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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 282

Mr TUCKEY (5:30 PM) — I rise to speak on the Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and cognate bills. Many members, including ministers, have chosen today to read the thank you notes from those they represent who will be receiving money. The leading talkback commercial station in Perth has as one of its announcers a fellow called Bob Maumill. I have known Bob for many years. He is a hard-nosed Labor voter. He would say so publicly, and I admire him for it. He is not a bad horse trainer either, and we have had many discussions in both areas. I thought the House might be interested in what this hard-nosed Labor voter with a huge interest in democracy and the proceedings of parliament had to say on air today. To put it in simple terms, he said:

Pull your head in Kev, let the Opposition do their job.

I might add that the member for Brand, who is here in the House, would know Bob Maumill well. Maumill goes on to say:

… the Opposition has every right to take reasonable time to carefully examine these latest spending proposals.

In fact it is the Oppositions duty to do so.

The question might be asked as to why Bob had to give that lecture to his Labor colleagues. It might be that Bob knows that we have been in recess for nearly two months.

While the Prime Minister was writing his treatise on the advantages of socialism, we could have been called back here to give this a couple of weeks’ consideration and meet the deadlines for which the government is so anxious. To come back and on the second sitting day have $42 billion of virtual mini-budget dumped into this House with the obligation of analysing it and giving good service to the community is ridiculous and bad. One can only doubt the motives of the government for doing it. As much as it is necessary to try and keep ahead of the current international situation, it is not that urgent. It seems that getting money out might have more to do with the schedules applied in Newspoll than the welfare of Australians.

It is interesting because, when I look at this legislation and its intention, there were some very significant promises made by the government when we fought the last election. The first promise was economic rectitude: ‘We will guarantee to maintain surpluses. Trust us.’ Then in that context we were told we would have an education revolution funded in a proper budget which was to retain a surplus. Then we were going to have a housing program for the poor and the needy funded without the need to borrow. Where are they?

I heard the minister today telling us about her new program, all of which is to be funded with debt. But I thought she had fixed that, according to answer after answer she gave in this place some time ago. She had done a deal with the private sector. They were queuing up in their thousands to take the deal from the government whereby they would construct the housing and rent it out on the basis of a subsidy. It is a good practical policy, one might think, but one can only wonder why it is now necessary for the government to borrow billions to build houses. Like that lovely gift of free computers, there is nothing in this legislation that tells us who pays as the houses suffer the normal deterioration applicable to rental premises. They cost a lot more to look after than premises that people might buy with their own money.

It is the same thing. The states are saying, ‘Whacko! Give us the money!’ but not one of them has yet answered the question, ‘Hell, what do we do with 20,000 houses as the windows get broken and the floors get ripped up and all the other issues that most of us have perceived in this particular area?’ Not a word. We know what has happened with the free computers. The overall cost has doubled, and that is probably not enough because it has been established that the maintenance cost of these little black boxes is far in excess of their actual hardware purchase—and we know it.

The first question we have is: what is this all about? It is certainly not an attempt to turn the Australian economy around or crank it up. It is alright to talk about whether or not extra money was spent at Harvey Norman or Bunnings or any of the places I visit as a shopper. I noted what happened. When the turnover went up, the queues at the checkout got longer. But I did not see any extra checkout chicks. Nobody stood up in this place and said, ‘Here is the evidence of increased employment relevant to this costly injection of funding.’ You could say maybe some did not get the sack, but there is no evidence of that. Under the much hated Work Choices legislation, there was evidence of 50,000 new jobs in a month in Victoria and New South Wales immediately after small business discovered it no longer had the threat of paying go-away money under those particular rules of unfair dismissal.

So when we want to compare the statistics it is not a bad idea to put the facts on the table. But there are so many questions that cannot be answered in the course of a day or two. This legislation should have laid on the table for at least a week, while the broader commentators had a look at what it all meant. I was a bit surprised that the Minister for Trade put his head above the trenches today to make his contribution and to repeat carefully crafted lines like ‘decisive’, ‘the opposition is out of touch’ and everything else. I read into his remarks that the IMF have said that Australia has got to spend more money to save the rest of the world. You can go back and read his comments, but that was the clear implication that I worked out.

This is what annoys me, as the representative of farmers, miners and all those primary industries—the people who carry the Australian economy. And the workers who have lost their jobs: what are they going to be under this new spend, spend, spend regime? Checkout chicks? Maybe they will get a job as a barman or a croupier. But they will not be getting a job in mining under this package because there is not one cent for the export industries. Tourism is an export industry, if people can possibly understand that. They said a little while ago: ‘Things are dreadfully tough for us. Can you help?’ The answer from this government was no. How do we drive an export-oriented economy when we give those industries no help and we give all the money to people to go and buy imported goods? Maybe that truth came out through the comments of the Minister for Trade when he said, ‘The IMF are pressing for this.’ Australia is apparently going to save the world!

There is no talk anymore of a surplus. From this moment on, everything is borrowed money. When all those people get their 900 bucks, their interest bill will start. I do not know if anybody thinks that we materialise money in this place—of course, the Whitlam government did. If we are real about it and we borrow money, and we borrow it out of a very restricted market, where do the profit generators get theirs? You might like to tell me. Are they going to get it overseas? That seems to be the problem. So we are going to have government back in the money market, hip-and-shouldering every other business that might think it can borrow some money, and doing something for the economy on the way.

