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Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Page: 1298


Mr HUSIC (ChifleyGovernment Whip) (20:26): It gives me great pleasure to speak in relation to the appropriations bills because when you look at what we have been able to achieve in terms of our economic performance and where we are headed, particularly relative to overseas economies, we have a fantastic story to tell. In relation to net debt and its peaks in 2011-12, we see it is 8.9 per cent of GDP—less than a 10th of average major advanced economies. If you look at any of the headline indicators, we see growth at trend—others would love to have the growth that we are experiencing here; 700,000 jobs created at a time when 30 million were being cut out of most advanced economies; and unemployment at 5.2 per cent.

Compare that to what is going on in the Euro zone, where unemployment is at 10.4 per cent. The member for McPherson was talking about jobs and the importance of economic growth and employment growth. We are still able to beat overseas unemployment rates, particularly in terms of the Euro zone, where it is nudging 10.4 per cent, and the US, where it is eight per cent. Then we turn to interest rates. If you have got a $300,000 mortgage, you are paying $3,000 a year less as a result of interest rates coming down—and I have spoken publicly about the need for interest rates to keep coming down.

In terms of the appropriations bills, we are looking at our fiscal consolidation being the strongest that it has been in four decades—at a time when we have had $140 billion cut out of revenues, particularly due to the GFC and its aftermath—and we are one of just 12 countries that have a AAA rating from all three ratings agencies. These are spectacular figures when you look at our overall economic performance and compare what other people are experiencing.

On the other side of politics, they talk tough about, for example, what they are able to do in relation to cutting spending and they keep railing about waste and mismanagement. Yet where are they when they have an opportunity to step up and do what we have done? I mentioned earlier in terms of fiscal consolidation the amount we have been able to cut out of the budget and the fact that we are able to point to where we are headed in relation to bringing the budget into surplus.

In the past week the opposition have taken four steps back from a commitment of being able to even demonstrate whether or not they would be able to get to surplus—not when, but whether they would. On 6 February the member for Goldstein said, 'Well, it just depends. As I say, there is so much uncertainty around the numbers.' The next day the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said, 'Well, before the coalition is called to account for a surplus, the government has to deliver a surplus'—not on their own wherewithal and their own ability to find the savings so that they could demonstrate how they could go to a surplus; they are pinning it on whether or not we will be able to do it. On the same day the member for North Sydney said, 'We'll do it as soon as possible,' and then a day later the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Warringah, said, 'What I am saying is that we'll get back to surplus as quickly as possible.' So there is this march back from being able to even point to when they will be able to reach surplus.

Another interesting interview was last week. Emma Alberici on Lateline, who I have to say is certainly carving a reputation for herself as a tough interviewer, had the member for North Sydney on the program and basically put to him a series of questions about at what point the opposition would be able to demonstrate their capacity to get to a surplus. Bearing in mind, as I have said, the degree to which we have been able to cut spending and the degree to which we have experienced fiscal consolidation in the course of the last year in particular, Emma Alberici said to the member for North Sydney:

Well the Government says, just like you do, that it will run a surplus next year. They have mapped out how they intend to achieve that. You've said you want to introduce paid parental leave at a cost of $6.3 billion over two years, that you want to deliver dental help through Medicare at around $4 billion a year; you're happy to announce where you want to give people things, but—

this was the killer quote that Ms Alberici put to the member for North Sydney—

you're not particularly inclined to tell everyone where you want to cut things.

That is the problem, because the opposition talk tough about being able to, as they say, cut waste and mismanagement—I note that the member for Higgins is here, and I had the opportunity to read her contribution in relation to what we are proposing with the private health insurance; she too, in her contribution yesterday, indicated the need to cut waste and mismanagement—but whenever there is an opportunity to do so they walk away from it. It is worth noting that last year, for example, when we summoned up the response to the Queensland floods, we obviously committed our support to the Queensland state government. I note that the member for Oxley is here. His electorate in particular, amongst others, suffered extremely hard as a result of those floods. We committed spending, but we also said that we needed to pitch in via the levy. The opposition said, 'We can do that. We can commit to the repair work, but we'll find the savings.' They were unable to find close to $6 billion in savings and, when they were pressed, outsourced their economic advice to One Nation, who suggested that one of the things they could do was cut a program that the Howard government initiated, supported by us, that provides support to the Indonesian government for education and support to schools in Indonesia. So the best they could do was rely upon One Nation and its type of economic extremism to find savings. They were unable to find savings of their own. It will be interesting to see whether or not they hit the $70 billion that they claim that they can find in terms of savings.

Ms O'Dwyer interjecting

Mr HUSIC: The member for Higgins interjects. I note that, as I said earlier, she was railing against the initiatives and the reforms that we are trying to bring in to make private healthcare insurance fairer so that the constituents I represent are not cross-subsidising residents in electorates that have the capacity to pay. She pointed out that we should find ways of cutting waste and mismanagement. But, whenever we stump up with savings, such as the $2.4 billion in terms of private health care, we have the member for Higgins, the member for Kooyong and the member for Mayo, the members who have formed this Society of Modest Members—so modest that we never hear any actual firm proposals out of them about what they intend to do in terms of economic reform.

