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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 487

Senator CASH (4:01 PM) —Prior to the November 2007 election, Mr Rudd assured Australians he was an economic conservative and that he had a plan for Australia’s future. He also told the Australian public that being an economic conservative meant a fundamental belief in budget surpluses. It is February 2009, and it is now very clear to the Australian public that there was no plan, certainly not for budget surpluses. There were, however, political slogans and media stunts. It was all spin over substance, which we have become used to from those opposite. What we did not have from Labor was the hard work needed to develop an economic strategy to keep Australia strong, resilient and secure.

Actions speak louder than words. Those opposite have, in just over one year, presided over one of the greatest U-turns in the Australian economy—the strong, resilient, secure Australian economy that they inherited from the previous Liberal government. And all we hear from those opposite is blame shifting. It is always someone else’s fault. It is the fault of the global financial crisis. Never, ever, is it Labor’s fault. Of course there is the global financial crisis, and this has had an impact on the Australian economy. However, it is the gross mismanagement by the Labor government in its policy approach to the global financial crisis that has resulted in the unprecedented downturn in the Australian economy.

In the face of growing concern about the downturn in Australia’s economy—and on that point let us lay the blame squarely where it deserves to be: at the feet of the Rudd Labor government—the government has unveiled its ‘latest’ economic stimulus plan, a $42 billion package. Any rational analysis of the latest economic stimulus plan—and let us remember this is an analysis which Labor did not want us to undertake—will clearly show that it is an economic plan which has been developed out of sheer panic. This so-called economic stimulus plan is more evidence of Labor’s mishandling of the global financial crisis.

The coalition will not support a poorly thought out economic response which has all the hallmarks of a quick-fix solution cobbled together by an inexperienced Labor government. Despite the claims from those opposite, we on this side of the chamber recognise that, given the global financial crisis, there is a need to stimulate the Australian economy and to provide both short- and long-term strategies to help protect Australia’s future. However, the package proposed by the Rudd Labor government will not do this. What is being proposed is not a responsible or sustainable way to manage the Australian economy.

The difference between the approaches from this side of the chamber and from those opposite is that we on this side believe in protecting the long-term interests of the Australian people. We on this side of the chamber are keen to implement economic policies that are in the long-term interests of future generations of Australians. What we as Liberals do not believe in is a short-term gain that will deliver to Australians long-term pain. Political quick fixes and panic responses, which are a hallmark of the package now before the Senate, are not a responsible way to govern Australia. We on this side of the chamber are proud that we do not believe in saddling the Australian people with crippling debt that future generations will have to pay off. That is the legacy of successive financially incompetent Labor governments, and it is not a legacy to be proud of.

A key difference between the Liberal Party and the Labor Party is that we seek to unburden Australians whilst the Labor Party has no qualms at all with imposing crippling financial burdens on the Australian people. That is not responsible government; that is irresponsible government. With Mr Rudd’s attitude towards the passing of the bills before us, you would think that he was spending $42 billion of his own money, but he is not. This is not your money, Mr Rudd. It is not government money; this money belongs to the Australian taxpayers. It is their money, and if you incur debt with this money then you do not have to pay it back but mums do, dads do, their kids do and the bad news for Australians is their kids’ kids will also be paying back the debt that is going to be incurred.

The measures contained within the government’s proposal are not economically responsible. They are not in the long-term interest of Australians; they are short-term fixes. They are ill-conceived, inconsistent measures which are designed to provide short-term gain but which will end up creating long-term pain. They are not appropriate measures and will not engender confidence in the Australian public. That is why we on this side of the chamber made the very tough decision to oppose this poorly thought out package. Unlike Labor, we know that you do not make decisions because they are easy, you do not make them because they are cheap and you certainly do not make them because they are popular; you make them because they are right, and we made the right decision.

