Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (3.19 p.m.)-I must say Senator Crossin’s contribution to this debate was one of the more bizarre that I have heard in this place. Senator Crossin said that today is a day of celebration around Australia. It reminded me of the bicentennial catchcry: ‘Celebration of a nation’. Mr Deputy President, I do not know about you but I must have missed the milling throngs outside Parliament House cheering: ‘One year of the Kevin Rudd government! Hip hip hooray!’ I must have missed them. I do tend to get into the office fairly early, so maybe they came after I arrived.
We have had a year of Kevin Rudd, a year of Labor. Ministers, in answers to questions today, gave the Senate the authorised version of the last 12 months. What we did not hear was a real progress report on the last 12 months.
Senator Crossin-How is Malcolm going in the polls these days?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT-Order! Senator Crossin, you were heard in silence. I suggest you remain silent while Senator Fifield makes his contribution.
Senator FIFIELD-There is a story behind the spin we heard in question time today. That story is that Australia is less prosperous. The economy is weakening. The outlook for Australian families and businesses is less certain. The simple fact is: Australians are worse off today than they were a year ago.
The Labor Party promised the sun, the moon and the stars before the election. They promised a lot but they have done very little in government. The government will say, as did Senator Conroy in question time, that this is all the fault of the GFC, the global financial crisis. We recognise that no government can solve the GFC on its own, but as a government you can make the situation better or worse, depending on the decisions that you take. The government, as is well known, made the situation of the GFC worse. Before the budget, they created a panic about inflation. They egged on the Reserve Bank to increase interest rates, they talked down the Australian economy and they undermined business confidence and consumer confidence. After the budget, they introduced the open-ended banking guarantee, which caused a run on investment funds, and they jawboned the economy down, down, down, rather than doing what a responsible government does, which is focus on the economic fundamentals, focus on the strengths of the economy.
This government’s handling of the economy goes to the issue of competence, but the last 12 months also represents a breach of faith with the Australian people. Firstly, the Prime Minister, when he was opposition leader, put his hand on his heart and declared, ‘I am an economic conservative,’ and that he was committed to budget surpluses-committed; no qualification: committed to budget surpluses. We hoped that was true, because we in government had worked very hard over 12 years to repay $96 billion of Labor debt and balance the budget, and we handed a surplus budget across to the incoming government. The mantra of this government was also our mantra in government: that we would keep the budget in balance, on average, across the course of the economic cycle. That was our mantra. That is this government’s mantra. But what that statement means is that a budget deficit will be countenanced if the economy goes into recession. But the economy is not in recession. The economy is growing. The economy is forecast to continue to grow. In that circumstance, the only reason for going into budget deficit is incompetence. It is a failure to manage the budget. And that is what I fear we are going to see very soon: a combination of incompetence and a breach of faith with the Australian people.
This government has broken promise after promise. The education revolution: all it has amounted to is a few computers-not one on every desk as was promised. Health: private health insurance is being undermined, which is going to force people back onto the public health system. We were promised tax cuts. Sure, the government delivered the tax cuts that we authored, but it also gave a $19 billion tax increase. The national broadband network we have heard much of today: six months overdue. Cost of living: what did the government do? It put up the now defunct, failed, discredited Fuelwatch scheme and the GroceryWatch scheme. This government has failed time and again. There is more to honouring election commitments than just putting a dot point in a document and filling it with words afterwards. This is a government that dithers, that is bogged down in process, that has failed to deliver on its commitments.