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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 221


Mr BRIGGS (1:15 PM) —I too rise to speak on the Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and the cognate bills that we are debating today in this rushed manner in this House. I follow a member who, I note, although she talked about doorknocking during the 2007 federal election, failed to show her face during a by-election in a state seat, which was interesting.

Today the Leader of the Opposition has taken a principled but right stand. Today he has taken a decision which will not be popular in the eyes of the electorate and in the published opinion polls, but it is the right thing to do for our country. In my maiden speech I made the point that I come here with a set of principles to stand for. I also made the point that, no matter how big the bullies were on the other side, we would not be bullied; we would look at packages like this and make decisions based on our principles. One of those principles is that we should not leave this country in worse condition for our children than we found it in.

This package—and the whole economic management of this government—will leave this country in a worse position than we found it in. It will do so by racking up so much debt that opportunities for our children in the future will be greatly reduced. It will leave them with a higher tax burden and it will damage their opportunities for a better life.

I do not say this lightly. The decision we have taken in the party room and the very courageous decision taken by our leader will not be popular in my electorate or the electorates of many of my colleagues in the short term. But I think that in the longer term people will respect the fact that we have stood up for them and that we have not been bullied into a populist stunt by the government, based on politics. That is what these bills before the House are all about.

What does this package purport to do? It does several things. It spends money in all sorts of places—other people’s money. Let us not forget that is what we are talking about here. We are talking about our constituents’ money, not ours. The package does some things which I support—for instance, school modernisation, or a new version of the Investing in Our Schools Program, a Howard government program cut by this government which I support being reinvigorated to a certain degree. I support our leader’s position in that respect.

On Monday I was lucky enough to present a flag to the Kangarilla Primary School. It is a small school in my electorate, with 75 students. They have been completely ignored by the state Labor government in South Australia. Their air-conditioning system is blowing hot air, which, let me tell you, in 42 degrees is not a very pleasant thing for year 2 and year 3 kids to go through. Rather than replace it, which is what is required at the Kangarilla Primary School, the state government bureaucrats insist that it needs to keep being fixed, even though the air-conditioning maintenance people say it should be replaced. So I support a program like the Investing in Our Schools Program, which allows schools to make decisions which best suit their school—not necessarily to build gymnasiums or grandiose buildings that the Prime Minister or one of his ministers can open but actually to invest in infrastructure in their schools which will work for them. Air-conditioning systems are a good example.

I do support that sort of productive spending. However, what I have a problem with and what we will stand against and vote against, both here and in the Senate, is more cash splashes in the form of one-off handouts. The last package, the package announced in October last year and delivered in December, did not work. Some of that money—the very small proportion which went to pensioners—was welcomed, but I suspect that more broadly through the community people were a bit perplexed about why there was all this money being handed to them by the government. Why has a surplus which was 12 years in the making been spent in five months, so that we are now $22 billion in debt? We are going further into debt next year, further the year after and even further the year after that—to the point where we will be at least $100 billion in debt, which is more than what we found when we came to government in 1996.

But what is really concerning is a small provision which was not in the speech yesterday, the announcement from the Prime Minister. Nowhere can it be found that the government wants to increase its credit card limit from $75 billion to $200 billion. It is like when most of us in this place and a lot of our constituents get the helpful letter from the bank saying, ‘You might have a $5,000 credit card maxed out, sir’—or madam—‘but we’ll let you have $15,000.’ That is what has happened. And the Rudd government has written back and said, ‘Please, can we?’ We will have $20 billion worth of debt in this country that our kids, my kids, will have to deal with, if we let this package go through.

What is happening here is that, rather than a thought-through strategy on how to handle this crisis, we have got a panic: ‘Chuck some money at it, get some cash out the door and let’s make it political. Let’s write an 8,000-word essay, an ideological rant, and try and box the other side into supporting our big spending plans.’ Well, it will not work. We will not be bullied, as I said in my maiden speech.


Mr Gibbons —That’s because you’re stupid!


Mr BRIGGS —We are here to make decisions in the best interests of our country’s future. The member for Bendigo can be abusive all he likes and do the bullying, as his frontbench does every day, led by the leader of the government and others. I must say that the minister at the table, the member for Eden-Monaro, is not one of those who is involved in that sort of behaviour, but there are some on the front bench who act the goat and try and bully the other side into supporting their ill-thought-through plans. We will not do it. We will not be bullied. We will stand on our principles and do what is right for our country. That is what we plan to do and that is what I thought the Leader of the Opposition said so eloquently this morning in this place.

