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Monday, 7 March 2005
Page: 40

Senator JOHNSTON (3:17 PM) —We really need some form of award for the opposition, given their misconstruction of the facts. The only time you see the faintest flicker of life or enthusiasm on the other side of this chamber is when the opposition suspect there is a bit of a free kick in some bad news. Let me remind the chamber and, indeed, all of those good people out there who are listening: this is good news for Australia. Senator George Campbell would be pleased to know that in Western Australia the current rate of unemployment is 4.6 per cent—the lowest it has been in 35 years. Everybody has a good job. We have the highest rate of average weekly earnings.

Let me suggest to the opposition that there is more good news than that: we have an economy that is the envy of the OECD and the Western world. Here is the adjudication. The OECD 2004 economic survey of Australia said that ‘in the last decade of the 20th century, Australia has become a model for other OECD countries’. It noted that the government has made commendable progress towards reforming the tax system and commented on the remarkable progress Australia has made in strengthening competition. That is all in the face of the following adversities: we have had an Asian economic meltdown, where we have seen the stock market in Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong go through the floor; we have seen SARS devastate our tourist industry; we have seen avian influenza, or the bird flu, cause massive problems in economic growth in China; we have seen historically high oil prices; and we have seen a crippling drought across the whole nation. I want to draw this point to the learned senator’s attention: interest rates throughout that drought were about 5½ to 6½ per cent, and, let me tell you, it was a lot easier then for those farmers and primary producers than it was when Labor were last in power, when they were paying 20 per cent and 30 per cent to stay alive.

We inherited a $90 billion black hole from the previous Beazley government. Our reforms and our economic approach have had the Labor Party in this chamber standing on the hose, seeking to make cheap political points at every turn of the corner. Let me tell you what they have stopped us from doing. We wanted to exempt small business from unfair dismissal laws, but do you think that was an acceptable approach to the opposition? No—they stopped that; they ganged up on the government with the Democrats and the Greens and opposed that reform. We wanted to streamline the processing of Australian workplace agreements. Do you think the opposition wanted to do that? No—they wanted to defend the CFMEU running riot on building sites throughout the country. But, let me say to every Australian’s satisfaction, come 30 June things will get better on that front.

When we introduced legislation for secret ballots in the taking of industrial action, the Labor Party, in line with their accord and their obedience to their union masters, stopped that legislation. We wanted to reform welfare to tighten the rules governing access to disability support pensions, and again the Labor Party stood on the hose. We wanted to change media ownership laws to refine and reform media ownership and the operation of media in Australia, and the opposition opposed that. We wanted to sell Telstra, and of course they opposed that. All of these reforms have been opposed by the opposition in a most politically greedy and desperate fashion, in the vain hope of seeking to establish some form of goodwill with the Australian people. Of course, we know how much goodwill they established at the last federal election: they went absolutely backwards. Notwithstanding the opposition’s obfuscation, obstruction and stand-on-the-hose mentality in this place, the government have given Australians substantial tax relief by raising the threshold for the 30c tax rate from $20,000 to $21,600. (Time expired)