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Monday, 3 March 2014
Page: 1378


Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (18:08): I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2013-2014, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2013-2014 and the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 2) 2013-2014. In these bills, the government is requesting that parliament approve additional expenditure, which largely reflects the government's decisions outlined in the 2013-14 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2013-2014 seeks approval for additional appropriations of just under $11.6 billion from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The departmental appropriation provided in the bill is a one-off measure for the Department of Parliamentary Services operating costs for the 2013-14 financial year. Much of this is pretty standard, although I am not sure what chunk of those funds will be devoted towards moving the Attorney-General's bookshelf. I understand that it will be a significant part of that. I know it is a significant operation. It is soon to be a tourism project in Parliament House in and of itself, so I look forward to that adding to the tourism in the ACT, and I am sure that the Australian people are happy that they have contributed to nearly 50 metres of bookshelf for the Attorney-General! He does have a lot of books.

It has been six months since the election, so we are one-sixth of the way through the election cycle. Obviously, appropriations are all about governments laying out their agenda. So it is timely to have a look at where we were before the election on 7 September and also have a look at the state of play now, before I touch on some of the appropriation items.

When the Australian Labor Party took office in 2007, the Australian economy was the 15th largest in the world. When we left six months ago, our economy was the 12th largest in the world. It is also good to look at a few other things, just in case some of those other nations had changed. Six months ago, the ASX was trading at a five-year high. GDP was 2.6 per cent. Unemployment, at 5.7 per cent, was still the envy of the world. Inflation was at 2.4 per cent. Australia had been given a AAA credit rating by all three ratings agencies. We had experienced 22 years of continuous growth, so growth that had come in under Hawke and Keating had continued under Howard and then on to the Labor governments. As well, about one million jobs were created during that time of Labor being in office.

And then there were the other factors beyond those dry economic figures. According to the OECD's measurement of the best and happiest country in the world, Australia won those titles in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Obviously there were challenges, but it was helped by having those record low interest rates and government gross debt to GDP at 20 per cent. Then there were those other social investments, such as investing in education, as in the Gonski plan, and the NDIS—significant achievements that will be seen for years to come.

I would also put in there other significant investments like putting a price on carbon. I know you have a young child, Deputy Speaker Vasta. You obviously want to make sure that there is a planet around for your young child so that when he gives you grandchildren you will be able to talk to them. It is important that we put a price on carbon, and the most effective way to do that is obviously a market—not by buying magic dirt but by having a market. It is the most cost-effective mechanism. And obviously, as we transition our economy, we need to invest in the jobs of the future. How do you do that? You invest in the National Broadband Network. They are some of the Labor legacies. I just wanted to touch base to compare where we were.

Obviously, before the election, where the Liberal and National parties received significant support from the Australian community, there were lots of promises. I seem to recall the then Leader of the Opposition, now Prime Minister Abbott, stating repeatedly that, if debt is the problem, more debt is not the answer. Since coming into government the Liberal-National Party government has borrowed about $50 billion. I will touch on that a little bit later.

They also said some other things. I remember running in 2007, 2010 and 2013. There were some joint tickets, such as on the renewable energy target. I know that there are climate change sceptics in the government at the moment, but basically everyone agreed that it was a good thing to invest in the renewable energy target—and also in jobs, taxation, health and education. All of those things were big-ticket items where the promises made before the election were completely different to how the government have acted since the election, in the last six months.

In fact, I remember those billboards about debt and discussions about debt. Every second press conference was about debt. And then one of the first pieces of legislation to go through this parliament was where the Liberal and National parties joined up with the Greens to effectively bring in unlimited debt, even after Prime Minister Abbott, in opposition, talking endlessly about our skyrocketing debt. Then they came in and brought in legislation to bring in unlimited debt. In the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook there were changes made to allow these increased debt levels.

This is the oldest trick in the book. It is basically where a government, when it comes in, says: 'Oh, my goodness! Look at the books! Look at these horrible things! We'll have to have a big audit, and then we'll start bringing in cuts.' I have seen the play book. You have seen the play book, Deputy Speaker Vasta, because it occurred right in Queensland under Premier Newman. They came in. They brought in an independent, trusted figure—sorry, no, they brought in Peter Costello; I beg your pardon!

He said, 'You need to cut things, you need to sell off assets.' That is what we have taking place in Queensland.

We look at the playbook being followed by Prime Minister Abbott who comes in with a bit of fudging of the figures, in terms of looking at PEFO and MYEFO, to say, 'No, the debt is horrible.' Then we wait for the commission of cuts, the National Commission of Audit, to provide its data. Obviously, it will particularly attack the lower to middle class. It will not be looking for savings in things like the mining tax, a profit-based tax, which is something that every sensible Liberal Party person should support. It would mean when businesses are making super profits, they give money to the Australian economy—to the Australian people. They are a little bit cyclical; that is the nature of the coalmining and iron ore industry. We had this argument 30 or 40 years ago when we were talking about offshore petroleum as well. It has delivered nearly $30 billion of savings to the Australian people. I could never understand why a Liberal government would be against this mining tax.

