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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 337

Ms MARINO (9:51 PM) — I rise to speak on the Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and cognate bills. Given the economic environment, as well as current and future unemployment projections and the fact that according to the government’s own forecasts an additional 300,000 Australians will be out of work by June next year, the stimulus package should be about jobs. In fact, the Prime Minister promised that 75,000 new jobs would be created by his first $10.4 billion package. Well, where is the evidence of these 75,000 new jobs that cost $10.4 billion? It was reported by James Campbell in the Sunday Herald Sun in February that $81 million of this first stimulus package in fact boosted foreign economies because the 58,000 Australian pensioners living overseas also received the bonus.

For many reasons, we do not support this government’s second, poorly constructed $42 billion stimulus package. It has been rushed into the parliament by a panicked government—so panicked that we have been given very little time to scrutinise the bills. These are bills that will cost $42 billion of taxpayers money, in the hope that this will stimulate the economy. And what about the elephant in the room, the one-page bill introduced today that gives this Labor government the power to increase government debt to $200 billion at 24 hours notice?

In the last 24 hours, the government has used all sorts of endorsements to talk up this package, whilst vilifying the opposition for seeking time to debate and consider the bills, ask questions and offer constructive comment. In spite of the government’s vilification, this is our job as the opposition. The Australian people know it and the Australian people expect it. In fact, I have a quote of my own regarding the package and, somewhat surprisingly, it comes from Bob Maumill in an editorial on his 6PR radio show in Perth this morning. He said: ‘Pull your head in, Kev; let the opposition do their job.’ Bob went on to say:

That we are facing a time of great uncertainty is obvious.

The spread of Wall Street disease has poisoned the world economy.

People in Australia are fearful of losing their jobs and their homes. They fear the prospect of a future of uncertainty and diminishing living standards.

Our Government had to act. Our elected leaders cannot sit by and watch a disaster develop. Urgent action was needed, and the Rudd Government acted swiftly to pump money into the Australian economy through a series of handouts to targeted sectors of the community.

With the crisis growing, Kevin Rudd and his government have announced another incredible spending splurge. Billions of dollars to be pumped into the Australian economy in an attempt to counter the recessionary factors that are leading to an erosion of business confidence, job losses and a contraction of the Australian economy with the frightening spectre of a depression.

In announcing the latest measures the Prime Minister demanded that parliament rubber stamp the latest massive spending package. He wants the package passed promptly and has urged the Opposition to minimize debate and get on with it.

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

In fact it is the Opposition’s duty to do so.

This enormous spending splurge will impact on tax payers for decades.

Malcolm Turnbull and his team owe it to the taxpayers of Australia both present and future to carefully scrutinize these spending proposals before approving them.

It may be unpopular to withhold money from the masses and Rudd and his spending team will harshly criticize he opposition for any delays. But let me remind Mr Rudd that Australia is a democracy, and our democracy provides for a series of checks and balances.

Those checks and balances require that Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in our Federal Parliament question and scrutinize legislation when they deem it necessary and in the public interest. What Kevin Rudd and his government are proposing is likely to impact on Australian taxpayers for generations to come. Malcolm Turnbull and the opposition, in demanding time to examine the detail of Rudd’s massive spending package, and calling for caution, and advancing alternative proposals, are quite properly and responsibly doing their job.

And I would like to remind Kevin Rudd that, despite what he may think of his own infallibility, some of us feel a darn sight more comfortable when a strong parliamentary opposition carefully examines legislation and asks appropriate questions.

And if he is the great social democrat he professes to be, he will give them time to do their job on behalf of the Australian People.

Remember Kev, the Australian people have to find the money.

And this humble tax payer would like to remind Mr Rudd that, despite what the Prime Minister thinks, the Rudd way may not be the best way or the only way.

Those were the comments of Bob Maumill today.

The coalition has every right and an absolute responsibility to examine these latest spending proposals. The coalition has always stood for and continues to stand for fiscal discipline and sound economic management—having inherited and repaid Labor’s previous $96 billion deficit and having provided the Rudd government with an economy known as ‘the wonder downunder’. This is the result of fiscal discipline. It has only taken the Labor government nine months to change that through flawed government policy. This package will again see a Labor government send Australia into deficit—according to government figures, a $22 billion deficit this year and, according to the forward estimates, a $70 billion net debt over four years. But will it actually be a $70 billion net debt? Time will tell whether these figures prove to be an accurate forecast or whether in fact the debt will be significantly higher. Why? Because, as a result of these bills, the Labor government will have the power to go into $200 billion worth of debt. It is a package of Labor debt and deficit that the government expects our children to pay for.

