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Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Page: 5128


Mr DREYFUS (IsaacsCabinet Secretary, Parliamentary Secretary for Industry and Innnovation and Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency) (16:35): It is a pleasure today to rise to speak on the appropriation bills and the budget. Like many Australians, I am very happy with this budget because it is a very good budget. It is a very well-crafted budget and it is one that I know my colleagues are rightfully very proud of. The budget is good for the economy and it is good for Australians.

It says a lot about the values of this government and, indeed, the values of our Treasurer that even when we need to make tough cuts we are able to ensure that we increase assistance to low- and middle-income families and pensioners. It says a lot about the values of this government that even while delivering on our commitment to return the budget to surplus we are able to make a down payment on important social reforms such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The disability insurance scheme is all about making life easier for those who have a disability and for their families and carers—decent people who often work very hard and give so much of their life to looking after their loved ones. The Gillard Labor government believe that, as a society, we should make sure that we do all we can to improve support and services to these people to make their life a little easier. It also says a lot about the values of our government and, indeed, about the economic nous of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer that in these tough times we continue to make the long-term investments that we need in schools, in training, in education and in infrastructure. This is because we know that education is not the only key determinant of a nation's long-term prosperity but that education is the great enabler that opens up an individual's life path to better jobs, to higher wages and to improved health and social outcomes.

I also want to talk a little about the current economic environment. We can see that many economies in Europe face deep economic challenges as they struggle to deal with their sovereign debt crisis and restore growth. Developments in Europe have triggered volatility in global financial markets—the US share market is down by seven per cent since the start of May and the Australian market is down by eight per cent. We are not immune from this economic instability but, because we took action during the global financial crisis, supporting jobs through our stimulus package, we are in a very good position to weather what is happening abroad. While some sectors of the economy are hurting from a high dollar, we are doing very well as a nation. We have strong growth, low unemployment, contained inflation, a huge pipeline of investment, very low debt and we are returning the budget to surplus on time as promised.

Let us put these facts in context. Solid growth means that our economy is expected to outperform every single major advanced economy over the next two years. Our unemployment rate is 4.9 per cent. That is less than half the rate seen across Europe—10.9 per cent—and far below other advanced economies. And, we have a fantastic record of job creation with around 800,000 jobs created since Labor came to office.

I would like to take a moment to reflect on the government's record on jobs because it is a tremendous achievement. If we had listened to the opposition, who did not support our stimulus package, we would be in a situation where hundreds of thousands more Australians were out of a job. Around 70 per cent of the stimulus package was devoted to building infrastructure which will have a long-term legacy for our nation. In my electorate of Isaacs alone, over $108 million has been invested under the Building the Education Revolution program in improving the quality of education provided to students and generating jobs. This investment kept the construction industry going during 2009 and 2010 and into 2011, a time when there was a sharp downturn in other projects in the construction industry across Australia and in my electorate. I heard time and time again when I went to open Building the Education Revolution projects in my electorate not only congratulations from school communities on the lasting benefits to their schools of the buildings that were constructed but also congratulations from those involved in the building of those projects—tradespeople and people in the construction industry who knew and indeed said to me often, 'Were it not for this Building the Education Revolution program I would be at home with my feet on the couch twiddling my thumbs while I looked for work.' That is the difference we have made.

It is worth contemplating the difference that has been made by the stimulus package and indeed the difference that is made by that kind of economic policy in general. It is worth contemplating the waste that would have occurred had we not stimulated the economy. The waste I am talking about is the waste that comes with recession—failed businesses, lost jobs and long-term unemployment. The opposition loves to wallow in talking about waste, which occurs in every single human activity: it is always possible to point with the benefit of hindsight to some kind of waste somewhere in some project. But there are two kinds of waste. There is the first kind of waste, which I have just spoken of—lost jobs, failed businesses and long-term unemployment—and the other kind of waste, which is some overspending in some aspects of some projects and, even there, just to take the Building the Education Revolution program as an example, only a very small proportion of projects were identified as having generated some kind of waste. Given the choice between the two kinds of waste, I know the kind of waste that I would prefer. We stand for jobs. We have generated jobs, and we have also acted by getting rid of Work Choices to make sure that, when people do have a job, it is a secure and fairly paid job. That is what we stand for, and that is because we manage the economy in the interests of working people.