The interesting bit which is not in this package, although its name is the $42 billion Nation Building and Jobs Plan, is that there is no focus on jobs. There is some vague reference to supporting jobs but there is actually no focus on it. A decent writer on economic matters and certainly no friend of the coalition over time—I think he was probably one of the more critical writers about the coalition’s budget strategies and economic strategies—is Mr Tim Colebatch, in the Age, who today wrote:

And the worst is what is not there at all. There is nothing to help the real victims of the recession: the 800,000 Australians whom Treasury expects to be unemployed by June next year.

Remember that Treasury’s estimates in recent years have not been all that good, so we can expect that is probably going to be a whole lot more than 800,000. That is Tim Colebatch, not a supporter of the coalition. We had the member for Bennelong mentioning her good personal friend Katie Lahey, at the Business Council of Australia, before, claiming that she supports it and so forth. Why wouldn’t she? Of course she would. It is a segmented package. There is no surprise that Katie Lahey, the friend of the member for Bennelong, is supporting it.

Two months after the first package had been allocated to the Australian people—the massive one-off payments—why would we be going back straightaway? You would think a government with some idea would be considering the evidence, looking at what has been shown by the first spend and seeing if the results were worthy of more one-off payments. It does not appear they have done so. The only flimsy evidence those on the other side will raise is that Westfield’s profits are up, which is interesting given that they are social democrats completely opposed to capitalism these days. But that was the claim yesterday. I, like the former Treasurer on Lateline last night, do not believe the purpose of people paying tax is to boost the profits of Westfield. I genuinely do not.


Ms Grierson —It has saved jobs.


Mr BRIGGS —There is no evidence that it has kept jobs at all.


Dr Southcott —Jobs fell in December.


Mr BRIGGS —Exactly. David Jones got rid of retail staff. So there is absolutely no evidence at all that that package meant Westfield kept more people. It meant their profits went up. It is pure voodoo economics from those on the other side, and it is led by their leader, who does not know what he is. Twelve months ago he was an economic conservative; today he is an unreconstructed socialist. That is what has happened here. He is bagging Margaret Thatcher, bagging Ronald Reagan and calling Milton Friedman all sorts of names. His Treasurer is abusing a well-known economist in the US, which is extraordinary for a federal Treasurer of our country to do. They have no idea about what they are actually doing on this. The Australian people understand that the only people in this parliament who know how to manage this economy are those on this side. That is why they will respect in time the decision by this side of the House to stand against parts of this package—to stand against what are excessive parts of this package.

We should not allow this government to take Australia into a situation where we are $200 billion in debt, and that is what this government is asking us to do in a 24-hour period. We did not see the bills until this morning. I note that Senator Xenophon has just been on Sky News. The threats from the other side are that you can jam it through the House—we can sit till 2 am—but you cannot jam it through the Independents in the Senate. I think it would be wise for the government to consider what the Independents have said. Twenty-four hours to spend $42 billion, not of your money but of your constituents’ money, your children’s future—24 hours. How would we explain to our children in the future when they say to us, ‘Why did you let this country get to $200 billion in debt, where most of our budget is taken up by paying interest on this debt?’ What are we going to say? ‘Oh, we considered this in great detail over a 24-hour period.’ What are we here for? Maybe we need to go to the great unreconstructed socialists and have a dictatorship so that the government can just usher through its plans. Those on the other side like quoting the new President of the United States. I note that the new President of the United States is trying to work with both sides of parliament. He is trying very hard to get the Republicans to support his ideas. He is listening to their ideas. What do you think the chances are that this Prime Minister and this Treasurer will listen to Malcolm Turnbull’s ideas?


Mr Gibbons —None.


Mr BRIGGS —Exactly. The member for Bendigo agrees that the arrogance on the other side is beyond repute.


Mr Gibbons —The same courtesy you gave us.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. AR Bevis)—Order! The member for Bendigo should not interrupt.


Mr BRIGGS —The member for Bendigo highlights the point. This government is the most arrogant government and the most dangerous economic government we have had since Gough Whitlam had his hands on the levers. We know that because most of those on the other side are great disciples of Gough. There was a great celebration last week for his birthday, and I congratulate him on being the oldest former prime minister. However, he was a terrible prime minister. What we are seeing here is a bigger spend than Gough, by GDP. We have seen a situation where this government inherited a $22 billion inheritance that has been spent, with another $22 billion and another $30 billion next year, and they are asking for the bank to extend their credit card to $200 billion. There is not a shred of economic credibility left on the other side.

