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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 55

Senator HURLEY (4:13 PM) —It was interesting to hear that diatribe, but let us talk about a few of the facts here. In the article under discussion the Prime Minister wrote:

Neo-liberalism and the free-market fundamentalism it has produced has been revealed as little more than personal greed dressed up as an economic philosophy.

He went on to say:

The current crisis is the culmination of a 30-year domination of economic policy by a free market ideology that has been variously called neo-liberalism, economic liberalism, economic fundamentalism, Thatcherism or the Washington consensus.

Neo-liberalism is a late 20th century philosophic doctrine, a continuation of classical liberalism influenced by the neoclassical theories of economics. The central principle of neo-liberal policy is untrammelled free markets and free trade.

Senator Brandis —That is the policy you took to the last election.

Senator HURLEY —The Labor Party did not take untrammelled free markets as a policy to the last election.

Senator Brandis —Yes, you did.

Senator HURLEY —And I do not think—

Senator Brandis interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Humphries)—Order!

Senator HURLEY —I do not think that the Liberal Party took the notion of untrammelled free markets to the last election or any other election either. Some people on the Liberal side of this chamber seem to be rewriting history.

Senator Brandis interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Brandis!

Senator HURLEY —It is an interesting concept that now we are being asked to believe that the Liberal Party is in favour of untrammelled free markets and is against regulation of any sort. I presume that involves the Liberal Party only because on the economics committee the National Party, in the form of Senator Joyce, has been strenuously arguing for more regulation in the consumer sector in any case.

What I quoted is what was said by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister wrote that this philosophy, in line with the Thatcher-Howard era, is anti tax, anti regulation and anti government intervention. Now I think we see very clearly, in what is happening in the world financial and economic markets, that this is a policy that was indeed doomed to failure. The Prime Minister indeed did say during the last election that he was an economic conservative, and I think those on the other side need it spelt out for them very clearly what this means. It means he believes in maintaining a budget surplus over the economic cycle and is committed to removing trade barriers and realising our free trade objectives. Indeed, this is also a platform policy position of our party and has long been so. What it does not mean, has never meant and never will mean, as far as the Labor Party is concerned, is that we would sit on our hands while the unemployment queues grow and Australians lose their homes, assets and savings, watching idly because we believe that the market will sort it out. I am absolutely bewildered as to what those opposite attribute the global financial crisis to if greed and unregulated financial markets are not a part of that. We then ask ourselves, given what the Liberal Party is now saying, ‘What would the Liberal Party have done in response to the global financial crisis?’

Senator Brandis interjecting—

Senator Chris Evans —Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I am one to always encourage witty interjections across the chamber and occasional banter, but I think Senator Brandis is testing the patience of the chamber by constantly shouting during Senator Hurley’s speech. I think there is a balance in these matters and I suggest to you that perhaps he has overstepped the mark and we might allow Senator Hurley a little more respect in terms of her making her speech.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Yes, I will take that point of order. Senator Abetz was heard in silence. I am not sure what the standing orders say about interjecting from a seat other than one’s own in any case, Senator Brandis.

Senator Brandis —I am the shadow minister.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I see. Interjections are still disorderly, Senator Brandis.

Senator HURLEY —We have to ask ourselves what the Liberal Party would have done. Which bits of the stimulus package or the current government’s response do they regard as radical or even simply non-conservative? Would it have been the guarantee that the savings people have in their banks are safe? Would the Liberal Party have not given that? The Liberal Party certainly did not reject that proposal at the time. Would they have not given extra assistance to pensioners at the end of last year, as part of that stimulus? In fact, at the time the opposition were stridently calling for extra assistance for pensioners and there are several instances of bonuses having been given to pensioners by the Howard government, so let us assume that that response would have received approval. Would they not have increased spending on vital infrastructure in conjunction with the states? Do the Liberal Party now reject that response by the Rudd government? Do they not now agree with the idea that we give assistance to those building commercial buildings to support jobs in that sector and to support that sector generally—because we do know as a fact that one of the problems under the Howard government is that there were a lack of tradespeople in the building sector that caused great bottlenecks in our economy. So what is the opposition’s position?

There was a quote in the Adelaide Advertiser of the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, who said the problem was not going into deficit but how to get out of it later on. Its report said:

“I don’t think with these forecasts there’s any doubt that a deficit is inevitable, given the reduced tax revenues, but the one thing that is not inevitable is that a Labor Government will get out of a deficit,” he told reporters.

So our conservative Prime Minister seems well in tune with the conservative Leader of the Opposition, who has been saying that a deficit is inevitable and has asked how the Labor Party is going to get out of it. That is a fair question, and he has the response. He has the response given today by the Prime Minister, who said:

As the economy recovers, and grows above trend, the Government will take action to return the budget to surplus by:

  • banking any increase in tax receipts associated with the economic recovery, while maintaining its commitment to keep tax as a share of the economy on average below the level it inherited; and
  • holding real spending growth to 2 per cent a year.

That is the very specific commitment by the Prime Minister and the Labor government to restoring over the economic cycle our surplus once the crisis in global financial circles is dealt with. There is an interesting quote from John Maynard Keynes, who said, ‘The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.’ I would suggest very strongly that is the position of the opposition as of now as they cannot escape from their old ideas even though the world has changed all around them. The world has changed greatly, which the opposition continue to reject. They continue to oppose anything that the government does without a coherent economic plan of their own.

Without a coherent response, without any constructive response of their own, they are content to sit back. We have the Leader of the Opposition, who was once a merchant banker, who has been immersed in the financial situation and who should, with his shadow Treasurer, accept that the world has changed. Now who is the shadow Treasurer? I think Ms Bishop is the shadow Treasurer, but we have not heard much from her at all. You would think that with that kind of expertise we might get some sort of constructive approach to the current global financial situation, but when it suits the opposition they ignore the fact that there is any kind of global economic downturn at all. On the other hand, when it suits them, they talk about the government’s poor response without producing anything that involves a response of their own.

So the question still is: what would the Liberal Party do? I am very proud to be part of the government that has proposed a response that improves infrastructure in Australia, improves education in Australia, improves training in Australia and puts forward an environmental package that ensures that any growth will be sustainable. I am very proud that the government, in response to the economic downturn, has put forward a package that looks very firmly to the future.