Senator Seselja speaks on a motion in relation to the Government's Commission of Audit


Senator Seselja speaks on a motion in relation to the Government's Commission of Audit

It appears that not much changes. Some things in fact never change. There are some things that are absolutely constant. We know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west and that night follows day. Just as sure as those things is that Liberal-National coalition governments have to pick up the pieces from the financial mismanagement of Labor governments. That is what the incoming coalition government is dealing with right now. We saw it in 1975 at the end of the Whitlam government; we saw it in 1996 at the end of the Hawke-Keating government; and we are seeing it again now in 2013 as the legacy of the Rudd-Gillard government.

What is breathtaking is that, just as sure as it is that the Labor Party always wrecks the finances of our nation, it gives no assistance to governments coming in to clean up the mess that it has left. We well remember the massive Labor debt that the Howard government were left when they came in. As they set about the task of picking up the pieces the Labor Party opposed them at every turn. Every economic reform, every privatisation was opposed by the Labor Party at every turn as the coalition got about the business of fixing the mess that they had inherited. Unfortunately, we see that nothing has changed. We see that history is repeating itself, and the Labor Party now, having trashed the joint, is coming in and telling us that they do not like the way that the coalition are cleaning it up.

I say that we have a different approach and we are not going to follow the Labor approach to economic management or to managing the budget, because we have seen where that leads. Labor governments always leave things this way. You hear it in contributions from Labor senators; you heard it from the former government when it made announcements. It is this never-ending focus on outputs rather than outcomes. The measure of success for the Labor Party is always about how much they spent on any given area. It is not about outcomes. We used to hear it at the territory level and we see it right across the board. If you apply the Labor Party logic of outputs versus outcomes, every Labor blow-out of course represents an extra investment—whether it is the NBN or the school halls. If you take the logic of the Labor Party—which is not about the achievement or the outcome for the community but about the outputs—then every blow-out represents an extra investment in a particular area. The coalition takes a very different approach.

What we are debating here today is the Commission of Audit. It was interesting to hear the contributions of a number of senators. Even amongst Labor senators there seemed to be a difference in approach—from Senator Moore in the first instance, when she acknowledged that perhaps a commission of audit is not such a bad idea. But the tenor of most of what we have heard from most of the Labor Party is that a commission of audit is a bad idea. So, let's look at the intent of the Commission of Audit. The commission is reviewing the activities of the government to ensure taxpayers are receiving value for money to eliminate wasteful spending; to identify areas of duplication between the Commonwealth and other levels of government; to identify areas where Commonwealth involvement is inappropriate; and to improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of government services.

I ask: what is there to object to in those goals or in ensuring that taxpayers receive value for money? What is there to object to in a government seeking to eliminate wasteful spending? This should be the goal of every government; it should not be just the goal of coalition governments. Why was the Labor Party not taking measures to make government spending more effective and to give taxpayers better value for money? Why were they not doing it? We heard earlier in the exchange that you need to start as you finish. The point was made very well by Senator McKenzie when she said that we do not want to finish where Labor has left it. But it is worth asking the question: how did we get to this point? After just six years of Labor government, how did we get to this point? I go back to Senator Moore's contribution at the start, where she suggested that oppositions often make grand promises but when they get into government they walk away from them. She seems to be confusing the current government for the former government. She seems to be confusing the attitude of this government with that of the previous Labor government.

We have heard so much about the carbon tax promise, but, while we are dealing with issues of public finances, let's go back to one of Kevin Rudd's first promises in opposition—many here may remember it—was to be an economic conservative. As opposition leader Kevin Rudd promised to be an economic conservative. He said that he wore it as a badge of honour when people referred to him as an economic conservative, but in government something completely different happened. In fact, we saw the most rapid turnaround by far in the nation's finances in its history. We had deficits as far as the eye could see—$27.1 billion, $54.8 billion, $51.5 billion, $44.5 billion and $23.5 billion. Those are not the acts of an economic conservative. That is not the delivery of a government that is committed to wisely spending taxpayers' money. We so often heard from the former government that it was in fact a revenue problem that was leading to the massive deficits. But if we take a look at the actual revenue during that period, the revenue went up quite considerably from the first budget to Labor's last budget—to the tune of around $60 billion. We saw revenue going up—there were some dips occasionally—and yet the deficits kept mounting.

The coalition is saying that we want to see taxpayers' money respected; we want to see it wisely spent. I do not think any senators in this place who would object to an approach like that. As we go about the task of examining areas where we can do things better, it would be far more helpful for the opposition to embrace that task and support the government in its efforts to do that instead of playing this role of opposing everything the government is seeking to do for what can only be called rank political opportunism.

The Labor Party claimed to be economic conservatives and they were not. That is one of the major reasons why they are no longer in government—people could not trust them to look after the nation's finances. They promised to be economic conservatives, but we saw in budget after budget after budget that they were not. They did not honour the taxpayers' dollar. There are a number of examples of that. We can look at the way the NBN was put together. There was no cost-benefit analysis, and we saw the results—the time line slipped, the budgets blew out and we saw mounting debt. I think it was Senator Stephens who seemed to be suggesting that it would be a bad thing to sell the NBN. If my memory serves me correctly, I think the Labor Party had planned to eventually sell the NBN—I can be corrected in this place if my recollection is wrong. We as a nation should not in the long term be seeing this kind of monopoly asset in government hands. We saw that with Telstra many years ago, the sale of which the Labor Party opposed. I do not think anyone would want to go back to the national ownership of things like Telstra.

The coalition clearly has a very different way of doing things. We have inherited a significant challenge from the Labor Party. The Labor Party cannot blame anyone else for the state of our nation's finances. Some of the tough decisions that will be made in the coming years will be as a result of the fact that the Labor Party did not make tough decisions, that the Labor Party often took the easy way out and that the Labor Party did not control spending and often tried to buy their way back into office. When you do that, eventually there is a bill to pay and the nation now faces that bill.

The coalition's approach is to face this situation in a calm and methodical way; in a way that builds confidence. We want people in the community to have confidence in our government; we want the business community to have confidence to invest; we want consumers to have confidence to spend. They can only have that confidence when they believe that the government knows what it is doing, when the government has a clear plan and when the government implements that plan. The government should be applauded for its efforts to bring the budget back into the black. It needs to do that responsibly and I trust that it will. As Senator Sinodinos said earlier today, we are not going to just slash and burn. We are going to make structural medium-term changes that will help deliver fiscal sustainability, in stark contrast to what we have seen over the past six years of Labor government.