What Australia requires is a stimulus package that will actually stimulate the economy in the most effective way to deliver long-term gains. The objective of any economic package must be to generate confidence across the nation, not only to protect and support jobs, which is the script now coming from the other side, but also to create jobs, to support small business and—my goodness!—to actually strengthen the economy. The package that we have before us will not do this. We on this side of the chamber have stated time and time again that the most important issue facing Australians is jobs, jobs, jobs. When we look at this current package, there is very little evidence that it will generate or create new jobs for Australians. Let us face it: there is no evidence that the government’s $10.4 billion pre-Christmas spending spree created the 75,000 jobs that were promised by Mr Rudd. In fact, there is so little evidence before us of creating jobs that the script now coming from Labor is that they sustain jobs and protect jobs but no longer create jobs. There is a big difference between creating jobs and sustaining or supporting jobs.

The government’s mantra is spend, spend, spend, and if you do not have the money the government’s mantra is borrow, borrow, borrow and then you, the poor taxpayer or your children or your grandchildren, can always pay it back later. It may be fun for Labor to dramatically increase borrowings in the short term, but the reality is the nation is being saddled with massive future debts. Have we heard anything from the Rudd Labor government about increased long-term debt? Of course not, because they know that, when the Liberals next come to government, we, as we always do, will clean up the mess that they have made of the Australian economy.

The Rudd government is carrying on the proud tradition of successive state and federal Labor governments of plunging us into debt. As has been stated, you are addicted to debt. It is not a good addiction, but we on this side are prepared to help those opposite with their addiction. In fact, the Leader of the Opposition has stated that he is prepared to sit down and discuss with the Prime Minister the appropriate form of responses to the economic situation. The Prime Minister, however, has rejected this offer. One needs to ask oneself: why would the Prime Minister reject such an offer? This is a Prime Minister who earlier this year wanted bipartisan support. Is it because he is panicking and running scared because he does not want his mishandling of the economy exposed? Why would the Prime Minister not sit down and speak with an opposition that, through long experience and a legacy of an outstanding economic record, knows that prudent management of the budget is the key to a strong economy in the long term?

On that point, for the benefit of those on the other side, because I know you all love to hear it, let us once again set down the coalition’s proud record of managing the economy. Labor inherited a world-class regulatory system with a strong banking and financial sector. Labor also inherited a $20 billion budget surplus and almost $70 billion in savings from the coalition. The coalition had paid off the $96 billion debt left by the previous Labor government, unemployment was at its lowest in 30 years, inflation was at historically low levels and Australia’s AAA credit rating was restored after it was lost under the previous Labor government. What have we seen from Rudd Labor since day one? Economic incompetence. What an outstanding piece of economic insight the now astonishingly quiet inflation genie that Treasurer Wayne Swan declared could only be fought by the Reserve Bank raising interest rates turned out to be. Labor’s doomed bank guarantee, which resulted in the freezing of the investment fund savings of a quarter of a million Australians and has caused a massive dislocation in financial markets, continues to cause problems. But it gets better—the $10.4 billion cash splash which the Labor government claimed would create 75,000 jobs. There is no evidence of those jobs; they certainly did not do what Mr Rudd promised.

But having just failed in its $10.4 billion cash-splash, Mr Rudd is now panicking and is asking us on this side to support a $42 billion cash splash—‘Do not scrutinise it, just support it.’ It is now clear that the Rudd government has panicked and that spending is more than out of control; it is train crash material. The government is determined to leave a debt legacy for future generations of Australians. Mr Rudd is a populist and will make decisions based on a short-term fix or a quick political gain. His financial management of this country is failing the Australian people. To gamble a sizeable chunk of Australia’s wealth in one hit is clearly the response of a government that is either devoid of sound economic policy or has well and truly run out of tricks. You cannot pull a rabbit out of a hat this time.

We on this side know that the decision to oppose the Rudd government’s debt-fuelled, spending-splurge cash splash or ‘throw it up against a wall’ approach to managing the Australian economy is the right decision. The coalition are committed to sound economic management and our record stands on that point. We want to ensure that government spending is of a high quality and reduces the burden on the Australian taxpayers and their children. We cannot support policy that does not spend the Australian taxpayers’ money wisely. That is not economically responsible and that, Mr Rudd, is not what an economic conservative does.