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Monday, 24 May 2010
Page: 3660


Mr DREYFUS (12:31 PM) —We have just heard from the shadow Treasurer of Australia complete confirmation of the risk that would be posed to Australia if the shadow Treasurer or his leader were to get anywhere near the government of this country. They are a risk to jobs; they are a risk to working families; they are a risk to the infrastructure of this country; they are a risk to skills. Everything we have seen from the opposition since the budget was delivered in this House some two weeks ago has confirmed just what a risk to the people of Australia is posed by those presently occupying the opposition benches.

By contrast, through this budget the government has delivered and will continue to deliver responsible economic management. We have presented a credible pathway back to surplus in three years, and that time frame is half the time that it was expected to take when Australia first responded to the global economic crisis. This budget delivers tax cuts for working families and for small businesses. In addition, we are investing $23 billion over the next decade in a national health and hospitals network; we are investing in major national infrastructure to boost productivity and create jobs; we are investing in skills and training.

The first aim of this government was to keep our economy strong and to protect Australian jobs and Australian businesses through the worst crisis that the global economy has faced in almost 80 years. When faced with this crisis the government understood that to contain the damage and to protect Australian jobs and businesses from the meltdown in global financial markets we had to maintain confidence in our financial system, encourage households to maintain consumption and provide businesses with the certainty and confidence to continue investing. Because of the early and decisive action taken by the government, Australia has managed to avoid a recession through what was feared to be and what now clearly has been the worst global downturn in more than 75 years. Australia’s economy is the only advanced economy that expanded in the year to June 2009, the worst period of this crisis, and, according to the International Monetary Fund’s World economic outlook update, Australia’s economic growth was positive and Australia was the only advanced economy to achieve this.

In the 2009-10 budget economic growth was forecast to be negative 0.5 per cent; the estimate in this year’s budget is that it will have been two per cent. The budget forecast for 2010-11 has improved from 2.25 per cent to 3.25 per cent. No major Australian financial institution has collapsed, none required the government to take significant shareholdings in return for dealing with toxic debt and no financial institutions were nationalised. This can be contrasted with the situation in the United Kingdom, where the government has nationalised Northern Rock and taken significant shareholdings in Lloyds and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Most importantly, the government’s response to the global economic crisis has helped protect hundreds of thousands of Australian jobs. Unemployment peaked at 5.8 per cent last year, 2.5 per cent lower than it was estimated to peak at and certainly considerably lower than would have occurred without the stimulus.

It is quite clear that the government’s response has been the correct response. That has been the opinion expressed around the world. It has been the opinion expressed by the International Monetary Fund, by the OECD, by the World Bank, by governments of other countries and by finance ministers and prime ministers in the G20, all of whom have complimented the Rudd Labor government for the decisive and prompt action that was taken at the peak of the global crisis and that has ensured the financial and fiscal security that Australia is now enjoying. It needs to be borne in mind, when we listen to the muddled response—yet another muddled response—from the shadow Treasurer that the coalition, the Liberal Party and the National Party opposed economic stimulus. They would have adopted policies, had they still been in government in September, October and November 2008, which would have ensured that hundreds of thousands of Australians would now be out of work.

I would invite any member of the Liberal Party or the National Party, and in particular the Leader of the Opposition, to visit and talk to those workers who are working on Building the Education Revolution school projects throughout my electorate about how they feel the government’s programs have assisted the Australian economy and, in particular, assisted them to stay in work during this global economic downturn. Were they to do so, they would learn that it is the opinion of people, certainly throughout the construction industry, that the response of the national government, the Rudd Labor government, has been extraordinarily prompt and entirely appropriate because it has kept them in work—and that is before one even goes to the immense value that has been given to our local communities by the building of the new facilities in each and every primary school through the Building the Education Revolution program. I would also invite those opposite to visit my electorate to speak to retailers or people in the manufacturing industry, all of whom very directly attribute the continued health of their businesses and the continuation in many cases of their employment to the programs that have been adopted by our government.

