Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (10:09): I thought for a moment the Greens under their new leadership might be starting to show some economic sense and rationality. Indeed, today's headlines in the newspaper seem to suggest that they are not just going to take the 'we are against anything the Liberal Party wants to do' approach, which has been the approach of the Greens political party, particularly under their former leadership. And I thought, 'Gee, there's a glimmer of hope!' I am not sure that that was real good for the Liberal Party, Mr Acting Deputy President Back, because if the Greens start looking like they are a sensible, mature political party then perhaps they will take a couple of votes off us! I think they know they will take a lot more off the Labor Party, as they have been doing. But that glimmer of hope and rationality that I thought might be around has just been dissipated by the previous speaker.
I do not know which university he went to, but they must have been teaching him some funny economics there. I might say, Senator Whish-Wilson, that I did not go to a university; I could not afford that. I started work as an articled clerk and did my university qualifications externally, at night-time after working all day. So I did not get the privilege of popping into an economics class run by what sounds to have been a very left-wing group of tutors and lecturers. I am just not sure where it comes from. But I always thought it was the Greens political party's approach that we did not tax people enough in Australia—that there had been too many cuts. Again, it is a bit difficult to find out where the Greens are, economically.
As for the Labor Party, I am delighted that they are, at last, going to support a measure which they did actually introduce, Senator Whish-Wilson. I am not here to defend the Labor Party, I can tell you that! But you wrongly accused them. The Labor Party did do something about this when they were in government. They actually made a commitment to the Australian people before the election that they would do exactly what this bill does now. So, far from berating the Labor Party, you should at least be giving them credit for actually carrying out the promise they made before the last election. We know that Labor Party promises before elections are not particularly reliable. We all remember, prior to the 2010 election, the commitment: 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.' We all remember that commitment on the eve of the election. But then, having watched the last couple of episodes of TheKilling Season, one can never quite understand the personalities, the bitternesses and the hatreds in the Labor Party which seem to be their modus operandi. That is what seems to direct policy decisions in the Labor Party.
Honourable senators interjecting—
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Back): Order! Order, colleagues. Senator Macdonald, resume—through the chair, if you would, please.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Senator Carr, shout all you like, but I have actually taped the first two episodes and I can send them to you, if you want just a bit of a reminder about the part you and most of your friends on the front bench played in the atrocious disloyalty and dishonesty that has been so clearly exposed in those two episodes of The Killing Season about the Labor Party and how it operates.
And, Mr Acting Deputy President Back, why would you expect better from the Labor Party? I just have to divert a fraction and mention that I read an article in the Hobart Mercury the other day from a dear old friend of mine, former Senator Margaret Reynolds. She was a Labor senator based in Townsville when I first entered the Senate. And I liked Margaret; I was disappointed when she left the north and went down to Tasmania. But she wrote this article for the Hobart Mercury berating the major political parties for the way they select Senate candidates. I was obliged to reply to the Hobart Mercury—I suspect they did not print it, but I did reply—and I said, 'My old friend Margaret Reynolds was clearly talking about the Labor Party, not the Liberal or National parties,' because, as I pointed out, there is a difference. We have just been through a preselection for a senator in Queensland, and we were very fortunate in having Senator Jo Lindgren elected. But I have to tell you: Senator Lindgren was not selected on a 'captain's pick' or by a couple of union cabals getting together and determining who they would put into the position; Senator Lindgren actually faced over 300 ordinary Australians who make up the selection process of the LNP in Queensland, and she contested against eight other candidates all of whom were people of quality.
And Senator Lindgren, through her own abilities, and through the presentation she made, was selected. So I said to Margaret Reynolds, 'You might be talking about the Labor Party, where the Northern Territory branch of the Labor Party preselects a sitting senator and Julia Gillard comes in over the top and says: "Forget about the Labor Party; forget about the ordinary people who select this in the Northern Territory; I want that person."' So the difference could not be more stark. That is why I say you would not know where the Labor Party is coming from.
I might mention, as to my own last preselection, that I had been a sitting senator for some time, but there were actually 15 people opposing me. We had a preselection panel of over 450 people. I am delighted to say that I won on the first ballot, and I thank the LNP for that; I am always grateful to them for that. But that shows the stark difference between how the Liberal and National parties make economic decisions—make any decisions—and how the Labor Party does.
