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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 10102


Mr ROBB (Goldstein) (16:05): Could I just suggest that a friend needs to take the Minister for Trade aside and tell him that this sort of lightweight performance that we have just heard over the last 15 minutes does him no credit, nor the government. It was just pathetic.

Dr Emerson: Oh, thanks for your moralising.

Mr ROBB: No, it is not moralising. It is just a fact: that was pathetic, it was absolutely pathetic, Craig. There is a serious topic here about the impact of a carbon tax on a vulnerable economy, and you stand up there and give us that absolute drivel. You are a minister of the state and you ought to behave yourself a lot better than just standing there and giving us that drivel and that mock humour.

Dr Emerson interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): Order! The minister will remain silent and the member for Goldstein will direct his remarks through the chair.

Mr ROBB: In Australia we are very blessed. We have enormous resources and energy opportunities, we have an agricultural sector which is a great strength and we have an education sector which is a great strength. All of these three are perhaps the three biggest strengths that we have had for 200 years. These strengths happen to coincide with the Asian century. We are geographically so well placed. Also, all of the things that Asia needs in this century we have as our strengths: great resources, energy and agriculture. We feed 60 million people. If we marshalled the resources, technologies and possibilities that exist in Australia, we could feed 120 million people. We have an education system which now is poised to educate so much of the region and to forge longstanding and deeply fruitful links with the Asia region. All of these things we have going for us right at this very moment.

Yet, despite that, there is a crisis of confidence in this community. It runs right throughout the community. In fact, today we saw a business confidence report released by the National Australia Bank—a survey which is used by the Reserve Bank to gauge the health of business. It shows a 10 per cent fall in confidence to a level not seen since the middle of the great financial crisis. We have seen the biggest falls in confidence in the finance sector, the manufacturing sector and the transport sector, with retail also depressed. This comes off the back of lay-offs of 10,000 identified by Merrill Lynch over the last two months, with job losses concentrated, again, in the manufacturing, consumer, government and finance sectors. It also leads to a conclusion by the chief equities analyst, Tim Rocks, who said that job losses from these sectors alone were likely to reach 100,000 over the coming quarters.

The Australian community are not stupid. They have a sense of gathering clouds—storm clouds. In fact, it explains why savings rates have gone from minus one per cent 12 months ago to 11½ per cent now, the biggest jump in savings rates in this economy on record. It represents about $70 billion that Australian households have saved—money that would normally have been spent for discretionary expenditure. It is a level of saving which has meant that the retail sector is on its knees.

But why have people been doing this? Why is business not investing? The reason falls largely at the feet of this government. Now we have a carbon tax which has become a symbol of chronic incompetence within this government. We have a situation where we have all of these blessings yet we have a government which has put this economy into a situation of great vulnerability if there is any further slide in world economic conditions.

The fact is that the world economy is facing the likelihood of a further significant slump over the coming 12 months. There is a much greater prospect of that happening than not. The job of any government is to do its best to weatherproof an economy against forces external to this country that it has no control over. The government does not have any control over what happens in the United States or in Europe, but what this government can do is weatherproof our economy, prepare our economy and gather in the acorns to get ourselves prepared, just as the households are doing. In the absence of government, they are living within their means. They are paying off their mortgage. They are paying off the plastic. They are saving money because the government is not. They are doing the opposite of what the government is doing.

Here is a government with the biggest budget deficit on record two years in a row. Here is a government that has taken a surplus and no debt and gone to nearly $200 billion in gross debt and the biggest deficits in our history. Here is a government that is borrowing as if there is no tomorrow. Here is a government that has presided over the biggest growth of government in our lives. The carbon tax is the prime example. The government has reregulated the labour market in the face of the global financial crisis. It has renationalised telecommunications. Now it is bringing in a carbon tax which is dripping with intervention and bureaucracy—hundreds of millions of dollars worth of new public servants to monitor and crawl over every company. There will be 500 companies that will have bureaucrats coming out their ears for years to come. The government gets this massive tax: $1.5 billion of the first $9 billion in the first year is the cost of abatement and the rest of it goes straight to tax for the government to churn back through the economy. The government will make the decisions and strip the balance sheets of companies so that they cannot make decisions on innovation. It will be up to the government and up to public servants. We will have the biggest line-up of lobbyists here that you have ever seen in this country because of what this government is doing.

A lot of this is now being compounded by the carbon tax, because the carbon tax shows absolutely no empathy with what is happening in the real world out there. Because of this, people know and sense that there is no direction in this economy. There is no competence. We still have all the examples that go back four years. There is no sense that anyone is in charge. You can see it on their faces on the other side ever since the last election: they are looking for a story. What does all this add up to? What is this carbon tax? What does it do apart from costing jobs, imposing further taxes on people and shifting income—redistributing it from one sector to another? What does it do? It does nothing for the environment. It does nothing for our competitive position. It will lead to the loss of jobs and industries offshore. It just confirms that this carbon tax has become a great symbol. It is the thing that is reinforcing that loss of confidence both amongst households and amongst business. There is a lot of money out there. It is not being spent, because there is this sense of unease—a great sense of anxiety; a great sense of no leadership; a great sense that nobody is in charge. We have heard the drivel from the Minister for Trade in the last 15 minutes. None of these issues was addressed. What are they doing about this vulnerability? We have a situation where this government has caused a crisis of confidence in the economy. Quite rightly, increasing numbers of Australians have written this government off. It has had too many chances, but it has proven incapable of performing its fiduciary duty when it comes to managing the economy. That is at the heart of this. The Prime Minister talks about being on the right side of history, but the only way this country will get back on track is when this government is confined to the dustbin of history.