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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2072

Mr SYMON (Deakin) (16:51): It is a pleasure to speak on the matter of public importance this afternoon. I think the title, 'The urgent need for the government to restore confidence in their management of the Australian economy', has been well put, because the government has been doing that. There is only one side of this parliament that has not been. It is the side that has been out there day after day, whether we are in parliament or back in our electorates, talking our economy down. Every time a measure is put to this parliament to improve Australia's economy, who talks about ripping it down? Of course it is the opposition.

We hear the same old story, and it has not mattered which leader they have had over that side of the chamber. I remember the former Leader of the Opposition, when we were dealing with the first stimulus package, saying, 'There were really no problems in Australia; we did not need to worry about things like that'—talking the economy down, and it has continued ever since. We hear it every day in this place at question time. We hear it almost every day when another motion to suspend standing orders is moved and, of course, defeated. This has become a bit of a joke on the Australian public because it is the government doing the work to not only build our economy but also make life better for working people and families in Australia.

I have listened to some of this debate and heard opposition members talk about all sorts of things, but when it has come to economic management and jobs they seem to stray off a little, and I wonder why. When you look overseas and see what has happened there, you find examples of countries that have dealt with the global financial crisis in a different way. In Australia, as I can prove, we have done better than other countries. We have done better by investing not only in building infrastructure but also in jobs. That is a great thing. It is not just a short-term thing. It is not money that is handed over to a private bank to help bail it out, to help pay out shareholders. It is money put into community infrastructure that will last for years, for decades.

Even better than that, although we get the infrastructure, we provide jobs along the way, jobs in the construction industry for thousands and thousands of people, many in my electorate and many in surrounding electorates. That is a great thing because, quite honestly, as so many tradespeople, engineers, consultants and architects and everyone involved in the construction industry told me during 2008, 2009 and into 2010, 'We would not be working if it were not for these programs.' That is simply true. Work had dried up in the construction industry. There was no private investment going around and an awful lot of people did not know where their next job was going to be. For those who do not know the construction industry, it can be quite itinerant. Many workers in the industry literally go from job to job. Sometimes they may work for months on a job; sometimes it may only be a day or two. If there is not another job to go to then that is a particularly worrying time because it can be a long time until the next one comes up.

By putting in programs like the Building the Education Revolution, this government was able to provide thousands and thousands of jobs in that industry. Electorates like my electorate of Deakin have benefited by an $80 million investment in new school buildings. Those will last for decades. They have refreshed and upgraded our schools and are a wonderful community asset that will outlast many of those members in this chamber.

Figures on the great work done locally on the economy speak for themselves. In total, our economy has grown seven per cent since the global financial crisis while other countries, as I have said, are still struggling to recover lost ground. As we know, an additional 46,000 jobs were created in January this year and Australia's unemployment rate is now at 5.1 per cent. That is an even better achievement when compared to a rate of 8.3 per cent in the US and 10.4 per cent in Europe. If we look back, we see that during the worst of the global financial crisis the US unemployment rate reached 10.2 per cent, or a total of 15.7 million people out of work in October 2009. Here in Australia the unemployment rate rose to 5.7 per cent before going back to 5.1 per cent now.

We invested. That is one of the great reasons Australia is better off than other countries which have had to deal with the global financial crisis. We have something to show for it. Unfortunately, there are many countries in Europe and many countries in the Americas that have put an awful lot of money in and really do not have a whole lot of results to show for their money. Not only did we invest in schools, we also invested in the Nation Building Program. Out of that, again, came more local jobs and more local infrastructure. That was a great help, a saviour, to many in my local area.

We had large projects such as the Springvale Road underpass funded through that program. As a result there were hundreds of jobs created there and the community got a lasting benefit, one that will serve for decades to come. It was a job that should have been done not just a few years ago but decades ago as well. A six-lane road with a railway crossing and 218 trains a day does not add up. All it means is traffic congestion from one side of the suburb of Nunawading to the other. Now that the work is done you do not even notice that it is there—I suppose that is a real compliment. If people do not notice the traffic jam, that is a good thing. Where it once was, even on a Sunday afternoon, if you had driven a car along Springvale Road you could well have been banked up for half a kilometre, even more, in a traffic jam. Peak hour times during the week were, of course, far worse.

If we go back to 2009 and recall some of the votes in this place, it was the opposition which moved an amendment that would have taken away the funding for that project. If that had been the case, those hundreds of jobs would not have been created and the infrastructure would not be there. That is part of the story as to how Australia-wide 200,000 jobs were saved. It is much easier to express when you have local examples. Many people look at large numbers and, although the large numbers may look impressive—including to people in this place—quite often they need to be given local relevance that I can show someone.

It may not need to be hundreds of millions of dollars or millions. It can be quite small amounts, but it makes a big difference to a local community organisation. Maybe the organisation has been able to upgrade its pavilion or playing ground and has been looking to do that for years and years to make life better for its club members. Of course, not just one club uses most of these grounds, it is a vast range of them. Investing in the community, as we have done in government, is one of the best things a Labor government can ever do. It has meant that so many people—not just in my electorate but also in every electorate across Australia—have been able to have better community facilities, better education facilities and better health facilities. Money has also gone in and, again, by building, expanding and improving services the community gets the benefit. That is the great thing about our investment during the global financial crisis and onwards, because we are the party that cares about jobs. We are the party that cares about people's living standards. It is important, and Australia has to have the strongest economy we can achieve. By doing what we have done and by continuing to do so, we can say—and we know—that more than 700,000 jobs have been created over the past four years. That rate of growth in jobs, in sheer numbers, is amazing given what we have been through with the downturn that still persists today in so many countries across the world.

We can go on to where things can go from now. Just recently in this House, of course, we debated the minerals resources rent tax. The money that will flow from that once it is passed by the Senate will flow back and assist the community. It will flow back from companies that can afford to pay it to small businesses that could really do with a tax cut—from companies that can afford to pay it to people who could really do with an increase in their superannuation savings.

These sorts of things are important and do matter, and they make a difference to the long term. They are important and of course there are many more of them, and this is not the only example. There is the tax write-off for small businesses of $6,000. It is a magnificent thing for a small business to be able to invest and know that they do not have to wait— (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! The discussion is now concluded.