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Wednesday, 3 March 2004
Page: 25790

Mr HARTSUYKER (4:00 PM) —It never ceases to amaze me that the Labor Party would wish to broach the subject of financial responsibility, because when it comes to managing the economy they have AAA-class credentials as economic vandals. They are absolute economic vandals. They say they care for families and they try and take the high ground on social policies, but the bottom line is: good economics is good social policy, good economics is great for families and creating jobs is great social policy. We have an agenda in this government of creating over a million new jobs, ensuring that families have the opportunity to have a breadwinner in the family, earning an income and earning self-respect. We believe in running the economy properly and ensuring that people have the opportunity of a job, not in dragging people down to the lowest common denominator. That is the way to build Australia. Our vision for Australia is to create opportunity and not to drag people down.

I hear the members opposite whinge and moan, `Where is the money coming from?' They cannot really comprehend it, but a strong, vibrant, growing economy provides the revenue stream that allows a government to provide goods and services. The Treasurer today announced the strongest quarterly growth in years—1.4 per cent for the December quarter—and four per cent annual growth. This is world-leading stuff, and all that the members opposite—so bereft of vision, so bereft of any credentials on economics—can do is whinge and moan. Farm production is up by 13.3 per cent, rural exports are up by 8.2 per cent, household consumption is up by 5.5 per cent, private business investment grew by over 10 per cent, and the profit share for the economy is the highest ever recorded. This does not just happen; this happens as a result of a strong hand on the tiller, responsible financial management, and strong growth against a background of low inflation. They could not achieve strong growth against a background of high inflation, yet they seek to criticise.

They handed to this government a $10 billion black hole and they stand here today attempting to run some tired argument that they have some economic credibility. They try and attack the government's budget credentials—a government which has delivered surplus after surplus. They are the ones who left us with a $96 billion government debt. We have set to work and we have been paying that back. Over $60 billion has been paid back. And what can we do with the interest saving? We can spend on providing goods and services for the people of this country; we can spend on providing a better Australia; we can spend on providing opportunities for families and improving the quality of life for Australians. And we are still delivering surpluses. I am confident that we will have a very fine surplus delivered in the next May budget.

It is the coalition's strong and responsible fiscal policies that have allowed this country to prosper, and in doing so we have been able to do a number of great things: we have been able to provide $20 billion each year for families, through family tax benefits and child-care benefits; we have put in place the new tax system; and we have provided $11 billion in tax cuts—and, hopefully, we will see some more tax cuts coming up during the forthcoming year. The coalition has in fact provided $2 billion in family tax benefits. Our books are in good shape. We are running a surplus. We are always running a surplus—that is what this government does.

Let us look at Labor's record. Let us peer back in time. The new Leader of the Opposition does not seem to worry about what happened in the past; what happened in the past does not matter to him. The fact that there was an $11½ billion deficit in 1991-92 apparently does not matter; the fact that there was a $17 billion deficit in 1992-93 does not matter; and the fact that there was a $17 billion deficit in 1993-94 does not matter either. The deficits under Labor just continue and continue. They ran up those deficits while they were selling Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank. They could not even balance the budget while they were selling off the farm.

The contrast between their economic credentials and our economic credentials is absolutely staggering. When Mr Crean, the current shadow Treasurer, was the minister for employment, unemployment peaked at over 10 per cent—a really good performance. He took unemployment over 10 per cent, and what is it now? It is 5.7 per cent. That is responsible economic management, with responsible economic policies, producing real results for Australians. The thing about Labor's deficits is that they are not shouldered by the people from Mars; they are shouldered by everyday Australians.

What a Labor deficit means is that the Labor Party is out there in the financial markets, competing with home owners to borrow funds. The Labor Party has its grubby hands in the financial markets, trying to rip out the money—money that is needed by people buying first homes and people who are carrying mortgages. So the Labor Party not only runs a policy of high unemployment and high interest rates but it competes with families in the mortgage market because it cannot balance its own budget. If a family were to run a deficit of a fraction of the proportion of their income that the Labor Party ran, they would soon be bankrupt, but the Labor Party seems to think that it has a licence to spend like there is no tomorrow.

I would like to just reflect for a moment on what some of Mr Crean's colleagues have said about Labor. I refer first to Mr Bob Carr. He said that the electorate hesitated to vote for federal Labor, in part because of the concerns about economic management.

Mrs De-Anne Kelly —At least Bob Carr knows.

Mr HARTSUYKER —Yes—that is it. I will say that again: the electorate hesitated to vote for federal Labor because of concerns about economic management. In another instance, our good friend Mr Bob McMullan was quoted as saying:

There is evidence to suggest that one public perception which distinguishes Labor's success at a local level from our recent failures at a national level has been fear of a lack of discipline in our fiscal policy and concern about the implications of this for interest rates.

It is quite obvious that the people of Australia would be concerned that the Labor Party, back in power, would be back out in the mortgage market, competing with people for finance, driving interest rates up, and making mortgages unaffordable.

It is strange that the Labor Party are criticising some recently announced spending initiatives which I think are valuable and will assist in creating a stronger Australia. I would like to know what they think is wrong with spending $267 million in additional funding to support our veterans. I think it is a very noble cause and our veterans are most deserving. It is something we should be supporting. The coalition was also able to give the states another $10 billion through last year's health agreements. That is another good thing to be spending money on. Do the Labor Party think we should take that money back and put it under a rug? I presume they want us to do that so that when they come along they can spend it. We also have the $2.4 billion MedicarePlus package, which is being held up by Labor. That is how much real concern they have for the welfare of the people of Australia—holding up MedicarePlus in the Senate, holding up that valuable safety net initiative. They really should wake up to themselves on this matter.

The announcement on the weekend of $362 million to assist Catholic schools is a very worthwhile initiative and one which should be supported. I would like to see the Labor Party state their position on why we should not be spending $362 million on Catholic schools. The Catholic school system is a very great educational institution. It should be noted that we have been spending more money on state schools too. Our federal funding expenditure for state schools has gone up by 60 per cent since we came to government in 1996. We have more young adults at university than ever before. Quite frankly, the spending initiatives announced recently are most proper. I do not want to see this spending on health reduced. We should be putting as many resources as we responsibly can into our health system. I do not want to see spending on education cut. We should be supporting education expenditure to the maximum amount a responsible government can because we know that education is a major driver in the future wealth of this country. We should continue to support our veterans with a good, solid veterans' affairs program, as we have.

But there is one thing I think we should be cutting expenditure on and I would be keen to initiate it as quickly as possible. The members opposite have been a bit slow, but we will give them a bit of time. We should cut expenditure on the lease of Centenary House. We should rip $36 million in unnecessary expenditure out of Centenary House and put it into training more doctors and nurses and providing additional education services, health services and support for our veterans. That is what we could do with that money. Let us cut the rort on Centenary House and provide better services for the people of Australia.