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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 422

Mr SWAN (Treasurer) (4:23 AM) —in reply—I want to thank all of those members who have taken part in the debate throughout the evening and, of course, into the wee hours of this morning. This is an important debate on the Nation Building and Jobs Plan. Of course, there is no doubting the severity of the global recession or the significance of the plan that we have put before the Australian people, and of course this debate has reflected the seriousness of the challenges that are facing Australia today, but there is unfortunately much doubt over the opposition’s commitment to jobs during this global crisis. In the last 24 hours we have witnessed a new first from an opposition leader and an opposition in this parliament. The opposition leader is the first opposition leader ever to come into this place and tell the Australian people that he is voting for higher unemployment—for less work for all Australians. That is a first in this parliament. That is the essence of the opposition’s position. That is the essence of the position from every one of his colleagues who have spoken in this debate right through tonight.

We have heard a lot of reasons why those opposite cannot support the Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and cognate bills, but very little of it has been based on practical reality or policy reality. Very little of it has been based on any objective evidence whatsoever, because the overwhelming evidence from around the world, from expert bodies like the IMF, is absolutely unanimous: act now or face higher unemployment and slower growth for longer. Of course, the penny has not dropped with those opposite. The longer you wait, the greater the output loss—that is the evidence—and the greater the human damage that comes with that output loss. But those opposite are completely indifferent to the human damage that their approach will cause.

Of course, in the face of this evidence you can only conclude that the opposition’s bloody-minded and obstructionist approach is either blind ideology or simply a crude dash for naked political advantage at the expense of the Australian national interest. Shame on them! Their actions in this House today can do nothing but create greater uncertainty when, of course, the times demand certainty from our public officials. They demand certainty, not uncertainty and not the naked dash for political advantage that we have seen from those opposite in the House right through this very long night. Their actions in the House yesterday and today can only create greater uncertainty, the last thing that the Australian economy needs in the circumstances of a global recession.

I have listened through the night to all of their confected arguments: the arguments that they had not been briefed and that the legislation was denied to them. They are all false—nothing but a ruse to camouflage their naked power plays, their naked political objectives and their selfish, blind, ideological objection to anything that promotes the welfare and employment of the Australian people. How else do you explain their actions in all of these circumstances—that they would take this stance in the face of the strong opposition even of the business community? Last night I came back from a meeting of the Business Council of Australia in Melbourne. There was strong support for the government’s package. They understand how high the stakes are, but those opposite are so out of touch that they simply have not got a clue what they are doing in this debate.

The Leader of the Opposition is saying to business and to the broader Australian community that the country must simply stand still and mark time. That is what he is saying. We do not have any time to waste. We do not have time to waste just to suit the political timetable of the Leader of the Opposition. If waiting causes damage, he just says, ‘Bad luck.’ That is the approach of the Leader of the Opposition. This is really just about Malcolm Turnbull and his political objectives. It is not about the national interest or the Australian people. How else do you explain the blatant disregard in their opposition to the interests of low-income earners who will benefit from this package and who need the certainty in the environment that we are in at the moment? It is evident in his complete disregard for the truth when he talks about deficits and spending. There is a bitter irony here, because the Leader of the Opposition is putting forward a proposal for a permanent tax cut that would send the budget even further into deficit into the future permanently.

Mr Shorten —Crazy!

Mr SWAN —Crazy. The opposition leader knows that two-thirds of the fall in the fiscal position over the forward estimates is explained by revenue downgrades imposed on this country by a global recession and by a halving of the growth in China. That is where the deficits are coming from principally—from the global recession—but speaker after speaker after speaker has told untruths about that in the House tonight. In their deception about the source of deficits they have been joined by that blast from the past, the member for Higgins, a man acutely embarrassed by his record of taking the proceeds of the mining boom, spending like a drunken sailor and building nothing that lasts for the Australian people. There was a refusal over all that time in the middle of a boom to invest in schools, to invest in social housing and to invest in communities.

Our plan is to target a stimulus package with more than two-thirds invested in building things that will make Australia a much, much better place. But the opposition are contemptuous of these plans. They are contemptuous of the plan for our schools, for social housing, for energy efficiency and for building the capacity of local communities. You could hear the contempt in their voices as they talked about our investment plans for communities, for schools and, most particularly, for social housing. You could hear it in their voices, and that more than anything explains what they do not understand and what they do not get. Those opposite do not walk in the same shopping aisles as average Australians. If they did, they would be supporting this package, and they would not be walking around the corridors of this parliament, as they have done through this evening, skiting that they can stop the payments being made in March. That is what they have been doing: walking around the corridors skiting that they may be able to deny the Australian economy a vital boost in March and deny payments to low-income earners. This is unbelievable but it is a demonstration of how out of touch they have become and how their objectives are nakedly selfish and political and have absolutely nothing to do with the Australian national interest.

The opposition is dripping with prejudice against people who might need social housing or whose kids go to rundown schools. They simply do not understand it. If you strip away all the confusing positions of the Leader of the Opposition, all you see is that what he wants to do is to give us a page out of the merchant bankers handbook—or the old version of the merchant bankers handbook before it had to be rescued to save the world and the country from them—because they do not believe that in these circumstances government does have an active role to play. In these circumstances, where you have such a sharp contraction of private demand imposed on this economy from without, there is only one body that can move in to protect the people, and that is what this government is doing: moving in to protect our people, to boost our economy and to cushion the effects of a global recession.

