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Wednesday, 29 May 2013
Page: 4428

Mrs MOYLAN (Pearce) (11:30): I think some of the most significant words spoken during the debate about the government's 2013-14 budget came from the Leader of the Opposition when he said in his reply;

Government doesn’t create wealth; people do.

I wholeheartedly concur with that statement. The electorate of Pearce, for example, is a unique microcosm of the diversity of the state of Western Australia. The people are hardworking, enterprising and innovative. The electorate supports wealth-creating enterprises of broadacre wheat and sheep farming, mining, intensive agriculture, fishing, retailing, education, manufacturing and tourism. I have long encountered the enthusiasm that businesspeople have in the region and, in fact, it was that enthusiasm and those can-do altitudes which were the impetus for my move into politics in 1993. Once elected, I had the task of writing the coalition's small business policy as shadow minister. It became one of the key election platforms of the successful 1996 election for the coalition. The messages coming from the business community then were clear, and they are really clear now. That message was: 'Get off your backs, reduce red tape and manage the economy so we do not have to endure the dramatic highs and lows which interfere with our capacity to forward plan for our businesses.'

The Howard government addressed these concerns and freed up business from the shackles of wild swings in the economy, the high interest rates, which were prevalent prior to our taking government, and the credit squeezes and the burgeoning red tape, which had also been features. In fact, as the Leader of the Opposition pointed out in his budget speech,

The last Coalition government grew GDP per person by well over two per cent a year - under this government it’s limped along at well under 1 per cent.

And further he said:

During the Howard years, real wealth per person more than doubled - since then, it’s actually declined thanks to weaker growth, subdued house prices and lower share prices.

It was a different era, for sure, but it was nonetheless challenging as the Asian financial crisis threatened a global financial meltdown in 1997. The messages coming from business today, as I said, are not unlike those in 1993. The current administration's profligate spending, increased debt and added burdens of red tape are still causing concern and, indeed, reducing the viability and the profitability of many business enterprises in this country.

While I am not one to slavishly follow a doctrine of laissez faire or a totally free market economy, I recognise the wisdom of minimising the interference of government in the operation of enterprise. This principle is essential to the building of a strong economy. A strong economy is, after all, the foundation of 'a smarter nation and a fairer society'—words the Treasurer used in the title of his budget speech. As we witnessed, it is impossible to deliver these laudable elements in a smarter, fairer nation if the nation's financial strength is compromised. In response to the government's claims that they will deliver a surplus, the Leader of the Opposition makes the observation:

If a public company made these sorts of claims its directors would most likely face serious charges rather than asking to be re-elected.

As he pointed out, 'This year's revenue shortfalls went from $7 billion to $12 billion to $17 billion in just two weeks.' So how can ministers possibly predict a decade ahead? My colleague made some mention of this in his speech just now.

There is no doubt that we live in uncertain times, with major changes afoot. The face of retailing, for example, is changing dramatically with the advent of tax-free online trade. Global trade agreements and tariff removal have challenged growers and manufacturers with cheap imports coming from countries that do not pay decent wages, do not have occupational health and safety regulations, do not contribute to employee's superannuation, do not have rigorous rules about what fertilizers and chemicals are put on plants and animals, and do not have strict standards on food handling as those imposed on our Australian producers and manufacturers.

One wonders about the partial policies of propping up a car manufacturing industry in this country to the tune of more than $1 billion per annum for the last 10 years, yet when our farmers and our growers seek assistance they are told they must find ways to become more productive and competitive or get out of the business. And by the way, we have cut the government's contribution to research and development in these important areas of agriculture and horticulture, and made it a user-pays system of levies.

The Leader of the Opposition's commitments to take a more prudent approach to economic management and to cut red tape does resonate for those engaged in the industries and enterprises that make Australia wealthy in more than just an economic sense. As the shadow Treasurer the member for North Sydney said during his recent press club speech following the budget, 'All the coalition's main policies are designed to make it easier for you, the people, to get ahead, and for businesses to be more productive.'

