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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 6616


Mr SWAN (Deputy Prime Minister) (4:17 PM) —I welcome the opportunity to talk in this matters of public importance debate about competent government and cost-of-living pressures. We have had yet another demonstration from the Leader of the Opposition of what a risk he would be to our national economy should he come to be on the government benches. He revealed yet again his complete ignorance of economics. As Peter Costello said, the Leader of the Opposition is bored by economics—and didn’t it show in those comments we heard earlier. As the Prime Minister pointed out, this is supposed to be an MPI about cost-of-living pressures. Not once in his 15-minute contribution did the Leader of the Opposition talk about one cost-of-living pressure.


Mr Symon —He’s out of touch.


Mr SWAN —I am not surprised about that because, yes, he is out of touch. I have a vivid memory from shortly after we were elected to government, early in 2008. He had been in hibernation for some time, although he was on the front bench. His most significant early remark as an opposition frontbencher was to complain that because he no longer had a ministerial salary and was only on an MP’s salary he could not afford to live. That demonstrates just how out of touch he is. He is completely out of touch. That was demonstrated by the complete absence of any discussion about what life is like around the kitchen table, what are the policy issues that impact on the cost of living—nothing, because he does not have a clue about what life is like around the kitchen table for an average Australian family. He would not have a clue about what it was like out in Penrith or down in Tasmania or up in Dobell or over in Petrie. He simply would not have a clue, living as he does, and has done for all of his life, in the leafy North Shore of Sydney. It is pretty good if you can get it. It is a great place to be and to go to, but most Australians do not live like that, do not earn the those salaries and do not live in those suburbs. They live right across the country, on modest incomes, trying to get by.

The hide of him to come in here and talk as if the Liberal Party care about jobs! It would make a cat laugh! People on this side of the House remember vividly what happened in this House back in February 2008 when we were trying to get the second stimulus package through this parliament. It was rejected and fought against tooth and nail by every one of the Liberal and National Party members who sit opposite. This is the package that saved Australia. It was rejected in the Senate on the first run through, then it went back up and finally it went through. But I vividly remember the night we were here debating it. It was about four or five o’clock in the morning and they were still fighting it. They were saying things like, ‘It won’t create a single job.’


Mr Burke —That’s right: not one.


Mr SWAN —Not one single job. They did not care about employment then and they do not care about it now. Nor do they have any understanding of what must be done in the uncertain international environment to support our small businesses and to broaden the economy. Not only that, they have little knowledge of what we must do as we go forward to reform and strengthen the economy. They have no knowledge about any of that.

I would have to check this—I think my memory is pretty correct—but I do not think that the Leader of the Opposition even spoke in that debate. At the time he was the opposition spokesman on family and community services but he could not come into the parliament to debate one of the most significant economic initiatives in the history of this country.


Mr Bradbury —He was in the dining room!


Mr SWAN —I have just been reminded and, in fact, it is coming back to me now. He was actually in the dining room with two other people, the former Treasurer and who was the third? I cannot remember who the third was.


Mr Bradbury —Andrews.


Mr SWAN —Andrews, that is right! They were up in the dining room having a few drinks while we were down here debating the future of employment in Australia. They only bothered to walk into the House, in a dishevelled state, when the vote was on. So much for their concern for employment!

Because we acted, because we are competent, because we are concerned about employment, because we understand economics and because we knew the threat that was coming from elsewhere in the world, where is Australia today? Australia today is one of the strongest advanced economies in the world. It is one of the strongest developed economies, which is celebrated by everybody on this side of the House. And what does it mean? It means low unemployment. What is absolutely critical to coping with the cost of living, to making ends meet and to educating your children and getting health care and housing is a decent job.

Where are we in Australia today? As I said, our economy is one of the strongest in the developed world. Our unemployment rate is 5.2 per cent, but it is in double digits right across Europe and just around nine-plus in the United States. We are creating jobs while the rest of the world has been losing jobs. In fact, we have created something like 280,000 jobs in the past year—something everyone in this House is going to be proud of for a long time. When the economic history of this country is written in the fullness of time it will say that the decision to put in place that stimulus package was absolutely critical. It is not just for jobs but also for business and for small business to keep their doors open. And it is still keeping the doors of tens of thousands of small businesses open right around this country in projects which are denigrated in this House day after day by those people who are sitting opposite.

They said it would not create a single job. I will never forget Malcolm Turnbull at the Press Club who said it would never create a job. They may have those views, but there is a lot of support for what Australia did, which is recognised as being first class. This is what a number of people had to say about it. The Governor of the Reserve Bank said stimulus had, ‘worked a treat’. The Governor of the Reserve Bank does not make those comments lightly. The OECD said:

… in no small part shielded businesses and citizens from the initial damaging impacts of the global recession.

The chief economist at Deutsche Bank said, ‘The absolute reliance of the Australian economy on policy stimulus since the second half of 2008 has been absolutely critical.’ The evidence is in. This government has a fine record in supporting employment, in supporting small business, in underpinning confidence and in understanding the nature of the threats that this country faced in the past and faces as we go forward. Of course, we have done all that and we have come out the other end with the lowest deficit and the lowest debt of any advanced economy.

I listened very closely to the Leader of the Opposition. He did not once in his critique of everything that had gone wrong even acknowledge that there has been a global financial crisis let alone a global recession. It simply passed him by. Well, I suppose it might if you lived where he lives. It may well have passed you by. But I tell you what, it did not pass by Australians the length and breadth of this country. They knew what the challenge was and they got behind it and so did so many of the employers in this country.

We on this side of the House understand the future challenges as well. We understand we are going to be in the Asian century. We understand that there are great opportunities coming for this country and we do need to reform our economy. We also understand that there are many people who are not doing as well even in an economy which is in as good shape as ours is compared to everybody else.

Not everybody is sharing in that and that is why we have continued with our tax cuts. The third lot are coming through next week. They are modest tax cuts but because we understand that many people around the kitchen table are doing it tough we introduced the education tax rebate. When you are trying to send your kids back to school it is a difficult time of year. It is a bit of extra cash to help you get by when all the bills come in after Christmas, when the kids are going back to school and you have to get the uniforms, and when the credit card bills are coming in. The education tax rebate is a big help for those people. Do we ever hear mentioned by those opposite what we have done in terms of child care? All of these things are vitally important because we understand cost-of-living pressures.

Then there is what we did with the age pension. It was something they could not find the whit to do in over 12 years despite the fact that it was raining gold bars at the time they were in government. They could not find time for pensioners below the poverty line. They did not care. They did not give a toss. They just simply do not understand the cost-of-living pressures facing families. That is why they are such extremists when it comes to Work Choices; they simply do not get it. (Time expired)