point that Treasury and the head of Treasury had been rewarded for things that they had done to assist the government.'

The member for Goldstein said very boldly of his costings at the last election:

'There was no black hole. This was a politicised black hole. This was something fabricated with the use of Treasury officials to give the government a political advantage.'

These were the outrageous attacks on a great Australian, one who has served Australian economic policy making extraordinarily well, and on a great government department, one that has done valuable work in producing good economic policy.

When those opposite are faced with an independent Treasury who finds an $11 billion black hole in their costings, they go and attack Treasury. Those opposite are like a rich kid who, when his maths teacher says, 'No, I think you've got an answer to a question wrong here,' goes to the principal and says, 'Can we get the maths teacher sacked, please.' They are all noblesse oblige. But, of course, these days those opposite are probably wishing they had a black hole as small as $11 billion. Their black hole is now $70 billion. That is the equivalent of stopping the pension for two years or stopping Medicare payments for four years.

It is not just I pointing this out. The opposition leader likes to visit various Canberra based businesses, but when he visited CRT Building Supplies he got a little bit more than he bargained for. Steve Bailey, who I would like to point out is not a member of the Greens Party or the Labor Party, heckled Mr Abbott about his $70 billion black hole. He said:

"I think he doesn't care for the people on low incomes; he cares about people like Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer. He's out for the big boys not the little people like us. It's a media opportunity for him, it's a stunt with no substance."

The Leader of the Opposition is happy to use my constituents as a political backdrop for his media stunts. He is happy to go along to local schools and trash Australia without once mentioning that he voted against the new school buildings that he is probably sitting in at the time.

It is Canberrans who would suffer most if the coalition were to win office. The member for North Sydney likes talking about the 12,000 Canberra public servants whom he would make redundant. Originally he liked to say this was from natural attrition, but he has given up that one lately and he is now talking about getting rid of whole departments. The department of climate change is on the chopping block. As for the department of health, the member for North Sydney says there are 5,000 people there and he does not know what they do. There are two answers to that. The first is he could ask the Leader of the Opposition, who was the minister for health when the Howard government was in office and when the department of health also employed about 5,000 public servants. Otherwise he could actually pay some serious policy interest to the things that the department of health are doing. I am waiting for the member for North Sydney to have his Rick Perry moment: 'I'd like to get rid of three departments—the department of climate change, the department of health and that other one that I can't quite remember right now.' But I am sure the member for North Sydney will think of a third department to get rid of.

It is deeply ironic that the member for North Sydney is out there speaking about job security and about the Australian economy. If he is interested in job security he might want to have a good, hard talk to the 12,000 public servants that he intends to make redundant. But frankly they are still $70 billion short. Even after firing those 12,000 public servants they need to find some other way of getting there. The shadow minister for immigration has suggested a novel way of getting there. He has decided that, when he is going to get costings done, rather than go to accounting firms, he will go to catering firms, because it was catering firms that did the opposition's costings for Nauru. That is an innovative scheme that might well get the opposition there—McDonald's may well have some interest in costing the opposition's health policy. It really does reflect much of what those opposite think of budgets. They think that government is an all-you-can-eat: you can just go out there and have it all. You can eat everything; worry about dieting—worry about where the money is going to come from—tomorrow.

We have also seen in recent days a really troubling development: the abandonment of countercyclical fiscal policy by those opposite. Those opposite have now said that they would not have put the Commonwealth budget into debt during a downturn. It is very clear what that would have meant. A no-debt position means that when your revenue write-downs come—let us not forget that two-thirds of the debt that Australia took on during the global financial crisis was revenue write-downs, not stimulus—you are going to pull the government back. Not only are you going to fail to prop up the private sector, you are going to do exactly what the private sector is doing—you are going to follow them down into the downturn. There is a precedent for that: Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression. This is why the Great Depression didn’t last a year or two, but a full decade. Those opposite are the Herbert Hoovers of economic policy. It is no great surprise, really, because they are led by somebody who, in the words of one of his predecessors, John Hewson, is genuinely innumerate. As John Hewson said, 'He has no interest in economics and no feeling for it.' Or as another coalition scion, Peter Costello, said when speaking of the Leader of the Opposition: 'Never one to be held back by the financial consequence of decisions, he had grandiose plans for public expenditure.' A former cabinet colleague of the Leader of the Opposition said, 'He's just spend, spend, spend.' Another said, 'He never really understood the meaning of fiscal conservatism.'

Those opposite are constantly out there with their economically illiterate plans, talking down the economy. The Australian economy now enjoys goldplated AAA credit ratings from the three major agencies. When was the last time that happened? It has never happened before. This is the first time in Australia's history that we have enjoyed a AAA rating from every major ratings agency. So when you hear those opposite speaking about the state of the Australian economy—trash talking the Australian economy and trying to damage consumer confidence—it is important to remember what they say when they are overseas. When the opposition leader leaves this country, he says, 'Australia has serious bragging rights. Compared to most developed countries our economic circumstances are enviable.' That is absolutely true. I only wish that they would say when they are back in Australia.
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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.