Mr HOGAN (Page) (12:08): I rise to speak in favour of Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2013-2014, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2013-2014 and Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 2) 2013-2014 and against the opposition amendment. Can I just take the point that the member for Chifley just raised in relation to—
Mr Conroy: Charlton!
Mr HOGAN: Sorry, Charlton. Sorry, Member for Charlton; apologies to the member for Chifley. On the point about the $8.8 billion for the one-off grant to the RBA: I have the privilege of being on the Standing Committee on Economics, and we had the Governor of the Reserve Bank come to a meeting in late December. There was much toing and froing about this from different members of the committee. It sounded to me as though there was almost a conspiracy feel about this according to members of the opposition. But I asked the governor a question. I said, ‘Do you think it is a good thing or a bad thing, Governor, that this $8.8 billion grant be given to the RBA?’ His exact words were, ‘This is something that I welcome because it restores the capital position of the bank to where I would like it to be.’ So, while we may make much toing and froing about who said what to whom, who made what phone call on what day or who said what to whom in the meeting, his response to that was that he welcomes it. He appreciates, probably more than anyone else, even anyone in this House, the importance of the Reserve Bank’s capital position and that it be reinstated as quickly as possible due to the role that that reserve plays due to foreign currency fluctuations and everything else that the RBA needs it for.
Another part of this appropriation legislation obviously is for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. This debate I think is sometimes lost in the debate that we have in the public and in the media about this. When we talk about people seeking asylum in Australia, sometimes it is forgotten and sometimes it is lost that there is bipartisan support for Australia—given that we are a relatively wealthy country—to take in asylum seekers every year, and in fact we do. We take in 13,750 asylum seekers each and every year. Not only do we take them in; we make sure that we look after them to help their settlement into Australia. We do that through a variety of programs. We do it through housing programs and education programs. We do it in many other ways to make sure that they are not just left by themselves but find their transition into life in Australia as easy as we can make it.
That is why we cap the program. We do not take in hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers every year. Some countries have many more asylum seekers arriving on their shores every year, but those countries tend not to do anything for them. They just leave them by themselves. They do not have any rights, and they are certainly not given government assistance. That is not the Australian way. When we take in our asylum seekers, we want to look after them, which is why we cap the program at the 13,000 to 14,000 that we do.
The approach that we have taken to this has been in the context of a very highly and emotionally charged debate. I appreciate the passions on either side of this because I think that behind both sides of this argument there are good intentions and there is goodwill, in the sense that we get this right. In my mind, I look back at the statistics. I look back at what was happening at the end of the Howard government era. At the end of the Howard government, I think there was a detention centre that had three or four people in it. And it is important to remember that, while we only had three or four people in a detention centre, we were still taking in 13,750 people each year—as we should—and we were housing them and giving them education programs and language programs to help them settle. So, while the detention centres had closed, we were still taking in asylum seekers.
What happened? I will give some credit to the Rudd government maybe that their intention was good. When the Rudd government came in, they thought that the policies—and we know what they were; they were temporary protection visas, offshore processing and turning back boats if and when it was safe to do so—were harsh. They felt that the image of that to the international community or even the Australian community was too harsh. Let us assume for a second that their intention behind changing that policy was admirable, but let us look at the results.
The results were that the people-smuggling business started up again. This is a tragedy. I certainly do not want to sound political about this, but I am just stating the fact. The tragedy was that obviously we saw many drownings and deaths at sea because the people-smuggling business started up again. And we certainly had a lot of cost blow-outs again when we had to start to reopen detention centres, and we had a whole process that the previous government had had to start to pre-empt. I stand here and I think that we all want the same result in some ways in this country about this issue, in the sense that we do not want detention centres. Obviously the whole purpose of having offshore processing is to deter so that there is no demand for that. Again we see the government’s policies. It is part of this appropriation bill that the policy we are implementing in relation to immigration and border protection is a good one.
When I look at appropriation bills, I look more broadly and see that these bills are always about economic management. You look younger than I, Deputy Speaker, so you might not remember as far back as I do. My first memories of economic management were the Whitlam days. At that stage, the Labor Party had not been in power for a long time so I think you can excuse some of their mismanagement., but we had a bit of chaos with them. We had the Khemlani loans affair and things happening, as far as economic management goes, that did not suit our country well. With the next Labor government, we had Hawke and Keating. Let us give credit where credit is due: certainly, as Treasurer, Paul Keating implemented some policies that he and the country should be quite happy with. But we also had the recession that we had to have, according to him. We had 18 per cent interest rates. Very tellingly, we were again left with a $96 billion debt.