The list of economic achievements goes on. There is low inflation—it is well within the target band at 2.1 per cent in the March quarter; there are low interest rates—the cash rate is sitting at 3.75 per cent, lower than at any time under the 11½ years of the previous coalition government; we have very low debt—net debt as a percentage of GDP will peak at around one-tenth of the level of the average across major advanced economies; and now, as promised, we are returning the budget to surplus in 2012-13, ahead of every single major advanced economy. Our strong fundamentals together with our proven track record make us uniquely placed to deal with the worst that the world can throw at us. The budget gets our economic settings right because, by returning the nation's finances to surplus, we give ourselves a buffer to act in the future. We acted decisively to stimulate the economy after the global financial crisis by going into a temporary deficit and now, as the economy improves, we are allowing monetary policy to play a bigger role.

People listening to the bleatings of the opposition should bear in mind that this is a growing economy: it is in growth, and is going to continue to grow. Those indicators that I have just run through should come as a reality check to those opposite, who continue to talk the economy down at every opportunity. I see that the member for Indi is with us in the chamber. She is one of those who talks down the economy for partisan and temporary political advantage at every opportunity, ignoring the economic indicators that on every measure show the strength of our economy and the skill with which we as a Labor government have managed this economy in the interests of working people. The budget has been well received by Australians, and I think this is because at heart Australians are an egalitarian bunch—we understand, and indeed expect, that fairness will be at the heart of economic policy-making. I know that those opposite have no regard for fairness. When they have been in government they have shown that and also from opposition, with their rejection of those parts of the budget that they have thus far been able to bring themselves to express a view about—because one would not actually know, listening to the opposition leader's budget reply speech—such as the schoolkids bonus, something that will help Australian families with kids at school deal with the costs that they are facing. That policy, that measure, has been rejected by those opposite.

I think that emphasis on fairness is why people have been so supportive of the tough savings that have been made in this budget, and indeed people have been encouraged by the support that we have given to parents, to pensioners, to students and to the unemployed. As the Treasurer often reminds us, for many Australians it feels like it is someone else's mining boom. That is why our budget contains important measures to help households make ends meet. More than 1.5 million families will benefit from increases to Family Tax Benefit Part A from 1 July next year, with nearly half of those taking home an extra $600 a year. Again, we can say that, because of the rejection of this policy by the shadow Treasury spokesman, the member for North Sydney, who has rejected this increase in Family Tax Benefit Part A, those opposite simply do not care about the cost of living, do not care about those struggling to make ends meet in our society.

There is to be a new supplementary payment which will help the unemployed, students and parents on income support meet the costs of essential bills, worth $210 a year for singles and $350 a year for couples. This package, combined with the new schoolkids bonus, which will support over 9,000 families in my electorate, will provide around $5 billion in total in support to households, which will in turn support consumption, business activity and jobs across the economy. And of course this builds on the household assistance we have already announced as part of the clean energy future package that will see increases in family payments, allowances and pensions begin flowing over the next few weeks as well as tax cuts for all taxpayers earning up to $80,000 a year from 1 July through a tripling of the tax-free threshold—another measure which the opposition have made clear they are quite happy to take away; another measure which the opposition oppose.

I want to finish up before commending the bills to the House to remark on what has been another shameful and misleading scare campaign being waged by the opposition, who long ago departed from reality when it comes to economic growth—or, indeed, addressing climate change for that matter. But I am not going to talk about the scare campaign on climate change; I am going to talk about the scare campaign on debt which the opposition have been running. It is nothing more than a misleading attempt to garner some economic credibility, and I can understand why the opposition might crave economic credibility: because this is an opposition which would have stood idly by and let hundreds of thousands of Australians lose their jobs by failing to act when the global financial crisis hit. This is an opposition which have a $70 billion black hole in their costings—self-admitted.

Let's be clear: Australia's public finances are among the strongest in the world, underpinned by very low public debt, strong fiscal discipline and a return to surplus in 2012-13. We did the right thing going into temporary deficit to stimulate the economy after the global financial crisis; we acted to ensure that this crisis did not turn into a prolonged recession here, as it has in so many other nations. Australia's net debt peaks at around one-tenth of the average of major advanced economies. For the first time in Australia's history we have been awarded the gold plated AAA credit rating by all three global rating agencies—a status never achieved by the Liberal government in its 11½ years of government. And now, again by way of comparison with other countries, Australia is one of only eight countries in the world to have that AAA credit rating with a stable outlook from all three major rating agencies.

This is a very good budget. We are returning the budget to surplus, on time and as promised. It is a fair budget because we are spreading the benefits of the mining boom to help families on modest incomes and small business. And it is a budget for the long term because it gets us back in the black while continuing to make investments in the nation's future—investments in education, in training, in health and in infrastructure.