It is all right for the Reserve Bank to say what interest rates will be. When money gets short, it is out of their control. They become commercial rates. The banks talk about the cost of borrowing. So when $40-odd billion worth of government paper comes onto the market—and of course people will buy it, because they at least hope they will get their money back there—what happens in the private sector? Historically, our banks have gone overseas, and certain government initiatives have helped them there. There are rumours in the trade at the moment that letters of credit, fundamental to the export trade, are not being honoured. Has our government been out there, at no cost, and saying to importing nations, ‘What is your government doing to guarantee these letters of credit?’ Nothing! All they want to do is get out there and start to cover their backsides for their election promises. Everything of substance in this package was promised in the election: ‘We’re going to look after the schools. We’re going to look after social housing.’ Why don’t you do it, as you promised, within a surplus budget? Because you can’t; that’s why. So you are going to put the kids of Australia into debt.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms S Bird)—Would the member refer his comments through the chair.

Mr TUCKEY —I would be delighted to, but unfortunately for you, you are dragged into this matter, Madam Deputy Speaker, as a government member, so you have to answer some of these questions. But I respect your right and I will do that. My reference to ‘you’ was very much to the people who are here, who are going down the road of borrowing money and saying: ‘Don’t you worry about that. It’ll all come good and we’ll pay it back.’ The record of Labor governments in my living memory is that they have never paid a debt back. They let it accumulate. That is the other point. There is an item here—the home units—that is worth $6 billion. How soon will the interest bill be $6 billion, ongoing? And when will it be $10 billion, ongoing? Where, then, do you find the money for the schools and everything?

Let us go back to the commencement of this government. We had a thing called the Investing in Our Schools program. That was dreadful. That was a program where individual school principals and their P&Cs assessed their schools and made an application for money—up to $150,000 for any school. I have got 150 schools in my electorate and many of them thought $10,000 was enough. Others took the lot. One purchased their own new classroom. They bought computers galore. They bought musical instruments for the kids. But they did not all think they needed $150,000. So now they are going to get $200,000. Is that good public policy? The locals worked out what they needed; it was free and there were no strings attached, other than that the state government over there in Western Australia ripped 17 per cent out of it by insisting that it manage the money for them. I thought that was pretty outrageous. That program was cancelled, and now we have a look-alike—and under which label? Not ‘good public policy’ but ‘saving the nation’—a crisis response.

And then, of course, we had Regional Partnerships. The scheme was rotten and absolute daylight robbery! There were thieves! Let us say that a couple of the projects did not meet proper standards. I created that program, and I received a letter from the Auditor-General saying, ‘Not under my watch.’ However, the reality is we have a new Regional Partnerships. But there is no basic managing of the money. It is just ‘hand it out and hope they will spend it’. Is that good public policy? No. What do we have now? We are going to build all these new houses, but we have not yet built the ones that were previously funded—I do not think they are out there for rent in any number.

The Minister for Education—and just about everything else—has lectured us over the year about all the money that she has put into education. But when the shadow minister stands up and asks where the things are that have been so funded, the answer is that they are not there yet. In fact, on one very significant trades’ training issue, there are five around Australia that have been approved. So they still have the opportunity to contribute to the stimulus and give some jobs to workers. But, when you look at it, I agree with our leader. Firstly, tax cuts would have been the better stimulus and, whatever the cost, they flow through. When we were in government, we introduced tax cuts for about three years and delivered a surplus as well. So, all this argument that you cannot have tax cuts in a surplus is defeated by history.

Nevertheless, when you get down to it, why would you borrow all this money for such mundane tasks? If we really and truly wanted to do something—for example, give those 1,800 miners that I represent down at Ravensthorpe a job—why would we not put in place a major production project? When the much quoted Roosevelt addressed the problems of the United States during the Depression, he built the Hoover Dam. If anyone reads the public works history of Western Australia, nearly every water catchment and every dam in our state was built during that same period. It gave people work but there is still a lasting benefit to the community. Now we have a few lousy millions to put pink batts in buildings. However, nobody has told us what the carbon footprint of manufacturing that sort of insulation is. If it is rock-wool then there is an awful lot of heat that goes to burning rocks into fluff. But that does not matter! It looks good.

The money that was allocated before Christmas for the Christmas party could have been put into one renewable energy project—utilising the tides of the Kimberleys. The interconnection of that energy on a two-way basis with the coalfields of Western Australia, Victoria and Tasmania could have been done for less than that $10 billion. I have circulated that information widely. It would have been job creating now and, of course, it would have left a wonderful legacy—4.2 gigawatts initially—of electricity. That is 10 per cent of Australia’s total generation and 120 per cent of Western Australia’s. And if the government had paid for the infrastructure, the electricity was free. How much would that have helped the elderly and the needy? And, of course, what would it have done for our environment? These are the issues that a competent government would have looked at: major construction projects.

Housing, of course, is a responsibility of government 365 days a year. You do not have a cop out and go for these sorts of fancy schemes under the farrago of a package to save the economy. It is just silly. It is a mixture of all those things, and there is no credit to the government at all in the course they have taken. Yes, they could have had these opportunities. What about flow-through taxation provisions for the mining industry? Unemployed people could go out mining because there are people who will invest for the tax deduction that can flow through to them from the company that is losing money looking for minerals. They would have a job now, and whatever they find we would be able to program and project into our future monetary needs. There are all these good options, and the ones that the government has presented us with have no credit whatsoever. (Time expired)