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Monday, 24 May 2010
Page: 3724

Mr HAYES (5:08 PM) —I join with many members on this side of the House in fully supporting Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011 and cognate bills. It would be remiss of me if I did not start my contribution to the debate on the legislation by saying that it is a responsible effort by the government to bring the economy back into surplus as quickly as possible. I know that in their scaremongering some time back those opposite were declaring that it was likely that the economy would be in deficit for a decade or more. But one of the responsible aspects of this particular budget is that we have designed it to bring the economy back into surplus in three years. I know there are others around who want to dispute that. The shadow minister at the table, Mr Robb, is already on record expressing a number of views about that. But I urge them to go to the document itself and see what plans and proposals are there, see what the government are doing to bring the economy back into surplus. I think it is evident to all those out there listening to this debate that we should put aside the scaremongering that is taking place here, put aside the politicking that is taking place here. Those who are serious about building the community will see that this is a responsible budget.

I must stress that bringing the economy back into surplus in three years time is in excess of three years earlier than what was planned 12 months ago. Clearly, a number of things have happened over that period of time. Do not forget that our last couple of budgets were framed around a situation where we were planning our way through the worst economic crisis that had confronted the world in 75 years. That fact seems to have disappeared from this debate altogether. It certainly will not be raised on that side of the chamber. They will not raise the fact that Australia was one of the only OECD economies that did not go into recession.

The opposition finance spokesman is sitting at the table. The member for Goldstein criticised the government widely in his contribution to this debate. But, when he got down to talking about the world’s worst recession in 75 years, he categorised that as being simply one quarter of negative growth. I think they were his words. In his view, the stimulus package was all about addressing one quarter of negative growth. I do not think there would be a person out there—and certainly no-one at school who has read the papers a little—who does not understand that this was a very serious world economic crisis. It required attention. We are not going to point the finger at those opposite and say that we inherited office from a government that caused that crisis, because we know that is not true. But the thing is that we did not predict it either. We did not predict that there would be a crisis. We had to work towards addressing the situation, to overcome our position and to ensure that Australia’s economy stayed in strong hands.

It was only last week that the Secretary-General of the OECD commented on this. It did not take me by surprise that one of the things that he had to say was that Australia’s response to the global economic crisis was an exemplar to many of the mainstream economies. The fact that we went out and specifically targeted our stimulus package was something that was praised by the leaders of the OECD. That is what kept our economy from going into a recession—not one quarter of negative growth, as it is being portrayed now.

It was not all that far back that we were all shocked—and clearly the Americans were shocked—when Lehman Brothers became insolvent. The American government did not propose bailing that bank out. It was just going to be treated as a commercial reaction to the market. However, when that situation became more commonplace, the Bush administration found itself moving in to prop up America’s banks. In the land of the free they were moving in to nationalise some of their banks to make sure that they kept them afloat. Look at the world’s largest bank, the Bank of Scotland. It almost got renationalised. The British government, the British taxpayer, bought into 80 per cent of its shareholdings to keep that bank afloat.

We are not talking here about one period of negative growth, a blip on the horizon when everything was hunky-dory. This was a very significant period in Australia’s economic history, one that had not occurred in some 75 years and one that required an immediate and targeted response. For what it is worth, I was proud to be part of a government that took up the challenge to do that, to make that response, even when those opposite tried to vote down at each and every opportunity our proposals to spend stimulus money. Whether it was education, infrastructure development or community infrastructure projects, they were all opposed by those opposite.

We went on to guarantee bank deposits to keep our banks afloat. This did require a concerted effort, but it was left to one side of this place to put that effort in, to do the heavier lifting. We now reap from that the criticism of those opposite because there was a debt. Of course there was a debt. But, as opposed to what was being said 12 months ago, that there would be debt for the next generation, we are now paying that debt in three years.

Without apology, this is not a pre-election spendathon. This is not the traditional election budget we had over the 12 years of the Howard government, where people were hooked on middle-income welfare—where people with household income of over $1 million still had welfare payments going to those households. This is not one of those budgets. This is in stark contrast to what we saw during those 12 years. This is moving to do something with this economy by returning it to surplus and then allowing market forces to be stimulated as a consequence.

As an aside, Madam Deputy Speaker, last week I heard a comment that a former opposition finance spokesman, Barnaby Joyce, made on ABC radio. We are pretty thick skinned on this side of the place, we are used to a bit of criticism, but Senator Joyce wanted to criticise the government for not introducing the promised dental scheme.

Mr Champion —Ha!

Mr HAYES —My colleague the member for Wakefield laughs. But the laugh is this: that bill has been held up in the Senate and been opposed by Senator Joyce, and now he goes on radio and say it is a disgrace that the scheme has not been introduced. There is one way he can help that to be introduced, and that is to change his vote. This is the hypocrisy we have got to learn to live with, I guess.

We hear the Liberal Party talk tough about cutting government spending by blocking and opposing measures, but look at what they have been doing. What they want to achieve would only make the deficit worse. Last week the shadow treasurer during his speech to the Press Club indicated that the opposition wanted to cut basic services to Australians, basic services that Australians actually rely on. They plan to cut funding for education and health. Why should we be surprised about that? The current Leader of the Opposition was health minister and he knows full well that he and his government took a billion dollars out of health. I know a lot has been said about it, but the facts remain. Look at the bottom line: a billion dollars came out of health. And that is not to wallpaper over the money that was taken out of education, particularly vocational education. All those things that have contributed to our skills and trades deficit over the time of the Howard government can be traced back to when they decided to rip money out of the education budget.

