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Thursday, 18 March 2010
Page: 2298

Senator McEWEN (4:59 PM) —I have to say at the outset that I think that this motion is a waste of the Senate’s time. Nevertheless, I will respond to the motion that has been proposed, because it gives me the opportunity to outline some of the many successes of the government’s programs. It also gives me the opportunity to rebut some of the unsubstantiated claims made in the motion and repeated ad nauseam by Senator Barnett. Here in this motion we had the usual scaremongering and misrepresentations and being loose with the truth that we have come to expect from the opposition, which continues to waste the Senate’s time with these ridiculous motions. They make claims about the Building the Education Revolution program that do not stack up. Whenever they look beyond the front page of the Australian, which seems to be their major research tool, they discover that the claims that they make are not substantiated. Time and time again at Senate estimates these ridiculous claims that they make are found to be lacking in truth and not borne out by the facts. I am sure that the latest story in the Australian will suffer the same fate. Nevertheless, we will have that lazy opposition keep using the Australian as their primary source of information in an attempt to beat the government around with what turns out to be a wet lettuce.

The opposition in this motion talks about waste and mismanagement. Perhaps the Australian public would like to consider whether it is a waster of taxpayers’ money to continue to pay the senators opposite, who continue to bang on ad nauseam about the government’s extremely successful economic stimulus plan and continue to mismanage their responsibility as an opposition by just opposing everything that comes before the chamber. They oppose everything that comes before the chamber because they have no plans, no policy, no vision and no agreement between themselves about the way forward—nothing that they can put to the Australian people about what they would do as an alternative government.

I have made an error there. They have got one thing in their bag: a great big tax proposed by the opposition leader. It is a three billion dollar tax on business to pay for a paid parental leave scheme that is intended to make Mr Abbott more appealing to women voters. All it has done, though, is alert women voters to the fact that Mr Abbott is behaving in his usual, cynical, backflipping way in proposing a scheme for paid parental leave which he is on the record as firmly opposing. All his scheme has done is infuriate business, which the opposition claims to represent.

And it has garnered the amusing disdain of Mr Peter Costello, who I recall as Australia’s longest Treasurer—the longest serving Treasurer who never got to be Prime Minister. This is an opposition that stands up in here and talks about waste and mismanagement and how it is opposed to higher taxes. What does Mr Costello say about Mr Abbott’s plan? He says: ‘I have been to a lot of Liberal Party meetings in my life and I can honestly say I have never heard a speech in favour of higher tax.’ There you go. It is always disturbing for me to have to quote Mr Costello, but it was interesting to read that speech from him to Mr Abbott’s proposal. He is not fooled by it and we know that the people of Australia will not be fooled by it either.

Getting back to the government’s programs, which are the subject of this motion, you only need to scratch the surface of the Rudd Labor government’s initiatives to see how successful they have been. I remind you that we are talking about the initiatives that saved Australia from falling into recession. To suggest that they have been mismanaged is farcical. But, as I mentioned before, we expect nothing more from those on the other side, who seem to enjoy wasting the Senate’s time and take a reckless approach to the future of our nation by blocking crucial legislation from passing the Senate chamber.

I would like to ask senators opposite who are speaking to this motion: exactly what schools does the opposition want to not participate in the Building the Education Revolution program? Which ones out of the nearly 10,000 schools in Australia does it want to not have libraries, community halls, new infrastructure or new computers? I think that I have asked this question before. Senators on this side keep asking that question. We never get an answer from the other side. All we keep getting are pictures of coalition senators turning up at the openings of this school infrastructure with smiley faces, hoping that they can claim some of the credit.

The Building the Education Revolution program was part of the Rudd Labor government’s swift, smart and effective response to the global financial crisis. The Nation Building and Jobs Plan and the economic stimulus packages implemented across the country boosted the employment rate and saved hundreds of thousands of Australians from unemployment. It saved their families from the terrible situation of having the breadwinner unemployed and it saved the nation from the worst of the economic downturn that affected the whole of the world. The success of the stimulus in boosting the confidence of Australian consumers and businesses during the worst global recession in 75 years helped set Australia apart from other advanced economies and helped us avoid recession. Let us not forget that those on the other side voted against the package. They voted not to invest in our schools and infrastructure. They were completely out of step with the rest of the responsible community, who understood that that action by the Rudd Labor government was needed.

