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Monday, 2 May 2016
Page: 3958


Mr CONROY (Charlton) (12:53): I am pleased to make a contribution on the supply bills. As has been said previously in this debate, Labor will not be blocking supply, but it should be noted that the whole purpose of these bills is to ensure the continuity of government during the period of a double dissolution election. Of course, the reason for the double dissolution election is a political decision of the Prime Minister, who has started to panic and, in order to appear decisive, has pursued a double dissolution. In the process he has used the federal parliament as his political plaything. It is very clear that the Prime Minister had a plan on how to backstab the member for Warringah and achieve the prime-ministership but he had no plan to govern. That is why we are barrelling along towards a double dissolution election. Regardless of the political facts that got us here, Labor will not block supply. Unlike other parties in this place, we have a proud record of allowing the normal operations of government to go ahead.

These bills assume the budget bottom line, as it currently stands, as at the last MYEFO. This includes the impacts of previous measures that have not passed the parliament. These measures are part of the radical right-wing agenda of the Member for Warringah, when he was the prime minister, that are being continued and expanded by the current Prime Minister. Let's look at some of these draconian and cruel measures. There is still $30 billion in cuts to schools, regardless of the thought bubble from the education minister yesterday. There is still the plan to inflict $100,000 university degrees on young Australians. There is still the plan to increase the costs of medicines for everyone by increasing the co-payments as part of the PBS there is still the plan to have a backdoor GP tax through freezing the rebate for GPs. There is still the plan to keep the world's oldest pension age; and there is still the plan to make young job seekers wait four weeks before accessing crucial income support, which is the conservative compassionate approach for our youth. I say that very ironically, Mr Deputy Speaker.

These are the same draconian right-wing policies that have been rejected by both the parliament and the Australian people. They are hostile to our Australian belief in a fair go for everybody and they make the greatest demands on Australians who are least able to afford it. I will say one thing about the discredited 2014 budget: it placed fairness squarely back at the heart of Australian politics—it reinserted the concept of fairness back into the heart of Australian politics. The 2014 budget so egregiously breached that fundamental principle of Australian society. The burden was borne by those who could least afford it; the burden was on those who were poorest and on the lowest incomes, while the wealthy got off comparatively lightly. It is right that those measures have not passed the parliament, and Labor will continue to oppose those measures and fight for economic fairness and social justice, as we always have.

In discussing the supply bills, I want to address the issue of economic management and competence, which is at the heart of the supply bills and the heart of the budget that will be delivered in this place tomorrow. The Prime Minister, in explaining his move on the member for Warringah, said it was because the previous prime minister had failed to provide economic leadership. I agree with him on that point—the member for Warringah had clearly failed to provide economic leadership—but unfortunately the current Prime Minister, the member for Wentworth, is also failing this vital test. This is despite the fact that the Liberal Party always asserts that they are superior economic managers to the Labor Party. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

Australia is now in its record 25th year of economic growth. This is a truly remarkable statistic: our economy has grown every year for a quarter of a century, including during the biggest international financial crisis since the great depression—a crisis that those on the other side always seem to forget. Yet the Liberals cannot airbrush away this history. This growth period began during the Hawke-Keating period and, of course, I acknowledge that it continued under the Howard government, but it was under the stewardship of the Rudd-Gillard government that we faced the greatest test, the GFC. Had we followed the austerity measures of the Liberals—or at least those who were awake during the debates—we would have been plunged into a recession that would have cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. That is not just the opinion of the Labor Party; it is the opinion of esteemed economic professionals such as the Reserve Bank of this country and Treasury in testimony to Senate estimates. I again acknowledge the economy has continued to grow since 2013, but, unfortunately, most economic indicators demonstrate a fundamental weakness in the economy, and the growth rate was downgraded at the most recent MYEFO. I will return to the current economic situation in a minute.

