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Wednesday, 13 February 2002
Page: 141


Mr BARTLETT (4:48 PM) —It is hard to believe that the opposition leader is serious in raising an MPI about a positive, constructive agenda. This is an opposition that spent six years over there making a hallmark of negativity—of opposing for opposition's sake and of offering nothing at all constructive. With every difficult issue over the last six years, we saw the opposition trying to walk both sides of the street, and they still do—unwilling to take a stand, unwilling to take on the hard issues and unwilling to make a simple decision— yet they try to talk about a constructive agenda. This government, by contrast, in its six years demonstrated very clearly that it was willing to undertake critical areas of reform, willing to attack the tough issues, willing to make the hard decisions and willing to govern in the interests of Australia.

This government does have a very constructive third-term agenda. Let me outline some of the issues. The first is a determination to continue to provide strong economic management—as the Governor-General said yesterday to `vigorously pursue' policies that will continue to strengthen the economy and to provide a strong economy where initiative is rewarded, where businesses thrive and where people have the opportunity to work and to prosper. We are already delivering in this regard and have been for the last six years. Our current rate of economic growth of 2½ per cent is the highest of the G-7 countries. Many of the leading economies in the world are in recession. Australia has a positive growth rate of 2½ per cent. This calendar year, it is forecast by most economists to be probably 3.3 per cent—the highest in the industrialised world. We heard the opposition leader over here say, `That is not good enough'—that is not good enough coming from the recession kings over there, from their high debt, high interest rate policies. If we had Labor in government now, we would be drifting along there at the bottom of the industrialised world in recession with many of the others. This government has been delivering and continues to deliver sound, strong economic management—



The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—I remind the member for Lyons, who has been called to order on several occasions, that the next time he will get called out.


Mr BARTLETT —for the benefit of all Australians. Look at the figures. We heard the previous two speakers from the other side talking about unemployment. What did Labor give us? When Labor left office we had unemployment of 8.6 per cent. For 13 years of Labor, unemployment averaged 8.7 per cent. It is now down to 6.7 per cent under this government. What would we have with interest rates under the policies of the former government? When Labor left office, home loan interest rates were 10.5 per cent. For 13 years of Labor, home loan interest rates over that time averaged over 12 per cent. They are now 6.03 per cent. Who is the winner out of that? Battling Australians, people trying to pay off their homes and businesses wanting to take out loans for their businesses.

Over the last six years, this government has repaid $55 billion of Labor's debt. In their last five years—with their profligate, irresponsible spending—they ran up $70 billion; $70,000 million of government debt in five years of extravagant spending. This government, in six years, has repaid $55 billion of that. The current account deficit frequently under Labor exceeded six per cent of GDP; it is now down to about half of that. We have been delivering and are determined to continue to deliver responsible economic management. We have made a commitment to making Australia more competitive through a range of further measures on business tax reform, measures to attract productive overseas investments and measures to make our workplaces more productive and more efficient.

On the issue of workplace relations, we have a very clear, constructive agenda to assist small businesses and to allow unions— yes—the rightful place to stand up for workers' interests, but not to allow them to get in the way of businesses wanting to get on with their business and not to allow them to hinder flexible, positive workplace relations. This government has allowed business managers the rightful role to manage their businesses the way they see fit. Already this morning—on the first day of business in the 40th Parliament—we have seen the introduction of the Workplace Relations Amendment (Fair Dismissal) Bill 2002, a piece of legislation determined to give small businesses a go. How many members in this chamber have had small businesses come to them and say, `If we could get rid of the unfair dismissal laws, we would put people on—we would give an apprentice a go, we would take on a trainee, we would give them a chance—but we're not going to do that so long as Labor's immoral, job destroying unfair dismissal laws remain, because we are afraid of being taken to the cleaners as so many of our business colleagues have'? This government is determined to reform the dismissal legislation to give small businesses a chance to manage their businesses and to take on new employees.

Further plans to be introduced in this autumn sitting of parliament—in this week— include legislation to ban compulsory union fees, legislation to require secret ballots before industrial action and legislation to prevent the one-size-fits-all pattern bargaining that Labor would want to see introduced. Our constructive agenda is for more flexible workplaces, for more harmonious workplaces and for more productive businesses for the benefit of employers and employees. If Labor are serious about a constructive agenda, I challenge them to support us on this legislation. Do not stand in the way; get behind this positive agenda. It will be good for small businesses and it will be good to create jobs in Australia.

I remind those members opposite and those people in the gallery that under this government we have had the lowest level of industrial unrest, the lowest level of man days lost, in the 80 years that records have been kept. Not only that; we have had rising wages. Over Labor's 13 years, average real wages rose by a miserable 0.4 per cent. Under the six years of coalition government they have risen by 12 per cent, and that is not only average real wages but also minimum real wages. Minimum real wages under Labor—the so-called protectors of the battlers, of the working class—after allowing for inflation fell by five per cent over their 13 years; in our six years they have risen by 9.5 per cent. It is this government, this side of the chamber, that is determined to protect working Australians.

The second key issue in terms of our constructive agenda is our determination to enhance Australia's national security, to build our defence capacity and to strengthen our security procedures. We had already shown a commitment to this prior to the tragic events of September 11, but it is obviously even more urgent now. In response to the 2000 Defence white paper we increased our defence spending by over $500 million in last year's budget. We made a commitment to increase defence spending in real terms by three per cent a year for each of the next 10 years. That will mean an increase in defence spending of around $30 billion over the next 10 years. This government is committed to ensuring Australia's security is protected.

In terms of antiterrorist measures in response to the events of September 11, we have already seen a number of measures introduced. We saw last week what Michelle Gratton in the Sydney Morning Herald called `landmark talks' between the President of Indonesia and the Australian Prime Minister about strong measures to counter terrorism. Already on the agenda for this autumn sitting we have five bills listed before the House regarding antiterrorism measures. We are committed to enhancing Australia's security.

There are many other key areas. In terms of the environment there is a commitment to enhancing environmental protection with the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Control, ongoing funding for greenhouse gas abatement and the National Heritage Trust et cetera. In terms of education, there is a commitment to increasing funding from early intervention to tackle literacy and numeracy problems right through to research, expenditure, innovation and commercialisation. There are a range of policies for our families, from the first child tax refund right through to substantial increases in aged care spending which were announced prior to the election. There are many measures determined to provide a constructive agenda for the welfare of all citizens of this country.

This government is determined to continue to provide strong, responsible government, to build a robust, vigorous economy with maximum opportunity for all, to enhance the productivity and fairness of our workplaces, to continue to look after those most in need, to continue to look after, improve and restore Australia's environment and to continue to enhance Australia's national security. This government is determined to make the hard decisions in Australia's interests. The contrast with Labor could not be clearer.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—Order! The discussion is now concluded.