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Thursday, 6 June 2002
Page: 3366

Mr ANTHONY (Minister for Children and Youth Affairs) (4:33 PM) —I am very happy to give the government's response to the MPI and, as they are such raucous children, I think it is most appropriate that the minister for children give the government's defence here. I was amazed when the member for Rankin referred to remarks made by an individual at Holden—that under the Labor Party's stewardship there had been enormous amounts of reform, and almost looking nostalgically back on the days when Paul Keating and Bob Hawke were in leadership positions. And this on the very day when we hear we have an unemployment rate now of 6.3 per cent and that over 972,000 jobs have been created since this government came to power.

I would thought that one of the key ingredients for sustaining families' living standards in this country would be to provide each and every individual with the ability to get employment and, of course, to prosper for their family. The member for Cowper is in the chamber. I know he is a keen advocate for small business and for employment generation—75,000 new jobs were created in the last month. This is a phenomenal record and, if nothing else, it demonstrates that the Howard-Anderson government has the best interests of Australian families at heart. Under Labor—that is when they were last in a position of power federally—we saw unemployment rates of over 8½ per cent increasing to 10 per cent at times, and interest rates reached 17 per cent. It is quite phenomenal how the member for Rankin should try to reinvent history.

This government has been one of the most reforming governments since Federation. What we have done with industrial relations has been phenomenal. We want to continue this with the reform of the unfair dismissal law, because it is this heinous law supported by the trade union movement which is a barrier for new employment generation. When it comes to the area of the waterfront the member for Rankin talks about productivity. The greatest productivity gain has come from the courage we had to undertake critical waterfront reform. The container rate, which was down to about 15 containers an hour, is now approaching not 25 but 30.

When it comes to the area of taxation, it was this government that reformed a ramshackle, wholesale sales tax regime and put incentive back in particularly for PAYE income earners—most importantly, middle Australia—to give them incentive not only to work harder and to produce more but also to retain more income. If we had left, for instance, the wholesale sales tax system in place that would have been a far greater impediment on the secondary sector, and it was this government of course that removed those taxes and introduced a whole new taxation system.

One of the great success stories in exports—and the member for Rankin should know this—is that of exporting motor vehicles or motors, particularly from GM, to the Middle East. Why is that? This has been achieved because we have made industrial relations reforms which allow manufacturers more flexibility in the workplace; it is easier to ship motor vehicles since the changes to the waterfront; and the economic environment is substantially better in this country, demonstrated by the highest growth rate now in the OECD countries of 4.2 per cent. Where other countries are in recession, this country is forging ahead—not by accident but by very prudent leadership and policy making by the coalition government. Our children's future is in safe hands with the Liberal-National Party government in power whereas the Labor Party are bereft of ideas, try to rewrite history and are totally dominated by 25 per cent of the work force, the union movement; they cannot even control themselves.

The previous speaker, the member for Rankin, talked in his diatribe about the productivity vision of the Labor Party. I remember that not so long ago they talked about noodle nation. They rolled it out as their manifesto to the Australian public, and it went flatter than a pavlova. Noodle nation was an absolute failure. There are more noodles down at Portia's that have more substance than the noodles coming out of the knowledge nation proposed by the then leader of the Labor Party, Kim Beazley. He talked about R&D. I emphasise that the biggest rorters of R&D were in the last couple of years under the program that we inherited, when many corporates were not using it for research and development but were using it for systematic minimisation of taxation which did not increase productivity at all. The new Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources is doing a terrific job. Why? Because he is getting out there and speaking to business and finding out what their needs are. The role that he played as Minister for Small Business in the previous parliament was exemplary too.

When those opposite talk about the future of Australian families, aren't interest rates one of the key ingredients? It is called prudent monetary policy and prudent fiscal policy. How can any business looking for productivity gain increase their capitalisation, how can they have more sales and how can they put on more people if interest rates are at 17 per cent? That is what they were at their zenith under the Labor Party government. Today interest rates are substantially lower. The inflation rate today is 2.5 per cent compared to much higher averages when the Labor Party was in government. Mortgage rates were as high as 17 per cent and small business rates were in excess of 23 per cent.

It is outrageous that opposition members should come into this parliament and preach the virtues of increasing productivity and improving the lifestyles of Australians when so many Australians suffered under the recession we had to have. We remember those words with great poignancy. They were said almost as a statement of pride. The recession we had to have made for the highest unemployment we had to have. They did not care about the living standards of Australian people—the mums and dads, those on low incomes and those on middle incomes. All they cared about was the pursuit of power and holding office, and running this country into an enormous amount of debt: $96 billion. It was this government that had to correct that record. We have a proud record now. We have substantially reduced the Commonwealth debt that the Labor Party very fashionably increased.

