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Thursday, 12 March 2009
Page: 2574

Mr BEVIS (10:22 AM) —I am very pleased to be able to support these two bills, Appropriation Bill (No. 5) 2008-2009 and Appropriation Bill (No. 6) 2008-2009, which add to an impressive list of measures by the Rudd Labor government to provide economic stimulus at a time of global economic woes. These two bills are part of a broad package that has already seen substantial amounts of funds flow to Australians and that has provided much-needed support across the various parts of the country geographically and the different industry sectors. I am reflecting on the comments that I know some members opposite have made in attacking and criticising the previous payments and, indeed, even the core payments like Building the Education Revolution, to which the member for Shortland just referred.

I want to first make comment about the payments that the Commonwealth made prior to Christmas last year, the $10 billion or so that was provided to Australians in the lead-up to Christmas. At the time we announced it, the Leader of the Opposition said he supported it, but since then he has gone around criticising it. That seems to be the standard operating procedure of those opposite when it comes to these matters. They criticise the measures and support them, depending on who their audience is. The people of Australia are actually smarter than that, and I think one of the reasons those opposite have had a poor showing in the polls is because those antics do not cut it with the Australian population.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has now published the figures for the retail sector over the Christmas period. The most recent figures showed that in January of this year the seasonally adjusted estimate increased by 0.2 per cent. That is an increase in retail activity at a time when the global economic crisis was sending virtually every modern economy into recession, or at least into a period of decline if not formal technical recession. In Australia, principally because of the stimulus package the government put in place before the end of last year, the retail sector saw a very buoyant December-January period. Not only were January’s figures up but December last year saw a very substantial increase of 3.8 per cent. That 3.8 per cent is the largest monthly seasonally adjusted percentage increase since August 2000.

Against the trend, we have seen a very substantial increase in consumer confidence, in consumer spending and in the purchases that Australians made over that Christmas period. We all know that many people in the retail sector rely on that Christmas period for their annual cash flow. Many organisations in those two or three months survive through the year on that turnover during the holiday period. Had the government not taken the action it did last year with that stimulus package, there is absolutely no doubt that we would have recorded similar outcomes to those of other nations with whom we compare ourselves. That we did not record those bad figures, but rather recorded the best December since 2000, is an indication of just how timely the government’s initiative was and how effective it has been. I am amazed to hear Liberal and National Party members of the parliament even now arguing that that was somehow a mistake. The Liberal and National Party approach would have condemned thousands of workers in the retail sector to unemployment queues. That is what it would have done, and it would have ensured that many small and medium-sized enterprises would have shut their doors over Christmas rather than benefit from one of the most substantial monthly increases in the last decade.

The general community and the various industry groups understand the importance of the government acting quickly and in a very decisive manner. The government’s nation building plan has been warmly welcomed by virtually every industry group across the country. I want to refer quickly to some of the comments that leaders in our community have made. The Australian Industry Group said this on 3 February:

The nation building and jobs plan announced by the Federal Government today is simple and substantial, and will provide a big stimulus to help keep the economy moving.

Wal King, a well-known Australian businessman, on behalf of the Australian Constructors Association said:

The Rudd government’s $42 billion nation building and jobs plan announced today will play an important role in stimulating the Australian economy.

Of course these people, whose daily jobs involve them keeping their finger on the pulse of economic activity, understand that, and those opposite would have been given the same advice and would have been subjected to the same lobbying from these organisations that we all are. Yet, in spite of that, they choose to adopt a purely negative approach to these issues.

It is not just the business community who comprehend how important these measures are that the government has taken to support our economy. Importantly, the Labor government has not forgotten those who are hardest hit by the economic downturn. We have put measures in place to provide the biggest boost in public housing in well over a decade. It is a matter of criminal neglect that the former Howard government virtually stripped funds from the Commonwealth-state agreements for public housing, resulting in the stock of housing for low-income and homeless people being at desperately low levels. In a joint press release, Anglicare, UnitingCare, the Salvation Army and Catholic Social Services said:

We welcome the stimulus to jobs across Australia and the targeting of infrastructure dollars to homes and local community facilities through improving the energy efficiency of Australia’s houses.

