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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2061


Mr CLARE (BlaxlandMinister for Home Affairs and Minister for Justice) (16:05): The member for North Sydney is usually a pretty good speaker but that would have to be one of the worst speeches he has ever given in this place. It was a 15-minute boring spray. It was so boring the member for Moncrieff was on his BlackBerry through the whole speech; the member for Cowan, who has left now, was on his BlackBerry as well; and the member for Menzies was on his iPad through the whole speech—such enthusiasm the opposition showed to support their shadow treasurer.

It has been a tough week for the government but one thing has been tougher than that, and that was sitting through that speech. It has only taken 15 minutes from the member for North Sydney to remind us why this Labor government is so important, why unity is so important, because the alternative is that. The alternative is a 15-minute spray with nothing about the economy. This is an MPI about confidence in the economy and the member for North Sydney did not even talk about the importance of confidence in the economy. He just made an attack on the Treasurer, the man who helped to lead this country through the global economic crisis. That is a bit rich coming from this opposition led by a man who Peter Costello said you could not trust with the economy, by a man who his former boss John Hewson said was innumerate, by somebody who thinks that the NBN is just for video games, by someone who opposes everything in this place and stands for nothing. He is the Nancy Reagan of Australian politics without the astrology—say no to everything, just rancid, dripping, relentless negativity. The greatest threat that our disunity poses is that it puts Australia and the Australian economy at risk of that.

A political party pays a heavy price for disunity because disunity camouflages your strengths and camouflages your opposition's weaknesses. Conversely, unity changes everything. Unity is your ticket to the contest. When you are united the people of Australia give you permission to explain your achievements and what you plan to achieve in the future. They also give you permission to legitimately critique your opposition. This opposition deserves to be critiqued. This is supposed to be a debate about the economy. The fact is, our economic record is strong and the opposition's is not. Our sweet spot is their weak spot—economic management.

The most important job of a federal government is to keep the economy strong. That is important because it means people have jobs. It means they can afford to look after their families. They can buy a house. They can pay off the mortgage. They can make sure that their kids have a good education. And that is what drives the government. That is why the Treasurer acted quickly during the global financial crisis. And the result of that? It meant that Australia was one of only a few countries around the world that did not go into recession in the last four years.

The Australian economy—this will put this debate in perspective—is now eight per cent larger than it was before the global financial crisis. Compare that to the rest of the world: Canada has grown by 2.8 per cent; Germany has grown by 1.8 per cent; the United States has not grown at all; Italy has shrunk by 4.1 per cent; Japan has shrunk by 2.8 per cent; France has shrunk by 4.2 per cent; the great United Kingdom has shrunk by 3.7 per cent; and, at the same time, Australia has grown by eight per cent, more than any of those countries. This is the real measure of confidence—growth.

What is its impact? The impact is jobs for Australians. We have created more than 700,000 jobs in this country in the last four years at a time when the 20 biggest economies around the world have lost 20 million jobs. Our unemployment rate is half that of many other countries around the world. Our unemployment rate is 5.1 per cent; in the US it is 8.3 per cent; in the UK it is 8.4 per cent; in Greece it is 19.2 per cent; in Spain it is 22.9 per cent. This is our record and it is something we on this side of the House are very proud of.

We have also cut income taxes. From 1 July this year someone on $50,000 a year will pay 21 per cent less in tax than when we came to government; someone on $35,000 a year will pay 40 per cent less tax than when we came to government; and, someone on $20,000 a year will pay no tax at all. We have increased the childcare rebate. We have increased the pension. We have introduced the first paid parental leave scheme in Australia's history. We are increasing superannuation from nine per cent to 12 per cent. This means someone on $50,000 now who is 30 years old will have an extra $100,000 to retire on. Next financial year we will return the budget to surplus ahead of every other major advanced economy in the world—the fastest budget turnaround since records have been kept.

What does all this mean? It means for the first time in Australia's history that we have a AAA credit rating from all three ratings agencies—something the great Liberal Party never achieved. These are the facts that reveal the real strength of the Australian economy. After just over four years of this Labor government, the Australian economy is stronger now compared to the rest of the world than ever before. Unfortunately, a lot of this has been masked. It has also masked the opposition's incompetence.

