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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 205

Mr TURNOUR (12:04 PM) —I rise today to support these responsible bills: the Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and cognate bills. I see the shadow minister for education leaving the chamber, but I would just say that I have not heard such a load of rubbish in this place for a long period of time. I do not know whether, as the shadow minister, he has actually visited any schools, but, from what I have heard about schools not receiving computers, I think he must not have. Last week hundreds of schools in my electorate received computers, and last year I was at schools where they had computers in their hands—they had them. He talked about trades training centres not being rolled out. Well, I had in my office a very tangible chair of the international marine skills training centre that is being built as a result of Labor’s investment in trade training centres in electorates like mine—a project that has been planned for five years but for which they could not get the investment they needed because the former government had an ideological bent towards these Australian technical colleges, which we know were expensive and have been a failure.

But I have come here today to debate this stimulus package and not, as the shadow education minister did, to digress into some ideological arguments, quoting Mao and others, in relation to education. We have a plan to support the Australian economy through these difficult economic times, and it is very disappointing to hear that the opposition will be blocking the Nation Building and Jobs Plan. Before I move on to that, I also need to make the point that I hope that the shadow minister for education will explain that to the 7,722 families in his electorate that will not be getting their back-to-school bonus and the 48 schools in his electorate that will not be receiving their $200,000 in additional maintenance and renewables, or the 40 schools that would have been able to apply for additional funding for infrastructure, whether libraries or other resources, and primary schools—because that is the reality of what this government is doing. At the core of this package is an investment in education, and it just shows the stark difference between this side of the House and the other side of the House when the shadow minister for education can come in here and talk such drivel.

The Rudd government, as I have said, has brought forward a nation-building package and a job protection plan which has measures to invest in schools, in defence and social housing, in community infrastructure and local roads, and in practical measures to tackle climate change, such as providing free ceiling insulation to around 2.7 million Australian homes.

We recognise that we also need to provide stimulus on the demand side. That is why we have included measures for one-off payments to eligible families, single workers, students, drought-affected farmers and others. Very importantly, we put in measures to support small business and business in general through increases in tax breaks for eligible assets. These measures are needed and have been well received in regions like that which I represent—Cairns and tropical North Queensland.

Our regional economy is heavily dependent on the tourism and construction industries, which have been battered by the global financial crisis. A well-respected regional economist has estimated that the package in these bills will pump between $400 million and $500 million into the Cairns and tropical North Queensland economy, supporting up to 1,000 jobs in the region that I come from. That is what the opposition is opposing. I know through the partnerships I have developed with local business and community leaders that this package is needed. Jobs have been lost in the tropical north because of the global financial crisis, and the Prime Minister and Treasurer have again sought to stay ahead of the game through this package as the global economy has deteriorated.

The International Monetary Fund recently revised down the growth forecasts for the world, with no nation coming out unscathed. World growth has been revised down from 3.4 per cent in 2008 to just 0.5 per cent this year. Developed economies are forecast to contract by two per cent, with the United States and Europe being in recession. Critically to Australia, China’s growth rate has also been downgraded substantially. Having grown in double-digit figures in recent years, China is forecast to grow at 6.7 per cent this year. Economic growth, particularly in countries like China, has driven the resources boom and underpinned economic growth in Australia. The boom is over and the IMF has forecast Australia’s economy will also shrink by 0.2 per cent, having only last year forecast a 2.2 per cent growth rate for Australia. The IMF is forecasting negative growth in Australia and, effectively, a technical recession. A responsible government does not stand by and let this happen. A responsible government acts decisively in the national interest and that is what the government is doing through this package of measures.

When private-sector demand and investment dries up in times like these it has been economic orthodoxy for governments to step in and stimulate the economy, and that is what we are doing. As the Prime Minister has made clear, he does not like going into deficit but it is the right thing to do given the global recession that we are facing. The government is acting in the national interest. This is the responsible course of action given that we are facing the world’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. This is the world’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and those opposite are opposing these measures and want us to sit on our hands.

