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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 60

Senator MASON (4:33 PM) —I am delighted to take part in this debate. I woke up on Saturday morning and looked at the Weekend Australian and thought, ‘Gee, overnight, Mr Rudd has announced the death of capitalism.’ I read a bit further and I thought that it got a little bit better because Mr Rudd said that he is going to fix it. Better still, he is going to refashion capitalism in his own image. That made me wonder, because I am no longer sure what Mr Rudd stands for. As my friend Senator Abetz has pointed out, he came to this place as a Christian socialist and used to cite Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He sometimes described himself as a social democrat. In more recent times leading up to the last election he described himself as an economic conservative.

Senator Brandis interjecting—

Senator MASON —Senator Brandis is right. Mr Rudd said that he wore that badge with honour. He was a fiscal and economic conservative—so much so that he tried to outdo the coalition government. Leading up to the last election, Mr Rudd promised that he would rename the Department of Finance and Administration the Department of Finance and Deregulation. He was going to outdo the coalition; he was going to deregulate further. Then I read today in the Mr Rudd’s speech introducing the great stimulus package that this crisis was created by an ideology of unrestrained greed turbocharged by unregulated financial markets. And who was ‘Captain Zero’ leading up the last election? Mr Rudd. I wonder what the department will be called shortly. Will it become the Department of Finance, Reregulation and No Greed?

Let us have a bit of a look at the history of all this. I would like to give credit to the Labor Party. The Hawke and indeed Keating governments, after the Campbell report into the deregulation of the financial markets in 1982 at the end of the Fraser era, picked up the baton and deregulated the financial markets. And it was a good thing for this country. It was supported, I might add, by the opposition. That was a very good thing for this country. They lowered tariffs, which was also a good thing. I concede straight away that that was difficult, because many of their own interest groups fought against that.

Mr Hawke and Mr Keating led by example from the front—generally, I might add, without support. But they did the right thing. The fathers or godfathers of neoliberalism in this country are Mr Hawke and Mr Keating. That is a fact. I note that in this funny little essay, produced by friends of Mr Rudd and Mr Rudd, he talks about the ideological origins of the current crisis. The ideological origins of the current crisis in terms of Australian political ideology go back 25 years to the election of the Hawke government.

Hawke and Keating were not bad at it; they were good at it. But, of course, the Howard and Costello government was even better. In terms of economic growth and prosperity, it was the greatest government in our nation’s history. Let us face it: we inherited $96 billion worth of debt, paid that off and gave the incoming government $22 billion in surplus. We had the lowest unemployment for years and had 50 per cent growth in the economy in this country in the last 10 years. So-called neoliberalism was a stunning success. I would like to stress it. Mr Rudd, in introducing the economic stimulus package today, said:

We do not know for sure how long or deep the global recession will be. Because we acted responsibly to build a strong budget last year, Australia has an enviable budget position.

Australia has an enviable budget position because of Peter Costello and John Howard. That is the reason. If we had not been the government when it inherited $96 billion in deficit, this country would be in absolutely dire straits. Thank God for the previous government.

Let me just add this too. The Labor Party likes to talk a lot about social justice and helping people who are disadvantaged. There are many in Australia, and I accept that, but the most disadvantaged people in the world are in the developing countries of Africa and Asia. More people in the last 20 years have come out of poverty than at any other time in the course of human history. Hundreds of millions of people have come out of poverty. Do you know what the engine for this has been? The free market.

Senator Chris Evans —Chinese communism, maybe?

Senator MASON —The free market. The Chinese gave up communism and adopted the free market. Because they did, hundreds of millions of people have been rescued from poverty. It is probably the greatest thing the free market has done in the last 20 years. It has done great things in Australia and terrific things in much of Western Europe but particularly in the developing countries. And what has happened to those countries in Western Europe that did not adopt the dreaded neoliberalism? Countries like France have stagnated and have had 10 per cent unemployment for the last 25 years. The countries that have succeeded in the West have been the dreadful neoliberals that Mr Rudd now derides. We have never believed in untrammelled markets. That is why we have perhaps the best prudential regulations in the world. I heard what Senator Hurley said. That is not right. We have never said there should be no prudential regulations. In fact, as Ms Gillard said in Davos just the other day, we have the strongest and perhaps the best in the world.

Senator Brandis —Introduced by Peter Costello.

Senator MASON —Introduced by Peter Costello. The question that Mr Rudd and his friends do not address is the really interesting point. It is that, since the Second World War, the democratic left in the West has developed no coherent ideology. They did have socialism, which was the nationalisation of the major means of production and exchange, and what happened? That failed. Tony Blair said it failed. Every leader in the democratic left said it failed. No-one adopted it. Ever since the failure of socialism, there has been no coherent ideology. We had the third wave developed by Mr Blair, but Mr Rudd now says that was cosying up too much to the marketplace; he is going to develop a new ideology. If you read that funny little essay, there are only two policy prescriptions. The first is getting more people to the table and consulting more widely—perhaps that is fair enough—and the other one is—guess what—spend, spend and spend. That is his main policy prescription; he has no other one. What concerns the coalition is where this will end. None of us doubt that there is a crisis. Indeed, the role of government now is to ameliorate the pain in the community. We all accept that. That is the role of government now. But to say that it has been a failure over the last 30 years defies logic. Mr Rudd is a hollow man.