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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 484

Senator RONALDSON (3:40 PM) —Prior to question time, I was talking about the large amount of money that appeared to have flowed into poker machine venues and into alcohol as a result of that last so-called stimulus package. The Geelong Independent of Friday 19 September reported that pokies venue operators also reported an increase in business since the government bonuses began arriving. I was talking about the cash splash before also. The retail figures from December show that sales were only 1.24 per cent higher than expected. To put that in dollar figures, in spite of blowing $10.4 billion, retail sales were only about $325 million higher than they would have been without the package. So $10.4 billion was spent to get $300 million worth of effect, which is completely and utterly farcical.

The effectiveness of that $10.4 billion stimulus package is very much in question and the government are asking the Australian people to take them on trust in relation to $42 billion. We think that that is outrageous. There is nothing to substantiate the positive outcome of the $10.4 billion and $42 billion is obviously going to make that matter far worse. It is for that reason that we cannot in good conscience support a further round of cash handouts. While that might be unpopular in some quarters and it might be unpopular with some Australians, I think that most Australians know that it is the right thing to do.

I noticed with interest that Senator Conroy’s justification during question time for the $42 billion was that it would support 90,000 jobs. That is $466,000 per job. There might be some who are prepared to say that that is a penalty that we should be paying or that it is right for us to pay that amount. But the trouble is that we have had no evidence at all from the government that the so-called 75,000 jobs that were meant to be created by the last package—‘created’; the language has changed; it was ‘created’ and it is now ‘supporting’—were ever created. We have insisted, demanded and requested that they provide that information, but that has not been done.

For every billion dollars that we spend, every dollar of debt that we incur will have to be repaid by someone. It will be repaid by our children. In four years, net debt will be $70 billion, which is around $3,300 for every man, woman and child. The government wants to borrow up to $200 billion—something unprecedented in this country’s history. That is approximately $9,500 for every man, woman and child in Australia. We will vote against the package because we are not prepared to leave our kids with a massive debt legacy such as that.

Someone has got to stand up for the taxpayers of Australia to ensure that we are not imposing staggering levels of debt on future generations. It is incumbent upon us to make sure that we do not leave such a legacy when we have not been provided with any evidence at all that there was any outcome from the $10.4 billion stimulus with the way that the government spent it. There is no evidence at all that this provided a stimulus to the economy, but we have been asked to take on trust $42 billion. We are, quite frankly, not prepared to let the Australian people be saddled with that sort of debt without any evidence whatsoever that there will be a positive outcome. If you cannot substantiate 75,000 jobs for $10.4 billion, why should you be taken on trust in relation to $42 billion?

The coalition are unapologetic about the way we reduced debt during our last period in government. We did that through proper economic management. It was not achieved overnight, but we put in place a number of policies which eventually reduced the Labor Party’s $96 billion debt, left to us in 1996. We were paying approximately $8 billion a year servicing that debt, and that was just in interest payments. That was not repaying any capital. That was about $800 per Australian adult each and every year. When you compare that with the one-off payment of $950 being offered by Labor today, the comparison is clearly obvious. For a very short-term gain we are going to saddle our kids with a massive debt legacy.

The Labor Party have said that when the economy improves this debt will be paid off. Well, there was absolutely no evidence at all after the economy improved in 1991-92 that debt was reduced. In fact, my understanding is that, when the Labor Party were last in government, debt increased during a period of economic upturn. So why would we believe that this debt will be miraculously paid off when we come out of recession?

Look at how we survived the Asian financial meltdown in the 1990s and survived the tech wreck—it was because we had policies that strengthened the Australian economy and provided a buffer from the effects of those world crises. We lowered taxes and ran consistent budget surpluses. We reformed the waterfront and promoted direct negotiations between employers and employees. We put in the hard yards and the policy development that made the Australian economy the envy of the Western world.

In our view, Mr Rudd, the Prime Minister, is not proposing a package that will deliver a stimulus to this economy. We do not believe that Mr Rudd will provide jobs as a result of this stimulus package. The only way this package can be judged is by way of jobs. That is the only reasonable measure with which to judge this package. We are not prepared to sit back and let the Australian Labor Party prevaricate about what happened with the 75,000 jobs for $10.4 billion and take them on trust on the apparent protection of 90,000 jobs. This is bad policy: it is bad for the country, bad for our children and bad for those who are saving. What the Australian Labor Party do not realise is that having this huge national debt will actually put upward pressure on interest rates. Even someone with basic economic knowledge knows that that is going to be the outcome of a massive debt. I plead with the government to withdraw this package and put in place a real stimulus.