I will get back to the bill—just in case there is anyone listening to this and they might be interested in what this bill, the Labor 2013-14 Budget Savings (Measures No. 1) Bill 2014, is all about. The Labor Party introduced a carbon tax. They knew it would put up the cost of living of ordinary Australians. So, in an attempt to in some way ameliorate that bad policy decision of the carbon tax, they did say: 'We will give carbon tax related personal income tax cuts, just to compensate for the increased cost of living'—which they knew would happen with the carbon tax. They based that on a floating price for the carbon tax of $29 per tonne. Originally, when the carbon tax came in, the price was at $25.4 per tonne. It was going to float up to $29. And so the Labor Party said, 'We'll introduce these tax cuts to compensate.' But, lo and behold, the Labor Party suddenly realised how corrupt the market was for carbon tax permits, and they realised that their floating price estimate of $29 a tonne was not going to really achieve more than about $12 a tonne—less than half of what was originally expected. So the Labor Party, in a flash of economic responsibility, said: 'Well, the price is not going to go up quite as much as we thought; therefore, those personal income tax cuts that we were going to give won't now be necessary. So, as a budget repair measure, we're going to cancel them.' So, Senator Whish-Wilson, the Labor Party actually acknowledged that and said it was a tax that did not have the same substantive underlying reason as it originally did. So the Labor Party announced that they were going to get rid of these cuts.
Having promised that before the last election, they did a typical Labor-Greens thing: promise something before the election, and after the election come in and do the exact opposite. Twice the coalition has attempted to introduce Labor's removal of their promised income tax cuts. We have tried twice already in this parliament to allow the Labor Party to honour their commitment. Twice we have failed. But I am pleased to say—and all credit where credit is due—that the Labor Party are now, fortuitously, and sensibly, I might say, going to support this government measure, which is purely and simply the proposal that the Labor Party put before the last election.
The coalition made a commitment before the last election, and that commitment was broad; it was clear; it was sensible; it was direct.
Nobody—no Australian voter—could have misunderstood what the coalition's principal election promise was before the last election. It was: to fix the budget. We all know that when the Labor Party came into power they had a credit, $60 billion, in the 'piggy bank'. The $60 billion was there for the incoming Labor government because of the good work of Peter Costello and John Howard in the Howard government over many years. The Howard government had paid off previous Labor governments' debts and, more than that, they had put some money away for a rainy day. There were $60 billion sitting there waiting for the new Labor government.
It took the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government only a few months to blow that $60 billion and run up a debt which, if it had not been addressed, would have got up to around $700 billion. Senator Whish-Wilson is happy about that, I guess. He must be, because the Greens political party supported the Gillard and Rudd governments every time they took measures that would blow that out to $700 billion. Senator Cormann might help me here. That means we are currently paying—how much a day in interest, Senator Cormann?
Senator Cormann: Way too much: $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion a month.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Australian taxpayers are paying $1.3 billion a month to overseas lenders. They are paying $1.3 billion a month on Labor's debt runner—from $60 billion in credit to approaching $700 billion in deficit and already costing the Australian taxpayers over $1 billion a month in interest on those payments.
The promise the coalition made before the last election was to prepare the budget, and everybody knew that. Everybody was concerned about the unsustainable nature of Labor's borrowings and reckless spending. That is why they voted for the Abbott government and—in spite of continuous opposition by the Labor Party—the Abbott government has already started to turn around that approach to $700 billion in debt that the Labor Party left us.
Our government has not been perfect. I had some concerns about the 2014 budget, which I thought did not quite meet our targets or the aspirations and understanding of the Australian voter. I am pleased to say this is a government that is not too proud to say, 'Perhaps we didn't get it right, then,' and it has done something about fixing it. That never happens with the Labor Party—until today. Today the Labor Party have decided that (a) they will, at least, keep this promise, (b) they will do what they said they would do and understand should be done, and (c) in this small measure, the Labor Party will appreciate that the current government has a huge job to do in repairing the budget balance run up by Labor.
Senator Whish-Wilson: do not be surprised. The Labor Party are not catching you out. They are doing exactly what they said they would do. They have since voted against it, twice, but credit where credit is due. Now they are agreeing with that. In this small way, the coalition will be able to continue on its path of repairing the budget measures that Labor created for this country.