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Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Page: 1028

Senator BUSHBY (3:15 PM) —Prior to the last election our current Prime Minister, the then Leader of the Opposition, went to the Australian people claiming, ‘I am an economic conservative.’ A conga line of then senior shadow ministers followed—including, incredibly, given her previous position on economic matters, the then Deputy Leader of the Opposition and now the Deputy Prime Minister—also stating that they were economic conservatives. This was backed up with big spending to try to convince the Australian public to believe that the Australian Labor Party were, on the whole, economic conservatives. Unfortunately, many Australians took them at their word and now, in the face of the worst international financial crisis that the world has faced since the Great Depression, here we are witnessing the Prime Minister and all of his ministers abandoning any pretence of being economic conservatives. Surely in such times as these this is exactly when Australians would have the right to expect that the economic conservatives that they elected to run the economy would employ economically conservative policies and tools to prudently and effectively address the very serious consequences for Australia and Australians that will flow from this international crisis.

There is a lot at stake here and for most Australians the thing that is most at stake is their jobs. So what has our ‘economically conservative’ government done so far to help Australians keep their jobs? They have borrowed against the future prosperity of our children and our grandchildren to fund ill-considered, poorly targeted and largely ineffectual cash splashes that are already being proved to have failed to have achieved their stated objectives. In the lead-up to the first stimulus package—up till then one of the biggest handouts to Australians in our history that has since been beaten considerably—they splashed cash around to all of those from whom they were under political pressure. Pensioners—yes, they were having some problems with pensioners; and carers—yes, they were having some issues with them. Also first home buyers were complaining because they could not afford to buy houses. All of these people were dealt with in that first $10.4 billion package.

Clever politics! But how clever was it in terms of achieving the stated objectives of creating 75,000 jobs? The evidence coming through is that it was an abject failure. Sure, some of it was spent, maybe around 20 per cent, on immediate consumption which would have boosted the retail sales figures to some extent but by only a fraction of the value of the money that was actually handed out. But, as the GDP figures showed just last week, it failed to keep the country out of a position of negative growth, with the first quarter of negative growth being recorded in Australia for 31 quarters. As for jobs, well, jobs keep being lost, from high-profile losses at large companies like Pacific Brands down to small, less newsworthy but just as important losses of people’s jobs from small businesses right across our country. That is not to mention how many self-employed small business people have been forced to close their doors or are facing that prospect. Unfortunately, they do not show up in the job loss figures.

Let us have a look at the latest economic news out today. The National Australia Bank monthly business survey shows us that business conditions have crunched down another nine points in February. Forward orders and employment have fallen significantly again and capacity utilisation has fallen below 80 per cent for the first time since 2001. Destocking continues and capital expenditure and exports remain very weak. Overall, the survey suggests a further step down in demand and further negative growth. The forecast of Australian GDP in the NAB survey has been lowered to negative one per cent in 2009. Previously it was negative 0.25 of one per cent. That is reflecting weak fourth-quarter GDP estimates, signs of very weak near-term outcomes and worse outcomes for exports and business investment. GDP in 2010 is predicted to be a touch below one per cent, with unemployment predicted to rise to 7½ per cent in 2010. Yes, that is right: 7½ per cent. That translates into hundreds of thousands of jobs that will be lost between now and then by everyday Australians—people with families to feed and mortgages to pay. We have not seen that many people lose their jobs since the bad old days of Paul Keating.

Although the Reserve Bank of Australia has decided to pause its rate cutting, the NAB survey indicates an expectation that the RBA will resume cutting in the third quarter as growth and unemployment continue to deteriorate, with the cash rate to bottom in late 2009. Clearly, the efforts of the government so far to stave off the worst results of this economic crisis have been ineffective. What does the ANZ job ads information released today tell us? Job ads on both the internet and in newspapers fell by 10.4 per cent in February, taking the annual fall to 39.8 per cent. (Time expired)