I want to come to debt in a minute, given we are talking appropriation bills. Let us assume we are looking at this from a distance. The Howard-Costello government came in and they paid back all of that debt. The $96 billion was completely repaid. They put $50 billion into the Future Fund, which was unfunded superannuation liabilities we had for public servants. To have given those public servants surety about their superannuation is a wonderful thing. It is well documented, as you know, that in that government’s last year alone we were left a $20 billion surplus.
We then get the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government. Everyone in that government would have observed the Whitlam experiment. They saw what Hawke and Keating did—that they did some good things but left us with a big debt. They saw the good economic management of the Howard-Costello years. What did they learn from that? What did the Rudd-Gillard government that learn from that? It would seem not much, because unfortunately we had the six biggest deficits in the history of our country. We had a global financial crisis during that period and there were certainly some elements where you could say that government needed to step in and do some things. I do not think anybody argued with that. But we would say again that some of those were mismanaged. I will not list them all, but some of the more obvious ones are the batts and the overpriced school halls. We have had some examples with the NBN rollout, where it looks like there has again been very wasteful spending.
But what does this mean? If you are the average punter, or the average mum and dad in the street, what does this mean? These deficits or debts, what do they mean for you? Is it an issue for you? It is—because the issue is that now, because of those six years, we have an interest bill. We all have mortgages or run a business and so we know what this means. We have an interest bill of $10 billion a year.
We stand in this House right now, and I have heard people from the opposition talk about this terrible stuff that is going on with things that the member was talking about previously—cuts, or being tough on multicultural programs. No-one wants to do that. No-one wants to be in government and say to a program, ‘We are not going to give you as much money as we previously did.’ But imagine if we had not had the six years of the Labor government and, now, the $10 billion a year we are paying in interest. Imagine how much better life would be for everyone in this country. This year we are paying $10 billion in interest, for which we will get nothing. We will get nothing: no service, no money to Gonski, no money for the NDIS, no money to the multicultural programs that the previous member was speaking about. This is $10 billion in interest which will just go to the people who we borrowed the money from. Then what happens? Next year, again, the same thing happens. Again we will have a huge interest bill. Again money will not go to infrastructure. We would love to have the money for infrastructure. Money will not be going to government programs or to very worthy causes.
Here we are in 2014, with the biggest debt in our history. We are overregulated and it is expensive to do business in this country. This is what the challenge is for the new coalition government: to get us back on track again and put our budget and our finances in a financially-sustainable position. Members on the other side are often very righteous about children and say that we need education and programs or services for our children, and rightly so. But the other thing that our children do not deserve is to be left a debt and an interest bill that will mean their standard of living and the services they get for themselves and their children is less than ours. That is the challenge for this new government. We know the budget repair work has already begun. We know that the reduction of red tape has already begun.
Interestingly enough, after the election I was talking to my community. They were coming to me about lowering red tape. I thought it would be predominantly small business. It is, but guess who else is in my office? Guess who else is talking to me as I walk around the community? It is not just a small business. It is non-government organisations and not-for-profit organisations; in fact, it is often members of the public sector themselves. I have had examples of schoolteachers stopping me at sporting events and saying, ‘I have had to fill out eight pages in a risk assessment to walk my kids two blocks to get them here, or for this or for that.’ That, too, is an example of wasted time and wasted resources. We all in this chamber come here with good intentions. We want the best for our children. We want the best for people in our community who are disadvantaged and we want the best for everyone now and in the future.
I want to recap on three important issues from these appropriation bills. One is the $8.8 billion grant. I reiterate: the Governor of the Reserve Bank said he welcomed it. I spoke about the border protection element of this appropriation bill too. I said that everyone in this country welcomes the 13,000 to 14,000 asylum seekers who come every year in an orderly way and who do not risk their lives. We look after them when they get here. We give them education, language and housing programs to make them assimilate. I know that this government—with the economic mismanagement that we have seen over the last six years, which has given us a $10 billion interest bill that does not go to any services or any infrastructure—will undergo a budget repair bill that puts our country’s finances back in order so that our children and our children’s children are not left with a Labor legacy of debt and a lower standard of living.