Well, I say, enough of that. This debate gives us an opportunity to shine a light on the crack economic team we just saw on display a moment earlier—the presumptive airs of Peter Costello and John Howard, the Leader of the Opposition, the member for North Sydney, the member for Goldstein, that great team which said we were going to go into recession and we did not, the team which said we would lose one million jobs when in fact we created 700,000 jobs, the team which said stimulus was not necessary to keep the Australian economy strong during the global financial crisis, the team which said that the global financial crisis was a hiccup, the team which refused to have their policies costed by Treasury at the last election and asked another company to do it for them. I remember the member for Goldstein said that their work 'would be as good as you could get anywhere in the country, as good as Treasury'. That did not prove to be the case because when Treasury had a look after the election they found an $11 billion hole in their costings and a professional conduct tribunal ended up fining the two accountants who did that work for the Liberal Party.

It gets worse, because the $11 billion hole we had just after the election has now turned into a $70 billion black hole. To put that in perspective for everyone listening today, that is about the same amount as the cuts the Greek government will have to make. One minute they promise a surplus, the next they do not. One minute they say they will have tax cuts in their first term, now they do not. This is amateur hour, and I say that apologising to all the amateurs around Australia. Why? Because the Leader of the Opposition and his crack economic team are writing cheques that the Liberal Party cannot cash. They are making promises that will mean they cannot return the budget to surplus.

Mr Fletcher: That is not to talk about four deficits in a row.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): Order! The member for Bradfield!

Mr CLARE: It will mean that when this government brings the budget back to surplus the Liberal Party would deliver deficit after deficit across the forward estimates.

Mr Fletcher interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Bradfield is warned.

Mr CLARE: Perhaps the most perplexing element to this crack economic team's economic record is their decision to take away tax cuts from small business and give it back to big mining companies. This is the party that was born out of small business—Menzies' forgotten people, the people they once said they would look after—and they now want to rip away tax cuts for small business and give it to billionaires, to big mining companies. Robert Menzies would be spinning in his grave if he heard this now. This is not the party of Menzies anymore. It is not even the party of John Howard or Peter Costello anymore. Remember what I said earlier: you would not trust this man to run the economy. Nor should the Australian people. They want a debate about the economy. I say, terrific. This is the battle ground that most Australians care about. It affects their lives every single day. This government has the ammunition to have that debate.

Let's compare our record against your record. Have a look at these figures. Jobs are higher now than they have ever been before—more than 11,400,000 are now employed. Inflation is lower now than it was when the Liberal Party left office. Under us, underlying inflation is 2.6 per cent. When they left office it was outside the RBA's target band at 3.7 per cent. The cash rate is lower than it was under them. It is 4.25 per cent, while it was 6.75 when they left office. The cost of the average mortgage is lower now than it was when the Liberal Party left office. An average family—and there are plenty of them in my electorate—paying off a mortgage of $300,000 now pays $3,000 less a year in mortgage repayments. Government spending is also lower. Under this government real spending growth averages 1.5 per cent over the forward estimates. Under them, spending blew out to 3.7 per cent over the last five years. Under this government real wages have also grown faster. Real wages have grown by eight per cent since November 2007. Real wages grew by only 5.4 per cent over the last four years of the last Liberal government. These are the facts and this is our record.

It is a fact that politics is about choices. At the next election the people of Australia will have a choice. If they vote for the Labor Party they will get this sort of economic management. If they vote for the Liberal Party, who knows what sort of economic management they would get. If they vote for the Labor Party they will get tax cuts. If they vote for the Liberal Party, we now know that tax cuts are just an aspiration. Vote for the Labor Party and they will know we are giving an increase to pensioners. Vote for the Liberal Party and they will take that increase to pensioners back. Vote for the Labor Party and the people of Australia will get the National Broadband Network. Vote for the Liberal Party and they will rip that network out. Vote for the Labor Party and you will get the budget back into surplus. Vote for the Liberal Party and you will get a $70 billion black hole. Vote for the Labor Party and you will get a national disability insurance scheme. If you vote for the Liberal Party you will not. If you vote for the Liberal Party, as the people of New South Wales have seen in the last few weeks, you end up with disabled kids on the side of the road waiting for a bus that never comes.

That is the choice the people of Australia will have, and it is time it was known. It is time that this lazy, incompetent opposition, who cannot even speak about the economy for 15 minutes—and I am encouraging the next speaker to try to speak about the economy for longer than the member for North Sydney—was exposed for what they are. They are not the party of Menzies any more. They are not the party of Howard and Costello any more. They cannot even pretend to be Peter Costello or John Howard by standing on their shoulders.

We are happy to have this economic debate. We are happy to have it every day of the week, because we have the record and we are very happy to compare it against yours. When you compare our record on the economy to yours the choice is clear.