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Tuesday, 10 February 2009
Page: 677

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) (7:42 PM) —The government has announced a significant plan for our nation. It is a necessary response to the global economic recession, and it has received widespread support. The ANZ Bank, in its assessment of the plan, stated:

The moves have been decisive and pre-emptive; thus giving policy the best chance of minimising the damage to employment from the downturn in the global economy.

Our action has been widely supported by economists, business leaders and industry. In a Senate inquiry hearing only yesterday, Mr Greg Evans, from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said:

The size of the package at two per cent of GDP in 2009 is appropriate and in line with our own estimate of what is required.

Yet despite this support—and at odds with the advice of governments, economic authorities and experts around the world—those opposite continue to delay the delivering of funding to millions of Australians, families, schools and local communities. In delaying this package they are costing Australians jobs.

Throughout the global financial crisis, the government has responded to volatile market conditions swiftly, calmly and methodically. The government has heeded international advice, such as that of the IMF. The chief economist for the IMF has stated:

Above all, adopt clear policies and act decisively … Delays in financial packages have cost a lot already. Further rounds of debate will stoke uncertainty and make things worse.

By opposing these bills the opposition are condemning Australian families, workers and small businesses to the full devastating impact of the global recession. The government’s strategy is already delivering positive benefits. The retail figures for the month of December, following the government’s Economic Security Strategy, show that the economic stimulus provided by the government has boosted consumption at a time when our economy desperately needed it. The December retail trade figures show that retail sales increased by 3.8 per cent in December, the biggest monthly increase since August 2000. This data dispels the claims made by opponents of this package. Claims that the package is too large are ignorant of the scale of the global crisis at hand and its impact on the lives of Australians. Opponents fail to appreciate the massive decline in revenues resulting from the global recession, the slowing of China and the unwinding of the mining boom, which has wiped $115 billion from budget revenues and pushed the budget into temporary deficit.

Delay ignores the need for an immediate boost to jobs and businesses. The government’s plan will contribute to our long-term productivity reform agenda, an agenda that embraces the education revolution, investing in advanced infrastructure, COAG reform and making the transition to the low carbon economy of the future. The government’s plan is substantial, but it is also appropriate. It includes the modernisation of all Australian schools, with $14.7 billion invested in our children and their schools. It tackles the crisis in affordable housing inherited by this government after years of underinvestment, with $6 billion to fund the construction of approximately 20,000 new dwellings. It makes an additional $890 million investment in roads, rail safety and regional infrastructure. And, significantly, it provides a $2.7 billion time-limited investment in the modernisation of Australia’s housing stock, with energy efficient measures to insulate homes and access solar hot water. These investments will support jobs and growth.

A key part of the government’s Nation Building and Jobs Plan is to provide financial support to taxpayers. The government is providing cash payments and tax bonuses to immediately support jobs and strengthen the Australian economy during a severe global recession. The tax bonus for working Australians provides immediate economic stimulus to boost demand and support jobs through a one-off payment to low- and middle-income earners.

The household stimulus package provides five key bonuses: the back-to-school bonus, which will assist over 1.5 million families and 2.8 million children in meeting the costs of education during these difficult times; the single-income family bonus, which will provide a $950 one-off payment to approximately 1.5 million families who are entitled to family tax benefit B; the training and learning bonus, which will further support education and training through a $511 million training and learning bonus; and our farmer hardship bonus, which will provide support for growth and jobs in rural and regional areas already experiencing difficult times. This includes $20.4 million in 2008-09 for a one-off bonus payment of $950 to farmers and small business owners receiving exceptional circumstances related income support payments. These payments will benefit approximately 21,500 recipients.

These one-off bonuses are necessary to provide an immediate stimulus to the economy, given the severity of the global downturn, until investment projects kick in. Our plans will provide an immediate boost to jobs and businesses and provide lasting benefits to communities through funding of schools, roads and other community infrastructure. Those who oppose this plan should be asked to go to every P&C and P&F committee around Australia to explain to them why they do not think they need decent libraries, halls or refurbishments. They should also be asked to explain why small businesses, farmers and families are not receiving the support available to them in the government’s plans. The Nation Building and Jobs Plan is the right plan for the time. It delivers the support to growth and jobs that is so important to our country at this time of global crisis. The government’s plan provides the investment necessary to help see our nation come through this global recession stronger. I commend the bills to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Conroy) adjourned.