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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 343

Mr HARTSUYKER (10:17 PM) —I rise to speak on the Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and cognate bills. We certainly are in an interesting time in this nation’s history. We are in a time when the country and, in fact, the world are facing great challenges. How we react to those challenges will affect our future prosperity. If we get it right, we may well prosper or at least mitigate the circumstances in which we currently find ourselves. If we get it wrong, this country will be plunged into a deep spiral from which it may take many years to recover.

During the 2007 election campaign, the Prime Minister projected himself as a fiscal conservative and he mimicked the policies of the Howard government. But more recently we have seen the Prime Minister displaying his true colours. Following the war on binge drinking, the war on obesity and the war on whatever else came into his head, we have now apparently embarked, according to the Prime Minister, on the war on neoliberalism. He has sought to blame the operation of free markets for the world’s current ills and, as a direct consequence, the situation in which this country finds itself. This is a market system that has lifted millions out of poverty, a system which has provided rapid economic growth to countries right round the world. But we see that our Prime Minister has morphed into a social democrat. He now champions greater regulation. He has become an advocate for a more planned economy. The surplus which he inherited from the previous government was the product of an efficient market economy. It was regulated, and well regulated, but still an efficient market economy, a system which he now seeks to deride.

We have before this House bills which will give effect to the government’s solution to the nation’s current economic woes. The Prime Minister appears to claim that he is the font of all wisdom, that the solution to the problems which we now face can only be found in this package. I pose the question: upon what basis does the Prime Minister conclude that the collection of measures in this package are in fact the optimal solution? I have not seen any modelling to prove that point. Upon what basis can he conclude that we are heading for a pink batt led recovery? Would not an investment in health infrastructure achieve a similar result? Would not requiring state health agencies, for example, to pay their bills on time provide a similar stimulatory effect within the economy? The government paying its bills on time—a simple concept, a concept which small business, which is struggling in the current economic environment, should be entitled to but which is currently not occurring.

The Prime Minister insists that the bills before the House must be passed as a matter of urgency and that to delay them will be to the detriment of the economy. That is why this legislation must be passed in haste, so he says. Given the quantum of money involved, some $42 billion, isn’t it worth taking the time to scrutinise these measures? Isn’t it worth taking the time to look at other alternatives? As a member of this House, I maintain that it is a member’s duty to question such a very large expenditure. The Prime Minister is saying that there is no alternative, that these bills must be passed without question, that he is the font of all wisdom. ‘Trust me,’ he says. Sadly, this is clearly not the case. We have seen the Prime Minister and the Treasurer fail on numerous occasions. We have seen the Prime Minister and the Treasurer talk up interest rates at precisely the time the economy was slowing, the global financial conditions were deteriorating rapidly and the global financial crisis was gaining momentum. We have seen the turmoil caused in financial markets by the failed bank guarantee scheme, which resulted in the funds of thousands of investors being frozen because the Prime Minister acted in haste, did not seek the appropriate advice and was a slave to the media cycle. We saw the previous cash splash in December, which was supposed to create 75,000 jobs, disappear without a trace. Where are the benefits now? Where are the 75,000 jobs? We see unemployment continue to rise. We see now before the House a new package, a new solution, at a cost of $42 billion.

The bills before the House tonight provide a stark contrast between Labor’s history of profligate spending and the coalition’s track record of responsible economic management. The bills before the House signify a departure from the policies of the previous government. We now see a situation where the government will be driving the budget into structural deficit and long-term debt. During the term of the Howard government, through responsible economic management, the huge debts of the Labor years were repaid. We have seen this government attempt to claim credit for the surplus they inherited. We have also seen the government in the first financial year for which they were responsible convert a $22 billion surplus into a $22.5 billion deficit. We have seen the return of old Labor—big spending, big deficits. We now see a deficit projected to be $70 billion over the forward estimates—a debt that must be repaid by the taxpayers of this country, a debt that must be repaid by our children. We hear the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation tell us that it is only a temporary deficit. But it is a deficit for which they have no plan to repay.

