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Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Page: 1277

Mr JENKINS (Scullin) (19:00): It is a pleasure to be able to take part in this appropriation debate. Can I say from the outset that the second reading amendment moved by the member for Goldstein, Andrew Robb, of course does not have my support and it actually gives us the clue to what the coalition sees as important. The member for Paterson in his contribution talked about the carbon tax and the fact that a coalition government, if elected, would repeal it. What a nonsense. What a silly statement from the coalition. I just remind them: if they think that they are going to repeal the carbon tax legislation they will not be able to do it before July 2014. So what they are telling us is that a piece of legislation will come into play in the middle of this year but they are going to say to Australian businesses, 'Live with the uncertainty for the next two years in doing your business.' What a nonsense. Even if a House of Representatives election was held on Saturday, the point is that they would not have the numbers in the Senate until the new Senate is elected and takes its place in mid-2014—and, even then, do they really expect to have control of the Senate?

I highlight this because of my concern about the level of debate that we have seen in this place since the last election. We have an opposition that cannot come to grips with living in a world where there is a minority government in this place that is getting on with the job, that is passing legislation and doing the job. The member for Goldstein's contribution as the lead speaker on the resumption of this appropriation debate was all about negatives, talking down the economy, absolutely distorting facts about the way in which this economy is in a very good state and the way in which this government does have a handle on the economic levers—and that can be seen in any fair critique. It is a waste of a half-hour contribution in this sort of debate for a senior member of the coalition to talk in the way in which the member for Goldstein spoke.

Before returning to the economy I wish to take the opportunity of this appropriation speech to talk about the work of this parliament. I think from time to time we have to remind ourselves that, no matter what people see through the prism of the argy-bargy of question time, there are very many things that take place around this parliament where there is a great degree of cooperation in the national interest. I picked up the December edition of About the House and it is replete with articles about the work of House committees that are very positive and that should make those that send us to this place have some confidence that we know we are here to work in the nation's interest. The member for Moreton mentions the front-page article 'Muddied waters: insurance without assurance'. And the member for Wright, as a Queenslander, understands that these are issues that in the aftermath of the Queensland floods are still on people's minds. It is up to us, through the opportunities that we get to debate and through the opportunities that we get to do good work on committees, to make sure that people know we see these things as being important. In About the House we have articles to do with the House environment committee's inquiry into boosting protection for the Antarctic and the audit of Australia's diplomatic service that one of these subcommittees of the joint foreign affairs, defence and trade committee is doing. There is a major article about the problems of flood insurance, previously identified in an earlier report, which have really come home to those who have suffered losses through the floods. I say to members that what we really need to do is see this type of work has been very important and something that we can say to people it is appropriate for the House to do.

The only other inquiry I wish to mention, because it is in the context of yesterday when we celebrated the fourth anniversary of the apology, is the House Indigenous affairs committee's inquiry into Indigenous languages. This is a very important inquiry because language is so important to Indigenous culture. It is the way in which the stories have gone down through time—the dreamtime stories, the association with place. So anything we as legislators can do to ensure Indigenous languages are a protected is important.

On this side I follow the member for Fraser in this debate. The member for Fraser has been celebrated as an acknowledged economist throughout the world. I am pleased to be able to enter into this debate. He made the valid point that the strength of the Australian economy is acknowledged throughout the world. Yet if you sit in this place and listen to question time and contributions to a debate like this, the coalition have not got it in them to acknowledge that. Instead we have silly stunts that try to emphasise things that are out in the media and say these are distractions to the government. If the government were as distracted as people believe, we would not be having the economic results that we see in Australia.

Mr Deputy Speaker, as you are so aware, the strength of the Australian economy was shown in our performance through the global financial crisis that became a global economic crisis. I refer to table 8.1 entitled 'Total Economic Growth' from the Parliamentary Library's monthly series that is now available as an e-table. I seek leave to have this table incorporated in Hansard. I spoke to the person on duty for the opposition previously and I hope that I am able to get leave.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Is leave granted?

Ms Marino: Out of respect for the former Speaker and his previous role, I accept it. But in my four years here I cannot recall this courtesy having been extended to a member of the opposition.

Leave granted.


The graph read as follows—


Mr JENKINS: What this graph shows clearly—and this is why I have asked that it be incorporated in Hansard so people can look at it—is that Australia did not go into recession but performed well. The graph compares Australia to the OECD average and the EU average, which, as we can see from the graph, troughed out. The other thing I want to emphasise is that if this had simply been a result of things that the coalition had done, and those things alone, that does not explain the different performance of the Australian economy compared to those other two sets of data. There is similarity in the run-up to the global economic situation and a completely different performance afterwards.

If those opposite are concerned, I place on record and have said in the opportunities that I had over the last four years, not in this place, that our performance during the global economic crisis was as a result of decisions of three governments: the Hawke-Keating years that took hard decisions; the Howard-Costello years, when—I might be described as being mealy-mouthed to say they could have made even more decisions—they were the stewards of the economy; and then, it has to be recognised, under Prime Ministers Rudd and Gillard and Treasurer Swan. It is not as if a government does not do anything that affects the economy, so I think we should give credit when a government can see those types of indicators of the performance of our economy.

Much can be said about these macrofigures and they are very important. We should look at them. We should analyse what it means. If we look at the performance of household savings that are now creeping back up, if we look at the ratios of household debt, which increased dramatically over the years from the late 1980s through to about 2004 and have now plateaued, we see a steadying out such that people can have confidence in the way they have control over their household economies. We should not look to the naysayers who say, 'Well, during the term of this government everything has gone awry.' If you look, for instance, at the Parliamentary Library's graph on household debt ratio you will see that it increased throughout the Howard-Costello years.

If these things are important for the confidence that people have in their economy, we should be talking about them. I have looked at the unemployment figures in the electorate of Scullin over the four years of Labor governments since 2007. In September 2007, in the three statistical local areas, unemployment in Whittlesea South was 5.1 per cent, in Banyule North it was 2.7 per cent and in Nillumbik South West it was 1.8 per cent. Now, for the September 2011 quarter, Nillumbik South West is still at 1.8 per cent and Banyule North has decreased to 2.6 per cent. Whittlesea South SLA has been replaced by Whittlesea South East, which is at 3.6 per cent, and Whittlesea South West, which is at 7.6 per cent.

That is what people in their day-to-day lives are looking for—the type of leadership that the government has shown to keep people in jobs, to increase the number of jobs as population increases, and to ensure that everybody throughout Australia has access to the things that make the economy tick over. Mr I am proud that I can stand in this place as somebody who has the great honour to represent what is described as a safe Labor seat and say that, over the last four years, the electorate of Scullin has got its fair share of federal programs. The federal programs have been above board, they have been transparent and they have given all areas of Australia the opportunity to put their hand up. Those that are going to be in partnership with us, whether they are non-government organisations or local government, also have the opportunity to do that.

To have $101 million allocated to 89 projects in education facilities in the electorate of Scullin is really big. Some of those schools had not had anything done to them in a major fashion since the seventies. When you go to those schools, they know the mealy mouthed criticism of a school halls program is hollow. They know the importance to the opportunities that their kids will get by the way in which the federal Labor governments under Prime Minister Rudd and Prime Minister Gillard have given opportunity to all Australians in education and by the way in which we have indiscriminately made sure that everybody gets an opportunity to share that benefit. I say to members that the appropriation bills should be passed without amendment. (Time expired)