Let us have a look at what has happened in the last six months. The government's first budget document includes a $17 billion blow-out. This is a 50 per cent increase in the budget deficit compared to what we had outlined. Why is that? It is because a significant part of it is giving money to the Reserve Bank, nearly $9 billion. The Treasurer's decision to top up the Reserve Bank with $8.8 billion of borrowed money lacks any evidence. It is hard to see why he would do that. There are a couple of different reasons floating around; one is that he said that Labor had taken a larger dividend from the bank and that it seemed appropriate. However, if you adjust for inflation, the Howard government took about $3 billion per year from the Reserve Bank and Labor only about $1½ billion per year.

It is a simple tactic from the Treasurer to shift the blame onto somebody else—to target Labor. It is one of the sad things about this job. What I saw in opposition for six years I have seen continue for the last six months. There is no vision, no planning for the future and no fighting for jobs. Instead we have had more and more job cuts announced and we do not seem to have a plan emerging out of those opposite at all.

The reality is we have had job cuts announced at Holden, job cuts announced at Qantas and job cuts announced throughout the economy. When we left, there was solid growth projected by the same people who are giving information to the Treasurer. They projected solid growth. We know that the unemployment rate was low by historical standards. It still needed more work to be done, particularly in the area of youth unemployment; I know that is an emerging issue on the south side of Brisbane and in Brisbane generally. We do need to do more.

Under Labor we had gross debt projected to peak at $370 billion in 2016-17. That is the reality. There are calls from some to increase taxes, but I need to point out a few things. The federal tax-to-GDP ratio was 24 per cent under the Howard government. When we left it fell to 23 per cent. I know there are arguments about that, especially around some of those investments in social infrastructure like the NDIS and Gonski education funding. While they are social policies, they do deliver economic benefits. If you add together local and state government taxes we are still effectively a low-tax country. If you compare us to countries like the United Kingdom and New Zealand and work out their levels of government, they are nudging 40 per cent of GDP. That is nowhere near what we have here.

Now I come back to jobs. This has been a big issue in the parliament last week and this week. I remember an ad from when I was younger. I would leave St George and come to Brisbane where we would see commercial TV. I remember the advertisement that went 'Football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars.' Now, sadly, under this Treasurer—a guy named after the Prime Minister of the day, Chifley, when the first Holden car rolled off the line—we have pressure on the Qantas kangaroo. It would be a shame to think that we are a nation that does not have a national airline; a nation that does not have our own cars. Who knows what the next target will be for Mr Abbott? Whether it will be football or meat pies I am yet to see. Effectively, we have seen 7,100 full-time jobs lost across the economy in January, taking the number of full-time jobs lost since the government was elected only six months ago to 63,300.

Given Labor's six per cent unemployment, I ask the government to reconsider this stand-off approach. I know they have articulated a stand-off approach when it comes to public transport; they made that clear. They are not interested in investing in public transport, I understand that. But when it comes to jobs, surely they need to see the cost to society. They keep talking about the global financial crisis, forgetting that under Labor 200,000 jobs losses were averted. What does that mean? It is an easy figure to roll off, but that means households were kept together. That means kids did not have the shame, embarrassment and stress associated with having no jobs in the house. I am proud of that record under Prime Minister Rudd and Prime Minister Gillard. We kept people in their jobs. We kept the unemployment rate under six per cent.

Sadly, the current government is making decisions to assist the wealthy and those Australians who are in stable jobs. It seems to be a tactic where they are suggesting that anyone connected with unions. The unions' negotiating power tends to mean more stable jobs and higher returns. That is the fundamental benefit of enterprise bargaining. It is something that those opposite do not seem to understand. We do not want to go back to those days of centralised wage fixing. We need a market mechanism, and enterprise bargaining is that mechanism.

If they believe we should just let the market rip, I can take them to countries where that occurs. It is a horror for society, a horror for communities and a horror for young people in particular. It entrenches privilege, and that is not the sort of Australia we are about. We have always been a country where people have been able to get on in life, mainly through the mechanisms of support in the workplace and education—the two things that seem to be in the crosshairs for Mr Abbott and Mr Pyne.

Obviously, productivity is a significant factor. I remember the productivity data when we took office. It was effectively at zero. It is starting to trend northwards. Things like the NBN and some of the other major infrastructure investments are a good thing. I know infrastructure investment is something Australia does well. When we took office, of OECD nations, we were ranked 20th. When we left office, in terms of public infrastructure, we were ranked first. That turnaround will bring benefits and jobs for the Australian community for years to come.

It is now 177 days since the election. Prime Minister Abbott committed to an employment forum in my electorate to occur within 100 days of the election. That has not occurred. I am writing to him to ask for it to occur as quickly as possible. (Time expired)