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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 211

Mr GIBBONS (12:35 PM) — I rise to speak on the Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and cognate bills. Most of the world’s major advanced economies are in recession, and emerging economies like China and India are slowing dramatically. No country will escape the falling economic growth, job losses and budget deficits that will flow from this. The recession is now bearing down on the Australian economy with growth slowing and employment weakening, but the Liberal Party stands there just like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. No matter how many arms and legs they have lost, they will just not give in and accept that they are wrong. They keep on advocating the same policies that caused the global economic crisis in the first place. Just last weekend the shadow Treasurer was singing the praises of the voodoo economics of the 1970s. Across-the-board tax cuts are the opposition’s answer to everything, despite the fact that these have been one of the main causes of the economic problems in the United States, problems that have now spread to almost every country in the world. The shadow Treasurer’s claim that reducing tax rates will increase tax revenues for the government is straight out of the Ronald Reagan neoconservative policy manual, a manual that is now so discredited.

Two years ago, the architect of that tax theory, Art Laffer, said the US economy had never been in better shape. He said that there was no possibility of the US real estate bubble bursting in 2007 or 2008. In fact, he even bet someone a penny that there would be no recession by 2008—and this is someone that the shadow Treasurer is looking to for political policy guidance! In 1987, Ronald Reagan appointed Alan Greenspan as Chairman of the Federal Reserve. For almost 20 years Mr Greenspan argued for extreme free market economics and against regulation of the financial markets. Last October, Mr Greenspan admitted that the ideology that had guided his term as Federal Reserve Chairman was wrong, yet this is the same ideology that we hear from the Liberal and National Parties today.

The Liberals have no more credibility on economic policy today than Art Laffer or Alan Greenspan. Australians are indeed fortunate that they voted for a change of government before this economic crisis hit our own shores, because the Rudd Labor government is the government that is taking action to shelter Australians from the worst effects of the global economic downturn. It is taking decisive action to help all Australians, not just a wealthy few, to deal with the uncertain times ahead. This $42 billion economic stimulus package is the latest example of the government’s well-thought-out, targeted initiatives to support the Australian economy and Australian jobs. It gives support to families and individuals to ensure we keep demand and consumption flowing in the short term and it also lays the groundwork for a stronger economy when we emerge from the global recession by investing in essential community infrastructure like schools, housing and local roads projects. Of course, this means that the government will have to take the budget into a temporary deficit; with $115 billion wiped off government revenue by the global recession, there is little choice. But the government will stick to its election commitment to keep the budget in surplus over the economic cycle, with a firm plan to reduce the surpluses as growth returns and the global recession turns around.

The economic crisis is affecting my electorate of Bendigo, just as it is every other part of the Australian nation. People are doing it tough as businesses contract and jobs are lost, and this is happening after more than a decade of the worst drought in living memory. So I think it is important to highlight how this economic stimulus package will benefit many of those in my electorate. Firstly, many individuals will receive targeted bonuses that will not only help with higher living costs but also provide an immediate stimulus to the economy and support local jobs; some 11,000 families will receive back to school bonuses of around $950 to help with the cost of children returning to school; more than 260 farmers and small businesses affected by the drought will receive a hardship payment of $950; students and people looking for work will receive a training and learning bonus of $950 to help with their study costs; and everyone whose taxable income was less than $100,000 in the 2007-08 tax year will benefit from a payment of up to $950.

There is support for all of the 90 schools in my electorate, whether public, private or independent, that builds on the government’s education revolution. Every primary school will receive help to build or upgrade large-scale infrastructure such as libraries and multipurpose halls. There is funding for high schools to build new science laboratories and language learning centres. Every school will receive up to $200,000 for maintenance and renewal of school buildings and minor building works, and there is additional funding to accelerate the government’s Trade Training Centres in Schools Program, which helps to provide high-quality trade training to secondary school students. These educational initiatives will not only help schools and their students; local communities will also benefit. A key requirement of the package is that major facilities in primary schools which are built or upgraded with this funding, such as halls or indoor sporting centres, must be made available for community use. This will particularly be beneficial for the smaller townships right throughout my electorate, and local communities will also benefit from an additional $500 million to expand on the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program for strategic projects. This program funds local government community infrastructure projects such as town halls, libraries, community centres and sports centres.

There is a high proportion of low-income earners in my electorate, and many will benefit from the commitment to build new social housing. Most of the new houses will be completed by December next year, and this will help provide a significant boost to the local housing and construction industry. Small business is the backbone of a regional economy, and it is no different in Bendigo. The temporary business tax break announced yesterday will help many local businesses to increase productivity by investing in new plant and equipment.

Another particularly welcome set of initiatives is the $890 million to improve community infrastructure and road safety. Many lives are needlessly lost on regional roads, and these measures will be a major benefit for regional communities. An additional $30 million for the years 2008 and 2009 and $60 million in 2009 and 2010 for the Black Spot Program comes on top of the government’s announcement in December that it would more than double the black spot funding from 2008-09 from $50 million to $110 million. These are magnificent increases in a very, very valuable project. Every dollar spent on the Black Spot Program is estimated to save $14 in reduced road trauma costs. And, for the first time, a portion of additional funding will be allocated to black spots on Australia’s national highways, which until now have been excluded from the program. There have been several serious accidents on rail crossings in regional Victoria, and there is an urgent need to reduce the risks faced by road and rail users at these types of intersections. Yesterday’s announcement included $50 million in 2008-09 and $100 million in 2009-10 to speed up installation of around 200 sets of boom gates and other safety measures at high-risk rail crossings that do not already have such controls. The government will also provide a further $150 million in 2008-09 to help the states and territories fund a backlog of maintenance projects on Australia’s national highways.

Although all new homes must be insulated, many older homes, which make up about 40 per cent of Australia’s housing stock, are uninsulated. Many of these older homes are in regional areas, and insulating them will help reduce Australia’s carbon emissions, reduce energy bills and support local jobs. Installing free ceiling insulation in Australian homes will cut around $200 a year from household energy bills and will support the jobs of tradespeople and workers employed in the manufacturing, distribution and installation of ceiling insulation products. And the government has not forgotten the many vulnerable households that do not own their own home and are renters. To help these households lower their greenhouse gas emissions and save money on energy bills for the next two years, the government will double the rebate currently available to landlords to install insulation in their rental properties from $500 to $1,000.

I am proud to speak here today in support of a package of measures that are economically responsible and appropriate for the highly uncertain times in which we are living. It is a package of measures which is only possible due to the sound economic policies of previous Labor governments. Without the far-reaching economic reforms introduced by the Hawke and Keating governments, Australia would not have enjoyed the economic prosperity that it has over the last decade and would not be in such a strong position to weather the looming global recession. These measures could never have come from the Liberal and National parties had they been in power at this difficult time, as the Leader of the Opposition demonstrated by announcing that that they will not support the package in either the House or the Senate. This is just dog-in-the-manger politics. They may as well stand up in this House and punch themselves in the head a few times. Their response is driven by the same discredited, extreme capitalist ideology that made the measures necessary in the first place. Like Monty Python’s Black Knight, they just do not know when to give up. The voters kicked you out because they do not want any more of your extreme ideology. Once again, we are a lucky country: lucky to have a Labor government, a competent government and a responsible government in office at this time. I commend the government’s Nation Building and Jobs Plan to the House.