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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 331

Mrs MOYLAN (9:22 PM) —Along with the rest of the global community, Australia faces challenges that will once again test our resilience, ingenuity, work ethic and entrepreneurship. Australia is a young nation and our successes in all fields are disproportionate to our population. This is in no small measure due to the can-do attitude of the hardworking men and women in our communities. One thing is for certain: rarely do governments add to the national wealth through the creation of new enterprises, inventions and services. That is why we must ultimately look to our wealth and job generators to help us through hard times. It is the farmers, fruit and vegetable growers, horticulturists, shopkeepers, tradespeople, service providers, manufacturers, miners and all those engaged in commerce and industry who provide the wealth and job creation in the Pearce electorate, and this is no doubt repeated in every electorate across the country.

Government spending can assist in cushioning the nation against the fallout from the current financial disaster. However, in the bills before the House it is the quantum of spending, the manner of allocating that cash, the lack of consultation and the haste with which the bills are being dealt with that the coalition takes issue with. Plunging the nation into unprecedented levels of debt without reasonable evidence that the measures will be effective is foolhardy in the extreme. On the government’s own admission, another 300,000 people will lose their jobs by 2010. The question must then be asked: why is the government splashing so much cash around when it has little prospect of creating and preserving jobs? Neither the Leader of the Opposition nor the public has seen any modelling to demonstrate the efficacy of these measures. Furthermore, this parliament is being asked to consider, debate and vote on Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and five related bills in unseemly haste. A prudent government would want to do everything possible to minimise risk when exposing the men and women of Australia to such high levels of spending and potential future debt.

There is a need to address and acknowledge the hardship that many in our communities are facing. There are increasing numbers of people who have lost their jobs already. Superannuants who have saved all their lives for their retirement now find themselves with severely reduced investments to live on. Pensioners and low-income recipients, especially families with children, are having a difficult time making ends meet and they worry about their future job prospects. Many medium sized enterprises cannot get finance to carry on their businesses due in part to the government’s bungling of the bank deposit guarantees.

Members of parliament are the custodians of the country’s wealth. All Australians have worked hard to contribute taxes to ensure that this country has some of the best public facilities in the world. The Howard government retired debt and left the legacy of a large surplus to the incoming government. Our collective responsibility to the men and women of Australia in these difficult times is to find the best way to smooth out the worst effects of the global recession and to look after the national interest. What this government demonstrates is a reckless disregard for the short- and long-term future of all Australians. While I can fully understand that many people have welcomed the immediate cash handouts, and look forward to more, the real concern that I am hearing from people in the community is about the prospect of employment now and in the future for themselves, their children and their grandchildren and the security of their assets and savings. These are issues that are focusing the minds of most people.

As the Leader of the Opposition said in his address to the parliament, job creation and preservation are the most urgent priorities. This financial rescue package should be able to clearly demonstrate that it will achieve this objective. The one sure way of ensuring jobs is for government to direct financial resources into areas that will improve our economy. That is not generally achieved by government. It is achieved, as I said before, by the entrepreneurship and confident spirit of hardworking Australian men and women.

There are several key elements to wealth and job creation where the government can assist. One is for the government to contribute to the best possible infrastructure, including rapid, efficient, cost-effective and clean transport systems, high-level communications systems and reliable and cost-effective energy and water supplies, with a strong focus on the development of cost-effective renewable energy sources. These are the elements that can assist the continued economic wellbeing of our communities. With so much emphasis on a carbon trading system, we are neglecting the development of a renewable energy economy that has the potential to create new industries, increased exports and additional job opportunities. The development of renewable energies could provide cheaper and reliable energy sources for industry into the bargain. Commenting on the government’s proposal on the ABC yesterday, Mr Lawson, on behalf of environment group Friends of the Earth, noted:

… there’s no green jobs, there’s no investment in renewable energy, there’s no commitment to new energy infrastructure or a new electricity grid. This is a complete failure on climate change.

Talking of exports, the promotion and development of export trade in a country of 21 million people is pivotal to our continued prosperity, and the government should redouble its efforts to facilitate a strong export sector, including in the renewable energy technology area.

The second key element to economic growth is to ensure a well-educated, trained workforce. The cost of labour should not be inflated by overly bureaucratic employment laws, including unfair dismissal laws that catch businesses up in protracted, expensive litigation. Sensible, fair employment laws, balancing the interests of employers and employees, are pivotal to the development and growth of enterprise and jobs for as many people as want them.

For those who have lost their jobs a retraining package is necessary, not just a $950 one-off payment. A training package should be made available to ensure that these people can as soon as possible find employment in other sectors that are still finding it difficult to get skilled workers and trained staff. There is an urgent priority to ensure a green-skilled workforce. Hot water systems companies and insulating companies will need skilled workers to meet the increased demand for manufacturing and services. Money to target skills training in these areas is essential if the industry is to cope with the increased demands from this part of the package, which I personally welcome.

