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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 285

Mr MARLES (5:50 PM) —I rise to speak in support of the Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and cognate bills that provide the legislative underpinning for the economic stimulus package, which was announced yesterday by the government. An American President, a long time ago, said:

… we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this Administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.

In saying those words, Abraham Lincoln was, of course, talking about a tragedy—the American Civil War—which far exceeded what we are dealing with today. But his sentiment in placing in historical context the role of public policy in the way it applied to that crisis is one that is very apt to what we are dealing with right now. Whether we like it or not, we are faced with the single biggest economic shock that the world has seen since the Second World War, and we will be remembered, no matter what we do or what we do not do, on this day and in this chamber. And whether we act, or whether we do not act, will not just have an influence on Australians in the months and years ahead. It will have an influence on Australians for decades to come. And so, for me, the question is very simple. We must act. We must deal with the historic task that we have been given in the circumstances that we have been presented with.

When the Rudd government came to office it inherited an education deficit. During the Howard years Australia was the only country in the OECD which reduced its expenditure on tertiary education as a proportion of GDP. That is just one figure among many which demonstrate the extent to which education withered on the vine during the Howard years. When the Rudd government came to office we inherited an infrastructure deficit, and we are not the only ones who say that. Engineers Australia, a respected peak body of engineers, has said that in the final years of the Howard government, from 2001 through 2005, infrastructure in this country went backwards—on roads, on the electricity grid and on seaports. That again is just one comment in an ocean of comments which demonstrate the extent to which infrastructure in this country rotted during the Howard years.

The Howard government also failed to acknowledge the role that humans have played in climate change, such that amongst developed nations we stood alone with the United States in failing to ratify the Kyoto protocol. The Howard economic formula was simply to transform this country into Asia’s quarry and to leave everything up to the mining boom without any thought at all as to what might happen when the mining boom came to an end. Well, now it has, and nothing was done to take the proceeds of the mining boom and reserve them for a time such as we face today. The economic laziness of the Howard government made no investment in the human capital or the productive capacity of this country, and it had absolutely no comprehension of the Australian government’s responsibility for dealing with climate change, which is, in a sense, the global issue of our age.

When we came to power we discovered that the Howard government had been asleep at the wheel for 11 years. The very first thing we did was crank up the engine and get Australia moving in the right direction. In the first 12 months of the Rudd government we were faced with an almost unprecedented economic phenomenon: this incredible global economic shock. We have heard a lot about the dimensions of it, but if there is one fact which puts it in some kind of context it is that the IMF now predicts less than half the previous lowest rate of economic growth since the Second World War. It is the first time that global economic growth has been forecast to be less than one per cent. This decline in economic growth on a global level, including in places like China, combined with the end of the resources boom, has seen $115 billion of government revenue wiped away over the next four years.

In October last year the government announced its $10.4 billion Economic Security Strategy, which put much needed cash into the hands of pensioners and low- and middle-income earners. That principally happened in December last year. The retail figures that have just come out indicate the significant positive impact that had on our economy. At a global level, over the Christmas and New Year period we saw a further deterioration in global economic conditions. Indeed, the IMF has revised its forecasts down three times in the last four months and is now predicting serious recessions in the major economies of the world—that is, serious recessions in our major trading partners. That brings us to yesterday’s economic stimulus package, which brings us to today’s consideration of the legislative underpinning of that economic stimulus package.

The stimulus package provides for $42 billion, $30 billion of which will be spent on infrastructure—and almost $15 billion of that will be spent in education. In my electorate in Geelong we are transitioning from an economy dependent upon manufacturing to a much more diverse economy. We know how important education is in providing people with the skills for the jobs of the future. More than $800 million will be spent on roads and local infrastructure. In Geelong we know what local infrastructure can do to stimulate a local economy. The first stages of the Geelong Ring Road were opened just last December. The ring road is going to give rise to some of the best transport and logistics land in the country. It will help establish Geelong not only as a Victorian centre for transport and logistics but as a national centre for transport and logistics, and there are jobs in that.

More than $3.8 billion will be spent on making our homes more energy efficient through insulation and increasing the solar hot water rebate. In Geelong we certainly know the effects of climate change. Last Thursday Geelong experienced its hottest day ever recorded. We are a city which is water starved. My son began high school on Monday and for almost his entire life he has lived in a world of water restrictions. He sees a measure which I had always thought came into place in the most extreme of circumstances as the definition of normality. In addition to the spending on infrastructure, $12.7 billion of financial assistance is being provided to middle- and low-income earners such that almost 80 per cent of working Australians will receive some of the tax bonus of up to $950. Almost 10.6 million Australians will benefit from this economic stimulus package and the measures that were implemented in December.

The net effect of all of these initiatives is to keep our economy in growth. As a result of this package, Treasury predicts that economic growth in 2008-09 in Australia will be one per cent and, in 2009-10, three-quarters of a per cent—modest growth, to be sure, but growth in the context of our major trading partners experiencing recession. This package will also support 90,000 jobs, which goes to the heart of what we are doing here. On this side of the House we value jobs far more than flat-earth, dry economics. We are about protecting the economic security, self-esteem and human dignity that comes from work. We are about avoiding the destruction of human activity and human creativity that results from joblessness. The current American President, when talking about his own economic stimulus package, said:

It’s a plan that … recognizes both the paradox and the promise of this moment—the fact that there are millions of Americans trying to find work even as, all around the country, there’s so much work to be done.

That paradox exists in Australia as well. Our stimulus package is absolutely aimed at providing jobs, but it is aimed at providing jobs in areas where work needs to be done in this country—rebuilding our education system, rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure, dealing with our responsibilities around climate change and in other areas such as homelessness and bolstering the small business economy. Our economic stimulus package is about having Australians work in these great areas—it is about engaging Australians in the grand endeavour that will take this country through the 21st century.