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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 291


Mr PRICE (6:16 PM) —I want to be unambiguous in my support of this $42 billion Nation Building and Jobs Plan, established with the Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and cognate bills. I was very interested in the contribution of the honourable member for Casey. He wanted to get into an argument about who was responsible and who had contributed most to our regulatory system. Indeed, both sides of the House agree that we have a good one, but no matter how good the regulatory system is it is not going to stop Australia or Australians—ordinary men and women and their kids—from being affected by this global crisis. In fact, the opposition just do not get it.

There is no textbook about how to handle this. We cannot go back to the last decade and get examples, find the rules or get the guidelines. This is an economic calamity of proportions that none of us in this House have previously experienced. It was very interesting that when we introduced the first package of measures—a package of $10.2 billion—initially the opposition said, ‘We’re supporting it; we’ll offer bipartisan support,’ but then they said: ‘You haven’t modelled this enough. There should be more Treasury modelling. You’re moving too quickly. You need to take your time.’

What is the criticism now of this package? The member for Paterson, a very senior shadow cabinet minister—the shadow minister for defence—has said we need to have a 2020 summit about it and that we should not have announced it today or yesterday, as the Prime Minister did; what he should have announced was a 2020 summit. As I seem to recall, when we announced the 2020 Summit, all the opposition thought that this was a ridiculous idea, but here you have a very senior shadow minister, the shadow minister for defence, saying: ‘Look, let’s have a summit. Let’s not do it now.’ Not only are they not opposed to a summit but they are opposed to doing anything, according to the member for Paterson. He wants to have a 2020 summit.

I say—and I think it is the government’s view, and it is certainly the Prime Minister’s view—that things in this global economic crisis are moving so quickly. Before I dispense with our first package, I say that it was interesting that the retail figures were out today about what happened in December—whether or not the first stimulus package worked. What did those figures say? Notwithstanding the opposition saying it was a waste of time and space, that the money would not be spent properly and that the retailers would see no benefit at all, of course, there was a kicker in the December retail figures. In fact, the government was right all along.

I thought, because the opposition seemed to think that this is merely a minor domestic debate about an economic measure, that we ought to look at what is happening in other countries. In the United States, that President beloved of the opposition, President George W Bush, put in a stimulus package of US$146 billion. Of course, President Barack Obama is now trying to get his stimulus package through the congress. It is through the House of Representatives and he is trying to get it through the Senate, just as we will face that same challenge with our Senate. It is US$819 billion. So in the United States it is US$146 billion for the first package and, for the second package, US$819 billion. Do you know what some of the criticisms of the experts are over in the United States? They are that maybe the second package has not gone far enough and needs to be bigger. That is what the criticism seems to be. In China, one of the most important trading partners of Australia, the good news, of course, is that they still have growth, but the growth has been dramatically cut back. What is the Chinese government doing in response to the global economic crisis? It has a stimulus package of US$586 billion. I repeat that figure: US$586 billion. It is a huge package. In the UK, the stimulus package is US$30 billion—₤20 billion. In Germany, it is US$66 billion, or €50 billion. I could go on and on and on. So what is the point I am making? No country is immune to the global economic crisis, including Australia, no matter how well placed we are. We know one thing for certain, and that is that our economy is going to be affected. Ordinary men and women in our electorate are going to face economic challenges that they have not faced before.

What should a government do? Should we have the summit that the member for Paterson is suggesting or should we take action on behalf of ordinary Australians and try to minimise the damage caused by this unprecedented world global financial crisis? Of course, that is what Australia is doing. No-one can stand up in this parliament and say that this is a perfect measure or that we know absolutely beyond any shadow of a doubt what the impact will be, but we are taking action and we know that it will do good. It is aimed at two things: nation building and preserving jobs. It is aimed at trying to weather the international storm that we face.

We have taken action in our first 12 months of government—the first stimulus package; the $300 million to build local community infrastructure; the $15.2 billion COAG funding package; and the nation-building package announced in 2008. What are the key features of this package? We are doing something very good for the environment by providing free ceiling insulation for about 2.7 million Australian homes. This is not only good for those that live in those homes but also good for the environment. We are making a big hit on Australian schools. We are going to build or upgrade a building in every one of Australia’s 9,540 schools. We are going to build more than 20,000 new public housing dwellings to try to combat homelessness. We are going to refurbish a further 2,500 of those homes and make them available for occupants. In defence—and they are even opposed to this—we are going to provide 800 new homes in metropolitan and regional centres for the families of our serving men and women, who are required at a moment’s notice to put their lives on the line in service of their country. We are making a $950 one-off cash payment to eligible families, single workers, students, drought affected farmers and others. There will be a temporary business investment break for small and general businesses buying eligible assets. We are going to provide significantly increased funding for local community infrastructure and local road projects.

You would think that, in response to this package, we would get some support from the opposition. Not on your Nellie! Anyone who is following this debate knows that, in the face of one of the worst financial crises in the world, the opposition opposes, root and branch, the bills that we are debating. They will vote against them in the House and they will vote against them in the Senate. They will provide no support. If they are successful, it will leave the Australian people naked as they face the tornado of the world global economic crisis. I do not think that the opposition is being responsible—I have run through the deficits that other countries have legislated for—I think they are irresponsible, because if they are successful in this place and in the Senate then there will be no cushioning or softening for ordinary men and women. They will face the harsh realities. It does not matter whether they are farmers, small business men, tradesmen or ordinary workers working at a shopping centre; they will get nothing off the opposition. This is what the opposition have decided to do.

There is no sense of leadership. There is no real leadership by Malcolm Turnbull in all this. It is just a default to what oppositions do; they just oppose. That is what has happened as we as a government have tried to battle the unknown. No-one has had the experience of this before. We have introduced quite a variety of measures, but without the support of the opposition. I say: shame on you. For all those schools in my electorate that may now miss out on all the building and maintenance, I say: shame on you. For those of my constituents who would have received the $950 that you are trying to deny them, I just say: shame on you.

I wish I could speak more, but I will finish on this note: this government has never guillotined a bill in this House. The opposition are saying that there is insufficient time to debate these things. Here are all the bills that were guillotined in the last parliament, including the NT intervention, where we had less notice to debate it and certainly did not get a look at any of the legislation. But we supported the government. Notwithstanding the shabby treatment and notwithstanding the guillotine, we supported the government initiative in the 41st Parliament. If you want bipartisanship, if you want to do the right thing by the Australian people, support this package.