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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 845


Mr CHEESEMAN (Corangamite) (14:18): My question is to the Prime Minister. How do the recent events in Greece and the Eurozone highlight the importance of managing the Australian economy and returning our budget to surplus in the interests of working people?

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:18): I thank the member for Corangamite for his question and I also thank him and the member for Corio for meeting with me and other ministers this morning so that we could receive the workers from Alcoa. I wonder what they would make of the political use of their potential job losses by the opposition when they understand what is happening in their industry. I think they would find that a fairly dismaying tactic from the opposition.

The member for Corangamite has asked me about circumstances in the global economy, and I expect to hear interjections from the opposition because, as we know, they could not care less about circumstances in either the global economy or the Australian economy. But on this side of the parliament we have been monitoring the situation in Europe and we welcome the fact that the Greek parliament passed a package of restrictive budget measures today. It was not easy, but it had to be done. That is one step in what is a long journey of recovery for the economy of Greece, but it was a necessary step. Unless they took that step, the circumstances of a disorderly default could have been upon Greece with all of the implications for that nation and for the Eurozone and Europe in general.

This highlights the ongoing financial problems we are seeing in Europe which are reflected by credit downgrades last month to nine of the Euro area's 17 members. The ultimate proof of all of the problems there is that 23 per cent of men and women are unemployed. When Australians look at those scenes from Greece, including some of the violence that happened outside the parliament, they can rest assured that the economy of Australia is in a very different shape. We have low unemployment; we have created 700,000 since coming to office. In the same period the US economy has lost six million jobs. If the US had been creating jobs at the same rate as us, 15 million more Americans would be employed today. We have low debt—less than one-tenth of the debt of other major advanced economies—and we have a clear plan to return the budget to surplus in 2012-13, exactly as promised. That is the right thing to do for an economy growing at trend, it is the right thing to do to create space for private sector growth, it is the right signal to send to international markets that Australia is a great place to invest in and it is the right thing to do in managing the economy in the interests of working people, because at the end of the day the purpose of the economy is to serve the interests of working people and particularly give them great job opportunities and the opportunity to start their own business. We are clear on our intentions about the surplus, and that is in very stark contrast to the continuing muddle on the other side of politics.