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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4712

Dr STONE (Murray) (11:46): I cannot believe that the Labor Party would willingly expose itself to commentary on the state of the economy by putting forward this motion. Everybody knows that it was the strength of the regulation of our banking system, and the $70 billion-plus in the bank which the Costello-Howard government managed to leave to this new government after it had paid down all of Labor's debt, which helped us survive the global financial crisis. The tragedy, of course, is that under Labor we are back into deep debt and deficit, borrowing over $100 million a day, and we are told by this government that there is now an enormous and urgent need to increase the borrowing limits so that, basically, it can borrow even more—a legacy we will inherit at the next election to pay back once again. So I am absolutely astounded that we have been given this opportunity to say it like it is.

The fact is that national statistics disguise the patchwork economy, as quoted in this motion. There is, for example, a deep constriction of economic activity in some areas. Some are doing quite nicely—for example, in the mining economies of parts of Western Australia—but in the regional areas in southern and eastern Australia there is a markedly different story. I think of the more than 100 empty shops and small businesses in my regional centre of Shepparton, a situation which has us worried sick as we contemplate and count down how many months are left of this government before we can put the show right with a change to the coalition.

But let us stay with the national statistics for one moment. Let us look at the real indicators of what this country thinks about this government. Mums and dads are frightened about their futures—obviously, given who is in charge of the country and the national policy and the finances. There is a real fear of the future and a collectively held breath across the nation—consider, for example, the construction sector. This is a major generator of jobs and has a multiplier effect across the economy. In the first seven months of this financial year, dwelling approvals collapsed by some 14,000. That is 14,000 fewer construction home approvals to February 2012. Vehicle sales, another key indicator of families' and businesses' faith in their future, were down nearly 17 per cent in the months from November to February 2012. In January this year, youth unemployment figures for 15- to 24-year-olds in the Goulburn-Ovens-Murray statistical region were 18.1 per cent, compared to 12 per cent for January for the nation. In February this figure was 17.4 per cent of young people in the rural region unemployed, compared to just 13.3 per cent in the nation. Youth unemployment was 19.4 per cent for the region in March, a shocking statistic, compared to only 12.7 per cent for the nation. In April the unemployment rate for youth was 14.4 per cent in my area and just 10.9 per cent for the nation.

So let us really quote what is happening out there. National statistics are like damned lies when you do not burrow down and see what is actually happening on the ground. No developed nation, surely, can tolerate such a difference in life chances and life experience between those who live in the more favoured places in the capital cities and those who live in the places beyond the suburbs, beyond the tram tracks, beyond the access to public transport and beyond the places where I acknowledge there are jobs still being generated in some sectors but those sectors are basically places like Centrelink dealing with the unemployed. I have to tell you that, according to the national statistics for retail sales, people are also showing an extreme lack of enthusiasm for going out and borrowing more right now or buying the essentials. Only the food category showed a small increase in retail sales as per the ABS statistics.

I am appalled and shocked, too, that this motion refers to the 'knowledge economy'. We all know that NAPLAN is a farce—it is not a sensible way to measure your children's increasing knowledge across the nation—but we already have NAPLAN indicating that there is a substantial drop in literacy, numeracy and people being able to interpret literature. We are failing in the OECD league tables when we are compared with some of our Asian developed neighbours in terms of our kids being able to understand and compete well in maths, science and overall literacy and numeracy. This government stands condemned for what it has done. (Time expired)