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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 496

Senator NASH (4:39 PM) —When we come into this place, those of us on this side of the chamber have a very firm belief that we have a responsibility to ensure a secure future for the Australian people. That is what we believe; that is a priority. That is absolutely what we strive to do every single day. There is no doubt that we are facing very serious times, as my colleague Senator Cormann said. We are facing very difficult times.

This package of bills that we are looking at, the Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and related bills brought to us by the Labor government, is $42 billion worth of economic stimulation, according to them—a $42 billion package that, according to them, is designed to stimulate the economy in these difficult times. Earlier today, my colleague Senator Mason pointed out that in fact it is not an economic stimulus; it is a political stimulus. You barely have to scratch the surface of this package to realise that it is not going to deliver the economic stimulus that is needed. That is what we on this side believe, and that is the reason why we are not supporting these bills.

The primary intent of this legislation is not going to be achieved. Labor wants to have that economic stimulus; we do not believe it is there. You do not have to go very far into this package to see that political stimulus. All the hype and media focus is on the package providing an economic stimulus, but, if you drill down—and if the media has a close look—line by line through this package, you see that it smacks of political stimulus.

One of the quite extraordinary things about this is the absolute arrogance of the Labor government in asking the coalition to tick off on this package within a matter of 48 hours. That is just extraordinary. It is even more extraordinary when you go back to when the coalition were in government—and you do not have to go back very far—and see that we were subjected to hours and hours of railing from the then opposition, from this side of the chamber, that they were not able to scrutinise legislation, that they were not able to look at things properly, that it was a dereliction of duty that they were not able to have a good look at legislation. And now what do we see? We see that very same Labor Party sitting on the other side saying, ‘Rush it through, tick it off, don’t look at it, don’t scrutinise it; we don’t want you to say a thing about this after any scrutiny—just tick it off.’ I do not know about anybody else, but to me that position is the direct opposite of the one they had when they sat over here. Now they have moved over there, they have decided that it is quite all right to rush stuff through and expect the coalition to tick it off, thank you very much.

Senator Cormann made some comments earlier about the hypocritical nature of that. I will just say that it is extraordinary, and the Australian people should look at what the Labor Party did when they were in opposition compared to what they are doing now they are in government. It is $42 billion—that is, $42,000 million—and the Rudd government expected the Liberal and National parties to say: ‘That’s fine, Prime Minister; you just pop that right on through. I’m sure the Australian people will be fine if we tick off on $42 billion worth of their money without having a look at it! But, sure, we’ll just go right ahead and do that.’ We do not think so. We want to have appropriate scrutiny of these bills. It is right and it is proper and it is fair, and the Australian people deserve it.

My very good colleague Senator Joyce said earlier today, ‘Why the haste?’ What difference do a few days make when we are going to have some proper scrutiny? Why the haste? As he said, ‘Is there a pile of boom gates behind a shed somewhere that might be pulled out and we can have a bit of a quick run-out around the country?’ I do not think so! While boom gates are very worthy and very necessary things for rural Australia—living in rural Australia I absolutely know that, as do my other rural colleagues in the chamber on this side—it is not actually the first thing that comes to mind when we are talking about what is going to lead us to an economic recovery. I cannot see President Obama sitting over there going: ‘Right, I’m in now. What am I going to do? Hmm. Quick, think: Economic recovery, 300 million people, $900 billion—I know! Boom gates!’ It is not appropriate. While that is only one part of this package, it is an example that comes back to my earlier statement about it being a political stimulus. That is about politics.

My good colleague Senator Joyce also mentioned the pink batts in the ceiling this morning—another thing to drive the economic recovery. And my very good colleague Senator Williams pointed out that, for a very close companion of his, this was going to do her absolutely no good at all in her house. So how much work, how much scrutiny have the government put into what they are doing? Minister Wong was asked this afternoon in question time about the Energy Efficient Homes program and about the batts going into the homes. The question was: what was the estimate of the carbon dioxide that will be emitted in the manufacture and distribution of the insulation required for the 2.2 million homes targeted under the government’s program? Guess what? She did not know. The minister could not answer that question. This is from a government, from a side, that rails constantly about how important the environment is. And it is. It is extremely important. And in spite of the minister’s comments, comments that we often hear about this side of the chamber, we are very, very conscious of the importance of the environment on this side, of the chamber, particularly those of us who are farmers. We realise that, if you do not look after the land, the land will not look after you.

