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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 302

Mr CRAIG THOMSON (7:10 PM) —It is quite clear that the opposition just do not get it. It is quite clear from the contributions that we have had today that they are out of touch and just do not understand what is happening in their own electorates. These are not normal times. This is not a time where the normal rules of operation apply. This is an extraordinary time in which we are having a global meltdown that is unprecedented since the Depression. Because of that the government have acted in a firm, decisive and swift manner to make sure that we have been ahead of the curve all the way through this crisis and that Australians right around Australia are best protected from this global financial crisis.

In talking about this latest package, the Appropriation (Economic Security Strategy) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and cognate bills, it is important to go back to the $10.4 billion stimulus package in October and look at the effects that it had. Today we heard that retail sales in December grew by a much larger than expected 3.8 per cent, seasonally adjusted. That is the best result in eight years. In New South Wales the result was even better, 4.9 per cent, showing how important the stimulus package was to triggering demand in the retail sector. When we look at Australia and comparable economies around the world, we find that Australia alone has an economy that has had positive growth. When we look at any of the European countries or the United States we see negative growth in the retail sector; in fact, we have seen the bottom fall out of the retail sector in that same period. But in Australia we had the benefit of a stimulus package announced in October ahead of the curve, putting money in people’s pockets in December, and that has played a substantial role in the far better than expected retail results in December.

This is important in my electorate of Dobell in particular because the biggest sector of employment is retail. In fact, 14 per cent of all people who work in the electorate of Dobell are employed in retail. We already have high unemployment, in excess of seven per cent, so you can imagine the effect for the people of Dobell without this stimulus package.

Quite frankly, the figures that came out today were absolutely no surprise to me and I do not think they would have been a surprise to any member of this parliament who actually spends the time to go out to the shops and talk to their constituents. December and January have been very, very busy in the shopping centres on the Central Coast. I took the time to walk around and talk to shop owners. They were saying to me that it was one of the best years that they had had in many years. This, of course, was only anecdotal evidence at that stage. They said that people were telling them they were out there spending some money because they had extra money from the government’s stimulus package and that without that they had dire fears for what the Christmas period would hold. Many employers told me that, because the December retail season started so well, they changed their employment plans to lay off staff and decided to keep them on. They told me that they were very thankful that they did because it was a very good December for the retail sector on the Central Coast in December 2008.

There is not just anecdotal evidence that comes from Labor members. The ANZ head of economics, Warren Hogan, talking about the $10.4 billion stimulus package from last October, said:

It really highlights that the government’s stimulus package is working, and suggests people are spending most of their packages.

It is a package that worked. It showed this government being ahead of the curve. When that package went through we had the opposition all over the place in relation to that package. One day the leader was supporting it; the next day he was not. Then they were not quite sure where they were, but thankfully it got through and it had a very positive effect. We now have the situation of a more substantial package that is required because of the further deterioration in the global financial crisis being blocked by those opposite. Those opposite—who scoffed at the $10.4 billion plan which has proven to be so successful, particularly in electorates like mine—are now saying: ‘We can’t go ahead with this vital plan. We can’t help protect the Australian economy from the global financial crisis because we want to score cheap political points on this issue and we want to hold the Australian population to ransom and make sure that this package does not get through.’

There are some very key measures in this package which indicate just how vital it is that it is passed. The measures include: free ceiling insulation for around 2.7 million Australian homes; building or upgrading a building in every one of Australia’s 9,540 schools; building more than 20,000 new social and defence homes; a $950 one-off cash payment to eligible families, single workers, students, drought affected farmers and others; a temporary business investment tax break for small and general businesses buying eligible assets; and significantly increasing funding for local community infrastructure and local road projects.

This is a very targeted package. I was asked by my local ABC radio today what a package for the Central Coast would look like if I were designing one and I said that we had it yesterday. If you were designing something that would help my electorate, that would generate and protect jobs and protect the economy there, then this is precisely the sort of package that one would introduce. There are many reasons that this is so appropriate for my electorate, but one in particular is that one of the largest categories of occupation in my electorate—far higher than in most electorates—is tradies. We have many tradies who drive to Sydney in the 5 am early rush to get to their jobs down there. The residential building boom that has been very much part of my electorate and its growth in recent years has led to a larger proportion of tradies living in my electorate than in most others.

What would help to protect their jobs? What would make sure that they continue in work? It is precisely the sort of program that this government is trying to introduce and push through. That is in relation to building works in schools, insulation in homes, and the building of social and defence homes around the country. These are precisely the key levers that are so important to all the tradies on the Central Coast. Of course, we have been criticised for just looking at the building sector. Basic economics show that if this sector continues to have people employed in it and earning money, and they spend money in their local community, then that is good news for the whole community and for the whole local economy.

With the $10.4 billion package, one of the things that I did in my electorate was urge people to buy locally on the Central Coast. We received a terrific response in relation to that, and I am sure that was part of the reason that jobs were kept locally. This sort of package also lends itself to local solutions for local economies, to make sure that they survive and jobs stay locally. But what do we have from the opposition in terms of this great package that can help Australia survive and ride out this economic downturn? They say, ‘No, we are not going to go ahead,’ or, ‘We are going to reduce the contribution.’ The Leader of the Opposition has said that money going to schools is a good thing but that they would only put in 20 per cent of what this package is going to do. I call on the Leader of the Opposition to tell me which of the 46 schools in my electorate are not going to get the money? Which ones should I be ringing up? Is it Berkeley Vale Public School? Is it the Bateau Bay Public School? Is it Holgate Public School? Is it the Jilliby Public School? Which of these? Eighty per cent of them are going to be crossed out if the opposition have their way. I want to know because I want to tell the P&Cs, the schools and the parents that the opposition are standing between their school and a new hall, library or updated facilities.

This is an opposition that is not in touch with its community. If it were in touch with its community, it would be out there supporting this package. Opposition members would be out there saying, ‘This is good for my community, this is good for the economy and this is something that should be supported.’ The opposition is without a clue and out of touch and needs to get out of the way so we can get this package through. I commend this package to the House.