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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6312

Ms GRIERSON (2:16 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Financial Services, Superannuation and Corporate Law. Will the minister outline to the House what plans have been pursued to support jobs in Australia as the global economic recession continues to impact upon the nation? What threats still exist to the provision of finance for major projects?

Mr BOWEN (Minister for Financial Services, Superannuation and Corporate Law and Minister for Human Services) —I thank the member for Newcastle for her question. She convened a very good series of meetings with Newcastle business on my recent visit and she is a strong supporter of the need to protect and support Australian jobs. The global economic recession is continuing to impact on Australia and on jobs. While the worst of times may not be over by a long shot, the evidence clearly shows that the government’s stimulus packages have been working. Without the stimulus packages, the economy would have contracted in the recent quarter rather than grown. We have seen a big boost in business and consumer confidence. Consumer confidence recorded its largest increase in 22 years in June and is at its highest level since January 2008.

But last week’s employment figures make it clear that, while we are in much better shape than the rest of the world, we still face a significant jobs challenge ahead—not least in the commercial property sector. We have seen continued volatility in that sector through commercial finance figures falling sharply in April after a sharp rise in March. This is a sector in which confidence and stability are paramount. As the Prime Minister and the Treasurer and other economic ministers and I talk to businesspeople around the country, we constantly hear them telling us that one of the biggest challenges facing them is the potential flight of foreign capital as banks return to their home markets.

Is it any wonder, then, that the Australian business community is frustrated and angry at the naked opportunism of the Leader of the Opposition? The business community knows how important access to finance is in supporting jobs. But the supposed party of business is refusing to listen to business. Last night in the Senate, the coalition showed that it was willing to roll the dice and gamble with the jobs of 150,000 Australians involved in the commercial property sector.

Australian business knows how important the Australian Business Investment Partnership is. Both the Master Builders Association and the Property Council have been calling for bipartisan support for ABIP. Remember bipartisanship? We used to hear a lot about it from the Leader of the Opposition. I would have thought that a good way to show bipartisanship would be to support an initiative supported by so much of Australian business.

The Urban Taskforce perhaps best summarised the importance of the partnership for the Australian economy. They said:

The economy will pay a heavy price if this legislation is blocked. Without this legislation we may see a further reduction in confidence, a deeper economic downturn and postponed economic recovery.

We may see a deeper economic downturn and postponed recovery because of the recklessness and opportunism of the member for Wentworth.

You might have thought that confidence and stability in the commercial property sector and all the jobs that go with it would be important to the Leader of the Opposition. But unfortunately it appears that it is not. We all see the Leader of the Opposition’s relief and joy on Monday at the announcement from the member for Higgins that he was retiring from politics, an announcement which protected the Leader of the Opposition’s job for a little while longer. But he is prepared to roll the dice for thousands of jobs of the Australian people. We saw joy from the Leader of the Opposition on Monday, while he votes down an initiative to support Australian jobs.

And we have seen more of this. I saw the member for Mayo on Sky Agenda this morning, debating the Parliamentary Secretary for Employment. He said, ‘We’re very pleased to have been able to stop it.’ There is something unseemly about a member of parliament gloating that they have stopped an initiative to support Australian jobs. The other side rejoice in Australian jobs being put at risk. They would much rather protect their own jobs than the jobs of ordinary Australians.

When John Howard was Prime Minister of Australia, he painted himself as the champion of battlers; of tradies; of tradespersons; of plumbers; of electricians; of carpenters. The Leader of the Opposition has thrown that mantle away. These are the very people whose jobs he is recklessly attacking—all in the name of political opportunism. Across Australia at boardroom tables there are businesspeople shaking their heads at the recklessness of the Leader of the Opposition. Across Australia at kitchen tables there are workers shaking their heads at the opportunism of the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition has become just as out of touch with the boardroom table as he has always been with the kitchen table.