There are elements of the package that have significant merit. Quite clearly, we would welcome expenditure on schools, on public housing, on home insulation, on regional roads and on small business tax incentives. But are they the best small business tax incentives? Would it not make more sense to provide relief to small business with their cash flow by perhaps assisting them with their super guarantee levy payments rather than putting in place an incentive for small business that would require the expenditure upfront before the tax rebate could be received? Payments for individuals also have merit, but are they an optimal solution? These are good questions which need to be carefully considered by the House.

There is urgent need for greater investment in infrastructure. Certainly in my electorate, work on the Pacific Highway is in urgent need. The duplication of that highway—the major freight corridor and passenger vehicle corridor between Sydney and Brisbane—is years overdue. Centres such as Kempsey, Macksville, Coffs Harbour, Woolgoolga and Ulmarra are in urgent need of bypasses. The road between Coffs Harbour and Woolgoolga is heavily trafficked. A project is basically shovel-ready, requiring the funding to get works underway to allow safer travel between Coffs Harbour and Woolgoolga and provide much welcomed employment opportunities in that area. The electorate which I represent is a high-unemployment area, so additional stimulus coming from the government through investment in infrastructure would certainly be most welcome. Regrettably, this package has neglected the Pacific Highway and the huge amount of money that still needs to be invested in that vitally important road project.

In the area of health, our local hospitals are in urgent need of increased funding. The Kempsey community has been fighting tirelessly for the redevelopment of Kempsey hospital. I have in fact tabled a petition in this House calling on the federal government to support the redevelopment of the Kempsey hospital through the National Health and Hospitals Fund. Kempsey hospital is a very important local facility. The residents of the North Coast are concerned about proposed staff cuts at their local hospitals—hospitals that are already buckling under the patient load that they are currently carrying. The North Coast Area Health Service are not thinking about increasing staff; they are attempting to reduce staff. In an Orwellian twist, they claim that, by reducing staff, they can somehow perform more procedures. That is something that is lost on me, but apparently it is well known to the North Coast Area Health Service how they are going to achieve that.

Also, our local health service is apparently not paying its bills on time. We have seen recent media reports of a local Coffs Harbour business that is owed money by the North Coast Area Health Service. Getting the cash to local businesses when it is due will help stimulate the economy and will help support jobs. On the issue of health, the Prime Minister said that the buck stopped with him. It is time that he left the rhetoric behind and started to prove it and held local state health authorities to account and ensure that they are paying their bills on time. Regrettably, this package does not provide extra funding for health—funding that could have allowed local businesses to be paid and ensure that the cash continues to flow through our local communities.

There may well also be unintended consequences of this legislation. We saw unintended consequences with the Prime Minister’s hasty action in relation to the bank guarantee. A situation has been brought to my attention in relation to a business which substantially sells second-hand trucks. Those trucks are not eligible for the tax rebate. That is the advice that we received from the minister’s office today. So that particular business—an important small business in the local community—is at a substantial disadvantage when compared to businesses that sell new trucks. If you purchase a second-hand truck, you are not eligible for the investment rebate but, if you purchase a new truck, you are. It is a substantial disadvantage for this particular local business. I think it is a substantial unintended consequence, which does give an indication of the haste with which this legislation has been brought to this House.

Also before the House today we have a very important bill, the Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Amendment Bill 2009, which seeks to authorise the government to issue stock and security to the value of $200 billion. That is a truly staggering amount of money—$200 billion. After the term of the Hawke and Keating years, Labor left the incoming coalition government with a debt of $96 billion. They left the taxpayers with a debt of $96 billion. This bill proposes to provide an upper limit of some $200 billion. The taxpayer can rightfully feel concerned as to how that debt will be repaid. How will future governments service that debt? It is a very important question and one which deserves an answer.

I am concerned that this package is not an optimal solution to the problems that this country faces. It certainly has welcome measures, and these measures would certainly be looked favourably on by many people in the community. But the real issue that we face here is: how is the debt going to be serviced? How are these deficits going to be reversed? The government has no plan by which to do that. Quite clearly, this package has been put together in haste. Though it has the potential to provide benefits, it also has the potential to provide significant challenges to future generations. It is of concern and it should certainly be the subject of further debate in this House.