We also welcome the targeting of community resources to schools, which will create jobs and supply facilities that can be used by the whole community.

The payments package is well targeted and will help Australians already struggling to make ends meet.

So said the combined voices of Anglicare, UnitingCare, the Salvation Army and Catholic Social Services. That is a very genuine endorsement by a broad cross-section of organisations who know what it is like for people most severely affected by an economic downturn. I think that their endorsement fails to be recognised by those opposite, but it is important in these times that we not only provide support to those in work to try to keep them in jobs, and to businesses to try to enable them to keep their doors open; we need to understand that many people are on hard times and they require particular assistance.

The Property Council of Australia joined the chorus of community groups supporting the federal government’s initiatives when they said:

Every dollar that goes into the construction sector has a multiplier effect—it is spent three times over in the economy. This makes for an ideal measure of a well-thought-out stimulus package.

So the Property Council referred to it as a well-thought-out stimulus package. Ron Silberberg—not usually known for his endorsement of Labor politics, I have to say, over the years—had this to say:

The Government’s recovery plan appropriately spends for jobs in the short term and invests for future prosperity.

And it does those two things very well indeed. I will give just two more quotes, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Clean Energy Council noted:

The government is to be congratulated for taking a big …step towards delivering energy saving across Australian households. Insulation saves energy, money, jobs and the environment—so it’s a win-win-win-win.

That last comment refers to the initiatives for insulation and other energy-saving measures, something that those opposite have ridiculed. It is one of the areas that has been mentioned in speeches in this debate and in others by those opposite who find it somehow misplaced or amusing that the government should invest in energy-saving measures such as insulation of houses and the like. I can tell you from the reaction in my electorate that the people of Brisbane welcome it and are looking forward to the opportunity to access the support to enable them to make their homes more energy efficient. People want their homes to be energy efficient, but not everybody can afford to do it. I think the commitment of this government to those measures is very well received.

The final quote I want to give, and there are many more that I could include but time will not allow it today, is from the National Farmers Federation. It said:

The Government’s $950 tax-free bonus for all drought-affected farmers—reaching some 21,500 farmers in need—will be a much-needed fillip to families and regional economies.

It went on to say:

Likewise, the regional infrastructure package … will see a major revamp of country services and shore-up jobs in local communities.

Against that background of universal endorsement and support from community groups, business groups and social welfare providers, how is it that the Liberal and National parties can stand in this place and, on bills like this, say they will vote for it but actually oppose parts of it, and on the major parts of the economic package actually vote against it? And they voted against it not once but twice in each chamber. It is a matter of fact that the Liberal and National parties voted four times in this parliament against those major initiatives, one of which was the Building the Education Revolution initiative.

I want to turn for a moment to Building the Education Revolution because as a former teacher, as a parent and now as a member of parliament I am a very firm supporter of increased resourcing of our schools. This is the greatest commitment of any government to primary education in our country in living memory. You have to go back to the early days of universal education to find a commitment of this magnitude to primary school education that would compare with what the current government is doing as part of this economic stimulus package. Like a number of members on the government side, I spent last week visiting many schools in my electorate. Like members on the government side, I have written to all the schools in my electorate. Last week I visited schools at Ferny Grove, Grovely, Mitchelton, Ashgrove, New Farm, Kelvin Grove, Ithaca Creek, Bardon, Red Hill and Newmarket, and let me tell you that they are absolutely excited about the opportunities this presents. They have never seen a government take their needs as seriously as this government has.

This package provides a wonderful opportunity for students in all schools—big and small, rural, regional and metropolitan—to gain access to quality facilities. There are schools like Newmarket State School in my electorate, which has a P&C that has been working hard with the school community to raise money for a community hall that they have wanted to build for some years now. They have the plans and are nearly ready to go. They now see the light at the end of the tunnel. Because of this initiative, the government is going to provide them the funds to enable that to go forward.