The Leader of the Opposition is simply acting out of blind ideological prejudice. That means he does not believe the state should do what it can to give people a helping hand and help build the nation. But we on this side of the House have believed that for all of our history. We are acting in the national interest and those opposite are trashing the national interest. Every government, all the economic authorities and almost all of the economic experts around the world are urging decisive action to stimulate economic growth. Yet the opposition leader’s solution is to oppose positive measures to support Australian jobs, businesses and families.

As I said before, the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues have no idea—none whatsoever—about the magnitude of the challenges we face and their impact on families and Australian businesses. They are just completely out of touch. The world is facing its greatest crisis since the Great Depression—the biggest single challenge we have seen in a modern market economy. It is bringing falling growth, job losses and budget deficits around the world. That is the unambiguous evidence of what is occurring right around the globe. We have a global recession. We have the slowing of China and the unwinding of the mining boom, and we have seen that wipe $75 billion from budget revenues in the last three months alone. Of course, that has pushed the budget into temporary deficit. The fall in revenue accounts for two-thirds of the overall borrowing that is required to protect the national interest—two-thirds of it, despite all of the untruths that have been told by those opposite in this House, including the member at the table.

Obviously the government will need to borrow to finance a temporary deficit, but we are in a far better position than any other developed country in the world. We have more room to move on fiscal policy and monetary policy than just about every other developed country in the world and we intend to use it in the national interest. If those opposite are going to oppose us using that in the interests of Australian families and their employment then the costs will be on their head.

The opposition need to tell the Australian people how they would fund the deficit. How would they do it? It beggars belief. If they cannot support our proposals it follows that they are in favour of either massive spending cuts or massive increases in tax revenue—that is, taxes up or spending down. That is the alternative they will be putting to the Australian people. That is exactly where they will be. We are the ones taking the responsible course of action in the circumstances. Those opposite are behaving in a reckless manner. They are economic wreckers and political vandals, and they have demonstrated that in the House tonight.

The greatest failure of governments in these times is to fail to act and to fail to act decisively. This government is acting and it is acting decisively with a well thought out plan—$28.8 billion to build schools, roads, homes, communities and the energy efficiency we need for future prosperity and, of course, $12.7 billion to boost consumption so we can support jobs now.

Let’s be really clear about this: without this stimulus our country will be worse off and more Australians will be out of work. It is that clear and it is that simple. What the Leader of the Opposition wants to do is to leave this gaping hole in the economic defences of this country. That is exactly the proposition that he is putting to the people of Australia. The Leader of the Opposition wants long unemployment queues and he is happy to let more and more Australians go to the wall and more businesses go to the wall just to satisfy his own personal political strategy.

The Nation Building and Jobs Plan is based on the reality that this is no time for half-measures; it is a time for bold action and it is a time to get things done. It is a time for everybody to roll up their sleeves and get on with it. What we really should be having in this House tonight is agreement upon these sensible, necessary measures given the circumstances that are occurring around the globe. Our plan strikes the best balance between supporting jobs now and building the homes, schools, roads and communities we need for future growth. It is a substantial package at about two per cent of GDP in 2009. It is absolutely consistent with the recommendations of the International Monetary Fund and it is weighted towards productive investment. One of our aims is to get the dollar to do double duty: to support jobs now and to do things that make Australia a better place. The infrastructure investment in this package accounts for $28 billion of the overall $42 billion cost of the plan. But consider this: if the opposition had their way, they would not be investing $14.7 billion in our children and our schools. Shame on them. If the opposition had their way, there would not be $6 billion invested in the construction of approximately 20,000 new public and community homes. Shame on them. There would not be $890 million for roads, boom gates, black spots or community infrastructure. Shame on them. And of course there would not be $2.7 billion to transform our housing stock into energy-efficient homes.

What the opposition are voting for in opposing these bills are more job losses, more people losing their homes and more people losing their businesses. This is really serious. They are voting against direct support for consumption and for less immediate stimulus to the economy until the vital investment measures kick in that we have outlined in this plan. Our payments and tax bonuses are targeted at the people most likely to spend, in contrast to the proposal put forward by the opposition. We saw only yesterday in the retail trade figures for the month of December the biggest boost in more than eight years, which comes on the back of our Economic Security Strategy of last October. These figures show that our Economic Security Strategy did deliver a significant boost to consumption, to employment and to growth.

There is no quick fix to this global recession and many of its effects are still to be felt. But this government is doing what it can to help see Australia through, and the most important thing is that we need to get going immediately. The sooner the legislation is passed the sooner consumers and businesses will act with confidence to invest and spend and the sooner that will boost jobs and growth in our economy. The sooner the legislation is passed the earlier we can get it underway, investing in the schools, investing in social housing, investing in our homes, investing in roads and investing in our community. (Time expired)

Honourable members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —Order! Members will sit down.

Mr Irons interjecting

The SPEAKER —No, sorry, you were not in the developed print at this late hour. To pre-empt—

Honourable members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —Since I have been in the chair, I have noted that Western Australians seem to be on a different time than the rest of us. If you would just listen, I want to pre-empt any argy-bargy about procedure. I think that we actually understand what is about to happen.

Mr Haase —Yes, a guillotine.

The SPEAKER —The member for Kalgoorlie seems to think that he can come in here and rabbit on. Just be a bit careful. Under standing order 81, any member can move the closure. So I can go through the farrago. I can give the member for North Sydney the call, if he wishes to get a nano-second of the debate; I will then give the call to the Leader of the House.