With this budget, we have presented a credible pathway back to surplus. It is a pathway that will return the budget to surplus in three years. That is half the amount of time that was forecast in last year’s budget. Net debt is predicted to peak at just 6.1 per cent of GDP, which is half the level projected a year ago and less than one-tenth of the average across the major advanced economies. One thing that I noticed in the shadow Treasurer’s speech that we just heard is that at least he had the good grace to acknowledge that the average debt-to-GDP ratio in the Western economies is in the order of 90 to 100 per cent, and he acknowledged that the net debt we are going to peak at is nothing like that, but he did not go far enough. Of course he does not want to state the number, which is 6.1 per cent of GDP, because to state the number in the same context as saying that the average net debt in Western economies is 90 to 100 per cent of GDP is to show just how absurd it is for those opposite to be, even by implication, comparing the position of the Australian economy or comparing the policies adopted by the Rudd Labor government to any of the positions that those Western economies, particularly the European economies such as Spain and Portugal or the United Kingdom.

There is still a level of uncertainty faced in global financial markets. It is being highlighted right at this time by the difficulties that are being faced in Greece. Indeed, one could also point to Spain and Portugal, or indeed, by way of comparison, point not just to the net debt levels but also to the unemployment levels that have been reached in those Western economies and which are still regrettably being suffered in the United Kingdom or the United States. That puts in proper global context the success of the policies adopted by the Rudd Labor government.

This budget delivers tax cuts to working families. It delivers tax cuts to small business. And, even during this period of fiscal consolidation, there will be modest income tax cuts that will see taxpayers on average earnings keep $450 a year more. From 2011, we will provide a 50 per cent tax break for the first $1,000 of interest on savings. As I went around my electorate last week explaining the budget to different people, I went to Richfield retirement village in Aspendale Gardens. The news that there is to be a 50 per cent tax break on the first $1,000 interest on savings is particularly gratifying to people who use savings accounts as one very secure form of investment.

We will introduce simplified tax returns from 1 July 2012. The government will provide an optional standard deduction of $500 instead of having taxpayers list work related expenses individually, and it is a deduction that is going to increase to $1,000 from 1 July 2013. Every one of Australia’s small businesses will get a tax break under the Rudd government through this budget. Sole traders, partnerships and incorporated small businesses will be able to immediately deduct the cost of assets valued at up to $5,000, and those 2.4 million small businesses will also be able to pool assets costing more than $5,000, except buildings, and write them off at a single rate of 30 per cent a year. And for the 720,000 small-business companies there will be a head-start reduction in the company tax rate from 30 per cent to 28 per cent from 1 July 2012.

This budget also delivers a long hoped for increase in the superannuation guarantee, which will rise gradually over the next decade from nine per cent to 12 per cent, and this is another measure that is opposed by those opposite. This is an enormously important policy in guaranteeing the future incomes of working Australians and helps to prepare our nation and our national finances for the demographic shift that is already taking place.

The budget is filled with new investments, most notably the investment in the Health and Hospitals Network which is announced in this budget. The budget includes significant reforms to the health and hospitals system, which will be funded nationally and run locally. There is a total of $7.3 billion over five years for better hospitals, improved primary care and preventive health. It is a budget that allows access to more doctors, to an unprecedented level of support and training for our nurses, which is why nurses across Australia have welcomed the measures in this budget, and the introduction of personally controlled electronic health records for every Australian. And there is another measure, because one only has to go through the budget to find such measures, which the opposition opposes and would cut. The only intelligible response that one can glean from the muddled response of the opposition has been a list of worthwhile, valuable programs that the opposition says it would scrap—not, mind you, that the opposition is prepared to tie itself to any binding list of cuts, because while they say they wish to cut, for example, the introduction of personally controlled electronic health records of every Australian, they reserve to themselves the right to introduce new programs which might cost more, possibly even in the same area if one is to correctly understand the shadow finance minister, the member for Goldstein. So it is very difficult to work out just what it is the opposition has said in relation to this budget.