It was refreshing to hear the member for North Sydney's understanding of the difficulties of small businesses when he outlined the deep impact on his cousin, who recently faced a decision to close the doors of his business after 21 years. As the member for North Sydney related:

And their small business has paid for their home.

Their small business has paid for their children’s education.

Their small business has employed many others over the years.

Dare I add, it has probably paid for some savings for their retirement, as well. My own personal experience is that small business not only adds immeasurably to the strength of our economy but also to the social cohesion within our communities. So I personally look forward to the day when government does all it can to remove the uncertainties for businesses, manages to tame the economic volatility and unpredictability, and develops education and training that facilitates the leap to a brave new world of global online commerce.

In 1999 my former colleague the Hon. Tim Fischer commissioned a series of projects called Putting Australia on the New Silk Road, Driving Forces on the New Silk Road, and Creating a Clearway on the New Silk Road. They were three very significant reports. His work was prescient as he recognised the challenges ahead for Australian businesses in the early moves towards electronic commerce through the internet.

Tim Fischer believed that it presented great opportunities for Australia, including for rural and regional Australia to increase exports and generate well-paying jobs. The series makes for thought-provoking reading. His warning, which has largely gone unheeded, was timely. As he said:

… it would be a gross error for firms and organisations—or government for that matter—to think they can safely shelve consideration of the Internet as a core business an trade tool for a year or two. This is not an option if we want to reap the benefits of increasing output, exports and jobs that can, and should, flow from skilful use of Internet commerce. We need to move now.

I wholeheartedly agree. Our future relies on people having the skills for the development of the technology, its servicing and its efficient and intelligent use. Yet there is little sign that the current administration has any plans for upskilling the workforce through technical trades and education to meet current needs and future demands. Personally, I would like to see a robust policy to ensure that training and education meet the present and future requirements of our business enterprises so that they have the best chance of succeeding in an increasingly competitive world.

Whatever our plans for the future, it will be a well-managed, low-deficit economy that will underpin our national interest. The coalition has an outstanding record in this regard. The shadow Treasurer outlined some of those issues that will lead us into a stronger and better economy when he said that, although Labor has left the cupboard bare, which will make it difficult, there is a great need for structural reform in our economic management. That is one of the key elements of the coalition's plan for the future of this country.

I conclude by expressing my deep disappointment in the reduction of overseas aid in the budget. Australia does not live in a vacuum. We are a wealthy country in a region that still suffers some terrible poverty. I was pleased to hear Bill Gates yesterday in answering a question here in the Great Hall say that looking after some of the poverty and problems within our own country does not preclude us from looking after people living in deep poverty within the region.

At the time of this announcement by the government I actually had an email from one of my constituents, Phil Lindsay, who is a development effectiveness officer at TEAR Australia. TEAR does some amazing work globally to reduce poverty. Phil Lindsay is currently working in the South Sudan. His email conveys just what an impact a small donation from Australia can have on the lives of village women in the South Sudan. I will read it in his words: 'Nyarike has four children. Recently TEAR, with some AusAID funding, supported the construction of a borehole near her village. Previous to the borehole being drilled she used to get up at 2 am each morning, prepare the day's food and then walk five hours to collect water for the day. She then walked five hours back home again to complete her day's tasks. She used to collect water from a river, which meant that she had problems with Guinea worm and dirty water, so diarrhoea and other diseases were prevalent. Now she has water a few minutes from her home she is able to spend more time cultivating land to improve her family's nutrition. There is much less disease and she is much more healthy herself being able to rest properly at night.'

I have witnessed many aid projects funded by AusAID in places such as Cambodia, the western provinces of China and Tibet and have seen firsthand the profound impact that these relatively small amounts of money have had on the lives of people living in abject poverty. I have seen some of the positive work done by AusAID in these parts of the world, including Pacific countries.

I welcome the coalition's commitment to lift the aid budget to 0.5 per cent of gross national income by 2016-17 once the performance benchmarks that were promised as part of the review into foreign aid programs are established. It is to be hoped that this will be an early achievement should the coalition win the next election.