Mr Hartsuyker —Great economic management!

Mr ANTHONY —Of course it is, and that is why we have such high growth—our economic management.

This MPI is partly about living standards. For the average mortgage back in 1996, the variable interest rate was 10.5 per cent. Yes, we have seen a couple of rate rises of late, from the lowest levels historically since the early 1960s to around 6.5 per cent. Back in 1996, Australian families with a $100,000 mortgage were paying $330 more than they are today. Why? Because of our prudent economic management, both micro and macro.

Imagine what it would have been like back in the days when Simon Crean—who will be the leader for 12 months; we know that—was minister for employment and interest rates were at 17 per cent. You would be paying $1,100 more a month if Labor were in government today and interest rates were at 17 per cent—$1,100. That would mean that, if you are in the marginal tax bracket of 43c, you would have to earn $2,000 more a month to put yourself back in the position you are in today. How could the Labor Party say that they have the welfare of Australian mums and dads and ordinary families at heart when those people could not even pay their mortgage or keep a roof over their heads under a Labor government?

When it comes to wages, what a joke that is! The ALP represent the workers, and yet in the last six years that the ALP was in government real wages went down five per cent. No wonder the union movement is so upset with the Australian Labor Party. And there were over one million people out of work. That is hardly a recipe for improving people's living standards.

When we came to government, we recognised that there was a role to help all Australian families. We did not put the new taxation system in place to be popular; we did it because it was right. In the area of family tax payments, which go to over 90 per cent of Australians, we put in a further $2 billion, which went to two million families and assisted four million children. That was a direct result of having a coalition government, because we are a family-friendly government and believe in giving families choice as well as giving them employment opportunities.

There have been unprecedented amounts of funding going into the area of child care to give families choice, particularly in a changing market. We recognise from the Intergenerational Report, which has been talked about, that we have to assist those young families and give them choices. Over 700,000 children are now in Commonwealth-funded child care who never were under Labor. Indeed, we have increased funding by over $8 billion for the next four-year cycle. There are a lot more places, there is a lot more choice and we are assisting a lot more families.

The member for Rankin also talked about those that are disadvantaged and said that we are not doing anything in the welfare sector. Through Australians Working Together, the government has shown that it is tackling the hard issues in respect of those people that need assistance, who need to be given new skills so they are not left behind in this globalised world in which we live. Members opposite do not represent the workers; they represent a minority of the union movement and they are ripping themselves apart.

Mr Slipper —But the unions run them.

Mr ANTHONY —They certainly do run them; there is no question about that. For those people who have been left behind it is this government, through investing and through welfare reform, which is providing the tools and assistance to get these people out of a cycle of welfare dependency where there are three to four generations stuck on welfare. We are quite deliberate about this and we make no apologies. It is about giving incentives; it is about changing policy for lone parents in particular who need that assistance.

We are making reforms in the area of disability support, which the member for Rankin said were unfair. Interestingly, the member for Lilley and the member for Werriwa, in particular, are the biggest advocates for disability support reform, but they tend to forget—they are totally opportunistic. They are not interested in the welfare of Australian families. They are not interested in further productivity gains. They are in a desperate power struggle at the moment (a) about relevance and (b) trying to shore up the position of the Leader of the Opposition about whom factional warrior George Campbell said at a doorstop only two days ago, `We are giving him 12 months.' The member for Rankin is practising the virtues of how they are going to be better managers and have a greater social conscience when they cannot even govern themselves in this parliament, let alone govern their parents—the union masters back in Sydney and, most importantly, in Melbourne.

It is this government that is looking after the welfare of Australian children. During our stewardship, we have created over 956,000 jobs. We have created more full-time jobs of late. We have reduced interest rates to levels which are still near 30-year lows, giving families an opportunity (a) to have a mortgage and (b) to pay off a mortgage. Most importantly, we made hard decisions while reining in the debt that we inherited. We must remember that, had Labor not gone into debt, those interest repayments could have gone into schools or hospitals or into assisting more programs that were relevant for creating wealth.

Mr Forrest —Hear, hear!

Mr ANTHONY —The member for Mallee is a keen champion for people in rural Australia. I want to put it on the record that it is the National Party—along with the Liberal Party—that has made a major contribution in these policies. (Time expired)