Since the stimulus package was implemented the government has watched with great interest the response of economists and commentators. I note, and it is worth putting on the record, that the Chief Economist of the Commonwealth Bank, Mr Michael Blythe, has said the:

... aggressive policy action—fiscal and monetary—worked. And it worked quickly.

Mr Blythe also said:

Targeting parts of our economy where there was some genuine demand and an immediate ability to spend was very smart.


The limited rise in unemployment relative to expectations proved to be a positive “shock”, driving a rapid recovery in consumer confidence and the economy more broadly.

That was from the Commonwealth Bank’s Chief Economist. Michael Blythe is not the only economist to approve of the nation-building stimulus package. Economist James McIntyre, also of the Commonwealth Bank, said with regard to the construction industry:

The public sector construction component of the stimulus package was designed to kick in with a lag as private sector construction activity fell away in response to the confidence shock of the global financial crisis. The timing and effectiveness of that design is evident in the QIV 2009 construction work done figures.

Another economist, Craig James of Commsec, said:

Had it not been for the public sector, construction activity would now be more than 10 per cent down on a year ago, stalling the momentum for the broader economy.

A report put out by the OECD in mid-February this year made it clear that the fiscal and monetary stimulus in Australia has in no small part shielded businesses and citizens from the initial, damaging impacts of the global recession. That report said:

Although the global recession has not spared Australia, its impact appears to have been less severe than in most other OECD countries.

What a glowing report for the Rudd Labor government, which acted decisively and effectively to address the global financial crisis. It makes a mockery of the bleatings from those opposite about the federal government’s economic stimulus package and its various components.

We know full well that the government did the right thing with these programs and that Australians are better off as a result of it. But the opposition are blinded to the facts. They did not want the nation-building economic stimulus at all and they voted against it. They wanted to send Australians into unemployment. They wanted to deny our schools, our health sector and the people of Australia the infrastructure projects that have been rolling out across the country—not just in city areas either. We have helped many regional and rural communities across the country with their schools, infrastructure and, in particular, roads and rail transport. We developed our economic stimulus package with a view to the future. We knew that we could not secure the economic future of the country without strong infrastructure projects. They were desperately needed because of the neglect of the coalition during its 12 long years in office.

Last night I spoke in the adjournment debate about the growth and the successes in South Australia as a result of the ongoing partnership between the Rann Labor government there and the Rudd government. I was very pleased to be able to outline how that partnership has contributed to the economic security and wellbeing of South Australia and to its very welcome, very low unemployment figures. South Australia is like all states and territories across the country in benefiting from the Nation Building and Economic Stimulus Package. There are a few more projects that I would like to mention, which I was not able to last night. In particular, I would like to mention the opening of the Panax Geothermal project, near Penola on South Australia’s Limestone Coast, which received $7 million from the federal government. That will create new jobs in that region, in the south-east, and give us a head start in developing new technologies that will ensure energy security for the future. Is the opposition opposed to that kind of project as well? Are you going to tell the people of Penola that you do not want that project to go ahead? Are you going to tell the people of South Australia that you do not want investment in alternative energies?

Senator Bernardi —You don’t even know where Penola is!

Senator McEWEN —Of course, Senator Bernardi would not want investment in alternative energies, would he? That is because he is a climate change sceptic. He is one of the many over there—he is one of the troglodytes. He does not believe in this sort of stuff. He does not believe in any other type of energy; he just wants to live in his cave in the dark burning his coal, as he has done.

Another recent announcement that I was unable to talk about last night was the roll out of fibre-to-the-premises network across the entire town of Willunga—another place that South Australian senators will be very familiar with. Willunga has struggled to get access to broadband technology of a quality that will satisfy the education, household and business needs in that important and growing region of South Australia. It was a very welcome announcement and I am very pleased that the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy, agreed that that regional area would benefit from the rollout of infrastructure. It is essential to the development of the region.

