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Thursday, 20 September 2007
Page: 110

Senator HUMPHRIES (2:08 PM) —My question is to Senator Coonan, the Minister representing the Assistant Treasurer. Would the minister outline to the Senate how the last 11 years of sound economic management have delivered benefits to all Australians? Could she also outline in particular how the government proposes to build on the strong economic performance of the last 11 years to deliver benefits to older Australians? Are there any alternative policies?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I thank Senator Humphries for his question. When the coalition was elected in 1996, unemployment in the ACT was 7.7 per cent. After the 11 years of sound economic management to which Senator Humphries refers, unemployment today in the ACT stands at just 2.8 per cent. The sound economic management of the Howard government has of course allowed us to deliver real benefits to all Australians and to invest in the future to ensure that as a nation we continue to prosper. It has allowed us to pay off $96 billion of Labor’s debt and save in the order of $8 billion annually in interest. As we strive to do even better, we should not forget the economic mismanagement of past Labor governments where, out of 13 budgets, they ran deficits in nine of them.

There is no clearer example of how sound economic management enables Australians to directly benefit than the recent Better Superannuation reforms. From today, an estimated 300,000 older Australians will be able to access the pension for the first time or will receive a higher pension. Today, we are cutting the taper rates at which the pensions are reduced by half to $1.50 for each $1,000 of assets above the allowable limits for the full pension. We are also substantially lifting the allowable asset limits, at which points the pension begins to be reduced. As a result, the maximum single rate pension will rise by $12.60 to $537.70 per fortnight and the partnered pension rate for each member of a couple will rise by $10.60 to $449.10 per fortnight. As a result of the reform to indexation, pensions will again rise above the inflation rate, which means that the Howard government is actually delivering in real terms a sustained increase in the standard of living of older Australians.

These significant reforms are only possible because of sound economic management over the last 11 years. If we were to have ducked the tough questions that have set Australia up to build on our prosperity and to lock in our future prosperity, we would not be in a position to reform the pension scheme and to deliver such significant increases to pensioners and particularly older Australians.

As the storm clouds gather once again over the international economy, strong and experienced hands are now more than ever required on the rudder of the Australian economy. Mr Rudd’s startling admission yesterday that he could not even name one single tax threshold correctly, let alone name any of the actual tax rates, proves once and for all that he is an opposition leader on trainer wheels. Australians have every right to ask, ‘If he does not know or care enough about how much tax ordinary Australian wage-earners pay, how can we trust Mr Rudd with our mortgage?’ You cannot run an economy on spin alone, and this latest failure just highlights that Mr Rudd is not fit to run Australia’s $1.1 trillion economy.

Senator Faulkner interjecting—

Senator COONAN —Finally, it is wonderful that Rip Van Winkle, Senator Faulkner, has finally woken up!

Senator Chris Evans —So, yesterday you stirred up Telstra and today you stir up Rudd.

The PRESIDENT —When you are finished, Senator Evans, your colleague will get the call.