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Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Page: 5431


Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (17:44): Amid all of the political noise, rancour, mud-slinging and dirt, we should remind ourselves where we are as a nation. If any of you look at the two books that have been published on this subject at the moment, The Australian Moment by George Megalogenis or The Sweet Spot by Peter Hartcher, it is difficult to believe that Australia is in such strong circumstances, that we are so highly thought of all over the world, that we enjoy the best lifestyle, the most human rights and are some of the happiest people on the planet.

Looking into the Australian parliament, that has descended into a pit of acrimony since the current Leader of the Opposition took over and since we have had the unfortunate circumstances of a hung parliament and a minority government, you would never understand that reality. I actually give those two books to foreign dignitaries, not just as a patriot but as a person who is very proud of the economic reforms that Australia has undertaken and the tolerant lifestyle that we have; the determination of people here to see that people of all backgrounds get on and, as the great Martin Luther King said, judge people by the content of their character, not by the colour of their skin.

Australia is one of only four countries whose economy has grown since 2009. The others are South Korea, Poland and Israel. We have 4.8 per cent unemployment—the lowest unemployment rate in the industrialised world. Our interest rates are lower than at any time under the previous government. As the Treasurer said the other day, people are saving $1,300 a year compared to the interest rates under the last period of the previous government. Our growth rate is projected at 3.1 per cent. Our projected budget surplus is $1.5 billion due to measures that the Treasurer, the Prime Minister and the Expenditure Review Committee took—to cut very severely $44 billion to achieve it.

We have 3.2 per cent economic growth, less than five per cent unemployment and a budget surplus—other countries would kill for these circumstances. When you look at the poor people of Greece or Spain—even our friends in the United States, with eight or nine per cent unemployment—they marvel at Australia. Of course we have been the beneficiaries of the mineral boom. But look at the sordid front page of any of the newspapers—and I have to agree with the Acting Speaker about the Murdoch press—you would never recognise the country that we live in. People overseas, as I say, just marvel at what a great country Australia is.

The OECD report today—that Australia is set to grow at the fastest pace in the developed world and that the combined debt of Australia, state and federal, is the lowest of any member nation of the OECD—says that Australia is expected to grow more strongly than every single major developed advanced economy over the next two years. As the Treasurer announced in question time—I do not think any members of the opposition listened to it—we have 9.6 per cent of debt to GDP, again the lowest in the world. The Italians have 100 per cent and Japan 200 per cent of debt to GDP, yet we have all of these siren calls from the member for North Sydney and the member for Goldstein about the level of debt that Australia has. In 2008 this Labor government, like all governments at the time, was faced with a global financial crisis. The crisis sent the share market crashing and caused 25 per cent unemployment in Spain—it is actually 50 per cent in some places in Spain, especially among young people. In Barcelona, 50 per cent of people under 30 are unemployed. It crippled the United States and caused growth to slow in Japan and South Korea—our strong trading partners.

In short, no corner of the globe was spared from the crisis. Here in Australia, yes, we were left a surplus by the previous government, but armed with the right policy and the will to act, Labor ensured that the Australian people did not feel the adverse effects of the financial meltdown. The member for Lilley has been recognised by Euromoney magazine and virtually all serious financial commentators around the world as having done a splendid job in steering Australia through the GFC, continuing to run tight budgets, keeping the pressure on interest rates down and seeing that Australia continues to proposer through this period. If Australia had not done that, we would have faced a very different and stark economic reality here at home. Where government can help, it should. The budget delivered two weeks ago continues the tradition of ensuring everyone benefits from a strong and prosperous nation.

I note the strong changes in public opinion on the mining tax, and that underlines the fact that everyone wants to benefit from a strong and prosperous nation, not just some of our oligarchs who are fortunate enough to be in charge of large empires that are involved in mining. This government has introduced historic pension reforms, the biggest in 100 years of the pension. We have passed and implemented a historic paid paternal leave scheme without increasing taxation.

I do share the frustration expressed by Minister Shorten, the member for Maribyrnong, on Insiders that the coalition, who now complain about the government not implementing the company tax legislation, said that they were going to oppose it in the Senate with the Greens. Of course we should be cutting the rate of taxation on companies in Australia to the levels of our neighbours in East Asia, but we cannot do that if a bloody-minded coalition wants to vote with the Greens. They are doing similar things with their hypocritical attitude on the so-called Malaysian option that we have. Here we have the coalition in bed with the Greens on opposing returning people to Malaysia who are asylum seekers but who may not qualify. They are again siding with the Greens on keeping the level of company tax up.

