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Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Page: 1025

Senator COONAN (3:05 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by ministers to questions without notice today.

In particular I want to address answers given by Senator Conroy on behalf of the Treasurer. Whether the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, labels himself an economic conservative or a market socialist matters little. It is becoming increasingly clear that, whatever he calls himself, he and his government are not up to the task of competently managing Australia’s economy. Senator Conroy’s answers in response to a question I asked today were little more than gibberish. There is precious little point in trying to ask Senator Conroy about what is going on in the economy and just how close or otherwise this country is to a recession. The Labor government is clearly flying blind in the economic storm. In saying that all the risks are on the downside, I think they are putting it mildly when it comes to the government’s capacity to operate the economy! All the trumpeting about taking early and decisive action to deal with the economic crisis is only a defence—I repeat, it is only a defence—if it is the right action and it actually works.

The December national accounts released last week, on 3 March 2009, show that the economy is going backwards on Mr Rudd’s watch, and if we are not yet in a technical recession it will surely feel like one to people who have lost their jobs, who are anxious about what the future may hold and who are looking to this government for some kind of clue that it knows how to manage the economy. The actions of this inexperienced Labor government have only made the Australian situation worse. The government has embarked on an extraordinary spendathon now totalling in the order of $52 billion in an attempt to spend its way out of the crisis and on the very flimsy pretext that it is protecting jobs. At the same time, the government acknowledges that it does not know whether its so-called decisive action is the correct response. There is no silver bullet, as Mr Rudd has conceded on several occasions.

What we have seen from the Labor Party in relation to the global economic crisis is not steady and sober reflection about how to approach it; we have seen panic and policy on the run. The release of the national accounts for the December quarter, as I said, showed the economy going backwards on Mr Rudd’s watch. Gross domestic product fell by 0.5 per cent in the December quarter and business profits fell by 3.3 per cent, although, happily, private business investment remained relatively high. But the national accounts are a clear sign that the government has mismanaged its response to the global financial crisis.

Throughout 2008 the government undermined confidence, first by talking up inflation and raising taxes in the May budget and then with poorly designed policies such as the unlimited bank deposit guarantee. Its $10 billion cash splash in December failed to have a significant stimulatory effect on the economy or indeed employment. In fact, the Labor government cannot point to one job, let alone 75,000 jobs, created, as they claimed would happen as a result of the $10 billion cash splash. Instead, what we have is a significant debt, up to $200 billion, without enhancing our productive capacity for future growth. We also know that, despite the fact that this was supposed to be spent—this package was all about spending and you would have thought, having flowed before Christmas, that is when it would have been spent—80 per cent of it has been saved and not spent. It was poorly targeted and has done relatively nothing for small business to help with cash flow.

While Labor talks about jobs, Australians are losing theirs. We will continue to oppose the job-destroying actions of the Labor Party. The opposition will continue with a jobs policy that is good for the economy, good for jobs and good for families. It is our policy to support jobs and to help small businesses keep their employees and in fact create new ones. We will not be a party to a stimulus package that we voted against for very good reasons that is simply yet another cash splash with Labor not knowing how it is going to go.