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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 388

Dr KELLY (Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support) (1:39 AM) —I take great pride in contributing to this debate, with my colleagues on this side of the House, and to add my voice to the crescendo of voices not only on this side but outside this building. Every credible economic commentator, every school principal, every person dealing with the homeless issue, every builder, every businessman and tradesman, every industry representative and every business council representative in this country is adding their voice to the crescendo to say to those on the other side of the House, ‘Wake up to yourselves and get behind this package of bills for the sake of the country and the economy, and in relation to this investment in our children’s education, for the sake of our kids, for the sake of the future of this country,’ and I would also like to say, for the sake of regional Australia. I am very proud to represent regional Australia in this building on behalf of the people of Eden-Monaro. Not supporting this package of bills is, yet again, evidence of the failure of those opposite to look after the interests of the men and women of the bush.

We have seen further evidence of that tonight, as I understand senators have blocked the Horse Disease Response Levy (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2008 and cognate bills. That is a tragedy for all of those involved in the horse industry in Eden-Monaro, which is one of the great horse culture regions of this country. They will be absolutely devastated that the legislation has been blocked—further evidence that the Rudd Labor government now represents the interests of the people in the bush, who have been totally abandoned by those opposite.

There has been a lot of comment in this debate about the economic circumstances in general as this package of bills emerges. We have seen comment about the Deputy Prime Minister’s visit to Davos and her comments about the robustness of our basic economic framework. It has also been a great privilege for us to hear the voice of the member for Higgins for the first time in the year I have been in this building. I am sure the people of the electorate of Higgins are delighted by the massive production they have had from their member in this past year! But it was a privilege to hear him and also to hear him last night on Lateline. It was very interesting to hear him talk about the last 12-year period. He talked about the deficit they inherited and that economic framework, but what the Deputy Prime Minister was talking about at Davos was the foundation laid by the Hawke-Keating government. That foundation is what has given the economic framework strength. What were the key measures during that time? Of course there was bank regulation reform, which gave strength to our banking industry and put our big four banks in the top 20 banks of the world with a AA credit rating, which has seen them weather this storm and become beacons to financial institutions around the world.

They floated the dollar and that is one of the key shock absorbers in the variation of economic circumstances. How welcome is that now? The falling dollar has assisted our exports and has certainly greatly assisted our tourism industry. For the electorate of Eden-Monaro that is a highly significant feature. We have enjoyed one of the best summer tourist seasons in quite a long time because of the falling dollar and the expensiveness of travelling overseas, along with falling interest rates and petrol prices. So the floating of the dollar was highly significant.

The introduction and promotion of a collective bargaining system based on enterprise productivity helped to generate the prosperity we enjoyed during those 12 years, which members opposite attempted to destroy. I will come back to that point, but I give credit to the member for Higgins and the government for introducing in 1998 the APRA mechanism for regulating our authorised deposit institutions. That was a contribution to our regulatory framework, but that is it. Look for anything else in the 12 years of the Howard government and their contribution to the future of this county and you see that they dropped the ball in every other respect. How so? Primarily by putting monetary and fiscal policy in conflict, which generated the pressure on interest rates and inflation, and, more significantly, by failing the country on key infrastructure and skills needs. They dropped the ball for the future of this country. They played the Calvin Coolidge of our time and did not see what was coming. They laughed and scoffed at suggestions that the mining boom might not last. It is incredible when you think about how quickly their ignorance and their mindless optimism came to be exposed. The comments and prescience of the Prime Minister, which was scoffed at, have been completely borne out.

We are still waiting to hear any kind of plan from members opposite. I was listening very carefully last night during the Lateline program to the member for Higgins when he was asked specifically by the presenter—

Mr Kerr —He should get a life.

Dr KELLY —Yes, he should—and I should. I was waiting very carefully and patiently to hear the member for Higgins respond to the question of what he would do in the current circumstances. And I listened carefully to the member for Higgins today. I did not hear an answer; I did not hear a response. There is nothing coming out of the mouth of the member for Higgins that addresses this current crisis. There is nothing coming out of the mouth of the Leader of the Opposition—the man rapidly becoming known as ‘Milton Turnbull’. There is nothing coming out of the mouth of the shadow Treasurer, except the most extraordinary thing I think I have ever heard and I think the Australian community has ever heard: the suggestion that we should introduce tax cuts in order to raise government revenue. I am still to have explained to me how that could work. Watching the shadow Treasurer try and explain that on various programs has been almost like watching a butterfly have its wings pulled off. It is very sad to see. So we have had nothing—no contributions, no plans, no ideas—which just builds upon that decade of a barren plain of imagination that was the Howard years.