I would like to take the opportunity to put this on the record, if I could go back to schools for a minute. It is worth while noting the financial commitment that has been made to schools as a result of Building the Education Revolution and the economic stimulus package. I want to highlight three programs: National School Pride, which has provided funding of $102 million to 788 schools; Primary Schools for the 21st Century, which has provided $1.19 billion to 693 schools; and Science and Language Centres for 21st Century Secondary Schools, which has provided nearly $78 million to 61 schools. Those are South Australian figures. They are not small amounts of money. They are big projects. They are big important projects that South Australia needs and that the Rudd Labor government was pleased to deliver to them.

Senator Furner —A lot of employment.

Senator McEWEN —Yes, and a lot of employment, indeed, Senator Furner. I know you are very concerned about employment and about working Australians, because before you came into this place, like many of us on this side, you supported working Australians. Who, in this chamber, did not support working Australians? Let me think—that’s right, it was those people on the other side of the chamber. What did they introduce? Something called Work Choices. What will they introduce if they ever, God forbid, get back into government? Work Choices. Why? Because the opposition leader, Mr Tony Abbott, is on the record as saying that he supports Work Choices. We all know that. He might not have much of a record as an economic administrator. I do not think Mr Abbott has ever held an economic portfolio. Heaven forbid that he has to rely on people like Senator Barnett or Senator Joyce, who has been providing him advice on financial matters. Senator Joyce, I think, had something to say about the paid parental leave package and its being a tax, but I do not have time to go further into that issue. It is just another interesting example of the kinds of divisions that we see in the coalition, which pretends that it would like to be the alternative government. Heaven help us if that ever happens!

When the Rudd Labor government announced our Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan in February of last year, our economy had contracted and was on the brink of recession. We were facing the very bleak prospect of a million Australians being out of work. As a government, we were determined to do whatever we responsibly could to protect our economy, to protect jobs, and to protect small businesses. And that is what we have done. One year on, a combination of the economic stimulus and the resilience and hard work of Australian families, workers and businesses has meant that we have avoided recession and saved the jobs of tens of thousands of Australians. Together, we have achieved stronger growth than any other advanced economy, created jobs, kept unemployment levels down and, most importantly, put in place the bones of the infrastructure for a modern, responsive economy into the future.

To those on the other side who continue to bleat that they are unimpressed with the government’s innovative and astute actions: let me remind you of the statistics. The most recent labour force figures showed unemployment increased by just 0.1 per cent in February, rising to 5.3 per cent from January’s revised rate of 5.2 per cent. The fact that Australia’s unemployment rate has a five in front of it, after what the world economy has come through in the past 18 months, is a testament to the resilience of Australian employers and employees and the way they have got behind economic stimulus.

At 5.3 per cent, Australia’s unemployment rate remains lower than that of every major advanced economy except Japan. Since the start of the global recession, countries like Canada and the UK, and the European economies, have lost millions of jobs, and 6.8 million jobs have been lost in the US. The ILO’s recent Global employment trends report found that a total of 27 million people lost their jobs in 2009. That is a frightening statistic. It is a statistic that the Rudd Labor government knew was in the offing. When we introduced our economic stimulus plan it was with a view to preventing the worst of that terrible economic downturn affecting Australia.

I would like to conclude by reiterating that it is very unfortunate the opposition uses its time with these motions, which do nothing to advance Australia. These motions simply emphasise that the opposition is without vision, without plans and without forethought. The opposition are whingers, knockers and extremists and are out of date. They refuse to contribute meaningfully in this place and refuse to pass legislation, such as the CPRS legislation, the fairer health insurance legislation and the NBN legislation. They refuse to do anything at all constructive to assist Australians, Australian families and Australian businesses into the future.

You are the ones who are wasteful. You are the ones who are mismanaging your responsibilities as an opposition. You are a disgrace, and so is this motion.