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Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Page: 1027

Senator McEWEN (3:10 PM) —I too would like to take note of answers given by Senator Conroy and other senators on this side of the chamber to questions from the opposition today. It gives one an opportunity to reinforce how important the economic stimulus packages have been to the wellbeing of Australia. As ministers on this side said during question time today, Australia is not immune from the global financial crisis and there is no way that we could be immune from such a tsunami, if you like, of problems that we have had to address.

I am very pleased to be part of a government that recognised very early on in the piece that Australia had to act swiftly to address the global financial crisis, and indeed we did act swiftly. We acted swiftly to maintain the stability of our financial system and we are very pleased to be able to say that our financial system has survived much better than many other financial systems, including those of the G7 countries, and will continue to provide the underpinning of the Australian economy in the future. We acted quickly with our financial stimulus packages, which were both to support spending and also, importantly, to set us up for the future by supporting jobs and by building infrastructure.

The opposition to the latest economic stimulus package, our Nation Building and Jobs Plan, was somewhat surprising given the importance of that package in assisting the nation to retain jobs, to retain skills for the future and to build infrastructure for the future. There were some comments made about spending patterns after the first economic stimulus package and I think it is worth pointing out that in December, after the first economic stimulus package flowed to the Australian people, retail sales in Australia increased. The retail industry in Australia employs 1.5 million people and it was incredibly important that we put some money into the economy to assist us to retain those jobs in that very important sector—a sector mainly populated, of course, by lower paid workers and particularly women.

I note that the government’s package is targeted in particular at supporting lower income workers, just as our new workplace relations framework is targeted to supporting workers in industries that are vulnerable. Isn’t it absolutely timely that we should be considering strengthening our workplace relations system at a time when Australian workers are fearful about what the future may hold for them? It is very pleasing that the government has been acting to ensure that the previous government’s appalling workplace relations system, which made vulnerable workers even more vulnerable, is being addressed and overturned.

I was talking about retail sales, and it is worth noting this comparison with the rest of the world: in December last year in the United States retail sales fell by around three per cent, in Japan sales fell by two per cent and in Germany and New Zealand—comparable nations—they fell by around one per cent, but in Australia sales increased by 3.8 per cent. I also note that the latest economic stimulus package, which from this week will start to flow to recipients, has gone down extremely well with the Australian public. In fact, while speaking to some small business people only yesterday, I was told how important the economic stimulus package has been for them in assisting them to purchase new assets for their businesses. In turn, that has meant cost savings and an ability for these essential small businesses to retain staff at a time when it would otherwise be difficult for them to do so. That is a small example of how important it is to act quickly and efficiently, in a targeted way, to support the Australian economy in the face of the global financial crisis. (Time expired)