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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 1071


Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (21:04): It is a pleasure to rise tonight in this grievance debate—although I do not think that there will be many watching; I think they will be watching another interesting grievance debate which is going on on another television station. I rise this evening to speak about a really important issue that is not getting a lot of attention from the government at the moment, which is the state and the future of our economic performance, particularly the productive capacity of our economy moving into the future.

We saw tonight on the news and throughout the day the events in Athens over the last 24 hours—the riots occurring in the streets there and the population's outrage at the austerity measures that have to be put in place to try to address some of the fundamental problems that that economy has and that culture of dependence which has built up in the European government systems for too long. We just heard the member for Petrie talk about all this wonderful money that comes from thin air that the Labor Party like to spend—that sort of culture which has occurred in Europe for so long, building up massive debts which are unfunded and which have now caused this great Armageddon of a debt crisis that the world is having to deal with.

Mr Ciobo interjecting

Mr BRIGGS: My learned colleague makes the point that, if you do not think these policies through and you do not think about how you are going to pay for them in the future, at some point someone has to pay. Right now it is the Greek people who are paying and it will be the Italians and also the Spaniards. We all pay through lower economic activity. It obviously impacts on our performance too.

Last week I raised a few of these issues in the reinvented Modest Member column in the Australian Financial Review. In that we talked about how government regulation makes it harder for families and Australians to be able to deal with the cost-of-living increases that they see. I pointed particularly to the example of the childcare reforms which have been so appallingly implemented by the minister in charge—a minister which, I might add, refuses to meet with the relevant childcare associations to discuss their concerns about the impending huge increase in costs that Australian families who try to send their children to child care will be burdened with. Of course, what that will lead to is additional pressure for governments to subsidise to keep up with these costs, because the reforms are being so appalling implemented by this minister.

But rather than a debate from the Labor Party—who like to run around and say that everyone is negative about everything that they do—the Minister for Early Childhood and Childcare unsurprisingly put out a false release. But the Minister for Veterans Affairs took the cake and put out a release, claiming that the article called for cuts to veterans pensions! It did not mention veterans, it did not mention pensions and it did not mention cuts. So, yet again, the modern Australian Labor Party just cannot be honest with the Australian people. We saw it with 'There will be no carbon tax under a government that I lead' and we saw it with the private health insurance rebate, which we are debating in the other place.

I think the member for Moncrieff makes a very good point: maybe if they had a better president, maybe if they had someone with a bit of conscience and a bit of honesty, the member for Lingiari, the Minister for Veterans Affairs and the Minister for Childcare might actually be forced to be honest with the Australian people about what is going on in this place.

I think what we have to start to contemplate is that the outcomes of the failed Gillard and Rudd years for our future will be seen in two areas in particular. The first is the challenges we now face with our budget. The Labor Party like to run around and say 'We're sick as far as it comes to debt but we are not as sick as the Europeans'—and that is true. We are not as sick as the Europeans or the Americans, but we have gone from a fiscal position in 2006-07 of a $20 billion surplus and $70 billion in the bank with the Future Fund to a position now where net debt is expected to be $136 billion over the forward estimates—that is, if you accept that the Labor Party will not find new ways to spend and waste money, which is a big assumption. In terms of the globe, that is a low debt but that does not mean that it is a good debt. It is a debt that needs to be serviced. Some $300 billion needs to be serviced through interest payments. It means that the public sector is competing with the private sector for funds—and we see the outcome of that with higher interest rates.

But what we also see is a long-term challenge for a structural deficit problem that is developing in our country. You have a population becoming more dependent on government payments and a population that is dealing with a legacy of four years of Labor deficits which have built up this massive debt. Add to that that there has also been a series of microeconomic reforms which are going to be making it harder for our people to compete into the future. Putting aside the lack of effort put into genuine reform in the education space—and members will note that I have raised this before—we have also seen the reregulation of the Australian workplace, which is now starting to have some extremely dire consequences. If you allow me the indulgence I will go through a few of them. Just in the last few weeks we have seen a Japanese business leader, the president of Toyota in Australia—it was one of the most remarkable things I have ever seen—actively criticising the laws that have been put in place by this Labor government. Mr Yasuda said automotive manufacturing here was fully exposed to global competition. He said that if it was to grow the industrial relations system, especially the culture and attitude of the workforce, needed to be more competitive. That culture is led from the top—the reforms that this government and this current prime minister put in place.

We have also seen Alan Joyce, the head of Qantas—the Labor Party like to try and demonise him so often for the way that he is running that company in a very difficult environment for global airlines—out there again today talking about bullying unions. These union officials are not people wanting to represent the workforce; they want to represent themselves. It is all about privilege and opportunity within the Australian Labor Party.

We have seen a seven-day strike called, up at the Bowen Basin mines. And we have seen the shutting down of BHP mines and the reaction to that by Marius Kloppers. He again involved himself in the politics of the day by referring to the changes to the Australian industrial relations system, saying that the right to manage when negotiating with unions was nearly impossible. And on the front page of the Advertiser was an article about one of the great opportunities for South Australia, the Olympic Dam project. All of these changes involving the reregulation of the Australian workplace put in doubt these great opportunities that we have going forward, particularly in the mining industry.

But this has all been summed up in today's Financial Review, under the headline 'Shorten puts blame on managers'. The new minister for workplace relations—the boy wonder of the Australian parliament!—could have said: 'Okay there may be some problems. We have had business leader after business leader speaking about it, the numbers of strikes are up and people are losing their jobs.' He could have said, 'We need to have a genuine look at this.' But of course, it is never his fault! It is never the government's fault! It is never the fault of the unions, who have been given this privileged position in the system! It is the managers' fault; it is always someone else's fault! At the end of the day, the long-term consequence of this Labor government and its economic management will be to the detriment of the next generation of Australians, who will not have the opportunities to achieve their full potential and their productive capacity in the world.

We have a huge productivity problem—it is a debate that does not go on in this place. We have a problem competing in the world. The government is blindsiding our industries in 2012 by tying them with regulations which were built for the 1950s.

As Tom Friedman said, we have a developing flat world where our industries need to be able to compete in a flexible and productive environment against industries across the globe. This is not, as the Labor Party would try to say, about going down to low wages and low costs. It is about having a highly educated, entrepreneurial workforce which is able to produce what it can in the best areas it can. This is not about chosen industries and chosen unions; this is about creating an economy where our children will be able to compete in a globe which is becoming more competitive.

This year I think we will face, sadly, the perils of higher unemployment. We will see a lot of people lose their jobs. Unfortunately, we have seen today ANZ cut more workers. That is absolutely a part of the consequences of the reregulation of the Australian workplace and the terrible economic management and the spending of this government. That is the consequence that we will see, not just this year but into the future. It is a real problem and it needs to be addressed.