When we do put reforms on the table, they are unable to actually support the cutting of government spending or the redirection of spending in terms of the private healthcare rebate, and they cannot bring themselves to either find savings of their own or fight us on savings, while at the same time they say, 'There is waste and mismanagement to be cut.' In the course of the last week, they walked away from their commitment as to when they deliver a surplus, and they are unable to identify the savings. They are unable to show us where they might be able to bring us into surplus.

Of course, I mentioned earlier that they had outsourced their economic thinking to the extreme elements like One Nation. We had the member for McPherson talking about border control and border protection and the types of things that needed to be reined in. When we said to them: 'You reckon that you can, for example, open up detention facilities on Nauru,' we found out who they have turned to to help them provide support—because they disputed the costings in relation to setting up facilities on Nauru, or reopening them. We found out they have turned to a catering company to provide some sort of thorough costings about how government spending would be directed to establish detention facilities on Nauru.

We should not be surprised at the inability of the opposition to find savings. Frankly, you can go back to their performance when in government. They look to the glory days of the Howard government, but it is worth noting that others, including me, have reflected on that in this place. There are others like, for example, Malcolm Farr in The Punch who identified that, in the 11 years of the Howard government, real government expenditure grew. They are lecturing us on cutting spending. The member for Higgins was associated with the former government as an adviser. We have been told that they have been able to find savings. The member for Higgins was associated with the former government, and spending grew by four per cent in the last five years. Every year, it grew by four per cent.

Those opposite point to our deficits and like to airbrush the fact that the GFC occurred. I would ask the member for Higgins, or those opposite, to indicate at some point whether or not, when the economy was freezing up, when banks were unprepared to lend, when construction projects were falling over for lack of finance and when people were concerned about their jobs and economic growth, they would have been prepared to go into deficit to ensure that the economy continued to function, we would get to the other side of the GFC and we would have the types of growth rates that we are experiencing now.

They keep railing against deficits and spending, but in fact we know what the Leader of the Opposition said in February 2010 when he was criticising the work that we did to save the economy through the GFC: 'We shouldn't be spending that much. We should do what New Zealand did.' When you look at New Zealand's performance through the GFC and compare it to ours, they had slower growth. They were not able to save jobs to the same extent that we were able to. That is what they are asking us to follow. They are asking us to follow what they did in their time in government, when spending always grew and inflation was higher. People are saving compared to what the coalition left us with in terms of interest rates. As I quoted earlier, on a $300,000 mortgage you are saving $3,000 a year under the interest rates that people are paying now compared to what the coalition left us with. During their time in government—even when the challenge was put to them about what they would do through the GFC or when they were asked to identify savings—they have been unable to match us. Again, it is worth quoting: the inflation rate in late 2007 was under four per cent; last year it was below three per cent.

When the member for Higgins was advising the former government, the tax take was higher as a proportion of GDP than it is now. What was it then?

Ms O'Dwyer interjecting

Mr HUSIC: The member for Higgins interjects, but what was the tax take back then? The tax take gobbled up over 24 per cent of GDP at its peak under the coalition. It is heading for 21 per cent now. There was higher taxing on the other side of the political fence than what we have as a proportion of the GDP. We had revenues hit by the GFC, but we still managed the fastest fiscal consolidation. Those opposite are still having problems identifying how to respond to the Queensland floods. They say they can save $6 billion. They cannot even find the money for that. While we are again going through the fastest rate of fiscal consolidation in four decades, they have a $70 billion target that they want to cut, and they cannot even crack it in terms of $6 billion.

What is interesting is that, on the weekend, the columnist Laurie Oakes outlined where the $70 billion came from. I notice that the member for Goldstein today was talking about a crisis of confidence. If there is a crisis of confidence, it is between the member for North Sydney and the member for Goldstein, because it is clear from Laurie Oakes's article that the $70 billion was deliberately put out there as a way in which to track leakers in the opposition ministry. It is clear that there is a falling out or a lack of confidence between the shadow Treasurer and the shadow finance minister in key economic portfolios where they are supposed to be able to demonstrate how they can get to surplus, but they have been walking away from that in the last week. They have been unable in the past, either in government or in opposition, to show what they can do to rectify or be able to cut out what they identify as waste and mismanagement.

Yesterday the member for Higgins was railing against our efforts to make the private health insurance rebate fairer. The opposition are unable to come up with savings. The member for Higgins—the next pillar of economic support or advice for the coalition!—and her colleagues the member for Kooyong and the member for Mayo are unable to find those savings or give any economic backbone to the opposition. As I said, we have the runs on the board. We have been able to achieve growth, to protect jobs, to lower inflation, to lower interest rates and to be the envy of the advanced economies of the world, who would love to be able to emulate our situation. The other side cannot even get the arithmetic right.