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Wednesday, 9 May 2007
Page: 79

Senator WONG (3:21 PM) —I rise to speak on the motion of Senator Evans to take note of answers provided by the government in question time in relation to budget matters. I want to start with what the budget papers, the government’s own figures, tell us about the government’s performance to date. This issue was raised with Senator Minchin during question time and also with Senator Abetz. Senator Abetz, as per usual, did not really answer the question. Senator Minchin said, ‘Damned statistics and lies’, in effect, suggesting that the budget parameters, which are set by the government and which indicate that productivity growth is forecast to be zero for 2006-07, were somehow irrelevant.

What the budget papers tell us is that the government’s own figures confirm their failure to engage in long-term investment in the productivity of the Australian economy over their 11 years in office. That is what the budget forecasts confirm. To have productivity forecasts at zero per cent growth for 2006-07 simply confirms that the government have not been doing what they ought to have been doing in terms of investing in human capital and infrastructure to increase the productivity of the nation.

And why is it that we talk about productivity? Is it just some statistic that people throw around for political purposes? It is not. It is a measure of the future prosperity of the nation. Today’s productivity is tomorrow’s prosperity. It is a maxim that economists and politicians for many decades have been talking about. You look to the future prosperity of the nation by looking to today’s productivity. That is why one of the important functions, tasks and priorities of a government must be to keep an eye on where Australia’s productivity is. We know from the government’s own figures that, at this stage, their forecast for the 2006-07 year is zero per cent.

It is an interesting proposition because when the government talk about productivity they like to talk about labour market deregulation and their Work Choices legislation. Of course, it is not quite clear whether they are talking about the new Work Choices regime, their current backflip, or the one before when they say Work Choices is the great saviour of the Australian economy. At this stage, the government’s forecasts confirm no productivity growth as a result of the introduction of Work Choices.

Senator Kemp interjecting—

Senator WONG —They are your figures, so you deal with your Treasury and Finance statisticians and you tell them why they are wrong, because their statistics clearly do not measure up with the story you want to tell the Australian people about what is happening to Work Choices.

But let us talk about what the government have failed to do. They have failed to wisely invest the proceeds of the resources boom. They try to dismiss it. As Senator Evans said, there was no mention of the mining and resources boom in the Treasurer’s speech. Let us look at the facts, though. Saul Eslake of the ANZ has stated that the resources boom is responsible for an estimated $283 billion increase to federal government tax revenues above its original estimates over the 2002-03 to 2009-10 period. That is $283 billion more flowing into federal government coffers than previously and over the forward estimates period, and yet we have a situation where their own forecasts are zero per cent productivity growth for the 2006-07 year. That is the reality.

Since MYEFO alone, an additional $53 billion has flowed into government coffers above what the original estimates were. That is the reality of the impact of the resources boom on government revenue. That is a good thing. But what is not a good thing is your failure in previous years, in particular, to invest in the Australian economy in terms of long-term productivity. Where has your investment in education been until the electorate and the opposition started talking up this education revolution? That is what this budget is about. It is responding to political pressure. All of a sudden in an election year, after having cut investment in universities and in R&D, in 1996 and onwards, as a proportion of GDP, magically you wake up to the fact that education investment is important to Australia’s economic future. And do you know what? Australians are alive to this. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.