With a question like that anybody would think, ‘Hmmm, perhaps the government’s actually considered what the effect of rolling out these batts is, seeing that it’s such a great idea and it’s one of their keynote things—but the minister could not answer the question. Is this indicative of the amount of work and scrutiny that has gone into their own package? If they do not know the answers, how on earth are the Australian people going to get the answers? How on earth are the people in Australia going to have any confidence that the Labor government have put this package together with the right amount of analysis, scrutiny, foresight and thought that it deserves? It is that very reason—that is, that we do not believe they have—why we are not supporting it. We are not going to support it for precisely those reasons.

Interestingly, my colleague Senator Cormann said earlier that the Labor Party has reverted to type. He is quite right. Borrow, borrow, borrow; spend, spend, spend; borrow, borrow, borrow—it is what they know, it is what they do. ‘Sound economic management’ are three words that are not in their vocabulary. It is about borrowing and it is about spending, and it is not their money. The $42 billion is not money that has suddenly fallen out of the sky recently or that we have managed to pull up from underneath a building. This is Australian taxpayers’ dollars. This is Australian people’s money. And $42 billion is an extraordinarily huge amount of money—42 thousand million dollars. Perhaps the ALP has not realised it, but going into debt has its consequences. It has consequences. And who is going to pay it back?

I will tell you who is going to pay it back: our children. It is our children who are going to pay it back. It is my William, my Henry, Barnaby Joyce’s four, all of my colleagues’ children and every other family’s children in this country who are going to pay this back. I do not know if the Labor Party have actually thought about that, but these are real children that are going to be burdened with this debt for years and years and years to come—debt for a package that we do not believe is even going to go close to delivering the economic stimulus that is actually required.

We are not going to tick off $42 billion of spending that is going to plunge mums, dads and our children into enormous debt for years and years and years. Mr Rudd, the Prime Minister, is constantly talking about working families, as are all of the other Labor members because they work on message and they are like little parrots and they all say exactly the same thing all of the time. They are constantly talking about working families. Well, working families are going to be working for a very, very long time to pay this back.

Senator Cormann —That’s if they’ve got a job!

Senator NASH —Thank you, Senator Cormann, I will take that interjection: that is if they have got a job. This package should be about productivity and job creation, not handing out buckets of money in a cash splash that is going to disappear to China or goodness knows where else like the last $10 billion did. This should be about productivity and about creating real jobs. It is an irresponsible package.

The Prime Minister and all of the ALP—again, because they are like parrots and they all keep saying the same thing; an original thought might be a little bit tricky—are constantly talking about decisive action. They think that if they say ‘decisive action’ for long enough, the Australian people will believe that everything they do is decisive. I do not know. Senator Conroy was in here this afternoon talking about ‘decisive action’. I wonder if he popped out his Weet-Bix this morning and said, ‘Gee, this is decisive action as I’m eating my breakfast!’ Everything is decisive action. It does not matter if it is or not; everything is labelled decisive action in the hope that the Australian people will eventually believe that they are actually taking decisive action. They are not. It is not decisive action; it is irresponsible action. What we need from the government is not decisive action that means nothing; we need responsible action. This package is irresponsible. It is an irresponsible use of taxpayers’ money. Quite often we have said that in this chamber about a number of other things, but never, never, never about $42 billion in one hit—never! This is an unprecedented amount.

And the amount of funding in this that is just going to completely disappear is extraordinary. If we are going to do a government spend, it should be targeted at productivity, it should be targeted at job creation and it should be targeted at infrastructure. If we are going to give our children a debt burden for years and years and years, then there should be infrastructure to show for it. We should be talking about inland rail, we should be talking about dams, we should be talking about water infrastructure—the important things. Not ‘here’s $950 in your wallet’ in the hope that maybe not all of it will be saved. There is no doubt some of it will be saved, which, in general, is a very good thing but not for the point and the purpose of what the government are trying to do. They are trying to encourage spending. They have got no idea where that $950 is going to end up. They have not got a clue, and yet there is nothing targeted for solid, substantive infrastructure that is going to provide a sustainable future for this country.

The $10 billion package before Christmas, as my colleagues have already referred to, was an absolute failure. What happened to the jobs that were going to be created? At best, in a fairies-in-the-garden scenario, you could say the jury is out. But, lo and behold, now we have another $42 billion: ‘Give us the tick on this. We are not sure if the first economic stimulus worked. We really haven’t got a clue about that. I know: we’ll just go and get another $42 billion and we’ll throw that after the $10 billion. A bit more money might work.’ That sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? It has the ring of previous Labor governments about it. A bit more money! They are throwing money after money. Is there any substantive thought? No. Is there any sustainable future? No. Are there any infrastructure priorities? No, they just throw out more money. Most of my colleagues and I were absolutely flabbergasted—that is probably the only word I could use—when we saw the legislation come through that said, ‘Current borrowings are $75 billion; we want to increase it to $200 billion.’ It is a bit like going into the bank and saying: ‘Look, I have my MasterCard here. I’d like you to just rack it up to $200 billion, thanks. We aren’t sure what we’re going to spend it on. We don’t have any idea. We haven’t put any thought into that’—

Senator Cash —We might need it one day.

Senator NASH —‘We might need it one day’—thank you, Senator Cash—‘and we might need it one day soon, because this is all falling apart.’ The very interesting thing is that hospitals and health have not been mentioned in this package. I wonder what is suddenly going to start coming out of that $200 billion limit you are asking for. It looks like an omission from this, so I am sure the Prime Minister has a little plan in his back pocket. The point is that this spending is not anywhere near finished. You do not ask for an increase to $200 billion without the intent to spend it. That money is going to put the burden of debt onto our children for years and years.

What is in the package for infrastructure? Schools. We are great believers in investment in schools. The coalition put in place the Investing in Our Schools Program. What a great program that was. How much the schools responded to and completely applauded that program. Of course, the Labor government got rid of it. Isn’t it interesting to look at all this funding that is going to schools at the moment? If the state Labor governments were doing their job properly and were putting the money towards schools as they were supposed to, the ALP government would not even have to be doing this. The Labor governments around the country are failing our school system, and they know it. This is just a cover-up. It comes back to the point that this is not an economic stimulus; it is a political stimulus. This is about bailing out state Labor governments. If they had been doing their job properly, the money would not be needed.

It is interesting to note what else is not in the package—rural Australia. Senator Stephens, as somebody who professes to be from rural Australia, you should be absolutely appalled. What is the total value of the package? $42 billion. How much do you expect rural Australia to get out of that? Maybe $15 billion? Ten billion dollars? Five billion dollars? Maybe we should cut it down a bit—$3 billion out of $42 billion? Does that sound fair? Maybe it is a little bit light on for rural Australia. We get $20 million. There is a big outlay from the Labor government! As a percentage, I would say that that shows exactly how much Labor cares about rural Australia.

Hospitals are not in the package. ‘Kevin Rudd will fix our hospitals’ was the quote about the current Prime Minister during the election campaign. There is nothing at all in this package for them. Maybe it is to come later. Maybe we will see it next time around. Why isn’t it a priority now? That is an absolute priority for people across this nation.

Senator Joyce —They should swap the insulation for hospitals.

Senator NASH —My good colleague Senator Joyce is absolutely right.

Where are pensioners? Where are self-funded retirees? They are simply not there.

It is interesting that the Labor Party said earlier that people out there in the communities are going to be absolutely appalled at what the coalition is doing. I want to read you an email that I received today from Mr Steven Mitchell. His email is indicative of the view of a number of people out there in the community. His email is indicative of what they actually believe is happening.

I do not make it a habit to write to elected members of parliament, but in this case I feel compelled to.

The federal government has recently forwarded a bill that it has labelled as a ‘stimulus plan’ for the country. It is nothing more than an insane political stunt that threatens the very welfare and prosperity of all Australians for generations to come.

Borrowing money to give cash handouts is in no way going to turn the Australian economy around. For every $1000 given out it is likely that the government will need to raise $2000 or more in taxes to pay for the handout. This taxation will deter future job growth. Many of their other spending initiatives will not create genuine wealth either, as they do not focus on greater productivity; productivity is the heart of employment. There is no long-term value in this radically irresponsible proposal.

I urge you as a fellow decent Australian to reject the government’s ‘stimulus plan’. Please do not try and second-guess what may be popular - this plan is utter madness. If this proposal is passed by the senate we are on the path towards complete destruction of future economic prosperity for generations to come.

So much for the Labor Party saying that those out there think that we are doing the wrong thing. We are not doing the wrong thing. We are doing the right thing, the responsible thing, for the people of this country. There is no doubt that we are experiencing very difficult and serious times, but this plan is not the way forward. I and my colleagues will oppose the package and make sure that we have a secure and sustainable future for all Australians.