I know a lot of crocodile tears are being shed at the moment for the mining companies, but it was not all that long ago that the mining companies were lobbying here because they wanted those skills. One of my boys was working in the mining industry for some time. They get paid quite well, I grant you that. That is probably why you could not get a power point put on in Sydney or Launceston or in the member for Wakefield’s area in South Australia. The young fellows were out there working in the mining sector because, going back a number of years, it was booming then. But there are ebbs and flows in the mining industry, and, like many others, my son got laid off and he is doing other things now. Now the boom is moving back into gear and we are seeing a two-speed economy developing. We do need to address that. We also need to look out for the interests of other businesses, particularly businesses that rely on the same basic skill sets that are used in the mining industry, particularly those mainstream trade areas which are in demand in the mining community but also in demand in a community that is still trying to recover from the worst economic crisis in living memory.

Simply gutting education and health cannot be the way to go if we are clear about building a community for the future. I know the real differences being made so far in the south-west of Sydney. I see what we have been able to do there only through our funding of $16 billion in the BER. I do not know about the member for Wakefield but I have not had people knocking on my door in Werriwa and complaining about investing in their schools—not a one. I would challenge people opposite not to cower and oppose it when all your colleagues are around but to stand up when those photos are being taken at schools as we are opening these halls and new classrooms and commercial cooking facilities and say, ‘We actually really oppose it.’ I do not get much opportunity to talk to principals who say, ‘We don’t want this investment.’ As a matter of fact, I do not get any of that. That is one of the things that have been particularly successful. I know that out of 9,500 projects there will always be something that will require attention and, to her credit, the Deputy Prime Minister is looking at addressing those issues.

Mr Robb —$8 billion.

Mr HAYES —But like the member for Goldstein I have not got people complaining to me about schools. They would like more investment in the schools and they would like to see a greater role for the Commonwealth, although there will be budget limits to that. What we are doing, apart from putting money out there that is generating jobs, is producing those skills for the future.

I do not want to have to do a roll call through the family but I also have a son—not the son working in the mines—who is a builder. For the last 12 months or so all he has been doing, in a succession of schools, is going out there and constructing school buildings. All the young fellows I know who come to our house and eat us out of house and home are also working on these packages. From the Hayes household, I know what the stimulus package is doing. It means that these young people are in work. They are utilising their skills. I see more apprentices out there. This was the intention of the stimulus package. It is not what the other side I know want to hear. They are nitpicking, going through whether the projects should have been six metres this side or that side of the fence or whether somebody’s sunlight has been blocked off. This was about generating jobs and generating jobs now to stimulate work in our community. All those employees getting work through these stimulus based projects are generating our local economies.

I would have thought that concept was something that we should be applauded for. I know it is a bit hard for those on the other side to applaud because they voted against it and every other measure of the stimulus package, but they are things that really do need to be looked at in the cold light of day and acknowledged for what they are, apart from an investment in education. Bear in mind that every dollar you put into education will over the next 10 to 12 years actually have an economic dividend in a productivity increase and will generate people through tertiary education or into the trades et cetera. What it does is generate employment for us here and now. I see it firsthand, as does everyone else, but those opposite are too afraid to admit it.

The other big thing that is clearly on the way back, if you listen to what is being said, is a return to Work Choices. Perhaps that is not the word that will be used, but we are now being lectured about there being room to have individual statutory employment contracts out there in the workplace. Mr Deputy Speaker, as you are aware, I was very involved in talking about ‘Your rights at work’ when we were in opposition because I genuinely believe in it. I represent a working community. I see the mums and dads out there struggling with their mortgages. Most households in my electorate are supported by two incomes. I know how important this issue was. I also had—and I tried to table on many occasions for Prime Minister Howard—work statements from people who were getting paid less than the award. For the first time in living memory, it became legally possible to employ people and to change their conditions to below the award. I—and no doubt many other people too—have had people turn up in my office, or I have seen them in the street when I have been doing mobile offices, who have become physically and emotionally upset. I saw the real effect of that.

I cannot point the finger just at those companies. When I spoke to the directors of one of the companies—it is on the record; I will not name the company again but it is a major pharmaceutical company—they checked through the law and they came out and said, ‘Yes, we are doing that.’ I asked them for the reason they were doing it. I said: ‘I can see your profit line and I can see all the other stuff. Why are you doing this to people in my local community?’ Regrettably, and with some degree of embarrassment, they said, ‘Because we can.’ The previous government made laws that allowed people to pay individuals below the award rate of pay. I saw the effect of that in electorates such as mine. Those in the previous government should hold their heads in shame. I understand why they would not want to go back to calling it Work Choices, but they must be reeling from the fact that their leader has now indicated that there is room for individual contracts in the workplace.

Despite all the joviality about Tony Abbott’s contribution to the 7.30 Report on Monday a week ago, if we have to get to the point where, unless it is scripted, unless you get it from me in writing, you cannot believe it, this is going to be an extremely low ebb in politics. We all know what the cut and thrust of politics is like. It is a very combative business that we are in. It is a hard business. We are out there to compete for the hearts and minds of people based on our ideals. We are trying to sell the ideals to people in this competitive world that we support one over the other. That is the basis of democracy. But, when we have the Leader of the Opposition coming out and saying, ‘You cannot necessarily trust everything I say unless you get it in writing,’ it really demeans our whole concept of Australian democracy. I know he probably was not put up to that, and it is probably a rare display of honesty, one which will not go away, but if a backbencher said that I am sure the whips would take them aside and explain to them the error of their ways. But, when the Leader of the Opposition says it, you wonder whether that is now going to become opposition policy.

One of the things I wanted to get across was community building. What we have tried to do throughout the course of our response to the world’s worst economic crisis is to continue to build our community. Build it now and build it into the future is what this budget continues to do. (Time expired)