MPI Speech 19th June 2014

Mr FITZGIBBON (Hunter) (15:12):  We just heard a personal explanation from the member for Dawson. I say to the member for Dawson: it will take more than that to save you in your electorate following the bringing down of this horrendous budget. It will take more than your opposition to that terrible PPL scheme to save you in Dawson. I hope constituents in Dawson are listening to this debate this afternoon because I have no doubt that, at the conclusion of this debate, my colleagues and I will have convinced them and left them in no doubt that this is a bad budget for rural and regional Australia. While there is a lot of competition in measuring which is the biggest broken promise in this budget, I suspect many of them will come to the conclusion that the increased fuel taxes in this budget will go down as the worst broken promise of all. I hope that the constituents of the member for Dawson are listening. I hope that the constituents of the member for Eden-Monaro are listening. I hope the constituents of the members for New England, Page, Capricornia, Braddon, Lyne and Parke are listening. They are all members who represent rural and regional Australia who I know fear going back to their electorates again this weekend because of their incapacity to sell this terrible budget to their constituents.

It is Thursday afternoon and I know everyone is pretty tired and, indeed, they are probably tiring of budget debate, so I thought I would keep everyone alert this afternoon by starting with a quiz. I have a quiz for members this afternoon and I invite all members on both sides of the chamber to participate. I have six questions this afternoon. The first is about people who have embarrassed themselves in politics.

The second is about political parties which have embarrassed themselves in politics and then I have three questions on mathematics—three maths questions just to keep people alert.

The first question is about people embarrassing themselves in politics. I am going to share a quote with the chamber and then I am going to ask people who this quote is from. I am going to give people hints because, as I said, I know we are all a bit tired on Thursday afternoon. So I am going to give people hints. This is a person who has actually served in this place and, in fact, it is a person who remains in this place. The person says this of fuel taxes: 'Fuel tax is a tax on distance. If ever there was a country that should not aggressively tax fuel it is a vast country like Australia. It is a tax on doing business outside the capital cities. It is a tax on farming in the distant parts of our nation. It is a tax on living and setting up a business in a country town.'

Now, who do members think might have said that in this place?

Honourable members interjecting—

Mr FITZGIBBON:  Was it the member for Parkes? Do I hear the member for Parkes?

Honourable members interjecting—

Mr FITZGIBBON:  No? Was it the member for Richmond? It might have been the member for Richmond—it sounds like something she might say. Was it the member for Bendigo? It could have been something she would say, but no. That quote comes from someone on that side of the chamber. That quote comes from none other than the Deputy Prime Minister of this country! That was a question about people embarrassing themselves in this place. Now, what about political parties embarrassing themselves in this place? The question is: which party would take the prize for ultimate embarrassment in this parliament? Would it be the Liberal Party? Would be the Liberal Party for bringing down such an embarrassing budget? Would it be the Liberal Party? It is a pretty hot contest, once again, but no, I think—

Mr Neumann:  It's the Nationals!

Mr FITZGIBBON:   The member for Blair has it! It is the National Party! I remind members of the play in the lead-up to this budget, when we were going to lose the diesel fuel rebate. This is the straw man the coalition likes to put up, 'We've got a plan. We've got to put petrol taxes up, despite our election promises. But what are we going to do about the National Party? They won't be happy about it because they know it impacts adversely disproportionately on country Australia. I know! I know what we'll do. We'll feign the revocation of the diesel fuel rebate and they'll get themselves all worked up about that. Then, on election night, we'll say, "No, we're not revoking the diesel fuel rebate," and they'll all breathe a sigh of relief. But they won't work out until the next morning what has happened with petrol taxes!'

That's what went on in this place only a couple of months ago, and the National Party takes the prize for the most embarrassing moment for a party in this parliament.

We move to mathematics, and I make this point very deliberately because it helps people understand what is happening with fuel taxes in this country, and it helps us to understand what the difference is between excise in petrol now compared to the days prior to the GST.

I ask members this question: if petrol were at 70c at the bowser and you take 7c off because John Howard, when he was Prime Minister, took 7c off excise—I say '7c' but I think he took 6.7c off, so we will say 7c to keep it easy—so that the GST would not necessarily increase the price of the GST. So if you take 70c and subtract 7c off the excise and then you put 10 per cent on, what do you get? You get roughly the same price.

But what about when fuel is $1.50 a litre? When you get to $1.50 a litre and you take 7c off you end up with a fuel price of about $1.57 a litre. Even John Howard understood that you cannot put a tax on a tax. He did not anticipate, of course, that oil prices would accelerate and that the 7c reduction would go nowhere near compensating motorists for the GST.

Now, if John Howard had left the excise indexation in place fuel excise would not be 38c today, it would be 50c. So that tells you what the now Prime Minister's decision is going to do to fuel prices in another 10 years. So this is not just a decision that impacts today, this is a compounding decision—something that is going to increase exponentially petrol prices over a period of time.

As the Deputy Prime Minister himself has pointed out, this is a decision that falls disproportionately adversely on rural and regional Australia, because we travel longer distances. The Treasurer goes from North Sydney into the city for his meetings, just across the bridge. In rural and regional Australia we drive hundreds of kilometres on a daily basis. Sometimes we drive 100 kilometres just to go to the supermarket. This is not something understood by those who live in our capital cities. And it is about time those members who I mentioned earlier, those who purport to represent their rural and regional electorates, stood up to this mob—stood up to this government and explained how these things fall disproportionately on rural and regional Australia.

I will leave others to go through the many other budget issues that adversely affect us in the bush in particular. They go to the GP tax, changes to the universities and changes for the unemployed who, themselves, have to travel long distances to apply for a job and who have to travel long distances to get to a TAFE course or any sort of a training course—if, indeed, in rural and regional Australia they can get one all. That is another disadvantage faced by those living in the bush.

I want to turn to one very specific broken promise before I close on the budget, because the minister for agriculture is with this. I put these questions to him in the parliament last night and he refused to answer them so I am going to give him another chance today.

When he donned the Akubra back in February and wandered out into drought-affected Australia he got all the newspaper reports he was looking for. He and the Prime Minister were on the 6 o'clock news, and in the lead-up to that drought tour the drought was in the news on a daily basis. We could not turn on our televisions in the morning for the Today show or for Sunrise without them talking about drought. The Daily Telegraph in New South Wales was running a drought donation scheme. Everyone was talking about drought. But at the moment the Prime Minister and the agriculture minister went out to announce their package it all stopped. It was a beautiful political circuit-breaker for them.

But guess what? The drought has not ended for those struggling in rural and regional Australia. I was outside Emerald just last week, meeting with some of these people who are very disappointed in this mob on the other side.

I ask the minister again: is the $80 million I was referring to still available to assist drought affected farmers? You have taken $40 million out of Labor's scheme. You will not deliver $40 million under your scheme this year because you have not delivered one cent to farming families. I want you, Minister, to guarantee here today that the $80 million—the $40 million you took from the old scheme and the $40 million you will not spend this financial year in the current scheme—will remain available to farmers in the coming financial year.

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