The government have also made it clear that we have a plan to bring the budget out of deficit but the opposition continues to rail against going into deficit. When growth returns we will put constraints on budget outlays and we will see the automatic stabilisers returned and bring the budget back into surplus. We have a plan to bring the budget back into surplus. We understand that it is responsible to maintain budget surpluses over the economic cycle, but we are clearly in difficult times. Arguments against a deficit by the opposition at this point in time just demonstrate how out of touch they are. I hope they are not seeking to play politics by opposing these measures, because this is not about the Labor Party or the Liberal Party—it is about the national interest. It is about the 21 million Australians out there who are facing very difficult economic times.

This package has been widely welcomed by industry and community leaders and, if the opposition are not prepared to listen to the government, I ask them to listen to calls from these leaders to support the package. If you will not listen to us, then listen to what some of the third party and independent commentators have had to say. Heather Ridout of the Australian Industry Group said yesterday:

The nation building and jobs plan announced by the federal government today is simple and substantial, and will provide a big stimulus to help keep the economy moving. Together with the interest rate cut, it has been a big day for monetary and fiscal policy—it’s a case of ‘all hands on deck’…The package targets consumer spending, which is absolutely critical to our near-term economic prospects, and boosts capital expenditure—looming as one of the real casualties of the downturn.

Mr Wal King AO of the Australian Constructors Association said:

The Rudd government’s $42 billion nation building and jobs plan announced today will play an important role in stimulating the Australian economy…This is a very thoughtful and well targeted program—

He described it as thoughtful and well-targeted, and I agree—

but this is the right time to invest in Australia to protect the future and today’s announcements are an important contribution. It is the right time to invest.

Adrian Pisarski, of the National Shelter Inc., said:

This is the biggest postwar public housing investment this country has seen, and is one that the Rudd government should be proud of … After 10 years of reduced funding from the Howard government, this is an unbelievable result for the people doing it toughest in this country … This funding was the missing element of the National Affordable Housing Agreement and will provide long term growth for the economy and the housing sector.

I know that these measures are welcome in regions like mine, where the construction industry is doing it tough. I have talked a bit about education, and I notice that the shadow minister for education quoted Angelo Gavrielatos from the Australian Education Union. Let us see what he had to say about reality in terms of our package:

In addition to providing an important economic stimulus, today’s announcement is the most important infrastructure investment the government can make. This investment will provide the opportunity for our schools to engage in urgent upgrades and to develop modern learning environments, which will improve education outcomes for our students.

That is what the Australian Education Union representative, who was quoted by the shadow education minister, had to say about this package.

Finally, the National Farmers Federation, who have not traditionally been great supporters of the Labor Party, have welcomed the package. David Crombie from the National Farmers Federation said:

The Government’s $950 tax-free bonus for all drought-affected farmers—reaching some 21,500 farmers in need—will be a much-needed fillip to families and regional economies.

Likewise, the regional infrastructure package … will see a major revamp of country services and shore-up jobs in local communities.

Further, the $2.7 billion tax break for small businesses … will be greatly appreciated by those small family-owned farms.

In light of these comments I urge the opposition to reconsider their position. If you do not want to listen to us, at least listen to those third-party independent commentators.

The opposition have not put forward any plan to deal with the job losses we are facing in communities such as Cairns and tropical North Queensland. They do not put forward any plans but they oppose ours, and they should listen to those independent commentators. Their approach is to let the market sort it out, when clearly the market has failed and continues to fail. The opposition do not see a role for government in protecting and investing in jobs during this period. They talk about jobs but do nothing to support them.

The Rudd government are not prepared to stand by and let Australian businesses and families down. We are strong supporters of free markets and economies, but we recognise that they fail and need to be properly regulated. I spoke about this in my first speech to this parliament last year. This is not the time for governments to stand idly by, as the opposition is suggesting. This is a time for the responsible action that this package of measures represents.