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Thursday, 12 February 2009
Page: 954

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (10:14 AM) —Sometimes I wonder whether Senator Abetz and I are actually in the same room. His comprehension and reporting of various incidents, particularly through that diatribe just now, is outstanding. I am going to be sidetracked from a speech I have now sought to deliver I think at least two times. Hopefully, I will get back to some of the issues that Senator Carr raised earlier, but I will be sidetracked to address some of the blatantly false points that were raised by a number of opposition senators in the earlier procedural discussion and are being raised now in relation to this package of bills. They raised blatantly false matters before the Senate again today in relation to the urgency of this matter and how it is progressing.

Firstly, let us deal with Senator Minchin’s and Senator Joyce’s concerns about filibustering. As I said, as one of the senators who participated throughout the committee inquiry, this is the second time I have wanted to deal with this package of bills and have been encouraged, as a government senator, not to occupy the Senate’s time so that opposition, Green, Independent and Family First senators would have all the time they need within the Senate. Finally, we got to the committee stage debate. We were then encouraged to take some small amount of time whilst we allowed for the opposition, the Greens, Senator Xenophon and Senator Fielding to review their positions and come forward with amendments. There are no opposition amendments and that is probably the best example of the lack of bona fides from the opposition on this matter. They could not even evidence any sign of an alternative plan in this debate. They could not prepare amendments to demonstrate their bona fides. As an opposition they have been incapable of coming forward with a plan.

Then there are also the falsehoods. It is not only the incompetence that is being demonstrated from this opposition but the falsehoods that are particularly worrying here. They claim they have not been consulted. That is simply untrue. I do not know who Senator Abetz talks to, and obviously there are some issues within the opposition. The Leader of the Opposition has made this claim as well. Let us look at what consultation has occurred. There was consultation less than 24 hours after this package was released, then again before they had seen the legislation and again before the Senate committee had even begun. The real issue here, though, is that on 4 February the Leader of the Opposition said:

The opposition will vote against this package in the House and in the Senate.

As Senator Evans has pointed out, they dealt themselves out of this situation. They said to the Australian public, ‘We will oppose this regardless.’ Then we sat in the second reading debate and listened to speech after speech after speech, which in one sense ultimately provoked me to come forward, about very misleading situations in relation to debt—which we have had from Senator Abetz again today. The only way I could characterise the position that I heard from senator after senator after senator was that of global financial crisis scepticism; they are sceptics. We already know they are climate change sceptics on the whole, but in relation to the global financial crisis? For goodness sakes!

We are confronting a crisis and Senator Abetz again tries to sheet that home to the current Labor government. He tries to claim that it has been our economic management that has put us in the situation we are in now. If you listened to the way Senator Abetz reported the situation you would probably say that it was the vote at the last election and that the Australian public put themselves in this mess. ‘The Australian public should have listened to John Howard. He had the right plan and if we had followed his plan we would be much better off now.’ That is essentially Senator Abetz’s revision of history.

Senator Abetz’s only problem is that he stands here this morning and claims that economists support him in this perspective. I asked him in the chamber when he made that claim, ‘Find one. Name me one economist who thinks we would be better placed now if the Australian public had listened to the Howard government at the last election and had voted them in to manage the economy.’ That is not what this week’s polls say. This week’s polls say the Australian public, in an unprecedented fashion, are downgrading this opposition’s economic management credentials. It is not just Labor, it is not the Greens, it is not Senator Xenophon and it is not Senator Fielding, all of whom acknowledge the crisis that we are in and the need for urgent action, and it is not any economist that I have come across. But Senator Abetz stands there and says: ‘Even the economists agree with my revision of history. And if we had had John Howard we would be much better placed.’ Unfortunately for the opposition, if we look at the critical issue that we are trying to address now, which is to stimulate the economy and jobs, the Australian public know the Howard government credentials on jobs. Senator Abetz might be happy to believe that what they confronted on Work Choices overpowered the Australian public’s good sense on economic management. I do not think so.

Any member of the Australian public who listened to the second reading debate that came from the opposition the first time we addressed these bills would shake their heads in frustration. The economic credential coming from the coverage of those on the other side was illiteracy, economic illiteracy, which is also what we saw principally during the Senate committee discussion in a range of areas. But the really worrying thing is when the economic commentary goes to even the opposition leader’s position in this area. Earlier this week I put aside a quote from Ross Gittins of the Sydney Morning Herald. I think it encapsulates extremely well the general economic illiteracy that has been occurring in this debate. He said:

Malcolm Turnbull’s opposition to the $42 billion package is humbug.

I almost commenced my contribution with ‘humbug’, Senator Abetz. It goes on:

It seems almost completely politically motivated. He accepts that there’s nothing sensible the Government can do to stop the downturn pushing the budget into deficit—

he accepts this—

and he accepts the need for stimulus, which will add to the deficit. He claims the Government intends to borrow $200 billion (which is wilfully misleading)—

these are Mr Gittins’s comments, not mine—

and then admits he would borrow only $22 to $27 billion less than Rudd plans to.

Senator Conroy —Right now.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Yes, right now. I could go on and quote economic commentator after economic commentator, both Australian and international, the IMF and the OECD.

Senator Conroy —I’m going to.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Senator Conroy tells me he is going to, so maybe I will move to some other areas of my contribution to save the Senate time. Seriously, Senator Abetz, if your earlier contribution reflects the opposition’s case for the extraordinarily high-risk position you have taken here, then I suspect you face opposition for a very long time. Economic illiteracy is about the best description, as one of my colleagues put it to me.

Let us go back to the opposition position on the package, just to deal with some more facts rather than myth. The Liberal Party reject every element of this package. It is not just that Mr Turnbull said, ‘We’re going to vote against it in the House and in the Senate.’ They reject every element of this package. They reject the size. The Liberals’ view is that the package is too large. They were unwilling to listen to the advice from Treasury. They want a package half the size, unless you accept their earlier rhetoric of ‘letting the market rip’ or, indeed, Julie Bishop’s view, which was, ‘Let’s wait and see.’ Even if we present the best-case scenario, they want a package half the size. Let me quote Mr Turnbull from 4 February:

Our judgement is that a more appropriate level of stimulus is in the order of 1½ to two per cent of GDP, or between $15 billion and $20 billion.

That is their view, even though the Treasury advice was that a smaller package would not do the job. Let us look at Dr Henry’s comments. He said that with a smaller package:

… there would be some point at which GDP growth in 2009-10 in particular might well have been negative.

I could go on about the other elements of the package, the opposition’s objection to tax bonuses, their misrepresentation of international evidence, their misrepresentation of the situation in relation to schools, their lack of comprehension about the small business element of the package and their misunderstanding of what the insulation proposals will achieve, but I am conscious of allowing the Senate to consider these issues in the light of other contributions. I despair at the misrepresentation of the situation by the opposition. I encourage Senator Xenophon to pick up that bucket. Yes, the ship will sink unless we do something. This is your description of the situation we confront. Do not just believe we are going to sink anyway. Pick up that bucket and start bailing.

Question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.