The budget contains very extensive measures in relation to infrastructure and in relation to skills and trade. Perhaps it is worth mentioning the record $37 billion investment in improving road, rail and port projects across Australia, all of which will boost national productivity and create jobs. The ongoing infrastructure fund of $5.6 billion will extend over a decade and is in response to the independent tax review—the Henry review. There will be annual contributions starting at $700 million from 2012-2013 to ensure that our nation-building project flourishes. There is funding for the Australian Rail Track Corporation and appropriate provision in the budget for the rollout of the National Broadband Network, another measure that this opposition of wreckers would scrap without indicating to the people of Australia in any way how it plans to take Australia further into the 21st century and further into the Information Age. There is something a bit striking about an opposition that wants to scrap not only a measure for personalised electronic health records but also the measures that the government is planning for a National Broadband Network.

The contrast with the opposition could not be greater. We have a budget that is responsible and that will return to surplus some three years earlier than planned. We have a budget that has appropriate measures for the economic circumstances in which Australia finds itself following on prompt and decisive action that has taken Australia to an economic position that is the envy of the developed world. We can be clear that the greatest risks to Australia’s economic security and the job security of thousands of Australian workers are the present opposition leader, the member for North Sydney—the shadow Treasurer—and the member for Goldstein. Everything about their response to this budget on behalf of the opposition has demonstrated that they cannot be trusted with the task of managing the Australian economy.

I do not think that the expectations of the community were very high to start off with, given the way in which the shadow Treasurer last year responded to the budget, which was to suggest that the forecasts and projections on which it was based were ‘grossly overoptimistic’—that is what he said. That, of course, proved to be wrong. He now wants to say about this budget that the estimates are wrong again, but I think the Australian people can judge who should best be trusted on matters like this. I would be far readier to trust forecasts that have been adopted by this government based on the steady work of the Treasury than to listen to a shadow Treasurer who said last year that the predictions of the Treasury were grossly optimistic.

There is no credibility left in this opposition on economic matters. The response last year, which criticised the forecasts, was that the opposition would stop the stimulus. That has been bettered—they have reached a new low for an opposition—with the shambolic response to the budget, with half-baked ideas and the handballed response that we saw last week. We saw in the budget reply by the Leader of the Opposition not, as one might have expected, a plan for the economy of Australia or a plan for the future of our nation with some clear responses to the measures in the budget and not, given that the opposition is very directly saying that it wishes to cut, any indication of what is to be cut or which programs are to be scrapped but, rather, the handball approach: saying that the shadow Treasurer would respond at the Press Club the following week—last Wednesday.

Then we had the response from the shadow Treasurer at the Press Club, which—as has been much commented on in the days since—did not include the list of cuts which were relied on by the opposition in its response. Instead, there was a further handball to the shadow finance minister at a press conference which was to follow. When finally it was possible to see the supposed savings which the shadow Treasurer has again referred to—at least he is now not referring to them simply as savings but trying to pretend to some accuracy in saying that it is $47 billion of gross savings—it was apparent that the ‘budget’—if one could call it that; perhaps it is better to leave it at ‘budget response’—just does not add up. The coalition’s proposed budget cuts do not add up. The $47 billion in cuts, which is what the opposition wanted to get its headline for—and did get it for—turns out to be a mishmash of cuts to capital expenditure combined with cuts to the current account or cuts to particular expenditures. It was really an attempt to mislead the Australian public with a larger headline figure. Most of the measures that have been identified by the opposition will not have any impact on the underlying balance. They are a threat to future economic growth, they are a threat to Australian families and they are a threat to the economy, and the Australian people will be able to see, from the shambolic response of the opposition to our budget measures, just what a risk would be posed if those opposite were to reach the government benches. (Time expired)