There is no evidence that the first package worked. There is no evidence that this package will work. There are general assertions and there is politics, and that is all it is about. How do we say it is politics? Let us look at the language in the House of the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and other ministers who have their answers drafted by the hollowmen in the PM’s office each day. It is either ‘decisive’ or ‘a temporary deficit’. Where did the ‘temporary deficit’ come from? I understand it came from a former Treasurer and then prime minister in the early 1990s who claimed that it would be a temporary deficit. It was only temporary until the coalition was elected and then it was turned around, when tough decisions were made in 1996 to bring the budget back into the black to reduce those interest payments. That is the only time it was dragged around, and the ‘temporary’ was ended. And that is what will happen here again. It cannot be temporary when the out years all predict a deficit. There is no plan to get out of deficit; there is no plan for a future surplus. This is Labor writ large.

Instead of spending his holidays writing an 8,000-word ideological rant based on some thought bubble I think he had before Christmas and trying to box the Leader of the Opposition into a corner, the Prime Minister really should have sat down and thought about a plan to keep Australia strong. Let us not forget that he has inherited one of the best economic situations in the world. I will quote from someone who is not a supporter of ours, who said on the weekend that:

Australia has a AAA foreign currency rating.

We have open and competitive markets backed up by a world class financial and prudential regulatory system—indeed given the flaws exposed by the global financial crisis in financial and prudential regulation I would say our system is even better than world class.

That was not said by a supporter of ours; it was actually the Deputy Prime Minister. She said that our system is better than world class. It is a system inherited by those on the other side. They will deny it, I am sure. They will sit there and shake their heads and say they did it all—


Mr Gibbons —Paul Keating—


Mr BRIGGS —Actually, APRA was introduced in 1998. When did Paul Keating lose, Member for Bendigo? I think it was in 1996. So Paul was still telling Peter Costello what to do, was he? I do not think he was, actually. I think the member for Higgins and the former Prime Minister had a fair bit to do with the establishment of the structures that have kept Australia strong.

We did not get into the business, as Bill Clinton did, of telling banks to lend to people who could not repay their debts. We did not get into the subprime business, because we had strong regulations. That has kept Australia strong.


Mr Gibbons interjecting


Mr BRIGGS —The member for Bendigo can deny it all he likes; the Australian public accepts this fact. I think he is one of the only ones left who do not. The Deputy Prime Minister accepts this fact.

This government has no economic credibility whatsoever. This is exposed by our decision to oppose these measures. It is the right decision for our country’s future. We should not allow a situation where this government is allowed to rack up $200 billion of debt for our children’s future. It will not be an issue that you will have to deal with, Member for Bendigo, but the kids of the future will.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms S Bird)—Order! The member will not encourage the member for Bendigo.


Mr BRIGGS —My apologies, Madam Deputy Speaker. You are right to pull me up on that.

The other interesting argument we hear from those opposite is that they have actually had nothing to do with the deficit and it has just been caused by global economic circumstances and reduced taxation revenue. A small fact that they should bear in mind is that the reduction in taxation revenue has only been $9 billion out of a $22 billion surplus. The reason we are in deficit is that there has been $28 billion of extra spending. So it is not actually the global financial crisis that has caused the deficit; it has been decisions of the government. We would argue that it has been ill-thought through decisions of the government. That is what we are saying in this place today.

Ours is not a popular decision; we accept that. We will take a hit in the polls, and those on the other side will jump around with glee. But it is the right decision for our future. It is a principled decision. It is not a decision to run some ads leading up to an election of me standing in front of some big towers claiming I am an economic conservative and talking about how I have always been an economic conservative who believes in a surplus budget. This is showing through action a commitment to real economic conservatism, which is keeping this country in a situation where we will be able to pay back any debt that we rack up in the future. Giving the green light to the Labor Party and the government to rack up $200 billion of debt on the national credit card is the wrong thing to do.

In summing up, I just want to deal with one other issue that those on the other side raise, which is the rewriting of history. I do give the Labor Party great credit for that; they are very good at it, particularly on the history of stimulus packages. If you look at the history of stimulus packages, you will see it is not great. We remember Working Nation, of course, and the one in December does not look to have gone so well. Even going back to FDR’s policy, which is often rolled out as the great left-wing policy program of the 20th century, it did not work. What is forgotten is that FDR’s package did not work. There was 17 per cent unemployment in 1940. He would have lost the next presidential election but for the war. I respect what he did during the Second World War—do not get me wrong—but I think his economic credentials are far from what those on the other side would like them to be.

We agree on this side of the House that we need some stimulus. That is why our position is that we support extra money for the Investing in Our Schools Program. We support some investment in productive capacity in the economy for health issues, electricity networks and so forth. But what we will not do is allow this government to rack up $200 billion of debt for our country’s kids to face in the future. It is the wrong thing for this parliament to agree to. We will stand in the way. It is not the popular thing to do; the member for Boothby will agree with me. Those on this side of the House will agree that it will be a difficult thing for us to do in our electorates, but it is the right thing us to do. I stand opposed to these measures.