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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4704


Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (11:11): I rise to speak on the motion moved by the member for Petrie. In beginning I say that this place deals with two great responsibilities. One is ensuring Australia's national security; the other is the management of the national economy in the best interests of all Australians. I congratulate the member for Petrie for raising this motion today and bringing the attention of the House to the Australian economy, but that is where the congratulations must end. That contribution was as delusional as the contribution we will hear in this House in about 50 minutes time.

This government is causing five great problems for our economy and for our future. There are two things I will pick the member for Petrie up on. The first is that governments do not create jobs; entrepreneurs—wealth creators—create jobs. But all they see at the moment, particularly from the Treasurer, is constant attacks on them and their ability to go out and create those jobs. We have heard the rhetoric of the last few weeks. Jacques Nasser, the chairman of the BHP board and one of Australia's most respected businesspeople, said last week that the attacks—the class warfare—that this government is pursuing is dragging our economy down even further.

The second thing I must raise with the member for Petrie's contribution is that the reforms of today will affect the economy of the future, just as the reforms of yesterday affect how the economy operates today. If we look at history, we can point to the fact that the reforms of the Howard and Costello era were the reasons that Australia was able to successfully handle the crisis that came about in 2008. Undoubtedly the reforms of the 2000s introduced by John Howard and Peter Costello were the reason that in 2008 the Australian economy was able to deal with the buffeting it experienced in international waters. We were also lucky in the sense that we are well positioned in this century to be able to take advantage of the Asian economic drive. In 2008, when the crisis hit, there was no government debt; there was a huge opportunity for government to rely on fiscal policy to address international events. We said rightly at the time of the crisis—and we still say—that the government's measures were too much and that there would be too much waste. People in the gallery today will know of the waste which has been built up since that time. Programs such as the overpriced school halls and the pink batts were just two examples of the waste contained in the government's stimulus package. Also, cash payments went to dead people, to people living overseas and to animals. We know that all these wasteful programs were part of the government's response—a response they were able to put in place because the fiscal policy of the Howard and Costello governments was so strong that they did not have any debt when they came to government.

The other factor that helped us get through that period was that the labour relations laws operating at the time were pre the so-called Fair Work Act. That factor gave businesses the flexibility needed to handle the reduction in growth. These same Fair Work Act laws are the ones this Labor government now stands by and are causing so many problems in our economy—and I will come back to that.

As I said earlier, I will put forward five reasons that this government's management of the economy will cause long-term and significant harm to our future prosperity. The first is that the government is spending far more than it earns. Since it came to office, it has increased spending from the approximately $270 billion of the last Howard-Costello budget to some nearly $370 billion in the current budget. That is a massive increase in government spending in that time. The second—and I think we will hear more about this in 45 minutes—is the confidence-sapping inability of this government to manage anything properly. The country sees that inability and this minority government's failure and sees a desperate need for an election to clear all this up. The third reason—and I note that the member for Petrie, who has left the chamber, refused to mention it—is the reverse tariff carbon tax, which will come into force in just five weeks time, and the massive impact it will have on the Australian economy at the wrong time. The fourth reason, thanks to this government, is that our economy is mired in red tape, is overregulated and has particularly devastating industrial relations laws, which are causing untold damage to both big and small business. The final reason is that this government is obsessed with tying down our most successful industry at a time when we should be trying to encourage that successful industry to take advantage of the unique circumstances that we face.

It is not just us making these points. Last week we heard quite an astonishing speech by Jac Nasser, the chairman of BHP. He reflected on three or four major areas of the current government's management of the Australian economy. In particular, regarding industrial relations, he said:

Restrictive labour regulations have quickly become one of the most problematic factors for doing business in Australia.

Today we have seen even more evidence of that, with Tom Albanese, the head of Rio Tinto, one of our great companies in Australia—one of our big employers and big exporters—saying:

… I'm sorry to say now that, lately, when I speak with investors around the world they say to me: 'Tom, are you worried about your over-exposure to Australia?'

That is not a good thing. That is damning testimony of where Australia fits. It is not something to be fretful about, but it is something that should be recognised as a problem—and it is indeed a major problem.

Mr Perrett: There's too much investment in Australia!

Mr BRIGGS: The problem is that the planned investment is now being reconsidered. The biggest reconsideration—and, as a South Australian, I am highly fearful of this—is the investment in Olympic Dam. The Olympic Dam project is one of South Australia's great opportunities to take advantage of the unique circumstances in our region. Make no mistake about this: the Olympic Dam project is now in doubt because of the federal Labor government's policies, which are making doing business in mining in Australia too expensive. Jac Nasser, the chairman of the BHP board, said exactly this last week.

The member for Moreton may know everything about every other subject in this place, but I suspect he does not know more about the BHP business than Jac Nasser does. I think Jac Nasser knows a little more than the member for Moreton about his business and the investment that was planned for Olympic Dam but is now at grave risk. There is a grave risk to the South Australian and Australian economies because of your policies, Member for Moreton. Because of the policies your government is implementing, the reforms of today will affect the performance of the economy tomorrow, and this will hang over the federal Labor Party for a generation. The performance of this government—with the debt it has built up, the re-regulation of Australia's labour market, the mire of red tape that Australian business is now caught in and the cost of doing business in our country, at a time when we should be freeing the economy to take advantage of the growth in Asia—is a disgrace, and this motion should be amended to reflect so.

This motion should be amended to reflect the great damage that this government is doing not just to business confidence and to the reputation of this great institution, the federal parliament, but to the Australian economy in the future. I bemoan the fact that too much attention is directed to the great scandals which we see before us today, brought to you by the federal Labor Party, and not enough of the Australian people's attention is directed to the great policy shamefulness that this government has inflicted on our future generations.

Far and away one of Australia's most respected economists, Warwick McKibbin, wrote very clearly about this in the Australian Financial Review:

Right now, the Australian economy faces a perfect storm. The federal government has bet that a crisis in Europe will not happen during the 2012-13 financial year.

The financial year starts on July 1, when a carbon tax set four times above the world price begins to raise input costs, particularly energy costs. No amount of compensation changes the economic negativity of this shock.

…   …   …

Unsound political decisions have put the global economy into a dangerous position. Australia has wandered aimlessly down this same path thanks largely to a minority government. In the wash-up of events over the next several years, one hopes that some of those responsible for putting Australia unnecessarily in the eye of a perfect storm are held to account.

And, my word, they will be. When the government finally take us to an election, the Australian public will know. They will blame you for the economic chaos you have caused our country. (Time expired)