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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 346


Mrs IRWIN (10:29 PM) —I am pleased to support the timely announcement by the Rudd Labor government of its $42 billion Nation Building and Jobs Plan. This package is being delivered in response to the rapidly changing economic circumstances that Australia is facing in a global economy. Every economy in the world is experiencing economic conditions similar to or worse than our own. Many countries are already in recession. The reality is that this financial crisis is global and it is unprecedented. The circumstances and severity of this global crisis are changing rapidly and we must respond accordingly. The government has determined that, while Australia is better placed than many other countries to deal with this economic crisis, we cannot avoid its impact entirely.

The Nation Building and Jobs Plan will act as a stimulus for our economy. It has been designed in the first instance to directly assist families and indeed all Australians by easing the financial burdens currently being experienced. However,  it goes further than just putting money into people’s pockets. It is a plan to stimulate the economy and create jobs. It provides all-important infrastructure and support in the areas of education, housing, energy and roads. This package will ensure that the impact of the global recession on our economy is minimised as much as possible. It also ensures this investment will have long-term benefits. It will ensure that the recovery, when it happens, will be rapid, giving Australia significant advantages.

You would think that, given the extent of the global economic crisis, the opposition would be giving its full support to this package. Of course they may want to make a few minor changes, but that is very sadly not the case. They want to throw the whole package out. What do they offer as an alternative? Nothing. In response to the greatest challenge to a government of this country in decades, they would do nothing. That shows the people of Australia the clearest difference between the two sides of politics. The Prime Minister has recently pointed out the reason for that difference as the opposition’s neoliberal doctrine. The opposition clings to the failed neoliberal economics which have caused this crisis and to the kind of do-nothing approach that failed so badly in the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Like a dwindling number of members of this House, I was raised in a family which carried vivid memories of the Great Depression. My grandfather, who carried a swag throughout eastern Australia in the Depression, would often remind me of those terrible times. They and the generation that followed them vowed that they would never let that situation occur again. So, as we stand on the brink of severe economic collapse, we are divided between those on this side, who would do everything to avoid such a tragedy, and those on the opposite side, who see the economic crisis as the opportunity for a few wealthy individuals to make money.

We know from history that the way out of the Great Depression was to stimulate demand, even though that stimulus was the Second World War. As my Grandie used to say to me when I would sit on his lap, Hitler gave him work and Tojo gave him overtime. As this stimulus program shows, we can boost demand in the economy by government spending in productive areas like education, improving our environment and roads, and building for our future. This program is an investment in our local schools, with $12.4 billion being made available for building or refurbishing large-scale infrastructure, including libraries and multipurpose halls in primary schools, K to 12s and special schools, of which I have a few in my electorate. The amount of $1 billion will be provided in a competitive process to build up to 500 science laboratories or language learning centres in our secondary schools. Some $1.3 billion will be used to refurbish and renew existing infrastructure and to build minor infrastructure in schools. This means that schools will have the facilities to deliver their programs more efficiently and to provide a better outcome for Australian students. It is a long-term investment in our children’s future, with significant and immediate impacts on local economies.

If you listen to the Leader of the Opposition, you hear that he would rather have the paint peeling from the walls of classrooms while painters stand on the unemployment line. He would rather we did without new school buildings while bricklayers in my electorate try to exist on the dole. That is the kind of thinking that conservatives employed in the 1930s at such great social and economic cost. They will never learn. Now dressed up as neoliberals, they cling to their supply-side doctrine. ‘Don’t stimulate demand,’ they say. ‘Stick to the failed policies of trickle down economics.’ They refuse to see that, in creating a manageable deficit today, we will avoid creating the kind of deficit which would bankrupt this country.

If governments do nothing the situation will get worse, not better. If unemployment grows and businesses fail, our tax revenue will collapse. We must do something to boost demand, and that can be done in ways that build for our future and our children’s future. Boosting family expenditure will boost demand and at the same time help cash-strapped families to meet their needs. Some $12.7 billion will be used to provide financial assistance to households and to support economic growth. Eligible taxpayers will receive a tax bonus of up to $950, depending on the income threshold. Around 8.7 million Australians will benefit from this measure, a key part of the government’s $42 billion Nation Building and Jobs Plan.

The building industry is one of the first to feel the effects of an economic downturn. As long ago as last March I warned the House of the dire condition of the building industry in south-west Sydney. Funding building construction is one of the fastest ways to boost employment. Much of the expenditure is spent on materials made locally and there is a high multiplier effect for other jobs as well. Boosting expenditure on housing at this time makes sound economic sense. Under the programs, some 20,000 new social housing dwellings will be built. The additional housing will have a significant social impact by assisting those who are homeless, those who are at risk of being homeless or those who are paying high rentals.

This package will stimulate the building and construction industry, provide small business with a significant boost and, most importantly, protect jobs. The government will also build 802 additional residences for Australian Defence Force personnel and their families through Defence Housing Australia at a cost of $252 million. The government will invest $150 million to clear the backlog of road maintenance projects on our national highways. The government will invest an extra $500 million over two years, helping local councils fund critical community infrastructure projects, including town halls, libraries, community centres and sports centres across Australia. These building and construction projects can deliver the critical shot in the arm to help the Australian economy to weather the storm in the short and medium term.

This package does not ignore the special role of small business. It will provide an additional $2.7 billion tax break to small business. This will boost investment and protect jobs by providing significant relief to small and medium businesses—the backbone of our economy. Yet the opposition, particularly the Leader of the Opposition, seems hell bent on derailing it and derailing the Australian economy. As I said earlier, this is the real difference between the two sides of politics in Australia, and the people of Australia now have a clear-cut example of how those policy differences affect them. By boosting demand at a time when the global economy is in freefall, we can maintain a level of economic activity which will maintain the economic wellbeing of Australian families.

We must avoid at all costs the damage to our society which can result from a severe economic recession. Just like Margaret Thatcher—who declared there was no such thing as society, only an economy—the opposition are hung up on the idea of a deficit. They do not care what the consequences are for those Australians facing uncertain employment—those Australians in my electorate who are definitely facing uncertain employment. They do not care about small business owners wondering where there next order is coming from. They do not care about the generation of school leavers and university graduates who will be joining a depressed labour market. Their grim hope is that, if the global crisis deepens, these measures will not be enough.

It is a sad state of affairs when, at a time of severe crisis, the opposition is engaging in petty pointscoring rather than uniting to address this crisis that confronts our nation. They should hold their heads in shame. The Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and cognate bills should have received bipartisan support. We should have joined as one. For the sake of this great country, for the sake of Australia, I say this evening: shame on the opposition. The people of Australia will not forget.