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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 218

Ms McKEW (Parliamentary Secretary for Early Childhood Education and Childcare) (1:05 PM) —I rise to support the Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and cognate bills, which provide a huge stimulus package which will support families and rebuild the nation. The $42 billion spend is immense—I acknowledge that; it is not in the normal order of things—but the government is faced with a bitter set of statistics. The majority of our trading partners are in recession; we have seen the halving of growth in China and a collapse in commodity prices. Australia is bracing for tough times, and the times require a comprehensive, bold package, to be delivered in a speedy manner.

While I say that this package is not in the normal order of things, it is entirely orthodox. When the private sector retreats, it is up to the public sector to fill the gap. We are seeing this around the world—in the United Kingdom, in Europe and in the United States—and this is the context, I think, in which this package needs to be considered. As the Prime Minister has been saying, across the world what started out as a financial crisis has now turned into an economic crisis and risks becoming an employment crisis.

Wherever you look—whether it is Nicolas Sarkozy in France or Gordon Brown in the United Kingdom—governments know that they have to lead their economies with targeted and timely intervention. Indeed, newly elected US President Barack Obama is working on an US$800 billion stimulus package right now but he has not yet secured agreement from all sides in the US congress. This delay is deeply regrettable not only because so much of the world still looks to the United States to take the lead but, most importantly, because of the widening human despair across America. Every day it seems we hear of more lay-offs in once great American companies. Already 2½ million Americans have lost their jobs. Just think of the despair of that. While the congress bickers, ordinary Americans are learning to cope with shattered expectations. They are still waiting for the government to step in and alleviate the pain, to do what economic orthodoxy demands during recessionary times: an opening of the public purse to resuscitate a contracting economy.

But what do we have here in the Australian parliament? It is obviously the intention of the Leader of the Opposition to emulate the Republican recalcitrants in the US congress. Isn’t that interesting? How at odds this is with what the coalition’s traditional supporters are saying! Katie Lahey, the Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia, said:

The Rudd Government has acted quickly and responsibly to limit the impact of the global recession … The package delivers a substantial economic stimulus …

Peter Verwer, the CEO of the Property Council of Australia, has praised the initiatives and said that they will ‘inject billions of dollars of new capital directly into the community’. From my own area in the north-west of Sydney in the seat of Bennelong, Andrew Bland, the chairman of the Ryde Business Forum, said that there are excellent moves in the packages. He has particularly praised the excellent tax incentive provided for small business to invest in capital expenditure items. Interestingly, he also said:

This will hopefully flow through to increased sales and benefit the business community as a whole. We are also hopeful that the cash incentives provided to most consumers will also have a similar positive effect to that experienced late last year.

That is praise for last year’s stimulus package and a welcome for the one that we are debating today. Interestingly, those three comments came from what one could say would be the traditional coalition supporters. So much for the Leader of the Opposition being in touch with mainstream Australia and mainstream orthodoxy!

When I am talking to people in my electorate, most people say similar things. They want their government to be practical and they want a government that is compassionate. In the light of today’s debate, it is very interesting, particularly for me, to look back and reflect on why the seat of Bennelong, a traditional Liberal seat, fell at the last election, in 2007. It was not because of redrawn boundaries and it was not because of any particular antagonism towards John Howard. It was because of the deep sense of betrayal felt by so many individuals in Bennelong. Time and time again when I was out doorknocking in suburbs like Epping, Gladesville, Denistone and North Ryde—

Mr Briggs interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. AR Bevis)—If the member for Mayo wishes to be here to deliver a speech, he will remain silent.

Ms McKEW —people continually expressed their deep disappointment that the coalition government was wasting the prosperity. As the tax revenues rolled in, as the bounty of the mining boom rolled in, people wondered why the coalition government was not building the skills of the 21st century, was not greening our households and was not providing for the homeless.

The Leader of the Opposition today has the hide to talk about the need for prudent financial management. Yet he was part of a government that time and time again put self-interest above the national interest. If anyone doubts that, they should get a copy of The Howard Years, brought to us by your ABC late last year. Have a look at the opportunism, the naked politicking and, in many cases, the sheer delight of so many key ministers in the coalition government who could not believe their good luck that they got away with it so long. I know that many people in Bennelong squirmed when they watched this, and they felt roundly vindicated that they had sent the Liberals packing. People in Bennelong work hard and they want a government that works hard in their interest. They want a government that champions their beliefs and their interests. And they particularly want that at a time when national confidence is so fragile. That is what the government’s stimulus package does and why it is so important. Australians want action. They want to see builders with fresh contracts and redesigned smart school buildings that mirror the excellence of the teaching that goes on inside those buildings. They want us to help them remake their houses so that they too can do their bit to save the planet.

I will finish by quoting from one of my constituents, Mr Peter Trickett, who lives in the north-west of my electorate, in Epping. He wrote to me only last week. He praised the government for the first stimulus package but he pointed out that, as the managing director of an engineering consultancy, he was very concerned about the impact of the downturn on the building industry. He had already seen eight projects delayed indefinitely. Being a practical man, Mr Trickett made some suggestions in his letter. First of all, he said an immediate stimulus was needed for construction. Most importantly, he stressed the need for community projects of the kind that would support local tradespeople and the other businesses that support them. He said the significant issue is to start now. Interestingly, Mr Trickett gave an example of a project that would be in the overall interests of the community and at the same time help the building industry. He said:

… an example of the type of project to consider would be to eliminate all demountable classrooms in New South Wales.

I would like to point out to the previous speaker, the member for Paterson, that this indeed is one of the options available in the schools package that is part of the overall stimulus package. I can say today to Mr Trickett: the Rudd government is listening and is acting. Like the Prime Minister, I look forward to the schools in my electorate becoming centres of economic activity where local people work to improve schools, where children learn.

Recessions are traditionally brutish things. They can empty us out. You see it in the ‘for lease’ signs, the abandoned construction sites, the deferred ambitions and the lengthening unemployment queues. But it does not have to be like this. That is why the Prime Minister has said he will move heaven and earth to support Australian jobs and shield the Australian economy from the worst effects of the global economic crisis. The dramatic reversal of our economic fortunes has reminded everyone of a key Labor principle, and that is the critical importance of balancing the public and the private. That is what this package does. I commend the bills to the House.