And what about jobs in this package? We have seen a change of language from the Prime Minister since the first package. Instead of saying the package will create jobs, the government is now saying the package will support 90,000 jobs. What does it do for the 300,000 workers who the government forecasts will lose their jobs this year? What does it do for apprentices who lose their jobs? What happens to their training? What does this package do for subcontractors? What does it offer young people leaving school who cannot get a job? What we have is $42 billion, in the Prime Minister’s words, ‘to support 90,000 jobs’.

The OECD has repeatedly said that it is work, not welfare, that helps people most, and it is a very arrogant Labor government indeed that states that its package is the only package. We have repeatedly offered to work with the government on an appropriate response to the financial crisis but the government has ignored this offer, as I have no doubt it will ignore the initiatives we have contributed today. The opposition will not support the package, and the Prime Minister cannot simply demand that we rubber-stamp $200 billion of debt. Yes, we need an economic stimulus package, but not one that is four per cent of GDP.

We talk to small and medium sized businesses around the country about how they can stay in business and about jobs. We listen to businesses and workers, people who tell us how they believe jobs and training can be created and retained. I will quote from one email I received today from one of my small business constituents:

As to the CASH SPLASH, I think its extremely irresponsible, as it doesn’t address the core issues!!

As far as I am concerned the problem lies in lack of confidence, lack of employment opportunities, the fall in the price of commodities (minerals etc) and the property price gloom.

By just handing out cash it does NOTHING to address the above issues!

I believe the government needs to empower business to employ MORE people, expand their business and in so doing will create more income for the government, with less people relying on hand outs etc…

How to do it?? Well, government can look at subsidising wages (of new people employed) pay for their training, tempt business by cutting their taxes if they increase the amount of people they employ…

I also think NOW is a perfect time to spend BIG dollars on infrastructure

I think the above measures will go a long way to save our country from going to recession.

By doing what the Rudd government wants to do, in my opinion, is a recipe for disaster which we will be paying for many years to come!

We know that the 3.8 million small businesses in Australia are the engine room of the economy, employing nearly half the workforce. I have over 14,000 small businesses in my electorate. Where are the measures to deal with the supply and cost of credit to small business? I have visited small and medium businesses in my electorate who say they are not seeing any reduction in interest rates on their lines of credit. Indeed, the big four banks, continuously supported by the government, are being inflexible with refinancing requests or loan rollovers. Some people are still paying over 10 per cent interest on their commercial loans or credit facilities. There has to be a flow of credit to small and medium businesses.

Some of the small businesses in my electorate are farmers. Farmers collectively across Australia employ 300,000 workers. The package will see 21,500 farmers who receive exceptional circumstances payments receive $950. But what about the other 130,000 farmers in Australia who are not on exceptional circumstances payments? Farmers in my electorate—dairy and beef farmers, horticulturists and viticulturists—depending on what super they use, are paying from $500 a tonne to over $1,000 a tonne for it. Dairy feed pellets are at least $400 a tonne and transport and fuel prices have hurt these businesses over the past 12 months. Beef prices have been extremely poor and we have recently seen milk prices drop anything from 20 to 39 per cent. And we are seeing a return to tariffs and protectionism in Europe and potentially in the United States. Apart from writing a letter, what is the government doing?

What is the one sector that has kept Australia out of a technical recession? The strong exporting agricultural sector. How does this package assist exports and productivity? Where is the commitment to water infrastructure? The government should be investing in the productive capacity of Australia, including business capacity, to drive the economy in the future. In a $42 billion package, where is the stimulus for the mining and resource sector and the fly-in, fly-out staff and contractors affected by retrenchments in the mining sector in the north of Western Australia? Equally, I have seen no stimulus in the package for the tourism sector or the health, aged and community services sector, both major employers.

This package should be all about jobs, jobs and  more jobs. Where is the modelling to support the Ruddbank package that is supposed to create or preserve 50,000 jobs—the Prime Minister’s $4 billion recent support plan for a commercial property fund, a fund that once again supports the big four banks’ balance sheets rather than jobs? The decision that Mr Rudd has to make is to ensure that every dollar of taxpayers’ money that he spends is effective and targeted to pursue the goal of jobs for Australians. The opposition will not support the package, the government does not have all the answers and the Prime Minister cannot simply demand that we rubber-stamp $200 billion of debt that will need to be paid by our children. I strongly oppose these bills.