A response to a Matter of Public Importance from the Opposition
I think that Senator Ryan's last statement should be looked at very carefully. He said quite clearly that no matter how often you say things over and over again, it gets to some degree of truth. I am verballing you, Senator Ryan, but that was how I took your meaning.
The people on the opposite side of this chamber think that the more they can reinforce their own beliefs, the more they can restate their own feelings, the more that people in the wider community will accept that they are right. We know that the people on the other side do reinforce their own views on this issue because they keep talking about them; they keep using the same few lines.
I particularly enjoy the element of spin. I can say that over the last few months I could repeat word by word most of the arguments that we have heard this afternoon because they have been repeated word by word in terms of the one-liners about what constitutes debt and what programs in the past have not worked, and hours in this place have been spent on defining what is a promise and what is not. It does not matter how many times people on this side of the chamber and people in economic think tanks across the world-people who are not friends normally to the labour movement-consistently put on record as economic arguments that point out the process and the arguments on the policies which our government followed and have set up our country to be in an enviable position across the whole world, they still keep repeating the same spin.
This is despite the comments that are made consistently-and despite extraordinarily unhelpful comments like that of the Premier of our state, Mr Acting Deputy President Furner, which compared the Australian and the Queensland economy with that of Spain. This is not only offensive to Queenslanders but deeply offensive to the people of Spain, who are suffering greatly from an economy that is in crisis and that over a number of years has degenerated to a position where people are not able to have an effective cost-of-living process or even able to look at their own welfare, their futures and their superannuation. Those countries, including Spain and various elements in Europe, are struggling greatly. Instead of acknowledging that and saying that together that we would be able to make a difference-even recently, where Australia was offering some support-it was ridiculed by the people on the other side of this chamber as us interfering and having the wrong view of trying to offer support. Rather than seeing how we can share knowledge and effectively look at the overwhelming issues that are impacting on the world economy, it was seen as a cheap political trick-an easy line for personal gain to make comparisons between our economy and that of Spain.
The important thing is that we acknowledge that everything that this government does is transparent. The process that this government follows in financial management, in arranging information, is exactly the same as for previous governments, and I hope that the same will continue in our country. We have a strong legacy of effective transparency of economic and government management. The Senate estimates process, which we all share in this place-sometimes to our joy, sometimes not-is the most effective mechanism of scrutiny of budget expenditure and scrutiny of policy of any government in this world, and has been acknowledged that way. As we sit in those budget estimates processes every six months and go through, line by line, the budget expenditure-actually looking at comparisons, seeing how the money has been spent, seeing where there is underspend and overspend and looking at how policy is implemented on the ground-that is the process which we all share with previous governments, current governments and into the future where we can identify on what basis modelling is done, on what basis arguments are put forward and on what basis policies are developed in this country.
But it does not matter: if it does not suit the one-liners that people in the opposition continually want to say about the economy, it is disregarded. In fact, I think that sometimes disregard is better than disrespect, because one of the things that has happened in this place over the last 12 months has been overt disrespect for the Treasury officials who work independently of any government and provide fair and free advice on which policy can be developed to governments of all flavours. But because the answers are not what the other side want, we have seen that they begin to question the professionalism and indeed the integrity of the Australian Public Service. As you know, Mr Acting Deputy President, that is something that offends me and angers me probably more than any other policy area in which we operate. The role of the Australian Public Service is a strong and noble tradition in our form of government. Public servants are there to provide service and they are there to provide information and advice. And because oppositions do not like the actions that governments take, it is not an effective argument to disrespect the Commonwealth public service and, in particular, the Treasury benches.
I know that Senator Ryan has an obsession with the BER program. I was going to talk about mental health issues in this contribution but I think I might swap and go into the BER process; but I actually advise that if you are obsessed you can get help through mental health processes which our government has funded. When we hear consistently the BER program being brought out in debates such as these as being ineffective and a waste of money, all I can say is, Mr Acting Deputy President, 'Come and visit the schools that you and I have visited'. Go and talk with the people; not just the teachers and the students at the range of schools-and I have been fortunate to visit many across Queensland, as have you-but talk to the construction companies, talk to the architects, talk to the project managers and talk to the delivery drivers, all of whom were directly affected by the BER expenditure. This was a deliberate strategy to look at how we could respond to the global financial crisis.
I know that has been dismissed this afternoon in contributions in this place as another waste; I think someone talked about an 'exaggerated' claim. Check the figures! Find out exactly the crisis which our country was facing. The strategy which our government determined-which was a risk-to invest the amount of money into our education program from the federal level had never been done before. The programs that were being operated looking at public spaces, looking at libraries, looking at centres of excellence and looking at the wonderful science and trades training centres that are now sprinkled throughout our community were a significant investment not just in schools but, as I have said, in the wider community. The jobs that were created and maintained through that process will actually benefit our community not just now but into the future. That is not an example of a promise broken, it is not an example of poor economic management and it is not an example of inability to look at support of our community. That one program, which has been effectively demonised by a combination of the opposition benches and the Australian newspaper, in itself is an example of where government can listen to community, can work with community and can come forward with an innovative way to build into the future.
On that program alone I think our government stands and should be congratulated in terms of economic process. That is not to go into any other area where we have international economic organisations using the Australian economy as a test case to show-under deep threat and problems, looking at what was going on across the world-that we were able to build a future and to build up a process for moving into an area where there will be planning around economic surpluses.
But in itself I do not think that just surplus or deficit can actually effect what must happen in economic management. The more important thing is to look at the community need, to listen to what the community wants and to work as a government responding to need. Alone, the increase in the social welfare payments to our pensioners-an increase never seen before 2009-and the way that people are now able to better survive a difficult times should be an example of where economic management responds to need and does not create undue expectation but does give the community an expectation of government listening to them, working with them and delivering not just in economic management but on effective, representative government. This debate can go on. There will not be new arguments put. Once again, it will be reinforcement of one-liners to make people feel stronger in their own position.