TOPICS: Labor planning family benefits freeze before 2010 poll, costing of Greens policies, carbon tax, centenary of Canberra
Ladies and gentlemen, in the last 24 hours there have been two disturbing revelations that have come from the Senate Estimates process. The first is that it is quite clear now that the Government had worked up a policy to freeze family tax benefits prior to the last election, and kept this secret from the Australian people during that election campaign.
The second thing is that we now know that the Government has been costing policies for the Greens. This is the Party the Government describes as ‘extreme’. They haven’t revealed what those policies are, and they should come clean with what policies have been costed, and indeed the costings of those policies.
This is further evidence that, in fact, the Greens are actually running this Government; you’ve got the Government now costing the policies of the Greens. That’s clear evidence once again that the Greens are in charge here in Canberra.
Firstly we had the carbon tax, which was presented to the nation as a lie. Julia Gillard said there would be no carbon tax under the government she led. She lied. She’s seeking to introduce a carbon tax. We’re seeing a pattern of behaviour here; we now have the freeze on family tax benefits which was not told to the Australian people before the election. The Government is now seeking to put that in place. It emerged in Senate Estimates this morning that the Government has in fact been working on this policy since January 2010. So it’s been a long time in the gestation.
We also learned this morning that the Government was working on this policy right up until one minute before the caretaker period before the election. So this was a very serious policy which the Government was seriously considering. The Government should have come clean before the election, and should have been open with the Australian people that they wanted to introduce this family tax freeze.
We also discovered this morning that the Department of Families and Community Services has been costing policies for the Greens. The Government needs to come clean and release these policies immediately, lest these become other secret policies which are hidden from the view of the Australian public. They’ve been costed at taxpayer expense, and the Government should release them.
Isn’t that what Treasury does, though? Doesn’t it cost the policy options? It would have costed yours before the election as well isn’t the Government entitled to know what policy options are being put into the Parliament and the political debate across the country?
This is different. These policies are being costed as part of the formal agreement between the Government and the Greens. Government will often say that they can’t release potential policy options because it’s “advice to government”. But work which is costed for the Greens is not advice to government. This is advice to the Greens, and the Australian public deserve to know what’s being looked at.
Would you prefer that they put forward policies that aren’t properly costed?
Well it’s good to have policies costed. But if policies are costed at taxpayer expense, particularly for a minor party which is exerting influence on the Government of the day, then those policies should be publicly released.
And this is in the context that the Greens haven’t released costings for their policies. We had the situation in the Victorian state election where the previous Labor Government in Victoria did some costing of the Greens’ policies and showed that there would have been exorbitant costs to the taxpayer in Victoria. The Australian taxpayer has the right to know what these policies are that the Greens are putting forward. Obviously if the Government is going to the point of costing them, then the Greens are putting some pressure on the Government to actually introduce these policies. So let’s have some clarity about this. No more secrecy from the Greens and the Government release the policies and release the costings.
Mr Andrews, behind us here we have a group of religious leaders who are saying that climate change is the great moral challenge of our time and that the Parties should get together for a bipartisan approach to this issue. They say it is time to act. How do you respond to this group of religious leaders calling for a bipartisan approach on a market mechanism?
Well we’d be delighted for the Government to join us in our position. Quite clearly if you look at what’s been happening in Australia over the past few weeks and few months, Australians are quite disillusioned with what the Government is doing. They feel that Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan and the Greens and the Government are simply not listening to what they have to say about this issue that they’re pushing forward. And what we’ve said is the best way to deal with this is, ‘righto, put your policy together and take it to the Australian people.’ Surely the ethical thing to do in this circumstance is to give the people of Australia the right to decide whether or not they want this approach from the Government. So yes, we’d be delighted if the Government would join us in our approach to this.
But these leaders are actually supporting a carbon price. They’re not too impressed with the direct action policy and they’re actually looking at Labor’s policy. So shouldn’t you move over to that side?
Well it doesn’t sound like that’s an overly bipartisan position they’re supporting. It seems like they’ve got a view, and they’re entitled to have that view in the Australian community. But can I say, in my movement about Australia, that’s not the view that the great majority of Australians have at this stage, and I think that’s reflected in a whole series of polls that have been done over the last few months. Australians are worried about this, they’re worried about the increasing cost of living that they’re suffering. Electricity prices have gone up, on average, by 51%, food prices have gone up, even rent has gone up by about 25% in Australia. We run the risk that there will be an increase in interest rates, which will increase the mortgage repayments that people pay and that’s already up at $500 a month more than it was. So these are the reals concerns that Australians have, and they should be taken into account.
Can I just say one other thing before I go. I was delighted this morning that the House passed my motion to recognise the centenary of the announcement, or the launch, of the design for Canberra. This is a wonderful city. I know it gets a bit of bad press from time to time, but this is a wonderful city, it’s one of the great planned cities in the world. And although Walter Burleigh’s design hasn’t entirely been followed, the basic features of that design are still here in Canberra. It’s something that Australians can take great pride in, and I hope that we do have appropriate celebrations to mark the centenary of Canberra.