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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 274

Ms VAMVAKINOU (5:03 PM) —The opposition’s rejection of a stimulus package that has been designed to bolster Australia’s economy during an unprecedented economic crisis is an irresponsible, obstructive tactic at a time when Australians are looking to their government for responsible leadership and support as they struggle to keep their jobs and their homes.

This package is not just about one-off ‘handouts’. It is about the Australian government providing an immediate stimulus to the economy and, more critically, it is about supporting Australian jobs by bringing forward massive infrastructure programs through which Australians will see immediate and much-needed benefits. Far from being irresponsible, this package strikes the right balance between supporting growth and jobs now, and delivering the lasting investments needed to strengthen the economy for the future. And this is good quality policy.

Nowhere is this commitment more obvious than in the massive $28.2 billion of direct investment in schools, housing, roads and other essential infrastructure. This is not a structural deficit, nor a long-term debt. It is a sensible long-term investment in our future prosperity. In investing in education, we are investing in the future of young Australians. It is these young Australians who will be the future workforce of this country. It is these young Australians who will create our future wealth. It is these young Australians who, through their talents and skills, will be the drivers of our innovation capacity. By investing in our schools through infrastructure and facility upgrades, as this package aims to do, we are equipping these young people with the resources and the tools they need to create our future prosperity and grow our economy.

We often talk about a decline in interest by schoolchildren in the areas of science and maths. My own committee, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Innovation, recently released a report called Building Australia’s research capacity, detailing the decline in the numbers of young Australians pursuing a research career. We must heed these alarm bells if we are truly committed to increasing our knowledge and scientific capacity. Building modern science labs is fundamental to reinvigorating young people’s interest in science, and it is critical to our country’s economic future and prosperity. This stimulus package responds to this need. If we accept that we need to develop capability in the areas of science and maths, then we need new science laboratories and we need them now. And if we accept that we need to develop our language capabilities in order to be competitive in a global community, then we need language laboratories and we need them now.

By injecting funds into schools, the government is investing in the nation’s future. For the opposition to obstruct this investment and to try to paint the government as financially irresponsible indicates that they do not see the value of investing in our nation’s future through our schools and that they are in serious denial about what other countries around the world already know—that is, that the effects of the global financial crisis are unfolding before our eyes. Australia is not immune and we must act now.

Is it possible that the opposition just doesn’t get it? If this is the case, can I take the opportunity to inform the opposition that other Australians do get it. I would like to have a look at what others who know a little bit about these things are saying about the government’s stimulus package. Heather Ridout from the Australian Industry Group says:

The nation building and jobs plan announced by the federal government today is simple and substantial, and will provide a big stimulus to help keep the economy moving. Together with the interest rate cut, it has been a big day for monetary and fiscal policy—it’s a case of ‘all hands on deck’

What a pity that the opposition has chosen not to get on board. Ron Silberberg from the Housing Industry Association also says ‘The government’s recovery plan appropriately spends for jobs in the short term and invests for future prosperity.’ Angelo Gavrielatos from the Australian Education Union, who seriously understands the need to invest in our schools and lobbies hard to ensure that this happens, says:

In addition to providing an important economic stimulus, today’s announcement is the most important infrastructure investment the government can make. This investment will provide the opportunity for our schools to engage in urgent upgrades and to develop modern learning environments, which will improve education outcomes for our students…

And finally, Wal King from the Australian Constructors Association says ‘This is a very thoughtful and well-targeted program. This is the right time to invest in Australia to protect the future and the announcements are an important contribution’.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired.