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Tuesday, 10 February 2009
Page: 604

Senator BIRMINGHAM (1:54 PM) —It is my pleasure to rise to speak on the Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and other bills related to the government’s so-called stimulus package. Before I do so, I note that, like Senator Barnett, this is the first opportunity that I have had to address the chamber since the tragic events in Victoria began unfolding over the last few days. These are indeed sombre times for the country and sombre times for the parliament. I note that throughout this building many people are conducting their business very much with a sense of respect, a sense of thoughtfulness and a sense of concern for their fellow Australians in Victoria. Whilst all Australians come together at a time like this, I note that my home state of South Australia has always shared both a special rivalry and a special kinship with Victoria. We love to stir each other and we love to be competitive. We share very much our sporting and cultural traditions. Our capital cities are, in Australian terms, relatively close to each other. I know that we South Australians are now sharing very much the pain of the Victorians. South Australia has been hit many times before by tragic bushfires, but of course nowhere has had anything as tragic as these events. All of our hearts go out to all of those who are affected in Victoria and to all of those who are working so hard to do so much to try to assist those Victorians in need.

However, today we are considering another crisis as such—by no means one that is comparable in terms of the immediate sense of human loss and tragedy, but still a crisis that is important nonetheless. It is the one relating to our economic circumstances. While looking at the events of last week when the government were releasing their economic stimulus package, as they like to call it—but it is more of a spending package, as I think people would otherwise see it—a song sprang to mind. I thought of the classic words of Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits about ‘money for nothing’ in a very popular song at the time. Indeed, it was one of those great classics. Of course Dire Straits had pop stars and rock stars in mind when they were singing about ‘money for nothing’. Obviously they had not met Australia’s Prime Minister, because our Prime Minister seems hell-bent on creating a new culture of money for nothing around Australia. He seems to believe that money is some commodity that he and his government can splash around without consequence. He seems to believe that he can continue to encourage this sort of idea that all Australians should be able to hold their hand out for a little bit of government largesse and that somehow all of our economic woes will be fixed and solved by such a scattering of random cash payments and the like to the four corners of the country.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as money for nothing—not for pop stars and rock stars and certainly not for prime ministers or the Australian people. Even governments, as wasteful as they can sometimes be, do not get their money for nothing either. They get their money in one of only two ways, as we all know. The first way is from everyday Australian taxpayers—the people in the gallery today or the people listening to these broadcast proceedings. It is their taxes; that is the way governments get their money. The other way that governments get their money is through debt—debt that ultimately has to be repaid if not by today’s Australian taxpayers then by tomorrow’s Australian taxpayers. So whichever way you look at it the money comes not for nothing—not that easily—but through the hard work and toil of today’s Australians and future generations of Australians. That is where the money that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is attempting to splash around through this package comes from.

Before I go into the detail of the package, let us have a little bit of background and perspective. Back in 1996, when the Keating government was tossed out, Australia had some $96 billion of debt that had been accrued. It took a full decade of tough budgets, tight fiscal management and good economic times to pay that debt back and to put Australia into the type of position that we are in today that has, after the change of government in 2007, seen the now government enjoying a debt-free set of circumstances.

It was a lucky government, the Rudd government, to come in and find itself debt free and with strong cash balances, with healthy budget surpluses. It was the luckiest of all Australian governments from an economic perspective, for no other incoming Australian government had enjoyed the books looking as good, as healthy and as sound as they were when the Rudd Labor government came to office. So they were rolling in it. It is little wonder that the Prime Minister thought, somehow, that indeed he did have money for nothing.

Debate interrupted.