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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 190


Mr DREYFUS (11:01 AM) —The true measure of a government is not its performance during a time of prosperity but its response in a time of crisis. The Nation Building and Jobs Plan, coming on top of the Economic Security Strategy delivered in December, shows the depths of this government’s commitment to doing all it can to protect Australian jobs and families from the maelstrom that has engulfed the global economic system. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, as we have just heard in her speech, wants to attack all this. We now know that the opposition wants to oppose this program, and it is clear that at least the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is simply out of her depth.

This package is designed to stimulate the economy in the short term to help support up to 90,000 Australian jobs and to ensure that low- and middle-income families and households receive the assistance they need during these tough economic times. But it does more than that: it commences the process of building Australia’s post-crisis economy and a fairer society. The Energy Efficient Homes Program will help to prepare Australian households for a low-carbon future. Building the Education Revolution builds on the education revolution we commenced last year to ensure that our children are equipped with skills that will be needed in an open, dynamic, high-skill, high-wage economy. And the Commonwealth social housing initiative is fairly described as the most significant federal government action ever undertaken in the field of housing.

These are carefully thought through packages. It is worth dwelling on some of the detail of these packages so that we are clear on what we are debating here with the Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and the cognate bills that are before the House. The Household Stimulus Package is timely, it is temporary and it is targeted. It includes the tax bonus for working Australians, up to $950 for eligible taxpayers; the single-income-family bonus, $950 for families that have one main income earner; the farmers hardship bonus—the matter which the Leader of the Nationals did not want to hear about in the House yesterday—$950 to farmers and others receiving exceptional circumstances related income support; and the training and learning bonus, $950 to assist students, those returning to study or training and some income support recipients. That will benefit some 4,737 students and young people in my electorate of Isaacs. There is also the back-to-school bonus of $950, to assist low- and middle-income families eligible for family tax benefit A with school-age children. That will benefit 11,154 families in my electorate.

With the education package known as Building the Education Revolution, we will see a stimulation of demand in the economy. It will provide a much-needed boost to the construction industry and, in the longer term, it will help provide every single child in every single primary school, including all 38 primary schools and all the secondary schools—there are a total of 54 schools in my electorate—with world-class facilities that are necessary for a 21st century education. It will provide $12.4 billion to build new infrastructure such as libraries and multipurpose halls in every primary school. The package includes another billion dollars to build 500 science and language centres in our secondary schools. I know, having been to each of the secondary schools and all but a couple of the primary schools in my electorate, just how well used these funds are going to be and indeed how much they are needed to ensure that an appropriate level of facilities is provided in our schools.

The Energy Efficient Homes Program will be a further support to the manufacturing and construction industries and will help prepare our economy for a low-carbon future. There is an investment of almost $4 billion in the Energy Efficient Homes Program and, as we heard yesterday and heard again today from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, it will enable around 2.2 million Australian homes to install free ceiling insulation. This is something close to my heart because my electorate is home to two of Australia’s major insulation manufacturers. It is going to be an important shot in the arm for local jobs. The Insulation Council of Australia and New Zealand have their office in my electorate, and I spoke this morning to their CEO, Dennis D’Arcy. He told me that their rough calculations already have indicated that it is expected that this measure will generate some 4,000 jobs across the nation, in delivery, installation, supply and fixing of insulation, as well as office staff and trainers to train those who are going to install the insulation. That is before one gets to the possible increase in manufacturing jobs at the CSR plants in Brisbane and Sydney and the Fletcher plants in Sydney and Melbourne, the Melbourne plant being located at Dandenong South in my electorate.

It is perhaps worth repeating for the benefit of the House what Dennis D’Arcy, the CEO of the Insulation Council of Australia and New Zealand, said to me on this. He said:

We welcome this move. Energy efficiency is probably the most important step in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Buildings are the most important component in improving energy efficiency. Australian buildings have by international standards low levels of energy efficiency. These measures will have an impact on reducing emissions. They will help meet the 2020 targets.

More importantly, said Mr D’Arcy, they will help every family without insulation to reduce household energy bills. Mr D’Arcy went on to tell me:

It will create jobs. It is a bold and welcome measure.

In addition, this package includes the Commonwealth’s social housing initiative, which is $6.4 billion for public and community housing, $6 billion over 3½ years. It will include also at least 20,000 low-income households being assisted by having access to housing. I spoke yesterday in the House about the regional and local government program, which is seeing an expansion from the $300 million announced at the local government conference held in this building in November, attended by mayors and chief executive officers of councils from all over Australia. I have heard repeatedly at that conference, which I attended with the Mayor of Frankston, the Mayor of Kingston and the CEO of the City of Greater Dandenong, both from them and from others who attended the conference, just how welcome was this initiative of the Rudd government to give direct access for local government to the Prime Minister and senior ministers and indeed the whole of the federal government. What the regional and local government package which is part of the package that is contained in this legislation will do is to permit the federal government to directly fund larger scale projects that have been selected by local government. They are local capital projects chosen by local people that are going to generate local construction activity and generate local jobs.

I come briefly to the approach of the Liberal Party and the National Party which we have seen unfold here today. Greg Evans, the director of industry policy and economics at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was quoted in the Age newspaper this morning as saying:

The fiscal stimulus package, combined with the significant rate reduction announced by the RBA, will go a long way to alleviating the worst aspects of the economic downturn and indeed places us in a better position than every other advanced country around the globe.

That is Mr Evans from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The opposition clearly does not understand that very plain language from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and indeed seemingly does not understand the seriousness of the crisis that this country is confronting.

Last night we were subjected once again to the member for Higgins, Captain Smirk, talking on ABC TV. His only interest would appear to be in defending his own reputation as Treasurer. He is apparently not even interested in assisting the opposition to develop a coherent response, which, as we have seen even here this morning, is assistance that they desperately need. The member for Higgins has no constructive criticism, and his attempt to create a supposedly glorious past and superlative economic performance on the part of the Howard government is simply false. This is the man who blew the prosperity of the resources boom, the man who had the opportunity to future-proof our economy as a result of the unprecedented revenues generated by the best terms of trade in a generation, and instead the member for Higgins and the government of which he was part wasted it by failing to rein in spending and fuelling inflation. It was lazy, it was politically expedient and, along with the failure to invest in infrastructure and to invest in skills, it helped to fuel the inflation that the Reserve Bank had to fight with one hand tied behind its back.

At least one can say that the member for Higgins has consistency in his favour, which is more than can be said for the present opposition leadership. They appear finally to have come to the conclusion that there is no role for fiscal policy in dealing with this economic crisis. We heard more of that from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in her speech this morning preceding mine. In her speech we had some extraordinary suggestions: for example, that there was no explanation as to why the particular projects that have been funded by this package have been chosen. She said also that there was no evidence that these projects will create any jobs. The merest imagination that she could bring to bear on this would show her that these projects have been chosen because all of them are aimed at improving circumstances in our schools, aimed at improving the availability of housing in our country, aimed at getting local projects built and aimed at getting money spent and construction being commenced as quickly as possible. As for the suggestion that there is no evidence that these projects will create any jobs, clearly the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has not the faintest understanding of economic activity, because when a government announces projects of this scale obviously they are going to both create and support jobs. The opposition has failed to understand that fiscal policy and monetary policy need to work together and, particularly in times like this, they need to be responsive to economic conditions. The Liberals and the Nationals did not understand this when they were in government and they do not understand it now that they are in opposition.