On top of that they have got this absurd levy—a 1.7 per cent increase in company tax—that they are going to put through to fund a parental leave scheme that is principally designed to alter the attitude of women towards the Leader of the Opposition. He knows from polling that the female part of the population is critical in their attitude towards him. Even Blind Freddy could see that this scheme of his, funded by this absurd extra levy on business, is designed to affect his image.

Labor has initiated the biggest infrastructure projects this country has ever seen: the National Broadband Network, sending engineers, construction workers and builders to work. We do this to ensure that the student living in the country can take his classes at home, online, without having to travel four hours to the nearest city, and to enable the entrepreneur to reach out to investors across the world with the touch of a button. The investment in school infrastructure was forgotten and neglected under previous Liberal governments. As we expand our population with our immigration program of 180,000 a year, of course we have got to do these kinds of things. I am sure every opposition member who has gone along to a BER opening that they decry so strongly in the House of Representatives has been happy to stand there at the opening. They understand that this is not a waste of money, that this has provided infrastructure that we absolutely need all around the country, because we have more children as a result not only of a natural increase in our population but above all by our strong immigration program, which I support. If the coalition were honest enough to continue their support of the program, they would be consistent and support the expenditure on the new facilities that the government has helped to build via the Building the Education Revolution program. This government has passed historic healthcare reform, including investment in dental health. This year's budget includes the good work of $3.7 billion investment into aged-care reform. I am particularly pleased to see aged-care reform and the impact it will have on benefiting residents in my electorate. We are implementing the first tranche of the National Disability Insurance Scheme—a first for Australia and a reform worthy of any government that has the appellation 'Labor' on it.

In my electorate of Melbourne Ports, extra support has been given to low- and middle-income families. Four thousand local families will see increases in family payments of up to $600; 2,850 local families with kids at school will receive the schoolkids bonus, giving extra support to families who need it the most; and 6,331 young people—single parents and unemployed—who receive allowances will get extra support.

We have seen the Clean Energy Bill aimed at reducing our carbon emissions, historic tax cuts to families and students, a further pension increase and assistance to single parents. The Liberal Party would see all of these increases ripped away. I know they love the term 'clawback'. They applaud it during question time when the minister uses that expression. They get very excited by it. But that is precisely what they would do. Their ridiculing of the schoolkids bonus was shameful in the sense that they said that parents would not use that money responsibly.

Finally, I turn to one area of funding that I am particularly interested in, in my capacity as Chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, and that is overseas representation and funding for DFAT. The budget announced the funding of a couple of new embassies and consul-generals in Senegal and China. That is a good development. In the past 20 years, our diplomatic corps has shrunk too much. We need to re-resource DFAT. We have one of the lowest levels of overseas representation in the OECD. I know that the hate media of the Herald Sun, the Courier-Mail and the Daily Telegraph will denigrate this as 'tall poppies' wanting overseas trips. We are a big country; we are a confident country. We should have a proper level of representation overseas, befitting our size and our national interests, which are not simply those of Cabcharge journalists working for News Limited.

Even with the two new embassies that have been put into the budget, we have only 97 missions. The OECD average is 150. We need to seriously look at assisting the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. As my friend Dr Paul Monk has said, while the federal public service grew a whopping 25 per cent between 1996 and 2008, DFAT contracted by 11 per cent. Over the past 20 years, DFAT's diplomatic corps has shrunk by nearly 40 per cent, from 870 in 1989 to 537 in 2009. Although various amounts of money passed through DFAT for various purposes over the past decade, resourcing has shrunk from 0.43 per cent of the budget to 0.25 per cent of federal government spending. The most significant consequence of this reduction, both relative and absolute, is what the present Secretary of DFAT, Dennis Richardson, has described as the near incapacitation of our overseas representation. I think we should do more. The opening of the embassies in Dakar and Chengdu is a good measure. This year's budget ensures that Australia as a whole will benefit from a strong and prosperous economy. The government has a proud record of legislative reform, which I have outlined. All of these reforms have been achieved through the prism of a minority government. This should not be forgotten. Labor has been able to pass every single piece of legislation put to this parliament. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Murphy ): Before I call the member for Tangney, I want to assure the member for Melbourne Ports that I acknowledge his references to the media in the early part of his speech and, later, his concern about the role of the media and the importance of that in our democracy.