The third element in stimulating business activity is through the taxation system. While the 30 per cent tax rebate for businesses that purchase new equipment over $1,000 in value announced in this package is welcome, it will not help a business suffering from reduced cash flow. We need to allow greater flexibility in the application of this measure. Further, the Leader of the Opposition has quite sensibly suggested that the government contribute a portion of the superannuation guarantee levy, which is currently an obligation of businesses, on behalf of all employees. These are practical measures that would go a long way to improving the tenor of these bills and indeed the outcome for employment opportunities.

A number of initiatives in the bill are welcome, including the initiative to subsidise solar hot water systems and the initiative to insulate houses—notwithstanding some of the deficiencies in the delivery of those programs, which the shadow minister for the environment, the member for Flinders, outlined to this House earlier this evening. Not the least of these welcome initiatives is the additional funding for schools and public housing. I have long advocated in this place a greater government commitment to low-cost housing, and this is a very good start. However, it is curious that the Investing in Our Schools Program instituted by the Howard government was scrapped soon after this government came to office. This program saw smart and effective investing because, instead of decisions being made by bureaucrats, the school communities determined local needs and priorities. I have some reservations about the prescriptive nature of the government’s proposal in these bills to determine the priorities and provide the template or blueprint for what can or cannot be built. This is the type of policy that too often results in white elephants instead of addressing urgent community priorities. It fails to recognise the disparate nature of school communities and adopts the policy of one size fits all. These are elements which could have been dramatically improved through consultation to maximise the investment of taxpayers’ money. Instead, the government takes an arrogant approach that it has all the answers, and despite a so-called ‘national emergency’ it is not prepared to consult more widely or to take up the Leader of the Opposition’s offer to consult more closely.

It should concern every single man, woman and child that the money allocated to be spent in these bills is not simply money that taxpayers have already contributed; it will commit future generations to a budget deficit. More alarmingly, we are still in the early phases of these financial woes, so it is likely that the budget deficit will further escalate. As I said, by the government’s own best estimates unemployment is expected to grow to seven per cent. In fact, these bills will not only result in an escalating budget deficit but will allow the government to rack up a $200 billion debt, or, as the Leader of the Opposition said today, provide a credit card facility, an open chequebook, for a $200 billion debt.

Notwithstanding the possible criticism from some in the community, it would be irresponsible of the opposition to give the government carte blanche to spend at such an unprecedented level without more detail and evidence of their claims. Indeed, it would be irresponsible for the opposition to allow these bills to pass, given that they allow the government to further increase indebtedness up to that $200 billion level. These policies have been developed in a vacuum and we are therefore left with little option as an opposition but to act as a brake on the profligate spending policies of the government. The coalition believes in maximising the individual’s capacity for prosperity. This does not come from one-off payments alone but from sustained economic activity, entrepreneurship, invention, service delivery and plain hard work and application.

This government expects the coalition to endorse the measures in these bills without proof that the measures will work, without any evidence of their efficacy, with an expectation that we will suspend our right to question and that we will pass the bills with fingers crossed and with vain hopes. The economic package before us is undoubtedly one of the most important pieces of financial legislation that this parliament has had to consider. The Prime Minister said that this was ‘a plan of unprecedented scope’. It is also a plan of unprecedented spending. Never before have we had a budgetary turnaround of such immense proportion as this. Such spending demands the highest diligence and scrutiny from the representatives of the Australian people.

The Australian people deserve to have hope. It is a false hope that the government are offering, a hope premised on short-term populist policy. Hope can only thrive where there is confidence. People may well be happy with their $950 cheque, but they will not have hope if they are worried about the future of their jobs or the sustainability of their business enterprises or the safety of their savings and fixed assets. The government’s ‘my way or no way’ dictum would suggest a reckless disregard for due diligence. This is a blatant abuse of power by the government and they do not deserve the support of the opposition or of the Australian people. More information needs to be made available if they expect us to sign away the nation’s savings and place the nation further in debt. If they want these bills to succeed there should be far more consultation and discussion and far more evidence and modelling laid on the table.

The Australian people expect that we as an opposition will do our job, and that does not include binding every man, woman and child in our electorates to a credit facility of $200 billion and squandering the hard-earned savings which taxpayers contributed under the previous government to retire the $96 billion debt—a legacy of the previous Labor government—and to ensure that we had savings for difficulties that might present themselves in the future. I think we are now seeing those savings squandered. If we are going to bind every man, woman and child to such a debt then, as I said, we must be very certain indeed that this money will be used wisely to increase prosperity, to create and maintain jobs and to preserve the hard-earned savings and assets of individuals and businesses.

In conclusion, I note that, in an article in today’s Australian, Lenore Taylor said that the Prime Minister was taking a punt and that he was not sure that this measure was going to work. I think it is reasonable for all of us to understand that we are not entirely sure what we are facing with this global meltdown. But I think it is reasonable to ask the Prime Minister to do a reasonable risk analysis and to present the evidence both to the opposition and to the other parties in this place so that the Australian people know what those risks are and can then determine whether they want their representatives to take those risks. The Australian people deserve more than a game at the roulette table with their hard-earned cash.