That is the story at other places. When I visited Mitchelton State School, they had just built the bare bones of an indoor assembly hall. It is the bare bones because that is all the school community could afford to put up. They thought they would get that constructed and, over time, try to put some walls on, put some amenities in, put a canteen in—put in all the other things that would go in a properly resourced hall. Having just completed that recently, they now know that the funds that are there from this government do not just enable them to finalise that project and bring forward activity that would have been years in the making had this government not taken the initiative that it has in this stimulus package; they will have sufficient funds left over to upgrade their resource centre and establish a first-class library resource centre for the pupils in that school.

That is one of the most enduring things we can do. Investing in schools is an investment in our nation’s greatest resource. Our greatest resource is our people; our greatest future resource is our children. Money invested in those people can never be wasted. It is not possible to have a population that is too well educated or too well trained. This money goes to schools across the country and guarantees that investment will bring returns in the school base of our nation for decades to come. Importantly, it will create jobs. It will provide work for people in every suburb and community of our nation as those building programs roll out.

I think of the small schools in regional and rural Queensland that I used to visit as an official in the Queensland Teachers Union. They were one- and two-teacher schools that under this program are going to get between a quarter of a million and half a million dollars. In those small communities, having the workers doing the work in their town, whether they are doing maintenance or repair or constructing a multipurpose hall that the school and the community will have access to, will pour money into every shop and every store in that location, providing support for the jobs in the small towns I used to visit in regional and rural Queensland around the Burnett region and up the Queensland coast just north of Bundaberg.

This is a great nation-building program. It is a great jobs-generation program. Why is it that every member of the Liberal and National parties voted against it? Why is it that when they were given a second opportunity when it was returned to the House of Representatives they voted against it a second time? I do not intend to have the people of Brisbane miss out on that knowledge. Next week I will be sending a letter to every constituent in my electorate, telling them about the funds that are going to the schools in our electorate, telling them about the commitment of this government and pointing out to them that every member of the Liberal and National parties voted against this program on no fewer than four occasions in this parliament.

Members opposite can say, ‘We supported the schools funding; we just didn’t like the rest of the package.’ The trouble is that when you go through the package they turn around and say, ‘We support tax cuts,’ but they voted against the package that had the tax cuts in it. They say they support increased funding for public housing and helping people who do not have a roof over their heads, but they voted against the legislation for that, as well. They tell us that they supported the money for primary schools, but they voted against that piece of legislation. They tell us they supported the money going to the rural sector, the money for low-income farmers, but they voted against that, as well. I am left wondering about this legislation that they all voted against; which part of it was it that they supported? Individually, when they are confronted out there by people in the electorate, they say, ‘Of course we supported that bit; it was just the tricky government that made us vote against the whole package.’ When you take it piece by piece, depending on who you talk to, they supported every little bit of it; they just happened to vote against the whole lot of it. No-one in Australia is going to fall for that.

If the people on the other side of the House, in opposition, think that they can get away with that pea and thimble trick then they underrate the intelligence of the Australian public and they certainly underrate the determination of members on the government side to make sure that the people of Australia know about their deception and know about what they actually did. Appropriation Bill (No. 5) 2008-2009 and Appropriation Bill (No. 6) 2008-2009 also include some important measures that go to support for trades training, and that is vitally important not only to provide the opportunity for people now seeking jobs but also, most importantly, for the future. As inevitably recessions come and go and we get back into a recovery phase, the worst thing we can confront in that recovery phase is a shortage of materials and a shortage of skilled workers. So we are investing now to provide those skills to those workers so that when economic activity does pick up—and hopefully it is sooner rather than later, but none of us anywhere in the world have the perfect crystal ball for that—we will have invested in the training of those people whose services will be so keenly sought after at that time.

We are also providing in these bills $38 million to help out trade apprentices with new employers. Recognising that in spite of our best efforts there will be some additional people unemployed, there is $36 million in these bills to assist redundant workers to gain early access to employment programs. This is, as a whole, a package of materials designed to minimise the impact of the global economic downturn on Australians, to invest in key economic infrastructure in our nation for the long term and to put money into the hands of people today so that we can stimulate economic activity before the long-term projects come on line. I am very happy to be part of a Labor government doing these things and I am very happy to support the bills before the House today.