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Thursday, 12 February 2009
Page: 1288

Mr OAKESHOTT (11:19 PM) —Firstly, I would like to thank both sides of the House for acknowledging and allowing an independent voice in this debate tonight. It is hopefully valued, and it is certainly appreciated by me. Secondly, as a member of this chamber for four months, I have to say what an extraordinary life it is to be a federal member of parliament. Nearly $80 million on the table, fires and floods, as mentioned previously, 11.30 pm debates and 5 am votes—a point of reflection, I hope, for all of us. But, for me, if someone is trying to impress me, heck, I am certainly impressed!

I will start by telling two stories from home. The first is from a local public school called Hastings Public School, whose newsletter went out today. It had a message from two prime ministers. It is a school—and I know many members have schools of a similar nature—that does not have school captains; it has a civics program and a school parliament. The message from those prime ministers was one of great excitement about the package that is before the parliament tonight, because they have been fighting hard to try and get a multipurpose centre at the school. Two 11-year-old prime ministers thought the angle in the first newsletter for the year should be to take the lead as prime ministers to promote the stimulus package within the school and to try and argue the case that they are claiming to win. The P&C should be happy that those two 11-year-olds will hopefully this year get their school the multipurpose centre that they have all been fighting for.

The second story from home is that I ran into an old friend on Saturday morning who had just been to the insulation shop. He and his wife had been wanting to get their home insulated for some time. The message that has come through from this place had rekindled the desire. They were tyre-kicking in the insulation shop and reported back to me quite excitedly that the phones were running off the hook and that the poor guy running the business was in a massive fluster. He said to my friend, ‘I’m just going to have to employ more people.’ I would hope that everyone in this chamber, regardless of positions over the last two weeks, would support that message from that business.

As an Independent member of this chamber, I supported the first package that went through at 5 am last week and will be also supporting the second package that I assume and hope will go through tonight. I do it on balance. As was mentioned previously, there is right and wrong in all of it, but on balance for my local communities and, I believe, for my country, this is the right step forward.

There is an education element of this package, and in the short time that I have I thought I would use some simple education messages to get my message across to everyone and hopefully get some reflection from those who are opposing the package. It involves the simple acts of talking, reading, thinking and listening. I have been talking to my local communities, not only those in the stories that I have already told but also at schools such as Taree West, Crescent Head Public and Laurieton Public. All of them are very supportive of this package and want to see it passed, and passed soon.

The small business concessions are drawing a lot of attention. We are getting a lot of phone calls coming into our electorate office from people wanting to explore the concessions that are potentially available. I would certainly advocate this package for the small business community. The low- and middle-income earners of the mid-north coast are obviously excited about the immediate aspects of the cash handout. And a group that has not been mentioned is the trades community, who are probably doing it harder earlier than everyone else with the financial issues that are coming towards us. They are sweating on this package going through for the opportunities within the education, home building, home insulation and social housing aspects of the package. They certainly deserve a voice in this chamber tonight.

As well, I have not heard mentioned the council package, a $550 million part of the package, which is causing a great deal of interest in my community. Whether it is the Wauchope Bonny Hills surf club or the Taree airport—those were the key applications that were put in by my councils—there is a great deal of interest at both a council level and a community level with regard to getting those projects up and running.

As well, it is often misunderstood in communities such as mine, due to representation from the past, but the key industry in my area is the retail industry. I am sure they are very excited about this package, and I can guarantee that they were very pleased with the pre-Christmas spend. It got them through a very difficult two months and has, hopefully, set them up for getting through the winter periods, which are the difficult times in a tourism community. That is when we are going to see the full brunt of what is coming.

That is the talking aspect. On the reading aspect, I have been reading absolutely everything I can, any source available, to get my head around the package that is before us tonight, whether it is print media—and there has been plenty—the blogs, the peak organisations, the international organisations or, yes, even the magazine that was mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition, the Economist. I have read the full Economist of January and, if you read it you would have to say this package suits what is happening around the world and that it was a bit cheeky tonight to cherry-pick one graph and try and build an argument around that one graph.

There is also the thinking part of it. I have thought a lot about the coalition position—

Mr Hockey —No, you haven’t.

Mr OAKESHOTT —and, to be fair, there have been some fair aspects. You do not even want to take a compliment. The scrutiny aspect, I think, is a very fair point—from my point of view, less as an issue of Labor arrogance or Liberal dented egos and more as an issue of the executive versus the parliament. I think the decision that was taken last Tuesday week was the wrong decision—it was mentioned by the member for New England—and, in hindsight, I would hope that we could agree that that should have been played differently. The huge irony for me is that—to the credit of the coalition, with the all-night sitting and being a bit belligerent about the issue of scrutiny, and of the Senate committee going into the detail with the Treasury heads—from that scrutiny the package has actually proved itself. So, over this two-week period—

Mr Hockey —What?

Mr OAKESHOTT —Well, we’ll get to it. I think that, through the scrutiny of this parliament rather than just the executive being belligerent and getting their package through, we have now seen, hopefully, confidence in what should be approved tonight.

On the issue of the alternative package, I listen and I wait strategically for amendments, but I do not accept a position of just voting no. I think: if there is an alternative package that is being promoted in the media then stump up and give us, the crossbenchers, and others in this chamber the opportunity to try and support it, negotiate on it and get the best outcome for the community. But, at the moment, nothing has been brought forward to this chamber to talk about, to negotiate on and therefore to promote.

The third point is the point about debt, and I think that is a fair point for all members of this chamber to consider, because it is a strong consideration for anyone who is thinking about the future. But the key moment for me, and I would hope for many people, over the last fortnight—it has been mentioned over dispatches in the debate tonight—was the evidence from Ken Henry, the Treasury secretary, last Thursday night. I thought he did an outstanding job in calmly and gently but passionately and rationally building the case to justify this package. He took questions from the coalition, from the Greens and from Independent senators and, I thought, batted away the questions brilliantly and promoted the case that this is necessary.

Remember that the reason I mention Ken Henry is that he owns the surplus as much as everyone else and he has as much to lose with regard to going into debt as anyone else. He has been the guard dog of the Treasury for the coalition and now is the guard dog of the Treasury for the Labor government. His advice on Thursday night, I thought, was strong, and I do not understand why his advice is now being ignored by those opposed to the package. There is a layman’s saying: ‘Why even have a guard dog if you want to bark yourself?’ That is something for reflection by anyone who is opposed to this. The apolitical advice from the head of the Treasury, one of the most eminent public servants in this nation, is strong and does build the case.

To conclude, I believe that the arguments not to pass this bill are weak but the arguments to pass this bill are strong. I therefore ask members of this chamber—not as Labor, not as Liberal, not as National, not as Independents but as private members of the people’s chamber reviewing a package from the executive, which was confidently explained last Thursday night by one of Australia’s most eminent public servants, the Treasury head Ken Henry—and colleagues in the other place to pass this legislation. Without question, it is needed. And now is the time.

Question put:

That this bill be now read a second time.