Why is that? It is because what we are dealing with with those opposite is a do-nothing band of ideologues of the rampant free market, which is what got us into this problem globally in the first place. This was very apparent when they gained control of the Senate. This was when the extreme right-wing elements of those opposite were allowed to have their free rein—that extreme right-wing element that still captures and imprisons the Leader of the Opposition today and that also made life miserable for his predecessor, the member for Bradfield. What did they do with that power when they acquired the authority of the Senate to pass their legislation? Immediately, they launched on a process to dismantle the advances of those Hawke-Keating years in producing collective productivity bargaining. In the pursuit of the so-called free labour market Work Choices was introduced. Work Choices destroyed the basis upon which our enterprises were achieving productivity by destroying that team ethos that is so well understood by Australians in general. You cannot move your enterprise forward without the workforce and management lining up together, shouldering the burden, coming up with the strategies and ideas and making sacrifices at times to move an enterprise forward.

We have certainly heard criticism of the Hawke-Keating deficit. Yes, we were in deficit at that period of time because it was a time of recession, and that is what happens in recessions. It is dishonest to raise criticisms about that, because every time there is a recession it is incumbent upon government to stimulate the economy, and revenues will fall and deficits will occur. Because those opposite do not understand that, they will never be capable of managing a recession or a global downturn in a way that deals with the social as well as the economic impacts of these crises on the people out there whom, I am very proud to say, the Labor Party represents and defends. The 90,000 jobs that will be saved by these measures will certainly be well appreciated.

We have heard those opposite scoff at the impact of the first package of $10.4 billion that was introduced towards the end of last year. They say it was a cash flush which had no impact. But let me tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I can absolutely attest to the fact that the impact of that package in Eden-Monaro was particularly well received; it was enormous. It gave us the best summer tourist season we have had in a long time. The benefits of that season will carry through for the rest of this year. Certainly the measures that supported our 25,000 welfare recipients and 10,500 low-income families were very well received by those people, but they also helped to sustain our small businesses. So there is no denying that that first injection had an enormous impact and has helped to sustain this country and its economy.

The new measures will also be of magnificent support to the people of Eden-Monaro. There will be help for the 9,000 low-income families in Eden-Monaro who will get the back-to-school bonus, and the tax measures for low-income earners and single-income families will also be well received. The help for the 234 farms in Eden-Monaro which are under exceptional circumstances status will be very well received, let me tell you. But more important is the magnificent measure of nearly $15 billion to build the education revolution, which will benefit 62 primary schools and 19 high schools in Eden-Monaro. The benefit of multipurpose halls in regional and rural Australia just cannot be overestimated. The multiplier effect of having employment generated for this work in smaller rural and regional towns will be a real force in holding these towns together and keeping the economy going. It will have an enormous impact, and that is obviously not understood by those opposite. This is an investment in the future. There has been underinvestment in education by those opposite, but finally there will be investment in learning centres, libraries, science and language laboratories, and other facilities to help drive the future generations that will give us the prosperity that this country must have.

My region has always been very concerned about the climate change issue. In a region like Eden-Monaro this issue jumps up and slaps you in the face. Certainly, people will be very appreciative of the insulation measure. The Clean Energy for Eternity movement, which has broad based support in my region, understands these practical measures. This measure will cover the 40 per cent of homes that have no insulation and will reduce our carbon emissions by 4.7 million tonnes per year and 49.4 million tonnes by 2020. As the minister for environment mentioned, this will be the equivalent of taking a million cars off the road. This environmental issue will be complemented by the solar hot water initiative.

The $6.4 billion boost to build 20,000 new public dwellings will also be very well received, particularly in my home town of Queanbeyan. The Home in Queanbeyan project, which sought to address the homeless situation in that town with the community’s own energy, will be ecstatically received. Around the electorate, in towns like Bega, we will see the repair of 2,500 dwellings that are unable to be used at the moment because they are run-down. I am very pleased to see that 802 defence homes will be added to the defence portfolio, and my colleagues in defence no doubt will be very appreciative of that measure. The roads measures will certainly be well appreciated. We have so many black spots and road problems in our region that this will no doubt see a focus that will probably be disproportionate to many other areas because of the challenge we face in road safety in Eden-Monaro. The $500 million in community infrastructure and the small business injection will be of benefit, and 4,013 students in Eden-Monaro will benefit from the training and learning bonus.

I need to respond to the member for Paterson, who commented earlier that he was concerned that the deficit and the expenditure were going to result in a loss of funding for the Defence Force. This is incredible hypocrisy from those opposite when you consider that under the Hawke-Keating government we were spending $600 million per year on recurrent maintenance of the defence estate, yet the coalition allowed it to drop to $400 million per year, thereby not only not growing investment in maintenance in real terms but effectively ripping the guts out of the estate. I can assure the public that we will maintain our commitment to defence spending and the preparedness and support of our troops.

I will finish by referring to that old Army expression that I love so much, which says, ‘Lead, follow or get out of the way.’ The coalition have failed to lead on preparing the country for and understanding the economic crisis or generating ideas to deal with it. They have failed to follow our lead in this respect, and so now it is time for them to get out of the way. If they do not then the wrath of the Australian people will well and truly become known to them, and we may not see many of them here in 2011.