I do want to draw the attention of the House to the recent detailed analysis by a respected economist, Stephen Koukoulas, who, following a thorough examination of GDP and employment growth since 1972, concluded:

Contrary to perception, the data for GDP and employment growth over the past 43 years suggest a stronger economy with a faster pace of job creation when Labor is in power than when the Coalition is in power.

The statistics are: on average GDP growth has been 0.1 per cent higher per annum under Labor and on average 25,000 more jobs have been added in each year of a Labor government than under the Liberal government.

Economic competence will be a key issue at this election, and I have every confidence in the economic leadership of the Leader of the Opposition and the member for McMahon in presenting an alternative government to Australians. The truth is that the Abbott-Turnbull governments have not been competent economic stewards. Under the Liberals, growth is down, investment is down, the deficit has greatly expanded and government spending has significantly increased. The economic figures do not lie. In MYEFO, economic growth was downgraded from 2.75 per cent to 2½ per cent. We have sluggish employment growth, we have flat wages and we have actual deflation. The last ABS-CPI data shows that underlying inflation was a negative figure. In our economy, prices are deflating. This demonstrates the sluggishness of the economy under the leadership of the Liberal government. Inequality is at the highest it has been in 75 years. Let me repeat: Australia is now a more unequal place than it has been in the last 75 years. This is important not just from a social justice point of view in terms of the benefit for all Australians. High inequality is bad for economic growth. Research from the IMF and from the OECD demonstrates that an economic emphasis on boosting equality helps growth; it does not detract from growth. Yet, we have sluggish economic growth and we have some very poor economic indicators. On top of this, government spending has increased to 25.9 per cent of GDP. In the next financial year, it is estimated that net debt will be $100 billion higher than at the last election. The budget deficit has more than doubled under the Liberal's watch.

This government, before it came to power, promised a surplus in year 1. Then they tried to airbrush that from history. The shadow Treasurer, who then became Treasurer—the former member for North Sydney—promised a surplus in year 1 of an Abbott government. That government failed abysmally to deliver it. They then promised it over the term of the government. I am going to go out on a limb and predict that they are not going to announce a surplus tomorrow. Most economic forecasters project a deficit of somewhere north of $40 billion. So, not only will they not deliver a surplus; they will deliver some of the highest deficits in Australian political history, only rivalled in real terms by what John Howard delivered when he was Treasurer under Malcolm Fraser.

The truth is that the Liberals cannot manage the economy. We now have a Treasurer who makes the former member for North Sydney look positively Keatingesque in his abilities. We have got the very definition of a tabloid Treasurer—a man who thinks that appearing on the Ray Hadley show and getting the occasional front page of TheDaily Telegraph is a way of managing the economy; a man who thinks in thought bubbles; a man who gets rolled constantly by a Prime Minister who is scared of his own shadow when it comes to economic issues. This is a Treasurer who still does not understand that workers earning over $80,000 are the 25 per cent highest income earning Australians in this country. This is a man with no real plan for this country; a man with no real plan for our economy; a man who, in the negative gearing debate, compares existing housing stock to a used car; a man who thinks that, just because he mouthed platitudes and appeared to be strong on border protection as immigration minister, somehow that has made him qualified to be Treasurer; a man who underperformed in every role he had before entering parliament, whether he was on the tourism council or Liberal director in New South Wales. Unfortunately, this superficiality will be continued in tomorrow's budget.

I will be, like all my Labor colleagues, supporting the supply bills. I will be supporting the continuation of government, unlike what the Liberals and Nationals did in 1975. But let us be under no false impression that this government can manage an economy. We have deflation in this country. We have ballooning deficits and debt. We have economic management that makes the Fraser period of economic management look positively glorious by comparison. I look forward to this election. I look forward to this election being fought on economic ideas. This party, the Labor Party, has been bravely putting forward some great, progressive economic policies, while all we see with those on the other side is thought bubbles, hollow scare campaigns and no real plan for Australia.