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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 393

Senator LUDWIG (Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (10:28 AM) —This morning, we moved a motion that set out a timely plan for the Senate to handle the legislation that will deliver the Rudd Labor government’s Nation Building and Jobs Plan. This plan contains three packages, together worth $42 billion. It is the government taking decisive pre-emptive action to support the Australian economy. The need for this action cannot be underestimated. The global financial crisis is an unprecedented threat to the world economy, something not seen since the Great Depression. I do not think that the opposition quite understand the seriousness of the position that we are now in.

Australia is a trading nation. It lives and dies by exporting goods and services. Have a look at our top two-way trading partners: China, rate of growth almost halved; Japan, in recession; the United States, in recession; Singapore, in recession; the United Kingdom, in recession; South Korea, in recession; New Zealand, in recession; Thailand, probably technically in recession, as stated by its Prime Minister last week; Germany, in recession; and the rest of the Eurozone, in recession.

The time to act is now. We must do whatever we can to save this country from going down the same path as our trading nations. To do any less than that would sell us out, quite frankly. The Australian people expect the government to respond to this crisis and protect the Australian economy for the benefit of all Australians. The government have taken advice on what must be done and we have set out what must be done clearly and succinctly. If you understand the seriousness of the economic circumstances we find ourselves in, I ask you to support the package. It is a sensible position to adopt.

Mr Turnbull and the Liberal Party are using their numbers in this Senate to hold this country hostage. Mr Turnbull says he is prepared, effectively, to destroy and wreck the plan. As yet, he has no plan of his own. Mr Turnbull and the Liberal Party have chosen to risk the jobs, homes and businesses of thousands of Australians.

Let us be clear about this. I do not impugn the motives of Senator Xenophon, Senator Fielding and the Greens in seeking to scrutinise this package. But it is plainly ludicrous for the Liberals to claim that they are seeking to scrutinise what they have already rejected. This is a complete furphy. If you have already made up your mind to reject the package, if you have already determined you are going to reject it even before you have had a look at it, why waste time pretending to want to scrutinise it? The Liberal Party do not really want scrutiny; all they want to do is to attack, harp, whinge and whine.

But just what is the Liberal Party rejecting? The household stimulus package, which enables one-off cash payments of $950 to eligible people. These people are drought-affected farmers, families and those in education and training. The Tax Bonus for Working Australians Bill provides for a tax bonus payment of up to $950 to eligible Australian taxpayers. These payments are for self-funded retirees, part-pensioners and the vast majority of working people. That is what they are putting at risk. The Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Amendment Bill provides for an increase in the cap where special circumstances exist.

The two appropriation, nation-building and jobs bills provide for about two-thirds of the funding for the Nation Building and Jobs Plan. These appropriation bills provide funding to support jobs and set Australia up for a low-carbon future. The Rudd government is also installing free ceiling insulation in around 2.7 million Australian homes. The investment will support the jobs of tradespersons and workers employed in the manufacturing, distribution and installation of ceiling insulation during a severe global recession. This historic nation-building investment by the Rudd government not only will support jobs but is a down payment on the long-term strength of the Australian economy. Do not underestimate what the ESS payment and this payment will provide to support the economy.

By improving the quality of education received by every Australian child, this program will help deliver the stimulus today and underwrite higher productivity tomorrow. Despite the extraordinary adverse conditions in the global economy, despite the impact of this on the Australian economy, we know the opposition are opposing these bills. They have announced that they are opposing them, yet in the Senate they plan to refer the bills to a committee. Quite frankly, what is this about? Why don’t you cut to the chase if that is your position? You already know that you are opposing the bills. You have announced it. Clearly the committee hearings can only be a delaying action. You cannot be serious about looking at the content of the legislation at all. We have already said that that relating to payments can be dealt with, if you want to have scrutiny in relation to the remaining package, next week. That was a sensible position that was put forward. It should have been adopted.

I must emphasise that without urgent passage of these bills the Senate is putting the timely delivery of these payments in jeopardy. If the payments to be made through the tax system are to begin to be delivered in April, work in the ATO must start as soon as possible and the bills must be passed this week. If the payments are also to be made through Centrelink and delivered in March, work in Centrelink must start as soon as possible and the bills must be passed this week. Treasury advise that the prompt passage of the legislation is needed so the approval and ministerial processes which involve other levels of government can be established and the measures begin as soon as possible.

Families are doing it tough. Australia is on the precipice of rising unemployment and kids are sweltering in classrooms because they have no air-conditioning. These are the types of things that this package can provide support and assistance for. Instead, the coalition want to delay. The coalition are putting the payments schedule at great risk. Centrelink do a superb job, let me say, and I congratulate them for the work that they did in delivering the ESS payment. We have now asked them to continue that superb work and look at how they can then work through the next package, the $42 billion package, part of which they are responsible for delivering on behalf of the government. I thank the Centrelink staff for their efforts and a job well done, but I now have to ask them to rise up and start the work for the next strategy.

The strategy payments will support demand in the economy. The new package will do even more to meet the global recession as it continues. It will devastate retailers and jobs around the world. It will do wholesale damage to economies around the world, as we have seen. This government is trying to, as quickly as possible, insulate us from that.

When you look at Centrelink and the work that it has to do, its computer infrastructure is not like some electric motor you can stop and start at will. It is a massive payment engine that takes 16 hours to wind up and another 16 hours to load up. These are some of the payments that it has to crunch through: the $950 single income family bonus to about 1.5 million families and the $950 back-to-school bonus to support 2.8 million children. There are a range of payments that it has to make. They will start going into Australian bank accounts in the fortnight beginning 11 March, provided we can pass this legislation this week. That is if there are no hiccups. That is if there are no delays. That is if there is no spanner in the works from the coalition. If they choose to delay, choose to create problems with that system, then what we will be faced with is uncertainty. There will be no certainty that we will be able to make those payments at that time.

I note that the opposition members in the chamber have carped about wanting scrutiny. There is the ability to use this week in the chamber to undertake that process. From the opposition, in fact, all we get is scepticism—first on climate change and now on the global financial crisis. It really is a matter that they are not taking seriously, quite frankly.

Senator Ferguson —I hope you are not going to do a second reading speech as well.

Senator LUDWIG —I said I would provide the sum-up from the government’s perspective. I will not take the full time. What the opposition have failed to appreciate is the urgent need to pass these bills this week to ensure that both Centrelink and the ATO can start those payment engines and to ensure that we get the payments delivered on time into people’s accounts so that they can be provided with those bonuses. Any hiccup or delay to that will necessarily put more stress and strain on the system. If these things occur, be it on the Liberals’ heads. The sooner we make the payments, the better. We need to provide the stimulus as soon as possible. We need to pass this motion so that we can consider this package of bills today. With that, I thank the Senate.

The PRESIDENT —There being no more speakers, I will outline, just briefly, the process which will be followed. I will be dealing with, firstly, government business notice of motion No. 2, which is standing in the name of Senator Ludwig. I will be putting that motion. Having dealt with that motion, if it happens to be defeated—and that may well be the case—I will deal with business of the Senate notice of motion No. 3. I understand that Senator Fielding will seek leave to move it in an amended form. If that motion happens to be successful then my advice is that government business notices of motion Nos 1 and 3 will lapse. They will not proceed. Is there anyone who is not clear as to what will happen? The question is that government business notice of motion No. 2 be agreed to.