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Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Page: 6098


Mr SYMON (Deakin) (16:17): It is a great pleasure to speak on today's matter of public importance about stable government and a strong economy. Stability of government can be measured in a very simple fashion. The measure is: can the government of the day propose and pass its legislative program through the parliament? The answer for the Gillard-Labor government is, definitively, yes. That is why more than 400 bills—I think, by my rough counting, 482—have passed this parliament since September 2010. There are a few people here saying that it could be even more than that, and they may all be right. I hope it is because it is a bigger measure of our success.

Every sitting day in this place since September 2010, we have heard the ranting, the complaints and the stream of abuse from those on the opposition benches and, dare I say it, their fellow travellers in the media. It is a common perception. The story of the day that comes up from the other side is usually read in the paper that morning. Despite all the words and rhetoric of September 2010 in the lead-up to Labor forming a minority government, the reality is that the Liberal and National parties have never accepted that they lost election in 2010. As the Leader of the House has said on so many occasions, it is the longest dummy spit in Australian political history, and I have to agree with him.

During the 17 days following the 2010 election, we saw statements from the Leader of the Opposition. He said he would dignify the parliament and respect whatever decision the crossbenchers made. We had the parliamentary reform agreement, which went to a point where the speakership would not have even been partisan, if that had gone the whole way through. The Liberals and the Nationals agreed to it, not under coercion, but voluntarily. It was signed by the Manager of Opposition Business and the Leader of the Opposition as well as the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House and the crossbenchers.

Every sitting day, the Liberal and National parties' whole political strategy has been to wreck the parliament and disrupt the daily proceedings. The Leader of the Opposition has boasted about wrecking about the parliament. He has tried to do it on issue after issue. Who can forget the moving of more than 50 suspensions of standing orders by the opposition during question time in this parliament? Too lazy or too arrogant to ask questions of ministers during the time specially allotted to it, the opposition have repeatedly used up this time put aside for question time as a platform to deliver their media line of the day.

What we see, and continue to see, is the first opposition in Australia's is history that are not actually worried about policy, the details or the details of what is happening during the parliamentary day. They are more concerned about what the media line is for their side rather than worrying about the debates that affect the future of our country. I think the Australian public deserves far better than that. With their current numbers, the opposition form almost half the House, yet in spite of the fact that they are in a position, if they were to win support from the crossbenchers, to make a difference to the way this nation operates, in terms of policy, they have achieved nothing through this term of the 43rd Parliament.

The constant talking down of the Australian economy by the opposition for political advantage is proven wrong time and time again, yet it is so often repeated in the conservative press that one may well think it is Groundhog Day. For example, on 12 June this year a story ran that cited the private economist from Goldman Sachs who predicted that there was only a 20 per cent chance that Australia would head into recession. I suppose that is fair enough; he is entitled to his outlook as an economist, but so are the hundreds of other private-sector economists not all of whom share that same despondent outlook. So instead of fair or balanced coverage—let alone positive coverage—on that day we saw journalists, who should know better, blindly taking the hook, splashing the word 'recession' all over the headlines and lead paragraphs as though there was some consensus to this and that it was a credible view of our economy. The consequences, as we know, of this kind of misrepresentation about our economy live on for much longer than the 24-hour news cycle.

I would much rather rely on a credible authority, one who works as a highly respected senior public servant—indeed, the Secretary of the Treasury. As the Treasury secretary, Martin Parkinson, said earlier this month:

I do not think anybody should lightly throw around accusations that we are in recession or on the verge of recession. The most important thing when you think about economies is confidence. Trashing confidence, for whatever reason and however it is done, is not something that I think is in the national interest.

That was what Martin Parkinson, the Secretary of the Treasury, had to say, and I completely concur with that statement. But the newspaper report on 12 June was the third time in the last five years that economists from Goldman Sachs have predicted the same chance of a recession in Australia. Did these predictions come to be? No, they did not. But was it mentioned in any of the TV spots or newspaper headlines on the day? Of course not.

Too often we see both the Liberal and National parties—the opposition—determined to talk down our economy at every turn; to be slippery with the truth and to tell straight-out untruths about the economy. In particular, I am reminded of the opposition leader's pledge to return growth to the economy, which I find a bit strange. It is actually more than stretching the truth; you cannot return growth to something that already has it. Our economy is growing, so it is impossible to return growth to it.

Just because the Liberal and National parties cannot accept the facts it should not give licence to others outside this place who do know better but then ignore their responsibilities to base their assertions on reality. I think that is all that anyone can ask in this place—that the facts are put out there and that people can judge those. But when other assertions are made that have no factual basis, they should not get the same sort of coverage nor, indeed, any coverage unless they can be proven.

Australia has been through the GFC and we still, of course, have the effects of the GFC. But like so many of us who have been elsewhere during that time and seen the effects on other countries, I am always amazed at how much our domestic economy is talked down by people here, almost blindly, with regard to other countries across the world. I have been to Europe and other countries in that time and seen the effects on employment rates, on investment rates and on company profitability. It is something that is pervasive; it goes right through an economy and it drags people's wills down. I think that in Australia we are an optimistic bunch, most of us. We do look at the bright side of things because we have very good reasons to in this country—and that is a great thing.

Since late 2007 our economy has grown more than any major advanced economy to become the 12th largest in the world, climbing up from 15th. But if you look at that in terms of population we are only the 51st-largest country in the world. That is not a bad example for anyone to follow. We have unemployment with a rate that starts with a 'five' and an official cash rate at 2.75. And, even more importantly, from the point of view of someone who has a mortgage, we have a variable mortgage rate now at the bank that I use—Members Equity—of 5.63 per cent. One only has to think back to a few years ago when it was almost impossible to get a variable rate loan under 10 per cent. In fact, when my wife and I first took out our loan our house it started at nine per cent, and within six months it had gone over the 10 per cent rate. So if we look at how much mortgage rates have gone down over that period of time, the savings to households are huge.

The wiser households, rather than just spending that money on something else, of course have used it to pay down their debt. That is a good thing; that is a great thing, because so many people do worry about how much money they owe. That is fair enough. Having low interest rates is one of the best things that a government can do for our economy to help out people in that situation.

The position of strength that our economy faces is better than just about everywhere else in the world, but it is not the same world that we see those opposite living in. It always strikes me that where we see opportunity and where we see a future, from the other side of this place we see this never-ending stream of negativity. One would have thought that Australia had gone down the drain. Of course, it is far from it, and I will finish on this positive note: I know that the Gillard Labor government has been a great force for our economy through the GFC, to take us to where we are now and to lead us on to even better and brighter things in the future.